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      New frontiers in the future of palliative care: real-world bioethical dilemmas and axiology of clinical practice

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          In our time there is growing interest in developing a systematic approach to oncologic patients and end-of-life care. An important goal within this domain is to identify the values and ethical norms that guide physicians’ decisions and their recourse to technological aids to preserve life. Though crucial, this objective is not easy to achieve.

          The purpose of this study is to evaluate empirically the real-life bioethical dilemmas with which palliative physicians are confronted when treating terminal cancer patients.


          A quasi-experimental, observational, comparative, prospective and mixed (qualitative and quantitative) study was conducted in order to analyse the correlation between the palliative doctor-patient relationship and ethical judgments regarding everyday bioethical dilemmas that arise in palliative clinical practice. The values at stake in decision-making on a daily basis were also explored.

          From February 2012 to march 2014, palliative healthcare personnel were invited to participate in a research project on axiology of clinical practice in palliative medicine. Each participant answered to a set of survey instruments focusing on ethical dilemmas, views, and representations of clinical practice.

          For this analysis we selected a convenience sample of 30 physicians specialized in pain medicine and palliative care (algologists and palliativists), with two or more years of experience with oncologic patients and end-of-life care.


          113 dilemmas were obtained, the most frequent of which were those regarding sedation, home administration of opioids, and institutional regulations. We observed that the ethical nucleus of palliative medicine is truth-telling, implying bidirectional trust between patients and healthcare providers. The two most prominent virtues among the participants in our study were justice and professional humility. The outstanding roles of the physician in palliative medicine are as educator and as adviser, followed by that of provider of medical assistance.


          This investigation opens up new horizons in a career path where professional wearing is rampant. The rediscovery of values and virtues in palliative clinical practice will renew and replenish the motivation of healthcare providers who carry out these duties, giving them a new professional and personal perspective of growth.

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          Most cited references 23

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          Each year, the American Cancer Society estimates the number of new cancer cases and deaths expected in the United States in the current year and compiles the most recent data on cancer incidence, mortality, and survival based on incidence data from the National Cancer Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries and mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Incidence and death rates are age-standardized to the 2000 US standard million population. A total of 1,437,180 new cancer cases and 565,650 deaths from cancer are projected to occur in the United States in 2008. Notable trends in cancer incidence and mortality include stabilization of incidence rates for all cancer sites combined in men from 1995 through 2004 and in women from 1999 through 2004 and a continued decrease in the cancer death rate since 1990 in men and since 1991 in women. Overall cancer death rates in 2004 compared with 1990 in men and 1991 in women decreased by 18.4% and 10.5%, respectively, resulting in the avoidance of over a half million deaths from cancer during this time interval. This report also examines cancer incidence, mortality, and survival by site, sex, race/ethnicity, education, geographic area, and calendar year, as well as the proportionate contribution of selected sites to the overall trends. Although much progress has been made in reducing mortality rates, stabilizing incidence rates, and improving survival, cancer still accounts for more deaths than heart disease in persons under age 85 years. Further progress can be accelerated by supporting new discoveries and by applying existing cancer control knowledge across all segments of the population.
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            Estimation of the burden of cancer in terms of incidence, mortality, and prevalence is a first step to appreciating appropriate control measures in a global context. The latest results of such an exercise, based on the most recent available international data, show that there were 10 million new cases, 6 million deaths, and 22 million people living with cancer in 2000. The most common cancers in terms of new cases were lung (1.2 million), breast (1.05 million), colorectal (945,000), stomach (876,000), and liver (564,000). The profile varies greatly in different populations, and the evidence suggests that this variation is mainly a consequence of different lifestyle and environmental factors, which should be amenable to preventive interventions. World population growth and ageing imply a progressive increase in the cancer burden--15 million new cases and 10 million new deaths are expected in 2020, even if current rates remain unchanged.
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                Author and article information

                BMC Med Ethics
                BMC Med Ethics
                BMC Medical Ethics
                BioMed Central (London )
                26 February 2015
                26 February 2015
                : 16
                [ ]Facultad de Medicina y Cirugía de la Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico
                [ ]Centro Interdisciplinario para el Estudio y Tratamiento del Dolor y Cuidados Paliativos del UMAE “Dr. Victorio de la Fuente Narvaez”, México, DF Mexico
                [ ]Grupo Transfuncional en Ética Clínica, Centro Médico Nacional Siglo XXI, IMSS, México, DF Mexico
                [ ]Unidad de Investigación de Enfermedades Metabólicas, Centro Médico Nacional Siglo XXI, IMSS, México, DF Mexico
                [ ]Facultad de Medicina, UNAM, México, DF Mexico
                © Guevara-López et al.; licensee BioMed Central. 2015

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

                Research Article
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                values and virtues, axiology, end of life, bioethical dilemmas in real life, palliative care


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