Radio: restraining patients in intensive care

Inside the Ethics Committee

BBC Radio 4, Thursday 19 July 2012, 09.00-09.45, repeated 21.00-21.45, available via the iPlayer or as a podcast

From the programme’s website:

Monty has double pneumonia and is in intensive care. A ventilator is breathing for him and he’s sedated so that he can tolerate a breathing tube in his throat. Given the risks associated with being intubated in this way, the team are keen to get him off the ventilator as soon as possible, so that he can start breathing for himself.

After several days of antibiotics, Monty improves. So they stop the sedation, wake him up, and remove the breathing tube. The plan is for Monty to wear a mask to support his breathing until he is strong enough to breathe for himself.

But Monty is autistic, and as soon as the mask is placed on his face, he pushes it away. The nurses put it back on, but again he bats it off. The nurses persist, but Monty struggles and lashes out at them. Exhausted, he starts going blue. Fearing for Monty’s life, the team re-sedate him and put him back on the ventilator.

As his life hangs in the balance, what lengths should the medical team go to to get Monty to accept the life-saving treatment he is struggling against? Should they physically restrain him?

Joan Bakewell chairs the discussion between medical and ethical experts.

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