Aging adults present "new breed of patients," ethical concerns


What are some of the special ethical considerations raised in providing medical care for aging baby boomers? The May issue of Virtual Mentor, the AMA’s online ethics journal, takes a look at such issues as patient concerns at end of life, social responsibility for the elderly and rationing of care.

Baby boomers are living longer with the chronic conditions that killed earlier generations at younger ages, and physicians should understand the issues at play in caring for these patients. Psychosocially speaking, these former leaders of the “rights” movements of the 1960s and 1970s are actively engaged in their care, often challenging their physicians and the system. At the same time, some would rather die than burden their children when their health declines. 

Authors in the latest issue of Virtual Mentor explain that medical research, education, clinical care and health policy all must change significantly to best serve this specific kind of patient. Articles include:

  • Medicine’s new breed of patients.” Issue editor Amirala Pasha, DO, notes that medicine previously has not differentiated between the needs of the “adult population” and those of the geriatric population. Now it must. 
  • "Should age be a basis for rationing of health care?” Haavi Morreim, PhD, writes that it would be unwise medically, economically and ethically to ignore medical details and instead rely on such crude placeholders as age in attempting to use resources most efficiently and effectively. 
  • Who’s responsible for granny?” Carol Levine observes that when a disaster occurs at home or abroad, Americans give generously, and volunteers support many important community services. Yet proposals to spend taxpayer money on services for people who are poor, hungry, homeless, or frail and elderly often are resisted vigorously. 
  • Against a duty to die.” Bioethicist Nancy S. Jecker, PhD, explains how a small but growing body of evidence suggests that people who are near the end of life commonly worry about placing a burden on others.