Advance directives and patient autonomyCategories: Licensee-Patient Relationship Adopted: Jul 1993 | Amended: Nov 2012
Licensees must be aware that North Carolina law specifically recognizes the individual’s right to a peaceful and natural death. NC Gen Stat § 90-320 (a) (2007) reads:
The General Assembly recognizes as a matter of public policy that an individual’s rights include the right to a peaceful and natural death and that a patient or the patient’s representative has the fundamental right to control the decisions relating to the rendering of the patient’s own medical care, including the decision to have life-prolonging measures withheld or withdrawn in instances of a terminal condition.
Licensees must also be aware that North Carolina law empowers any adult individual with capacity to make a Health Care Power of Attorney (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 32A-17 (2007)) and stipulates that, when a patient lacks understanding or capacity to make or communicate health care decisions, the instructions of a duly appointed health care agent are to be taken as those of the patient unless evidence to the contrary is available (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 32A- 24(b)(2007)).
It is the position of the North Carolina Medical Board that it is in the best interest of the patient and of the licensee/patient relationship to encourage patients to complete or authorize documents that express their wishes for the kind of care they desire at the end of their lives. Licensees should encourage their patients to appoint a health care agent to act through the execution of a Health Care Power of Attorney and to provide documentation of the appointment to the responsible licensee(s). Further, licensees should provide full information to their patients in order to enable those patients to make informed and intelligent decisions preferably prior to a terminal illness. The Board also encourages the use of portable licensee orders to improve the communication of the patient’s wishes for treatment at the end of life from one care setting to another.
It is also the position of the Board that licensees are ethically obligated to follow the wishes of the terminally ill or incurable patient as expressed by and properly documented in a declaration of a desire for a natural death; however, when the wishes of a patient are contrary to what a licensee believes in good conscience to be appropriate care, the licensee may withdraw from the case once continuity of care is assured.
It is also the position of the Board that withholding or withdrawal of life-prolonging measures is in no manner to be construed as permitting diminution of nursing care, relief of pain, or any other care that may provide comfort for the patient.