The World’s First Master’s Degree in End-of-Life Healthcare Ethics

28 Apr 2014

The deadline is approaching for applications for the world’s first Master’s degree in End-of-Life Healthcare Ethics which begins next September in University College Cork.  May 2nd is the deadline for potential students to apply for both the course and the Scholarships which are being offered by the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF).

Course Director, Dr Joan McCarthy, College of Medicine and Health, UCC, stated: “In end-of-life care, health professionals, patients and families must often make difficult decisions in tense, demanding, emotionally fraught and constrained circumstances. In this context, recent research carried out under the auspices of the Irish Hospice Foundation, indicates that the general public in Ireland have little understanding of end-of-life treatment and care terminology or the processes of dying and death. They are also confused about the role of families in relation to receiving information and making decisions for incompetent patients.   In addition, Irish health professionals are uneasy and unsure about patient autonomy rights and they can feel pressurized by family members into denying patients relevant information and carrying out treatments that they consider futile.”

 She continued: “An understanding of the ethical challenges at the end-of-life is central to good end-of-life care because lack of knowledge and uncertainty about ethical obligations and responsibilities, lack of confidence in expressing nagging doubts and fear of litigation and professional accountability can and do lead to oversight, error and poor practice.

 Currently, Irish legislative and regulatory bodies are driving reform in relation to medical practices in end-of-life care. This is long overdue and is to be welcomed. However, if the reforms envisaged in documents such as the National Consent Policy (2013) and the Assisted Decision Making Bill (2013) are to be fully realized; there has to be a cultural shift in healthcare organisations and practices as well as among the general public.

 We might live in an age of instant solutions but ethical problems in end-of-life care are not easy to resolve because they involve value-laden opinions and strong personal beliefs and emotional responses. The increasing diversity of the Irish population and the need to respect different cultural values and religious perspectives also demand greater sensitivity, deeper understanding and more inclusive policies and practices.

 While legal challenges in relation to assisted suicide and euthanasia might capture the public imagination, clarity and understanding are also needed in relation to more usual but also complex and contested decisions and interventions such as starting, stopping and de-escalating treatment, sedation and pain management and the provision of nutrition and hydration.”

Research has found a keen need and demand for ethics education and support for health professionals across a range of disciplines.  There is also an increasing public interest in Ireland and abroad in recent years on decision making at the end of life.  With its unique focus, this programme from the College of Medicine and Health, UCC, will contribute to meeting these needs. Students from diverse backgrounds (health professionals, social workers, solicitors, hospital administrators, chaplains, journalists, etc.) can take this part-time programme to Certificate, Diploma or Masters level.

 Meanwhile, 2 IHF scholarships will cover half of the MSc course fees over two years for the successful candidates. The scholarship is open to prospective students who have applied for the MSc programme AND who have a special interest or organisational backgrounds in dementia care and who will apply their learning in these areas.

Orla Keegan, Head of Education, Research & Bereavement Services, commented: "The Irish Hospice Foundation is delighted to offer these scholarships as a means of supporting an important addition to the education available around end-of-life care in Ireland.  We believe that no one should face death or bereavement without appropriate care and support - this extends to staff and we hope this scholarship will help prospective students in their own lives and in their care of others".

College of Medicine and Health

Coláiste an Leighis agus na Sláinte

3rd Floor, Erinville Hospital Western Road University College Cork Cork , T12 EKDO