What are the ethical dimensions in the profession of intensive care specialist?
Two essential components of the profession of a medical doctor are the constant review of the patient’s therapeutic project, and collaboration between healthcare professionals. The profession of intensive care unit (ICU) physician goes further in terms of responsibility, vis-à-vis the intensive treatments dispensed to the patients, and the physician’s responsibilities towards the patient’s family and the caregiving team, also bearing in mind that ICU care is costly in terms of human and financial resources. In this review, we address the profession of ICU physician from the perspective of the ethical questions that arise constantly, focusing on the timeframe of the reflection process. Firstly, admission to the ICU must be anticipated. The concept of advance care planning is a suitable tool for this, and in case of non-admission to the ICU, does not by any means constitute an abandonment of the patient, because palliative care can also be anticipated, with a view to avoiding suffering for the patient and their family. Next, during an ICU stay, while the technical aspects undoubtedly characterise the ICU best at the start of the patient’s stay, the process of reflection rapidly becomes preponderant, and involves the analysis of often complex situations with a view to defining the level of therapeutic engagement and optimizing the care dispensed to the patient. Last, a further ethical issue concerns the decision to re-admit (or not) a patient to the ICU. This decision can be made, for example, in the framework of a systematic, formalised, structured, multidisciplinary meeting at the end of an ICU stay, using a similar procedure to that implemented for decisions relating to withholding or withdrawal of lifesustaining therapies. The profession of ICU physician is not simply a question of prolonging or sustaining life, but is also fraught with ethical questions about how best to employ their competences. In this regard, it is essential to foster interdisciplinary collaboration, and emphasise the need for ICU physicians to be involved in the development of therapeutic projects, particularly when the disease in question is likely to be complicated by acute situations that may require admission of the patient to the ICU.