On a recent episode of The Doctors, the team discussed a fellow medical professional’s controversial decision.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, 70-year-old Jenny Scott sought medical attention for a persistent cough in 2016. She visited respiratory doctor David Barnes for a diagnosis shortly before a cruise she had scheduled in September. According to what she later told her friends, Dr. Barnes advised her that it was “99.9% not cancer,” something she was specifically concerned about given that her sister had died from the disease. Jenny’s doctor ordered tests but told her she was fit to travel.
Jenny departed for her cruise thinking that her cough was related to noncontagious tuberculosis that would be treatable once she returned from her trip. She was already on her cruise when Dr. Barnes received her test results on October 6, 2016, revealing that his patient had “incurable” lung cancer.
Rather than figuring out a way to get in touch with Jenny and inform her immediately, the doctor opted to delay telling her. He planned to tell her at their consultation, set for the day after she returned — a week after the results came in.
Unfortunately, fate took a turn for the worse.
Only three days after the results came in, Jenny fell ill aboard the cruise ship and was hospitalized on board. Doctors on the other side of the world were the ones to inform her that she did indeed have lung cancer. When Jenny’s family attempted to bring her back to a hospital in Sydney (so she could die in her hometown, as she wished), they were told she couldn’t be admitted there due to a lack of beds in the ICU.
Eventually, Jenny’s distressed family was able to get in contact with the Lung Cancer Foundation, which found her a bed at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse cancer hospital. She was brought there on October 20, 2016, and had just enough time to say goodbye to friends and family before dying later that day.
Jenny’s daughter Tania lodged a complaint against Dr. Barnes and called his decision “paternalistic,” though Australia’s Health Care Complaints Commission chose not to take any disciplinary action against him.
“My decision to refrain from contacting Mrs Scott whilst on holidays was a compassionate decision, to allow her to complete the cruise in circumstances where intervention would have made no significant difference to her ultimate outcome,” Dr. Barnes submitted to the HCCC.
But in Tania’s mind, her mom would have come home immediately upon receiving the diagnosis, and the last few days of her life might not have been so “devastating and heartbreaking.”
What do you think of this doctor’s decision?
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