Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 December 2012
The objectives of this article are, first, to document a unique process of research knowledge translation (KT), which the authors describe as the creation of “ethical safe space,” and, second, to document the narratives of forum participants and describe their interaction in a dialogue about vulnerability, the authority of physicians, and the perspective of people with disabilities on the policy.
Narrative data from qualitative interviews with individual key informants and focus groups were used to identify speakers with specific expertise on policy, disability perspectives, and bioethical issues, who were invited to participate in the Forum on Ethical Safe Space. The planning workgroup adopted a model for enabling representative participation in the public forum designed to reduce the impact of physical, sensory, financial, language, and professional status barriers. Using the transcripts and keynote speakers' printed texts, primary themes and patterns of interaction were identified reflecting the alternative perspectives. Through the development of a workshop on ethical, legal, and disability-related implications of professional policy guidelines developed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, we provided a qualitative analysis of the discourse involving experts and disability community members supporting alternative positions on the impact of the policy statement, and discuss ethical, legal, and disability rights issues identified in the public debate.
Contested policy and ethical frameworks for making decisions about withdrawing and withholding life supporting treatment may influence both the perspectives of palliative care providers and patients referred to palliative care facilities. An innovative model for KT using a public forum that enabled stakeholders with conflicting perspectives to engage with ethical and professional policy issues asserting the physician's authority in contested decisions involving withdrawing or withholding life-supporting treatment, was a successful way to engage stakeholders supporting alternative positions on the impact of the policy statement and to discuss ethical, legal, and disability rights issues identified in the public debate.
Discussion during the forum revealed several benefits of creating ethical safe space. This model of workshop allows space for participation of stakeholders, who might not otherwise be able to interact in the same forum, to articulate their perspectives and debate with other presenters and audience members. Participants at the forum spoke of the creation of ethical safe space as a starting point for more dialogue on the issues raised by the policy statement. The forum was, therefore, seen as a potential starting point for building conversation that would facilitate revising the policy with broader consultation on its legal and ethical validity.