Maria McDonald, Bioethicist at Michael Garron Hospital, stands outside holding an ethical grid.

#IamMGH – Meet Maria McDonald

#IamMGH tells the stories of our people. Meet Maria McDonald, Bioethicist at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH).  

“I find my joy and energy in talking to people and bringing clarity to some of the ethical challenges that people may experience in healthcare. I am inspired by the healthcare professionals at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH), who are very caring and dedicated to patients and their families. My colleagues ask me great questions, and together, we find possible solutions for their patients and families’ ethical dilemmas. 

Bioethics is a branch of applied ethics that studies the philosophical, social and legal issues that come up in medicine and life sciences. At MGH, we focus primarily on ‘bedside’ ethics, decision-making within the organization and on the ethical review of research on humans. By considering ethical principles, values and human rights principles, we can make better decisions and clearly justify what we should do, how we should do it and why. 

In my role at MGH, I try to approach each ethical issue with curiosity. I help staff and physicians to find the time and a safe space to critically reflect on the moral or ethical issue at hand, explore various perspectives, clarify the competing values, and help explore solutions. I also ensure we bring clinical, legal, organizational, systemic, social and structural factors into our discussions. 

I work closely with Lorrie Hamilton, Bioethicist and Director of Nursing Practice and Education, Academic Affairs, Patient Experience and Ethics at MGH. She lends her experience and expertise to difficult situations. Together, we help to bring bioethics topics to leadership meetings, department huddles and team debriefs. We also share informative webinars and resources offered in the community.  

Each day at work is different! I provide support for complex issues that intersect law, policy and ethics, such as patient capacity and consent or doctor-patient confidentiality. Responding to ethics consult requests is very rewarding because I can provide individualized teaching and also help create team-building opportunities. 

I am also available to speak to patients and their family members. Sometimes they need a listening ear, sometimes they wish to better understand their rights, and sometimes they need information, for example, about the role of the substitute decision-maker. The health care team and I are always grateful to learn what is important to our patients and families. 

At MGH, everyone from the bedside to the boardroom has a role to play in ensuring the ethical delivery of healthcare. We have bioethics resources, such as frameworks and worksheets, available on our staff intranet for anyone who needs bioethics help! Prioritizing ethical values helps us provide the patient-centered care that each of our patients and families deserve. It also directly ensures we provide consistent and ethical quality of care to our patients.  

In my ethics work, I enjoy the challenge of incorporating all my diverse education and past learnings to help with exploring values and finding solutions. My background includes a past career as a lawyer practicing in personal injury with an interest in health law. I also have a Master of Health Sciences, with a specialization in Bioethics, from the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics, and was previously a member and Vice Chair of the Research Ethics Board at St. Michael’s Hospital. Every day I continue to learn and develop my understanding of the complex interrelationship between law, policy and ethics.”  

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