Article Text

Ethics and the law: next of kin and care of vulnerable adults
  1. Bridgit Dimond, Emeritus Professor and
  2. Rob George, Consultant
  1. Legal aspects: Bridgit Dimond, Emeritus Professor, University of Glamorgan. Ethical aspects: Rob George, Consultant in Palliative Medicine, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust


The Case scenario (see box) discussed in this article highlights the problems associated with fraught family relationships in the context of end-of-life care, issues surrounding ‘next of kin’ and potential ‘vulnerable’ adults. On being admitted to a hospital, care home or hospice, when asked for ‘next of kin’, it is not uncommon for people to give the name of someone whom they want to be their main contact, not the person who will inherit any of the patient’s property. Issues associated with ‘next of kin’ and ‘nearest relative’, which is the term used in mental health legislation, can be confusing for practitioners, particularly when different sections of a family/loved ones are in conflict. Legal definitions of next of kin and nearest relative will be provided. There is also discussion regarding the responsibilities of healthcare staff when an accusation is made that a patient/ resident is being abused. The primary duty of health/social care professionals is to act in the best interests of patients/residents, particularly with regard to vulnerable people. The process that needs to be followed in such situations is outlined and definitions regarding ‘vulnerable’ adults are provided. Conflicts of interests: none

  • Best interest
  • End-of-life care
  • Next of kin
  • Vulnerable adults

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