Ethics of physiotherapy practice in terminally ill patients in a developing country, Nigeria

Physiotherapy has been widely defined as a healthcare profession that assesses, diagnoses, treats, and works to prevent disease and disability through physical means. The World Confederation for Physical Therapy describes physiotherapy as providing services to people and populations to develop, maintain, and restore maximum movement and functional ability throughout the lifespan. Physiotherapists working with terminally ill patients face a myriad of ethical issues which have not been substantially discussed in bioethics especially in the African perspective. In the face of resource limitation in developing countries, physiotherapy seems to be a cost-effective means of alleviating pain and distressing symptoms at the end-of-life, ensuring a more dignified passage from life to death, yet referrals to physiotherapy are not timely. Following extensive literature search using appropriate keywords, six core ethical themes related to physiotherapy in terminally ill patients were identified and using the four principles of bioethics (patient’s autonomy, beneficence, nonmaleficence, and justice), an ethical analysis of these themes was done to highlight the ethical challenges of physiotherapists working in a typical African setting such as Nigeria.