Difficult Choices, Ethical Questions
Every major healthcare facility in the United States has an Ethics Committee. These committees have emerged as healthcare decision-making has become more complex and the clinical options more numerous and more complicated. Our hospital and clinics are dedicated to providing the best possible care in partnership with the patient, recognizing the basic principle of the patient's informed consent as the core of this process.
There are times when legitimate ethical values come in conflict with each other. Our Committee is prepared to assist you in resolving these questions.
Under the authority of the Medical Executive Board, the Committee serves in an advisory capacity. The Committee is made up of experienced clinicians, chaplains, attorneys and administrative personnel who volunteer to serve on the Committee. We rotate 24-hour call among the Committee members.
The Committee serves three functions:
- Assistance in writing policies to ensure that ethical issues are considered.
- Education, by way of providing lectures and in-service training for hospital staff.
- Case consultation.
Case consultation is provided to patients, families and staff upon request. Case consultation is provided when an ethical issue has been identified by an individual or team and a request is made for assistance in resolving the issue. Because we are an advisory group the responsibility for the ultimate decision rests with the patient, family and/or clinician, as appropriate. Our role is to assist the parties in an ethical analysis of the questions at hand.
There are several levels of response to a request for a consultation:
- After receiving the request, it may be determined that the issue best handled by another committee or individual. For example, we do not investigate personnel complaints.
- The matter may simply be a request for information or clarification. In this case, the Ethics Committee responder will simply provide the necessary information or arrange for it to be provided.
- The Ethics Committee responder may convene a small group of committee members and this group will meet with the party or parties in question to address the issue. This is done in a timely fashion and the meeting will be conducted at the site of the matter under consideration.
- Some issues, which are less urgent, require the full consideration of the entire Committee at its monthly meeting. Issues such as policy development or policy review would fall into this category.
Most ethical questions are resolved at the "bedside" or through staff or staff/family conferences. If an ethics question remains unresolved after going through the common, basic steps for resolution, please call our pager number (339-5050). We are here to serve the needs of our patients, their families and our staff.