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May 1989

Ethics Consultants and Ethics Committees

Arch Intern Med. 1989;149(5):1109-1112. doi:10.1001/archinte.1989.00390050087017

• To address moral questions in patient care, hospitals and health care systems have enlisted the help of hospital ethicists, ethics committees, and ethics consultation services. Most physicians have not been trained in the concepts, skills, or language of clinical ethics, and few ethicists have been trained in clinical medicine, so neither group can fully identify, analyze, and resolve clinical ethical problems. Some ethics committees have undertaken clinical consultations themselves, but liability concerns and variable standards for membership hinder their efforts. An ethics consultation service comprising both physician-ethicists and nonphysician-ethicists brings complementary viewpoints to the management of particular cases. If they are to be effective consultants, however, nonphysician-ethicists need to be "clinicians": professionals who understand an individual patient's medical condition and personal situation well enough to help in managing the case. Ethics consultants and ethics committees may work together, but they have separate identities and distinct objectives: ethics consultants are responsible for patient care, while ethics committees are administrative bodies whose primary task is to advise in creating institutional policy.

(Arch Intern Med. 1989;149:1109-1112)