Clinical Ethics: Ethics Consultation

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(learn how to arrange an Ethics Consultation)

What is Ethics Consultation?

It is often difficult to make health care decisions for one’s self or for another person. For families, it can be especially hard to be the person entrusted with making decisions for another person who is unable to decide for him or herself. For health care professionals, it is not always clear what is in the best interests of a person in their professional care.

There are many different kinds of situations that involve ethical choices. Examples include:

  • Deciding when a life-sustaining treatment such as a breathing machine or feeding tube is to be started, continued or stopped.
  • “We want to do what is best for our father but we don’t know what that is. The medical situation is so complex. How do we decide? Who should decide?”
  • “Should we tell our elderly mother that she has cancer and has only a short time to live?”

Patients/residents/clients, families, staff and physicians make ethical decisions every day. Most times we do not need help with these decisions. However, when conflict or difficult questions arise in health care, an Ethics Consultation may help.  An Ethics Consultation is a process to work through a difficult ethical decision and get support or assistance from a trained Ethicist.

How can an Ethics Consultation be helpful?

  • An Ethics Consultation can assist patients and families, staff and physicians in the identification, analysis, and resolution of moral conflicts that occur in clinical settings.
  • An Ethics Consultation provides an opportunity to discuss the tensions that occur in making decisions about health care in a safe, reflective manner.
  • People who can offer support with an Ethics Consultation know how upsetting such conflicts may be. They are familiar with the difficult challenges faced in modern healthcare and they provide a supportive, non-judgmental and respectful service.

People who help with Ethics Consultations do not say what to do. They do not make the decision. They are a resource to help clarify one’s own thoughts, feelings and concerns. They can often assist patients, families and health care teams to resolve conflicting values and feelings, and to achieve the best possible outcome for the patient in difficult circumstances. It is important to remember that those who assist with Ethics Consultations do not have the authority to make medical decisions about patient care.

When is an Ethics Consultation helpful?

We all make ethical decisions every day without help. However, we might need to seek assistance if there is:

  • Conflict or tension.
  • Uncertainty about whether an issue is an ethical one.
  • An ethical dilemma, when there appears to be two or more 'right things to do' and it is not clear which is the best way to proceed.
  • Moral or ethical distress.

Those facing an ethical issue should consult with the health care team first to problem-solve at that level before requesting a consult.

How can an Ethics Consultation be arranged?

  • Talk to members of the health care team about the issue.
  • If the problem is not resolved or needs further assistance, any patient, family member, or staff member or physician can request an Ethics Consultation.
  • Ethics Consultation is available at each site of St. Joseph's Health Care, London.

To arrange an Ethics Consultation, contact the clinical ethicist at 519 646-6100 ext. 42251

What will happen if an Ethics Consultation is requested?

  • The request will be treated with respect and confidentiality.
  • A description of the case/issue/situation will be requested to determine if an Ethics Consultation is appropriate.
  • If a Consultation is appropriate, a meeting with the relevant people will be arranged. It will be organized as soon as possible, according to the urgency of the situation.
Last updated: Mon, 2011-08-15 14:23