Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

The Adolescence of Ethics Committees

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

The Adolescence of Ethics Committees

Article excerpt

Ethics committees, which were born some ten to fifteen years ago, are now entering their adolescence. And they are engaging in some of the tentative exploration typical of that stage of growth. They know what they are expected to do-case consultation, policy development, and education-but wonder whether they should explore new issues and activities that could challenge them and prod them to redefine themselves.

Whether ethics committees should assist in efforts to protect the financial welfare of health care institutions by giving them an ethical cast is one such intriguing issue. Dan Brock, in an innovative piece below, suggests that such involvement would be consistent with the goal of enhancing patient care, but would also threaten the integrity and independence of ethics committees.

New areas of exploration are also opened in Alan Fleischman's case report and the Mitchell-Swartz legal commentary. Should an infant ethics committee recommend that a parental decision for the continuation of life support for their child be overridden? Do lawyer-members help or hinder ethics committees; Such questions push ethics committees to define their role more carefully and to circumscribe limits of their responsibilities.

As ethics committees move toward adulthood, they will increasingly confront the issue of how their work should be evaluated. These committees have largely been borne along by bursts of enthusiasm from their participants. Yet there is no scientifically validated evidence of their efficacy. How should they determine which things they do well-and which they don't? This is an especially difficult question that committees need the maturity of adulthood to answer. …

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