Sometimes making the right decision can be difficult, especially when it comes to complicated medical situations. Conflicting loyalties, rights, duties, and values can lead to an ethical dilemma where there is a genuine disagreement about what is right. For instance, sometimes the value of preserving life conflicts with other values, such as respecting a patient's wishes, relieving suffering, staying financially solvent, and assuring equal access to healthcare.
These and other questions require that medical, ethical, legal and interpersonal factors be considered. St. Luke's Clinical Ethics Committee is available to provide consultation and guidance on ethics-related issues that arise within the hospital.
When Should an Ethics Consult be Initiated?
When you encounter an ethical dilemma or when you find yourself experiencing moral distress related to a medical situation. A few examples include:
- Uncertainty as to who should make health care decisions or how to make those decisions for patients too sick to speak for themselves
- Conflict between values or religious beliefs and a recommended course of treatment
- Disagreement over whether starting, continuing, or ending treatment, such as breathing tubes or feeding tubes, is the right thing to do
What Happens when an Ethics Consult is Requested?
The Ethics Committee meets free of charge to provide a safe, supportive, confidential forum in which you and others can think through a problem, consider different points of view and sort through options. Every attempt is made to involve key members of the health care team as well as the patient and family, as appropriate, in the process. After discussing the ethical issues at stake, the Ethics Committee offers advice in the form of a non-binding recommendation. It is then up to those involved to decide what to do next.
Requesting an Ethics Consult
Any party involved in a patient's care may request a confidential consultation with the Ethics Committee. To request a consult you may contact the Hospital Operator or the House Supervisor. There is always someone from the Ethics Committee on call to respond to requests.
Before you contact the Ethics Committee, it is recommended that you first speak with those involved in your health care situation, and that you use all available resources in the hospital to try to resolve the problem. Oftentimes, meeting with the patient, family members, physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, patient representative, and other members of the hospital staff can help those involved come to agreement. If what should be done is still unclear, you may contact the Ethics Committee for assistance.