How to Participate in Ethics Committees
If you are considering serving on an ethics committee, whether by invitation or your own initiative, it is important that you first understand the role of an ethics committee. Confusion regarding the role of ethics committees, as well as a perception of “uselessness” of ethics committees, stems from a misunderstanding of the committee’s basic purpose. The misunderstanding is that ethics committees “tell people what to do” and usurp the autonomy of the caregiving team. It is erroneous to believe that ethics committees direct patient care and that clinicians are obliged to follow the recommendations of the committee. An ethics committee is not the “ethics police.” Indeed, nothing could be further from the truth.
In actual practice, ethics committee consultations are nondirective and strictly advisory. This means that the recommendations they might issue are not binding for the attending physician or anyone else. In that regard, an ethics consultation is similar to other requests for consultation.
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