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Ethics committees serve several functions:

  • To provide consultative service where clinicians, patients, or families can confer with an expert to resolve an ethical dilemma that has risen during a patient hospitalization

  • To provide education not only to the members of the committee but also to the organization and community in which they serve

  • To develop, implement, and uphold organizational policies pertaining to ethics

The modern day ethics committees within acute care organizations attempt to resolve dilemmas through facilitation of communication and thought processes using basic ethical principles in difficult patient care scenarios. Personalized interactions through a consultative service within specific cases allow for clinicians to work directly with an expert in ethics to resolve issues that arise. Specifi-cally, nurses performing the ethics consults provide benefits on a variety of levels. Nurses are the primary provider of care when a patient is hospitalized. They are also the provider who spends the majority of time with patients. Professional nurses today are empowered to make change and drive the overall hospital function all in an effort to provide the best patient care. An exemplar of these types of innovations includes a nurse-led ethics committee where the nurses perform ethics consultation.

The ethics committee serves as the conduit for education on ethical matters within the organization as well as the healthcare profession. The committee has a responsibility to educate any new member as a part of the onboarding process. The education ranges from an overview for the lay members, to more in-depth for the clinicians, to a proficiency level for the nurse consultants. The format for education should be varied as well. Traditional presentations during the meeting or at a different time as well as formal seminars and conferences serve not only the members of the committee but possibly all clinicians working within the organization. Another avenue to take for committee member education is to debrief all ethics cases that were ordered as a consult. The chance to evaluate real cases that occur within the organization provides committee members with an opportunity to not only learn but also synthesize the culture and issues found within the community. When presenting an ethical case to the interdisciplinary team, the ethics nurse also learns presentation skills, reflective feedback, and additional ethical practices that further enhance future consultations. Discussing current events that relate to healthcare ethical issues during ethics committee meetings similarly enhances the knowledge of ethical processes, challenges, and resolutions in the country and around the world.

The ethics committee develops, implements, and upholds ethical policies utilized within the facility. In fact, it becomes the authority on ethical matters within the organization. An ethics committee is the logical means for processing ethical dilemmas that arise. Each hospital should have a policy in place detailing how to handle ethical dilemmas—a policy that patients, families or surrogates, employees, and medical staff can utilize for ethical situations that develop ...

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