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The Ethics Committee of the Stanford Hospital and Clinics provides a medical ethics consult service for the hospital and clinics. Anyone may request a consult.

Ethics consults usually involve a situation where patient care is impacted by conflicts in values between and/or among patients, families, and treatment providers.

Ethics consults consist of a process whereby facts are gathered from all relevant persons, values are elucidated and prioritized, and recommendations made so as to honor as much as possible the priority of values.

Who can use the consultation service?

Anyone, including

  • patients or their families
  • nurses
  • allied health care professionals
  • staff
  • physicians

Who staffs the consultation service?

In most cases, ethics consults involve a multidisciplinary team of persons from the ethics committee led by a member trained and/or experienced in medical ethics theory and consult management.

Is a consultation confidential?

Yes; the identities of those requesting consultations and all data, ideas and ethical issues are confidential. With permission of the parties involved, de-identified descriptions of cases may be requested for educational purposes.

What are some examples of situations that may need an ethics consultation?

The issues involved in ethics consultations have included such matters as

  • differences of opinion about whether to stop aggressive end-of-life treatment and switch a patient to palliative care only
  • whether psychiatric patients can refuse surgery or medical treatment
  • uncertainty about who can best serve as surrogate decision maker for an unconscious patient
  • disagreements among family members about the treatment choices for an incompetent patient
  • demands for treatment that  are considered futile by physicians
  • doubts about what treatments are in the best interests of the patient
  • uncertainty about treatment choices that are based on religious or cultural imperatives
  • the extent to which non-medical facts and circumstances impact a decision to offer organ transplant for a particular patients
  • whether a patient is being made to suffer unnecessarily by reducing or withdrawing pain medication
  • how to best protect a patient from the harmful acts of a close family member
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