Hospital ethics committees: A survey in upstate new York [Book Review]

HEC Forum 18 (3):222-244 (2006)
This survey describes in detail ethics committees (ECs) at acute care hospitals in Upstate New York. It finds that in just two years (1984 and 1985), following the Baby Doe controversy and the Report of the President’s Commission, 40% of urban ECs and 37% of university ECs were formed. One half of rural ECs formed in 1992–1995, following the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) requirement of access to ethics consultation. Generally, ECs are committees of the powerful within the hospital; the administration or the medical staff is the organizational parent of 73% of ECs. These groups appoint 80% of EC chairs and 79% of members; they constitute 45% of the membership. Most EC members (81%) lack even rudimentary formal training in bioethics, yet only 18% of ECs consider member education a major role. Many ECs are rather inactive: 53% meet less than every other month and 61% have fewer than six case consultations in the prior year. On the basis of this survey’s findings, suggestions are offered to improve the credibility of these ubiquitous committees as stewards of bioethics, rather than of the powerful within the hospital
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