Call to action: empowering patients and families to initiate clinical ethics consultations

Journal of Medical Ethics 49 (4):240-243 (2023)
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Clinical ethics consultations exist to support patients, families and clinicians who are facing ethical or moral challenges related to patient care. They provide a forum for open communication, where all stakeholders are encouraged to express their concerns and articulate their viewpoints. Ethics consultations can be requested by patients, caregivers or members of a patient’s clinical or supportive team. Althoughpatientsand by extension their families (especially in cases of decisional incapacity) are the common denominators in most ethics consultations, these constituents are theleastlikely to request them. At many healthcare organisations in the USA, ethics consultations are overwhelmingly requested by physicians and other clinicians. We believe it is vital that healthcare institutions bridge the knowledge gaps and power imbalances over access to ethics consultation services through augmented policies, procedures and infrastructure. With enhanced education and support, patients and families may use ethics consultation to elevate their voices and prioritise their unique characteristics and preferences in the delivery of their healthcare. Empowering patients and families to request ethics consultation can only strengthen the patient/family–clinician relationship, enhance the shared decision-making model of care and ultimately lead to improved patient-centred care.



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