HEC Forum 22 (1):41-49 (2010)

John John
University of Virginia
Curbside ethics consultations occur when an ethics consultant provides guidance to a party who seeks assistance over ethical concerns in a case, without the consultant involving other stakeholders, conducting his or her own comprehensive review of the case, or writing a chart note. Some have argued that curbside consultation is problematic because the consultant, in focusing on a single narrative offered by the party seeking advice, necessarily fails to account for the full range of moral perspectives. Their concern is that any guidance offered by the ethics consultant will privilege and empower one party’s viewpoint over—and to the exclusion of—other stakeholders. This could lead to serious harms, such as the ethicist being reduced to a means to an end for a clinician seeking to achieve his or her own preferred outcome, the ethicist denying the broader array of stakeholders input in the process, or the ethicist providing wrongheaded or biased advice, posing dangers to the ethical quality of decision-making. Although these concerns are important and must be addressed, we suggest that they are manageable. This paper proposes using conflict coaching, a practice developed within the discipline of conflict management, to mitigate the risks posed by curbside consultation, and thereby create new “spaces” for moral discourse in the care of patients. Thinking of curbside consultations as an opportunity for “clinical ethics conflict coaching” can more fully integrate ethics committee members into the daily ethics of patient care and reduce the frequency of ethically harmful outcomes.
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DOI 10.1007/s10730-010-9120-y
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