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Topic: Consultation
July 7, 2015 | Posted By Bruce White, DO, JD

In his last AMBI blog posted on June 18, 2015, Wayne N. Shelton, PhD, MSW, discussed recent movement toward the professionalization of clinical ethics consultants. He noted the adoption of a Code of Ethics for Health Care Ethics Consultants by the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH), which has been praised as important milestone toward the professionalization of clinical ethics consultants. Moreover, Dr. Shelton listed several challenges that “professionals” who call themselves “clinical ethics consultants” currently face, including: “[1] how to make sense of the diverse educational backgrounds and training of those who perform clinical ethics consultations and how far to push such requirements; [2] the lack of a national body to set requirements that leaves local hospital leaders with little incentive to pay for highly qualified CECs and view this as a sound investment; and finally [3], most seriously, the way in which many problems in patient care are misidentified as clinical ethical problems while other serious clinical ethical problems may be entirely overlooked or if recognized, not viewed as requiring the expertise of a CEC.” He concluded his post with: “These challenges are indications that clinical ethics consultation will not likely achieve professional status in the healthcare system in the near future.” Of course, Dr. Shelton is correct in his analysis, but some might see the challenges he listed as surmountable if those who practiced clinical ethics consultation were to: (1) establish minimum uniform educational standards for new clinical ethics consultants; (2) create national certification and accreditation standards so employers would more fully understand the nature and value of their work; and (3) provide consultants themselves and other stakeholders unmistakable guidance on what clearly constitutes the work of clinical ethics consultants. (This third point sounds very much like a “scope of practice” definition found in state professional licensing statutes.) However, it may take something much more for clinical ethics consultants to be a separate professional category.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

June 18, 2015 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

Let me say emphatically at the outset of this blog, as someone who has been a clinical ethics consultant for over 20 years, I am quite sure that clinical ethics consultations overall improve the quality of patient care and currently are an important, even essential, part of the providing excellent patient care in hospitals. Contemporary medicine is filled with value laden questions and issues that often can be effectively addressed by someone with expertise and training in clinical ethics. Having said this, I am still somewhat skeptical about clinical ethics consultation becoming a professional area of healthcare that parallels other professional areas like medicine, nursing, and social work. I think there are some special considerations about the field of clinical ethics consultation that makes its future status as a professional activity uncertain.

First of all it is well-known that CEC’s come from a variety of backgrounds and training—from philosophers to physicians to social workers to nurses and lawyers and on and on. People enter the field of clinical ethics consultations from very different disciplinary backgrounds and seemingly learn a common vocabulary and methodology of clinical ethics and a basic familiarity with and ability to function in the clinical setting. They learn this vocabulary in very different ways—some informally, some through short 1-2 week long intensives, some with certificate programs, some with master’s degrees, and some with 1-2 year long fellowships. No other area of healthcare work admits of such diversity. Though this is a positive feature in some ways by providing diverse perspectives in understanding value dilemmas, it creates a challenge of considerable controversy when we try to define the kind of educational training a future CEC should have. At the moment there seem to be many pathways into the field and no clear answer has emerged.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

December 22, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Recently Dr. Christopher Thomas Scott of Stanford University wrote a great paper titled “The Case of Stem Cell Counselors” in Stem Cell Reports which draws parallels from the field of genetic counseling arguing for the need for stem cell counsellors (1). Scott outlines that due to increases in the number of stem cell trials combined with fraudulent therapies being offered around the world, the time is ripe for having counsellors help patients navigate the clinical stem cell research/therapy landscape. These experts can help patients identify and distinguish legitimate trials from unproven interventions, explain the risks, benefits and therapeutic options, and serve as a resource to provide them with educational information.

On a related topic, my colleagues and I at AMBI were going to write a paper arguing that clinical ethics consultants should be involved in countering the impact of stem cell tourism and serve as a resource for patients who are contemplating undertaking an unproven stem cell based intervention (SCBI). We thought that clinical ethics consultants are in a unique position to offer advice and counselling to patients seeking unproven SCBIs for a few reasons.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

August 11, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

In my last blog I asked the question, “What is ethics doing?” where I contrasted the armchair, academic ethics that I knew as a graduate student with the clinical ethics cases in which I am now involved in clinical ethics consultations. I alluded to the famous paper by Stephen Toulmin (1922-2009), “How medicine saved the life of ethics” by providing ethics with many practical value laden problems to address. The very process of becoming involved with applied ethics and ethical problems of practicing physicians in the healthcare system was itself as, or perhaps more, transformational for ethics than it was for medicine. Even though medicine needed a serious study of its value-laden issues, which has evolved into bioethics and clinical ethics, the very activity of doing applied ethics has evolved into a better defined field of inquiry with a clearer purpose. But what about the armchair, academic pursuits of philosophical ethics of old? Is there anything left for it to do? This is the question I will attempt to answer in this blog.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

July 22, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

I recall being a PhD candidate in philosophy in the 1970’s, I often pondered the subject matter of my graduate courses in ethics. I would ask myself, what does any of this have to do with ethics? What are we doing?

As our courses went from Kant to Mill to G.E. Moore to the Emotivists and others, I couldn’t help but have a sense of unreality about the content of what I was learning.

How can we use reason to find a basis for knowing right action? What are the ways we can define right action based on a normative moral theory?

What is the meaning of good? Right? And obligation? Can these terms be defined within a theoretical, substantive moral framework or are they just expressions of feelings and emotions without any cognitive content? If they are more than the latter, what do they mean?

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

June 12, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

For over a decade the faculty of the Alden March Bioethics Institute has been designing and developing simulated cases for our graduate students who wish to learn the core skills of clinical ethics consultation. The model that we use is called “mock consultations”, which provides students the opportunity to perform an ethics consultation on a simulated case from the beginning when the request is made, to data collection, interviewing key players in the case, and on to case analysis the final recommendation.

In the process of developing simulated cases we have made every effort to make them as real to life as possible. All of the cases we use are from ethics consultation cases that have been deidentified and made into anonymous teaching cases. We have benefitted immensely from working closely with Albany Medical College’s (AMC) Patient Safety Clinical Competence Center (PSCCC). Those involved in medical education will recognize the importance of simulated cases using standardized patients (SP) and the role they play in training new doctors to communicate effectively with patients and families.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

February 20, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

Over the past few decades, clinical ethics consultations have become an important component in providing quality care in cases where there are value conflicts that must be resolved before viable goals of healthcare can be accomplished. With the development of this service and its acceptance as a necessary part of patient care, questions arise as to how and when will clinical ethics consultation be recognized as a specialized professional service comparable to medicine, nursing, social work and pastoral care? For physicians, nurses, social workers, and chaplains there are well-established pathways for practitioners to take in each of these areas in order to be recognized as fully qualified professionals. There is no such pathway to date for those individuals who provide clinical ethics consultations. For those of us who have been involved in this area it is interesting to reflect upon the vast improvements made in providing clinical ethics consultations and whether the field is ready for professionalization.

I recall my early years of training in medical ethics as a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Tennessee. As part of the requirements for the PhD in philosophy with a concentration in medical ethics, students had to spend 3 months at the Health Science Center in Memphis where we participated in intensive internship in medical ethics. At that time I was fortunate to have one of the early pioneers in medical ethics as a mentor, Professor David Thomasma, who was beginning to do clinical ethics consultations. During the 1970’s philosophers and others in fields pertaining to ethics were being invited to enter the medical setting to help physicians and nurses grapple with some of the ethical dilemmas that were becoming more evident with the increasing use of dialysis machines and mechanical life supports. There seemed to be an assumption, perhaps naïve in retrospect, that philosophers like professor Thomasma and others had some special understanding of ethical issues that would shed light on the emerging medical ethical dilemmas and therefore would be in a position to give helpful advice.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

November 12, 2013 | Posted By Bruce White, DO, JD

With the endorsement of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) Board of Directors, and the publication of a process to confer eventually a “quality attestation” credential on successful candidates, the ASBH Quality Attestation Presidential Task Force (QAPTF) has begun apilot procedure to assess those involved in providing clinical ethics consultation services. Importantly, it’s unclear at this point if the Task Force will be looking at those who provide consultation as an individual, or as a member of a small group of consultants or as a member of a larger ethics committee.

As part of the pilot to refine the process, the QAPTF has asked those interested to submit a letter of intent. (It is not a requirement that one be an ASBH member to submit a letter of intent.) The Task Force will review the submitted letters and select a representative sample (“a cross-section of eligible candidates whose professions represent the distribution of professions among Clinical Ethics Consultants”). 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

August 20, 2013 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

In my work as a clinical ethics consultant, I have seen many situations where dying patients or their surrogates make decisions that cause considerable concern and moral stress to physicians, and particularly to nurses who are continually at the patient’s bedside. In an era where respect for patient autonomy is the paramount ethical value, we are obligated to be respectful of these preferences and decisions. But what about the cases where those preferences and decisions lead to procedures and treatments at the end of life which are entirely contrary to sound medical advice? Should physicians follow these directives even if this means that the patient will suffer needlessly and the physician will be performing painful, futile treatment?

Ethics consultations are frequently called on to address issues at the end of life.  One of the most pressing issues involves dying patients for whom CPR would be medically inappropriate. The patient or surrogate will not give consent for a DNR order, insists on remaining full code and that “everything be done” in spite of a prognosis of imminent death.  A case I read about a few years ago illustrates this concern.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

July 12, 2013 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

I have probably done several hundred clinical ethics consultations since I began doing them in the early 90’s. Though I have had some second thoughts about some of the recommendations I have made, by and large, I have usually been confident that they represented viable moral options, given the range of limited, mostly bad options that were available.  Thus, I rarely if ever thought of myself as anything but fully supportive of the recommendations made in ethics consultation.  That is, until a few months ago when I heard about a case from another ethics consultant at another location where the right ethical recommendation seemed apparent, yet somewhat problematic. The case shows the almost boundless, and at times problematic, latitude of the negative right to refuse treatment and to be left alone, even when others may be negatively affected by the decision. I thought the general fact pattern of this case would be worth discussing in this forum. 

The case involved a 40 year-old woman with full capacity who was near full term with twins. She was showing signs of pre-eclampsia, a condition “when a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure and protein in the urine after the 20th week (late 2nd or 3rd trimester) of pregnancy.” (National Library of Medicine) When this condition occurs, it is important to get the babies out as soon as possible; otherwise, both the mother and babies would be at risk of dying. So labor was induced and she was being prepared for delivery. But given that she was having twins there was the possibility of excess bleeding from hemorrhaging and other complications, so the patient was informed that a blood transfusion might be necessary. As it turns out based on her religious beliefs she stated she did not wish to be transfused with blood products and that she understood the consequence: she could possibly die. Her babies would in all likelihood be saved. Should the fact that two babies will not have a mother be counted as ethical considerations against respecting her right to autonomy? Given our current ethical environment, a patient with capacity has a right to refuse any and all medical treatments and interventions. Are there ever countervailing reasons to not honor a patient’s autonomous wishes in such a situation? Let’s proceed with the general facts of this case, as it gets even more complex.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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