July 4, 2022

If ethics committees were a drug, would it be approved?

Slow, ponderous and ineffective, say doctors

Although American hospitals are
required to have ethics committees, doctors shun them. According to a
survey published last year, an average committee dealt with only
three cases a year. The committees are meant to improve outcomes for
patients, but many doctors suspect that they are worse than useless.
“If ethics committees were a drug,” Howard Brody,
director of the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Institute for
Medical Humanities, told American Medical News, "they would not
be approved."

In the eyes of clinicians, the
practical problems of using a committee are legion. Less than half of
committee members have formal training in bioethics, and only one in
20 has a bioethics degree of some sort. Advice tends to be vague and
biased towards compromise. Doctors fear that they undermine their own
ethical responsibility to patients. Furthermore, no standards
currently exist for a successful ethical consultation.

In any case, the skill of identifying
ethical issues is not easily learned. "Bioethicists are
extremely good if you come to us wearing a sandwich board that says,
‘I am an ethical issue.’ Then we can give you good advice based on
rules, cases, ethics, with all the footnotes," says Dr Brody.
"But if what you want to know is how to see what’s an ethical
problem, something that happens in the clinical work flow and doesn’t
have ‘ethics’ printed at the top of the page, then I’m not sure we
know how to teach that." ~ American Medical News, Jan 28

One thought on “If ethics committees were a drug, would it be approved?

  1. The (alleged) failure of ethics committees to meet clear standards of efficacy illustrates a general rule: “Do what I say, not what I do”. The Precautionary Principle, similarly, if applied to itself, may fail its own tests. It is a new(ish) concept: its effects cannot be fully predicted, so some of them could (and probably will) be negative.

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