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Topic: Consultation
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.

June 24, 2013 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

The moral basis for competent, clinical ethics consultation, I would like to argue, is largely derived from the moral premises of our normative understanding of what it means to be a “good doctor” as reflected in a self-conscious commitment of a good physician to treat patients as best as one can according to prevailing standards of professionalism and medical ethical principles. The good doctor stands in relationship to a patient, within a well-defined framework of moral rights and professional obligations. This linkage between the activity of clinical ethics consultation and our understanding of a good physician further defines the work of the ethics consultant squarely in framework of clinical, medical competencies.  

To further see this linkage, it is useful to consider how and when value conflicts arise in the physician-patient relationship. For the vast majority of physician-patient encounters, there is agreement and absence of conflict. But in the less frequent cases of moral conflict, there are competing visions of what should happen—regarding the goals of care and who has the moral authority to define those goals. In short, how are competing rights and obligations to be balanced between the patient and physician, but also the surrogate, the hospital and potentially many other interests, especially in the midst of the emotion and stress that illness and impending death can induce both to patients and their families? It is the latter contextual aspect of grounding value conflicts within a patient’s and family’s illness experience, and the necessary ability to function effectively in clinical encounters, that requires the competent ethics consultant to also possess the general qualities of a caregiver, and to understand the moral perspective of a good physician.

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.

May 9, 2013 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

In the fall of 1970 Philip Tumulty, a Johns Hopkins’ internist, gave a lecture to the 3rd year medical school class at Johns Hopkins. His lecture was published in the same year in the New England Journal of Medicine under the title of “What is a clinician, and what does he do?” (Tumulty PA. What is a clinician and what does he do? N Engl J Med. 1970 Jul 2;283(1):20-4.) In this classic piece, this eminent physician of his era claimed that the primary role of the clinician is to “manage a sick person with the purpose of alleviating the total effect of his illness”. 

This paper, probably better than any other paper I have ever read gets to the essence of what a patient needs from an expert clinical caregiver; it lays out eloquently and robustly the characteristics of a good clinician and what is involved in excellent clinical care of patients. As Tumulty says, it is not a diseased body organ that shows up for physical diagnosis and treatment; rather, it is an anxious, fearful, wondering person concerned about her personal life, including her family, work, friends as well as her hopes and dreams. This means the clinician must be a thoughtful and systematic fact finder, a careful listener, a keen analyst of the facts and a prudent planner regarding which tests and treatment options make the most sense for this particular patient. Moreover, Tumulty rightly assumes that these skills should be embodied in the clinician as natural traits that the clinician genuinely enjoys performing. 

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.

January 16, 2013 | Posted By Bruce White, DO, JD

Those involved in healthcare ethics consultation professionalism efforts face many challenges. Many – particularly academics involved in bioethics education – have been working on the notion that those who offer clinical ethics consultation services as individuals be appropriately credentialed, certified, or accredited in someway.

In re-reading an article by Diane Hoffmann, Anita Tarzian, and Anne O’Neil which appeared in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics in 2000, one striking challenge is readily apparent: ethics committee members – with little or no formal training in clinical ethics, little or no actual consultation experience, some with not much more than a sufficient interest in biomedical ethics issues and a willingness to serve – already feel competent to participate in offering consultation services. Moreover, from the Hoffmann-Tarzian-O’Neill data set, ethics committee members who self-report that they are competent to participate in clinical ethics consultation – and in hospitals which average only three consultations per year – believe that they are meeting their obligations to patients, families, staff, and institutions reasonably well.

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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