NEWS

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March 25, 2008

The modern day bioethics "committee:" not a committee at all

My lastest from The Observer:The notion of the "bioethics committee" – a group of ethicists and representatives from various disciplines sitting around a table reviewing and passing judgment on cases – is to a great degree a holdover from the beginnings of modern bioethics. When medicine started to recognize the significance of ethical dilemmas, committees were indeed formed to answer some of these difficult questions and provide courses of action. For instance, the controversial Patient Admissions Committee of the Seattle Artificial Kidney Center, which during the 1940s sought to allocate the new and scarce medical resource of hemodialysis, seems to be the image that we think of with respect to a "bioethics committee."Today, at many hospitals and especially so at academic institutions, the landscape is far different. Ethics consultation services provided by on-call clinical ethicists are prevalent and have, in the words of one such clinical ethicist, reigned in the image of a "God squad" of ethicists sitting at a round table passing down rulings. Instead, in image and practice, the consultation services offer mediation, not mandates....