Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy

Ethics Consultation FAQ


An ethics consultation service assists patients, doctors and members of the patient’s care team to navigate value-laden conflict and uncertainty and helps determine which actions should or should not be taken. Typical ethical issues that are appropriate for ethics consultation may include:

  • Questions about how to interpret an advance care-planning document
  • Steps to identify an appropriate surrogate decision-maker
  • Feedback for resolution of discordance that exists between a patient and family members, between family members, or between patient/family and healthcare professionals about plans of care or the appropriateness of treatment plans
  • Concerns or questions exist regarding end-of-life treatment decisions
  • Review of cutting-edge and complex treatments such as fetal-maternal medicine or transplantation ethics
  • Suggestions for preventing ethical conflict

Due to the varying complexity of topics, ethics consultations do not always follow a prescribed design.

Typically the consultant(s) will discuss the case with the care team and meet with the patient and/or family. The goal in meeting with these individuals is to gather information, clarify perspectives, and engage in problem-solving. Ethics consultants may ask for multidisciplinary meetings or family meetings to establish consensus among different stakeholders, mediate discordance, or facilitate decision-making about plans of care.

After discussion with various stakeholders and extensive information-gathering the ethics consultant will conduct an ethical analysis and often leave recommendations for ongoing care. These recommendations are typically advisory in nature.


Did You Know?

  • Ethics consultations don’t just occur over the phone; typically consultants meet in person with the care team and patient/family.
  • The ethics service works to provide support and guidance by being non-judgmental and offering action-oriented, clinically feasible recommendations rather than “telling people what to do.”
  • If requested, your name/role can be kept confidential when calling for a consultation.
  • The ethics consultation service provides the added benefit of individual consultants who are supported by the larger ethics committee.
  • There is no charge for using the clinical ethics consultation service in the affiliated hospitals
  • Although less than 5% of ethics consultants in the nation are fellowship-trained in clinical ethics, the majority of the Center’s consultants are fellowship-trained in clinical ethics consultation.
  • Center faculty are heavily involved in national clinical ethics initiatives, scholarship/research on clinical ethics consultation and “best practices,” and training for the next generation of clinical ethicists.