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Open Access Commentary

Education and the improvement of clinical ethics services

George J Agich

Author Affiliations

Co-Director, International Conferences on Clinical Ethics & Consultation, 6805 Via Correto Dr, Austin, TX, 78749-2757, USA

BMC Medical Education 2013, 13:41  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-13-41

Published: 21 March 2013

Abstract

The proliferation of clinical ethics in health care institutions around the world has raised the question about the qualifications of those who serve on ethics committees and ethics consultation services. This paper discusses some of weaknesses associated with the most common educational responses to this concern and proposes a complementary approach. Since the majority of those involved in clinical ethics are practicing health professionals, the question of qualification is especially challenging as the role of ethics committees and, increasingly, ethics consultation services are becoming increasingly important to the functioning of health care institutions. Since the challenging nature of health care finances often leads institutions to rely on voluntary participation of committed health professional with only token administrative or clerical support to provide the needed ethics services, significant challenges are created for attaining competence and functional effectiveness. The article suggests that a complementary approach should be adopted for sustaining and building capacity in clinical ethics. Ethics committees and consultation services should systematically adopt quality improvement techniques to effect designed changes in clinical ethics performance and to build ethical capacity within targeted clinical units and services. Demonstrating improvements in functioning can go a long way to build confidence and capacity for clinical ethics and can help in justifying the need for support. To do so, however, requires that ethics committees and consultation services first shift attention to those areas that demonstrate weak or questionable ethical performance, including the established practices of the ethics committee and consultation service, and second seek collaboration with the involved health care providers to pursue demonstrable change. Such an approach has a much better chance of improving the capacity for clinical ethics in health care institutions than relying on educational approaches alone.

Keywords:
Clinical ethics; Ethics consultation; Ethics committees; Education; Quality improvement