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Open Access Research article

Comparison of ethical judgments exhibited by clients and ethics consultants in Japan

Noriko Nagao1*, Yasuhiro Kadooka2 and Atsushi Asai2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Nursing, Kobe University Graduate School of Health Sciences 7-10-2 Tomogaoka, Suma-ku, Kobe, Hyogo 654-0142, Japan

2 Department of Bioethics, Kumamoto University Graduate School of Medical Science, Kumamoto, Japan

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BMC Medical Ethics 2014, 15:19  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-15-19

Published: 4 March 2014

Abstract

Background

Healthcare professionals must make decisions for patients based on ethical considerations. However, they rely on clinical ethics consultations (CEC) to review ethical justifications of their decisions. CEC consultants support the cases reviewed and guide medical care. When both healthcare professionals and CEC consultants face ethical problems in medical care, how is their judgment derived? How do medical judgments differ from the ethical considerations of CECs? This study examines CECs in Japan to identify differences in the ethical judgment of clients and CEC consultants.

Methods

The CEC request and response documents of all 60 cases reviewed across Japan between October 2006 and the end of October 2011 were classified in terms of the presence of decisional capacity in the patient. We conducted a qualitative content analysis of the differences in reasoning between client and CEC consultants. Reasoned judgments were verified in individual cases to classify the similarities or differences of opinion between CEC clients and teams.

Results

As the result of classification of the decisional capacity and the difference of opinion regarding medical care, the most frequent category was 25 cases (41.7%) of “uncertain decisional capacity,” and 23 cases (38.3%) of “withholding of decision-making.” A chi-square analysis was performed on presence of decisional capacity and agreement in decision-making, yielding a statistically significant difference (p < 0.05). The CEC consultants’ reasoning was based on “patient’s preference was ambiguous,” “validity of family as a surrogate,” “estimation of patient preference,” and “patient’s best interest,” whereas the CEC client’s reasoning was based on “consistent family preference was shown/not shown” and “appropriate therapeutic methods to manage patient safety.”

Conclusion

Differences in opinions were found in cases classified according to decisional capacity. Furthermore, the reasoning behind judgments differed between CEC clients and CEC consultants. The reasoning of CEC consultants was critical and reflective, while for clients it was situational and pragmatic.

Keywords:
Clinical ethics consultation; Ethical judgment; Ethical reasoning; Clinical ethics; Quality of healthcare