What is health care ethics?

Patients, families, and health care professionals sometimes face difficult decisions about medical treatments that involve moral principles, religious beliefs, or professional guidelines.

Health care ethics is a thoughtful exploration of how to act well and make morally good choices, based on beliefs and values about life, health, suffering, and death.

What are some common ethical questions?

Generally, ethics questions arise when the right thing to do is not clear or when people disagree about what is best for a person who is ill. Some examples of common ethical questions include:

  • When should life-sustaining treatments like breathing machines or feeding tubes be started, continued, or stopped?
  • What should family members and health care professionals do if a patient refuses treatment that promises to be medically helpful?
  • Who should make health care decisions for patients when they are unable to communicate or decide for themselves?
  • What should patients do when they do not understand what professionals are saying and feel they are not offered the opportunity to participate in their own health care decisions?

What should I do if I need ethics advice?

The Ethics Consultation Service is available to provide ethics advice to those directly involved in a situation that has created ethical questions.

During an ethics consultation, you may meet with a member of the Ethics Consultation Service or a team of Ethics Committee members. In this consultation, ethics professionals will help you identify, analyze, and resolve ethical issues through information gathering and discussion. They will also clarify Cleveland Clinic policies that may apply to the particular situation.

Ethics consultation is an advisory service. This means that ethics professionals will offer advice but will not make a decision for you. Patients, family members, and professionals remain responsible for their own decisions.

Patients and their families should ask their nurse to contact the Ethics Consultation Service on their behalf when ethics assistance is desired.

What happens after ethics assistance is requested?

The professionals conducting the ethics consultation will gather facts, ask questions, and listen carefully. They will clarify options or make recommendations about the ethical issue. Often a meeting of all those closely involved in the situation will lead to new insight or agreement.

Will an ethics consultation be confidential?

Yes. The deliberations and the proceedings of the Ethics Consultation Service are strictly confidential.

Is the advice from an ethics consultation legally binding?

No. All recommendations from the Ethics Consultation Service are advisory. An ethics consultation does not provide legally binding decisions for patients, families, or professionals.

Is there a charge for an ethics consultation?

There are no fees for an ethics consultation, and you will not be billed for any ethics advice. Cleveland Clinic provides ethics consultations and other ethics resources as a service to patients, families, and Cleveland Clinic professionals.

What other services are provided by Cleveland Clinic hospitals’ Ethics Committees and the Department of Bioethics?

The Ethics Committee at each hospital meets regularly to discuss and evaluate policies and patient care issues. The main functions of the Ethics Committees and the Department of Bioethics are consultative and educational.

In addition to providing ethics consultations, they also:

  • Participate in developing and reviewing institutional policies when health care ethics issues are involved.
  • Provide educational programs on ethics issues for both health care professionals and the community.
  • Serve on other institutional committees such as the human research review board.
For more information

Cleveland Clinic Center for Ethics, Humanities, & Spiritual Care (http://my.clevelandclinic.org/about-cleveland-clinic/ethics-humanities-care)


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 11/29/2016...#4078