To determine the number of top-ranked U.S. academic institutions that require ethics consultation for specific adult clinical circumstances (e.g., family requests for potentially inappropriate treatment) and to detail those circumstances and the specific clinical scenarios for which consultations are mandated.
Cross-sectional survey study, conducted online or over the phone between July 2016 and October 2017.
We identified the top 50 research medical schools through the 2016 U.S. News and World Report rankings. The primary teaching hospital for each medical school was included.
The chair/director of each hospital’s adult clinical ethics committee, or a suitable alternate representative familiar with ethics consultation services, was identified for study recruitment.
Measurements and Main Results:
A representative from the adult ethics consultation service at each of the 50 target hospitals was identified. Thirty-six of 50 sites (72%) consented to participate in the study, and 18 (50%) reported having at least one current mandatory consultation policy. Of the 17 sites that completed the survey and listed their triggers for mandatory ethics consultations, 20 trigger scenarios were provided, with three sites listing two distinct clinical situations. The majority of these triggers addressed family requests for potentially inappropriate treatment (9/20, 45%) or medical decision-making for unrepresented patients lacking decision-making capacity (7/20, 35%). Other triggers included organ donation after circulatory death, initiation of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, denial of valve replacement in patients with subacute bacterial endocarditis, and posthumous donation of sperm. Twelve (67%) of the 18 sites with mandatory policies reported that their protocol(s) was formally documented in writing.
Among top-ranked academic medical centers, the existence and content of official policies regarding situations that mandate ethics consultations are variable. This finding suggests that, despite recent critical care consensus guidelines recommending institutional review as standard practice in particular scenarios, formal adoption of such policies has yet to become widespread and uniform.