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Hospital Ethics Committee

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Is being on a breathing tube what my dad would have wanted?

When can my daughter start making her own health care decisions?

Can I refuse treatment if it is against my beliefs?

Are we doing the right thing? And what do we do if we don’t agree?

Medical care can be complex and confusing and can touch on many of our important values and ideals. The Ethics Committee at UNC Hospitals has experienced consultants available to help free of charge when there is an ethical dilemma related to health care.

Clinical Ethics Consultation

en Español

Why make a request?

  • An ethics consultation may help whenever the health care team, the patient, or the patient’s family has an unresolved ethical concern. A consultation can offer recommendations that the members of the health care team and patient (or patient’s family) may use in their decision-making.
  • A few examples:
    • Uncertainty as to who should make health care decisions or how to make those decisions for patients too sick to speak for themselves
    • Conflict between values or religious beliefs and a recommended course of treatment
    • Disagreement over whether starting, continuing, or ending treatment, such as breathing tubes or feeding tubes, is the right thing to do
    • Moral distress about a health care decision
    • A complex medical situation that also raises ethical concerns

Who can make a request?

  • Hospital and clinic patients at UNC Health Care, their family members, and any member of the health care team can request an ethics consult. There is no charge. The UNC Health Care System now includes seven affiliated hospitals and their clinics outside of Chapel Hill. If the patient is located elsewhere in the UNC Health Care System please consult the box on the left to see who you should contact for assistance.

    Other hospital staff (not directly involved in patient care) may assist interested patients, family members, or health team members by directing them to the service via the request line, this web site, or the Patient Handbook.

When should someone make a request?

  • People often tell the ethics consultation service that they wish they had requested a consultation sooner. If you think a consultation might be helpful, or just have a question about consultations, feel free to call and ask. It may be helpful to keep in mind that it can take some time (later that day or the next day) for the assigned consultant to respond to your request. That means that we cannot typically offer consultations on an emergency basis, such as requests made the day of discharge or an hour before a family meeting. The timing issue often arises because our ethics consultation service is staffed by health and ethics professionals who volunteer for this service in addition to their full time positions within the institution.

Are there times it is better to contact other hospital resources?

  • Yes, if you want to report poor medical treatment or have a financial or legal question or concern, please contact Patient Relations 984-974-5006. Our services help with difficult ethical decision making but do not offer remediation or other legal or financial solutions.

How do I make a request?

  • To request assistance from the Hospital Ethics Committee at UNC Medical Center please call 919-843-1470. Calls will be returned Monday-Friday between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm.

Committee Structure and Membership

The Hospital Ethics Committee has 30 members, representing a variety of disciplinary and community perspectives. Its members represent the major medical departments; other clinical departments, such as nursing, social work, and allied health; as well as pastoral care, hospital administration, and the community. Members bring experience and expertise in their areas; some members have specific bioethics expertise. Members and leadership roles within the committee are appointed by the Chief of Staff. Appointment of new members is staggered in order to ensure experienced membership at all times.

The full Committee meets monthly. Special meetings may be called by the Chairperson(s) on his or her initiative.

Membership types:

  • Full members are appointed for 3-year terms, with the possibility of appointment

  • Fellows, residents and graduate students are appointed for up to 3 years

  • Medical students are appointed for up to 2 year terms

  • Bioethics interns are appointed for renewable 1 year terms

  • Ex officio members include representatives from the legal office, hospital administration and the Center for Bioethics

  • Qualifications and expectations

  • All members are expected to complete orientation and comply with all Committee education and participation requirements. Information shared within the Committee shall be confidential.

To ask about membership to the Hospital Ethics Committee, please call 919-843-1470 Monday-Friday between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm. There is typically a waiting list for new members.

Arlene Davis, JD
Co-Chair
Director of Clinical Consultation
Co-Director of Ethics Education

Gary Gala, MD, F.A.C.S.
Co-Chair

Rebecca Walker, PhD
Co-Director of Ethics Education

Services

The Hospital Ethics Committee offers the following services:

  • Clinical Consultation: Assists health care providers, patients and families in dealing with ethical questions related to hospitalization and treatment. Click here for more information.
  • Ethics Education: Supplements and develops the clinical ethics education of the medical staff, other hospital personnel, and students, and offers outreach in ethics education to the community and the people of North Carolina via the UNC Center for Bioethics and the Clinical Ethics Network of North Carolina. Educational offerings include:
  • Presentations on a variety of clinical ethics topics, available by request, to hospital staff, students and faculty here at UNC or elsewhere. Topics may be selected from previous presentations or tailored to a specific need.
  • A new initiative of education for members of Hospital Ethics Committees who are involved in clinical consultation.
  • Policy Advisement and Review: Assists with formulation of policies and/or guidelines addressing ethical issues. This service is available for the revision or development of institutional, departmental or service-related policies.

Contact Us

To request assistance from the Hospital Ethics Committee at UNC Hospitals please call 919-843-1470.  Calls will be returned Monday-Friday between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm.

Ethics Committees at UNC Health Care

Caldwell Memorial Hospital
Caldwell Memorial Hospital Ethics Committee

Chatham Hospital
For ethics concerns at Chatham Hospital, contact the Director of Quality, Risk Management & Compliance at 919-799-4004.

High Point Regional Health
The High Point Regional Health Ethics Committee can be reached at 336-878-6069.

Johnston Health
The Johnston Health Ethics Help Line is 800-273-8452-toll free.

Nash Health Care
A Nash Health Care ethics consult may be requested by calling the hospital operator (“0” if within the hospital or 252-962-8000 if outside the hospital) and asking the operator to page the person on call for the Ethics Team.

Pardee Hospital
For ethics concerns at Pardee Hospital, contact the Chaplain Department at 828-696-1168.

Rex Healthcare
Rex Healthcare Hospital Ethics Committee

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