Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Boundaries for Ethics Consults

George Flanagan, D.Min, M.A.
June 22, 2010

In my itinerant visits to ethics committees far and near, I have discovered not just a few who will take on any request that comes to it, and they find themselves then doing the follow-up work rightly falling in the domain of other professions—nursing, social work, e.g.

Even if we are unclear philosophically about the appropriate cause for ethics committee consultation, we must have some sort of boundary that prevents the EC from becoming the common recourse for staff dealing with any kind of problem.

Allowing ourselves to be ombudsman for all will lead to our fatigue and, possibly, our ineffectiveness in our appropriate work. There is not question that we find ourselves responding to consults about “difficult decisions” that may not yield an authentic ethical question; however, the ASBH competencies indicate that we are equipped to provide facilitation skills that can be very useful in helping others work through difficult decisions.

Nevertheless, as a career chaplain prior to my work at the Center, my encouragement in those cases is “Call the Chaplain!” It’s not a dump—they are particularly trained and tasked with this type of work. And, of course, the fact that the chaplain may be on the EC doesn’t necessarily make it an ethics question.



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