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Why does Women & Infants have a Bioethics Committee?

Medical bioethics is the process of applying legal and ethical principles to concrete, real-world situations. It’s a way of looking at “hard choices” that take into account what the law says, what our values are, and how similar issues have been resolved in the past.

What is the Bioethics Committee’s mission?

The purpose of the Bioethics Committee is to assist health care providers, hospital administration, and patients and families, by serving as a mechanism to develop, recommend, educate and review broad institutional standards, policies and procedures related to bioethical issues. The committee also fosters interdisciplinary dialogue concerning the bioethical implications of patient care and medical research through education and consultation of individual cases.

What is a bioethics consultation?

The main purpose of a bioethics consultation is to assist the family and health care providers in analyzing difficult bioethical issues that arise in patient care. Our Bioethics Committee consists of:

  • Doctors.
  • Nurses.
  • Chaplains.
  • An ethicist.
  • Patient/family members.
  • Lawyers.
  • Community representatives.
  • Social workers.
  • Senior administrators.
Committee members have expertise in consulting on bioethical problems which arise in patient care. The consultation is intended to help clarify the situation, and delineate options, provide information, and increase communication between family, patient, physician, and other involved parties.

Who can request a consultation?

A patient, family member, physician, nurse, social worker, or any member of the health care team may request a consultation with the Bioethics Committee.

Who should I call to request a consultation?

Patients or families who wish to consult the Bioethics Committee on specific issues may relay their request through their physician, nurse or social worker, or by contacting the Medical Staff Office at (401) 274-1122, ext. 2342.

When should I consider a bioethics consultation?

A bioethics consult may be indicated when there are differing opinions between the physician and patient/family as to what is in the patient’s best interest. The more serious the disagreement, or the more serious the possible medical consequences, the greater the indication for a consult. It is often appropriate when there is no apparent conflict between the parties, but there are significant bioethical issues involved (i.e. withdrawal and withholding of life-sustaining treatment, Do Not Attempt Resuscitation – DNAR – orders, etc.). In these cases, a bioethics consult may validate the decision, or make sure all the relevant issues and facts have been addressed. A bioethics consult can often help clarify who should be the primary decision maker, who should be informed of the patient’s condition, or who is the appropriate surrogate or proxy. The situations sometimes have legal ramifications and may require additional consultation with legal services.

Who should be involved in the consultation?

There are many ways to approach an issue with the Bioethics Committee. Sometimes an ethical issue can best be discussed when only one person speaks with the committee. In other situations it may be helpful to include others who can provide more detail regarding the issue. In addition to you, this may include various people such as your family, your specified health care agent or authorized representative, or your doctor. Another option is for a single committee member to meet with a patient or family member to discuss a concern.

Will the committee make decisions for the patient and family?

We would like to emphasize that, although the Bioethics Committee will offer guidance and support, members will not make decisions for you or tell your medical team how to proceed.

What else does the Bioethics Committee do?

The Bioethics Committee has many important responsibilities including staying up-to-date on changes in the law, advances in medical technology, and developments in medical bioethics. The group helps the rest of us understand the basics of health care decision-making by playing a key role in reviewing and commenting on proposed new guidelines, helping to keep existing policies current, and identifying issues or situations that may need to be addressed in the future.

What can I do to help?

It’s good to know the Bioethics Committee is available to help, if you or your family needs it. Here are some actions you can take to ensure that your wishes are known.

  • Take charge of your health care. Make sure you understand your options. Be clear in telling your doctor what your decisions are.
  • Learn how to use advance directives. They let you say ahead of time what kinds of care you do or do not want. And they let you appoint someone else to act for you, in case you lose the ability to act for yourself. If you complete an advance directive, the chances are good a Bioethics Committee consultation will never be needed.
  • Be willing to talk openly about your wishes. Let your health care representative – that’s the person you appoint as a durable power of attorney or health care surrogate – know your views and how you would like your decisions made. If you haven’t appointed anyone officially it may be helpful to have a discussion regarding your wishes with a close family member or friend. Someday there may be a need for someone to step in and act for you.