The ASBH Approach to Certify Clinical Ethics Consultants Is Both Premature and Inadequate

 

Mark Siegler, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 30, no. 2 (Summer 2019): 109-16.

 

In November 2018 the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) administered the first Healthcare Ethics Consultant Certification examination to 138 candidates, 136 of whom (98.5 percent) passed and were “certified” as “healthcare ethics consultants.” I believe this certification process is both premature and inadequate.

     Certification for ethics consultants is premature because, as Kornfeld and Prager state repeatedly in their article in this issue of The Journal of Clinical Ethics, “The Clinician as Clinical Ethics Consultant: An Empirical Method of Study,” there is a lack of “empirical data on the nature of the problems that prompt ethics consultation requests and on the functions required to address them.” These authors proceed to provide a model for the kind of empirical data collection that is needed.

     Even more relevant, the ASBH model that certifies clinical ethics consultants is inadequate. First, it is inappropriate for a nonclinical organization such as the ASBH to claim the right to certify a clinical process, ethics consultation, involving patients and health professionals. Second, the current certification process requires only a written examination in contrast to the two-step quality attestation process proposed in 2013 by Eric Kodish, MD, and 11 other senior members of the ASBH, including its then president.

     Third and most importantly, the eligibility criteria for being certified to work on hospital units and to make clinical recommendations for patients and families are minimal and insufficient. The only stated requirements are a bachelor’s degree and 400 hours of healthcare ethics consulting experience. By contrast, practicing physicians and nurses train for many years to gain clinical experience that enables them to apply clinical ethical standards in the care and management of all inpatients and outpatients, not just the small percent for whom an ethics consultation is requested.

 

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