Structure, Operation, and Experience of Clinical Ethics Consultation 2007-2013: A Report from the Massachusetts General Hospital Optimum Care Committee


Ellen M. Robinson, Wendy Cadge, Kimberly Erler, Sharon Brackett, Julia Bandini, Alexandra Cist, M. Cornelia Cremens,

Eric L. Krakauer, and Andrew M. Courtwright

We describe the structure, operation, and experience of the Massachusetts General Hospital ethics committee, formally called the Edwin H. Cassem Optimum Care Committee, from January 2007 through December 2013. Founded in 1974 as one of the nation’s first hospital ethics committees, this committee has primarily focused on the optimum use of life-sustaining treatments. We outline specific sociodemographic and clinical characteristics of consult patients during this period, demographic differences between the adult inpatient population and patients for whom the ethics committee was consulted, and salient features of the consults themselves. We include three case studies that illustrate important consult themes during this period. Our findings expand knowledge about the structure and workings of hospital ethics committees and illustrate how one ethics committee has developed and utilized policies on end-of-life care. More generally, we model a sociological approach to the study of clinical ethics consultation that could be utilized to contextualize institutional practices over time.


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