8600 Old Georgetown Road | Bethesda, MD 20814

Ethics Committee

What is the Ethics Committee?

An interdisciplinary group of doctors, nurses, clergy and social workers with training in ethical issues as well as clinical experience with difficult patient care decisions.

Why Have an Ethics Committee?

When ethical issues arise related to patient care, first the health care team and patient/family should attempt to resolve the problems. If the team or patient/family feel it would be helpful to have others assist in the difficult issues, then the Ethics Committee can be convened.The Ethics Committee:

  • Supports religious and cultural diversity in the care of its patients;

  • Upholds the highest respect for patient's autonomy in decision making;

  • Upholds all patients' health care rights and responsibilities;

  • Provides education and supports the patient's use of Advance Directives;

Additionally, the State of Maryland and The Joint Commission requires all hospitals to provide a format, which facilitates dialogue with patients and families concerning ethical issues.

History of Our Ethics Committees

In the 1960s, ethical debate over the treatment of hospitalized patients with care related to: renal dialysis, use of CPR, use of life support and organ transplantation influenced hospitals to create committees to assist doctors and patients making difficult decisions. Ethical issues can occur when:

  • providing life support and/or aggressive treatment;

  • patients have no family and have not identified someone to make healthcare decisions;

  • the capacity or competence of the patient is in question;

  • there are communication issues between the patient and the health care team;

  • stopping or starting certain treatments;

  • terminally ill patients are faced with difficult end of life decisions; and/or

  • patients are dying.

Ethics Committee Responsibilities

  • Oversee education of hospital personnel, patients and families on ethical and moral issues concerning medical decision-making that involves individuals with life threatening conditions.

  • Provide consultation to staff, patient and families on case specific ethical issues and on current ethical medical practices.

  • Review and recommend institutional policies and guidelines concerning the ethical aspects of care at Suburban Hospital.

  • Assist in compliance with organizational ethical standards.

Consultation Outcomes

The Ethics Committee does not make decisions for patients and families but rather helps them understand their options in dealing with difficult situations. Consultation provides compassionate advice, education or structured mediation for the patient and health care team. The goals of consultation are to:

  • clarify patient wishes and belief systems,

  • clarify prognosis and recommendations for plan of care by the health care team,

  • identify conflicts, and

  • educate the participants on current practices within an ethical framework.

When to Use the Ethics Committee

  • After you have met with your healthcare team;

  • When you feel healthcare decisions are ethically troublesome;

  • When Advance Directives and Living Wills are not clear;

  • Before ethical issues and questions become problems;

  • When there are conflicts between the health care team, patient and families;

  • When family members disagree about decision making;

  • When an incapacitated patient has no family or has no advance directive; and/or

  • When there are questions regarding treatment for the mentally ill.

Requesting a Consultation

  1. A patient or family member may request consultation at any time by notifying the patient's nurse or by calling x3030 when inside the hospital. From outside the hospital, call 301.896.3030.

  2. Any staff member or physician involved in your care may, at any time, request consultation on behalf of the patient.

Convening an Ethics Committee Consultation

  1. Once notified, the consultation team of four ethics committee members, including a physician, nurse, social worker, and hospital administration representative, will meet with the patient, family member, and members of the healthcare team.

  2. All meetings are private and confidential. Any results of a consultation pertinent to the patient's plan of care will be documented in the medical record.

For further information about the Ethics Committee at Suburban Hospital, call x3030 when at the hospital or 301.896.3030 from outside the hospital.