Clinical Ethics

What is Clinical Ethics?

Clinical ethics is about making good decisions in ethically complex situations.

In our work with clinicians and families in hospital settings, ethical complexity arises when people disagree or misunderstand each others’ values and priorities about health, quality of life, and benefits, burdens of clinical care.

These differences arise frequently, are often emotionally fraught, and involve high stakes for the patient and their family.

Some typical examples of ethically complex  situations involve:

  • a patient disagreeing with clinically recommended treatment
  • a patient or their family requesting treatments or testing which a clinicians believes is unnecessary, burdensome or not clinically indicated
  • clinicians within a multidisciplinary teams disagreeing about a recommended pathway
  • uncertainty about when to begin end of life planning and involve palliative care
  • uncertainty about a patient’s capacity to give their informed consent
  • deciding whether to implement experimental treatment requested by a patient based on internet searching

Conflicts about what matters ethically can derail good quality of care and cause moral distress and burnout in clinicians.