Ethics Consults: Frequently Asked Questions

Who can request an ethics consult?

A patient, patient’s family members, health care professionals, or anyone involved in caring for a patient can request an ethics consult at UI Hospitals & Clinics. Ethics consults are free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If I am a patient or a patient’s family member, how do I request an ethics consult?

Patients and family members can directly request an ethics consult by calling the hospital operator 319-356-1616 and asking for the ethics consultant on-call. They can also tell one of their health care professionals that they would like an ethics consult. Professionals who become aware of a patient's or family's desire for an ethics consult will order an ethics consult or call the hospital operator to contact the ethics consultant on-call.

What kinds of situations might lead to a request for an ethics consult?

Requests for an Ethics Consult are especially encouraged when:

  • A patient, family member, or health care professional wants to talk through important ethical dimensions of a patient's care.
  • A patient’s care raises unusual, unprecedented, or very complex ethical issues.
  • A patient, family member, or health care professional needs help making an ethically significant decision.
  • Efforts by the patient, family, and health care professionals to resolve an ethical problem have reached an impasse.
  • There is serious ethical disagreement among health care professionals or within the professional-patient/family relationship about the course of treatment.

If I have a specific question that does not require a full ethics consult, can I request a limited amount of assistance?

Yes. An ethics consult may be brief and informal, such as when there is a request for clarification of a policy statement or a specific inquiry related to an ethical issue. In these cases, the assistance is informational or educational, and no documentation is made in a patient’s medical record.

What is involved when a full ethics consult is needed?

When a full ethics consult is needed, the ethics consultant communicates with the patient and/or family members and the health care professionals involved; reviews the medical record; assists with a patient/family/team meeting (if needed); and provides documentation of the consultation in the patient’s medical record. The ethics consultant may seek assistance by confidentially reviewing specific issues with other UI Hospitals & Clinics professionals, such as chaplains, social workers, legal experts, other members of the Ethics Consult Service, or members of the Ethics Subcommittee of the Hospital Advisory Committee.

Does an ethics consult replace regular communication between health care professionals, patients, and families when ethical issues arise?

Ethics consults are designed to support, but not replace, personal lines of communication among professionals, and between professionals and patients/families, about ethically troubling situations.

How is the Ethics Consult Service related to the Ethics Subcommittee at UI Hospitals & Clinics?

The work of the Ethics Consult Service is overseen by the Ethics Subcommittee of the Hospital Advisory Committee at UI Hospitals & Clinics. If needed, questions encountered during an ethics consult can be referred to the Ethics Subcommittee for assistance.

What if I have concerns about how an ethics consult is performed?

If any persons involved in the ethics consult have concerns about the recommendations of the ethics consultant, or the process of the consult, those persons will be encouraged to communicate those concerns to the ethics consultant. They may also communicate their concerns to the director of the Ethics Consult Service and/or the chair of the Ethics Subcommittee.