Institutional Ethics Committees and the Shield of Immunity

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Abstract

Institutional ethics committees have been hailed as a good resource for physicians confronting complex ethical issues in patient care.Physicians may seek ethics committee consultations to receive impartial assistance in decision making, to resolve conflicts, and to avoid cumbersome court procedures and unwieldy litigation. The endorsement of ethics committees by the President's Commission, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, and the Department of Health and Human Services, along with recent state legislation governing committees in Maryland, New Jersey, and Hawaii, raises questions about the proper scope and authority of ethics committees. We examined the accountability of institutional ethics committees and argue against immunity-conferring statutes that shield physicians who follow a committee's advice from civil and criminal liability.

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