Institutional ethics committees (IECs) are part of a growing phenomenon in the American health care system. Although a major force driving hospitals to establish IECs is the desire to resolve difficult clinical dilemmas in a quick and systematic way, in this paper we argue that such a goal is naive and, to some extent, misguided. We assess the growing trend of these committees, analyse the theoretical assumptions underlying their establishment, and evaluate their strengths and shortcomings. We show how the 'medical consultation' model is often inappropriately applied to IECs and suggest that IECs must operate under a different framework. Finally, we argue that IECs should be valued for the process they facilitate, and not for the product that they are, often unreasonably, expected to deliver.
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