Background: Clinical ethics consultation services have been established in many countries during recent decades. An important task is to discuss concrete clinical cases. However, empirical research observing what is happening during such deliberations is scarce.
Objectives: To explore clinical ethics committees’ deliberations and to identify areas for improvement.
Design: A pilot study including observations of committees deliberating a paper case, semistructured group interviews, and qualitative analysis of the data.
Participants: Nine hospital ethics committees in Norway.
Results and interpretations: Key elements of the deliberations included identifying the ethical problems; exploring moral values and principles; clarifying key concepts and relevant legal regulation; exploring medical facts, the patient’s situation, the therapists’ perspective, analogous clinical situations, professional uncertainties, the patient’s and relatives’ perspective, and clinical communication; identifying the involved parties and how to involve them; identifying possible courses of action, and possible conclusion and follow-up. The various elements were closely interwoven. The content and conclusions varied and seemed to be contingent on the committee members’ interpretations, experience and knowledge. Important aspects of a clinical ethics deliberation were sometimes neglected. When the committees used a deliberation procedure and a blackboard, the deliberations tended to become more systematic and transparent. Many of the committees were insecure about how to include the involved parties and how to document the deliberations.
Conclusion: Clinical ethics committees may provide an important arena for multidisciplinary discussions of complex clinical ethics challenges. However, this seems to require adequate composition, adoption of transparent deliberation procedures, and targeted training.
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Competing interests: None declared.