To investigate the current status of hospital clinical ethics committees (CEC) and how they have evolved in Canada over the past 20 years, this paper presents an overview of the findings from a 2008 survey and compares these findings with two previous Canadian surveys conducted in 1989 and 1984. All Canadian hospitals over 100 beds, of which at least some were acute care, were surveyed to determine the structure of CEC, how they function, the perceived achievements of these committees and opinions about areas with which CEC should be involved. The percentage of hospitals with CEC in our sample was found to be 85% compared with 58% and 18% in 1989 and 1984, respectively. The wide variation in the size of committees and the composition of their membership has continued. Meetings of CEC have become more regularised and formalised over time. CEC continue to be predominately advisory in their nature, and by 2008 there was a shift in the priority of the activities of CEC to meeting ethics education needs and providing counselling and support with less emphasis on advising about policy and procedures. More research is needed on how best to define what the scope of activities of CEC should be in order to meet the needs of hospitals in Canada and elsewhere. More research also is needed on the actual outcomes to patients, families, health professionals and organisations from the work of these committees in order to support the considerable time committee members devote to this endeavour.
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Funding This study received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Memorial University Human Investigation Committee, St John's, Newfoundland, Canada.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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