This article presents standards for setting up and educating institutional ethics committees (IECs). These standards are based on experiences in the Netherlands, where IECs have been established in a large number of health care institutions. Though the IEC has become a generally accepted institution within Dutch health care, there are concerns over its effectiveness regarding the improving of the moral quality of clinical decision making. Health care practitioners and members of IECs too, experience a gap between the IEC and the reality of the clinical environment. At this moment, there is interest in developing programmes which educate practitioners in moral issues and how to deal with them, using the method of a structured debate on the ward. The IEC will not be made obsolete by this development, but can play a guiding role in the implementation of such programmes. Current concerns are the lack of patient representation in the Dutch IEC, and the loss of contact with the local community of health care practitioners because of the merger of hospitals into bodies similar to UK National Health Service (NHS) trusts.
- Institutional ethics committee
- ethics education
- moral debate
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H H van der Kloot Meijburg is Director of Ethi-Call Consultancy for Institutional Ethics Committees, the Hague, The Netherlands. R H J ter Meulen is Director of the Institute for Bioethics and Professor of Philosophy, Department of Caring Sciences, University of Maastricht, the Netherlands.
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