Hospital Ethics Panels Help Families Make Difficult Decisions

USA Today reports: "Every day, in a hospital somewhere in the USA, a group of strangers — the hospital ethics committee — is called in to help people make the choices of a lifetime. While headlines scream about 'death panels' and Congress wrangles over health care reform, these committees or consultants have worked in U.S. hospitals for nearly two decades." The committees generally are made up of volunteers: "physicians, nurses, chaplains, social workers, ethicists and medical school professors, who mediate among facts, emotions, hope and fantasy. 'Culture and religion inform every decision about health, illness, disease and care, about true caring, about who can live, about the measure of quality in a life, about when suffering begins and how it ends...' says Dawn Seery, head of the five-hospital Methodist Healthcare System in San Antonio." These committees work to address questions such as whether to begin or continue aggressive treatments or artificial life support. "Only 25% of Americans have advance directives spelling out their values and choices for the day 'when I'm not myself any more and never will be again,' Seery says" (Grossman, 10/8).

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