A descriptive study of healthcare ethics consultants in Canada: Results of a national survey
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As part of a project to examine health care ethics consultation in Canada, we surveyed individuals who were considered by themselves or others to play a significant role in health care ethics consultation. Since one goal of the project was to examine the education and abilities necessary for consultants, we sought to determine the qualifications and skills currently possessed by persons considered to be ethics consultants. For the purposes of the questionnaire, 'health care ethics consultation' was defined broadly to include consultation on ethical issues in clinical care or in clinical research, ethics consultation to Clinical Ethics Committees, Research Ethics Committees, and policy formulation committees in health care institutions; 'clinical ethics work' was defined more broadly still to include, in addition to the above, ethics education, administration, research and writing on bioethics other than the above, and public speaking. Three hundred and fifty questionnaires were sent to individuals and institutions across Canada that were thought to have some involvement in health care ethics consultation. Two hundred and fifty-three questionnaires were returned for a response rate of 72%. This report presents initial findings of the study and attempts to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of ethics consultation within Canada. The survey examines demographics, educational background, time spent on ethics, institutional affiliations, approaches to the role of consultation, research related issues, and attitudes toward certification. Of the 253 questionnaires returned, 162 were completed by individuals who indicated that they provided some kind of ethics consultation. Of these, 43 indicated that they spent 30% or more of their time in clinical ethics work. These individuals are quite heterogeneous in background, training and activities, and while the great majority of them are based in an academic setting (university or teaching hospital), many act as resources to community hospitals, long-term care facilities and other organizations. Finally, the survey found that respondents' views on the advisability of certification for those offering ethics consultation were split evenly between those in favour of and those against certification. This report serves, then, as a reference point for studying the roles, responsibilities, training and accreditation of ethics consultants in health care.
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