Frequently Asked Questions

Am I required to consult an ethicist when making a decision?

It is always up to you to decide whether or not you would like to speak to someone about an ethical issue. You are never required to consult with an ethicist, and always have the right to work through problems or issues on your own.

At the same time, you should never feel ashamed or embarrassed about speaking with a professional ethicist. We all face ethical dilemmas from time-to-time, and it can be a comfort to discuss our concerns with someone; or to ask what research or policies are available for guidance.


Can you give me some examples of ethical issues that I might face in the health care setting?

Since clinical settings vary, it is hard to know what might be felt to be an ethical issue to a particular person. There are, however, some scenarios that present ethical issues and that come up fairly often in various health care settings. These may include the following:

– End-of-life decision-making
– Withdrawal of treatment
– Treatment refusals
– Decision-making for incapable persons
– Conflict of interest
– Problems relating to consent and capacity
– Issues relating to advance directives or power of attorney
– Fair distribution of scarce resources

How does a consultation with an ethicist work?

If you decide to contact the Ethics Consultation Service, a meeting between staff, patient (or patient’s family) and a clinical ethicist can be arranged. Together you can decide what your next steps might be.

You will never be coerced or discriminated against because of your views. The purpose of this first meeting is to gather enough information about the problem to give appropriate guidance.


If I have an ethics consultation, will I still be allowed to make my up my own mind?

The right to make decisions will always rest with the patient/SDM/health care team. The Ethics Consultation Service can help by listening, offering guidance, and showing which options are most in keeping with your values and wishes.

What about confidentiality?

Any discussions that you have with the Ethics Consultation Service will remain confidential, to the extent that the law allows. You can even make an anonymous request by telephone or email if you are unsure whether you would like to proceed.

What is a clinical ethicist?

Clinical ethicists are specially trained in thinking about moral issues in healthcare. They are able to listen to problems in a non-judgmental way, and can help make complex problems easier to understand. Because they have read widely in the field of medical ethics they will likely have seen cases like yours before. They may even be able to tell you how others have dealt with similar issues.

What is a moral issue?

Ethics and morality are two different things. Morality – views about what is right and wrong – may arise from your religious or spiritual beliefs, or from your thoughts about social justice.

Ethics, on the other hand, is the study of ideas about morality. The goal of ethics is to examine moral beliefs to see where they lead us, to ask what problems they create, and what problems they solve.

When should I contact the Ethics Consultation Service?

You can contact the Ethics Consultation Service if you are having trouble making a decision or are not sure if the decision you want to make is one that you can live with.

We all have to make tough choices everyday. These can be especially upsetting when they relate to our health, or to the health of a friend or family member. The ethics service can help guide you through the process.