The importance of ethics in medicine today

Hospital ethics committees got their start in the early 1980s to guide decision making with patient care issues. Policy establishment was critical, especially when the issues of limitation of care, self-determination for health care, and privacy were venturing into nightly newscasts and private conversations. In the era of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, definitions of medical futility, legal battles over treatment decisions, and other high visibility events made the work of these committees even more important.

Dr. Fred Whitehouse and I co-chaired an ad hoc committee to create the first Henry Ford Hospital (HFH) Ethics Committee over 30 years ago. Our corporate attorney John Mucha was part of the committee at its inception. We were recently talking about this work, and he noted the HFH policy on withdrawal of care, modeled loosely on a Massachusetts General Hospital policy, is a policy that withstood the test of time. Literally hundreds of difficult decisions were made with its guidance.

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