Clinical ethics consultation in oncology

Andrew G. Shuman, Sacha M. Montas, Andrew R. Barnosky, Lauren B. Smith, Joseph Fins, Mary S. McCabe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Purpose: There is limited empirical research exploring the nature of clinical ethical consultations within the oncology population. Our objective was to review and describe clinical ethics consultations at two National Cancer Institute- designated comprehensive cancer centers to identify opportunities for systems improvement in clinical care and opportunities for staff education. Methods: This case series is derived from two institutional prospectively maintained clinical ethics consultation databases. All ethics consultations from 2007 through 2011 that related to adult patients with cancer were included. Results: A total of 208 eligible patient cases were identified. The most common primary issues leading to ethics consultation were code status and advance directives (25%), surrogate decision making (17%), and medical futility (13%). Communication lapses were identified in 45% of patient cases, and interpersonal conflict arose in 51%. Before ethics consultation, 26% of patients had do-not-resuscitate orders, which increased to 60% after ethics consultation. Palliative care consultation occurred in 41% of patient cases. Conclusion: Ethics consultations among patients with cancer reflect the complexities inherent to their clinical management. Appropriately honoring patients' wishes within the context of overall goals of care is crucial. Thoughtful consideration of the role of and relationship with palliative care experts, communication barriers, sources of interpersonal conflict, symptom control, and end-of-life care is paramount to optimal management strategies in this patient population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)240-245
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of oncology practice
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Oncology(nursing)
  • Health Policy


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