Ethics Consultation in Surgical Specialties

Nicole A. Meredyth, Joseph J. Fins, Inmaculada de Melo-Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Multiple studies have been performed to identify the most common ethical dilemmas encountered by ethics consultation services. However, limited data exists comparing the content of ethics consultations requested by specific hospital specialties. It remains unclear whether the scope of ethical dilemmas prompting an ethics consultation differ between specialties and if there are types of ethics consultations that are more or less frequently called based on the specialty initiating the ethics consult. This study retrospectively assessed the incidence and content of ethics consultations called by surgical vs. non-surgical specialties between January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2018 using our RedCap Database and information collected through the EMR via our Clinical and Translational Science Center. 548 total ethics consultations were analyzed (surgical n = 135, non-surgical n = 413). Our results demonstrate that more surgical consults originated from the ICU, as opposed to lower acuity units (45.9% vs. 14.3%, p ≤ 0.001), and surgical patients were more likely to have a DNR in place (37.5% vs. 22.2%, p = 0.002). Surgical specialties were more likely to call about issues relating to withholding/withdrawing life-sustaining treatment (p ≤ 0.001), while non-surgical specialties were more likely to call about issues related to discharge planning (p = 0.001). There appear to be morally relevant differences between consults classified as the “same” that are not entirely captured by the usual ethics consultations classification system. In conclusion, this study highlights the unique ethical issues experienced by surgical vs. non-surgical specialties. Ultimately, our data can help ethics consultation services determine how best to educate various hospital specialties to approach ethical issues commonly experienced within their field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-102
Number of pages14
JournalHEC Forum
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Ethics consultation
  • Surgical buy-in
  • Surgical ethics
  • Withholding/withdrawing life-sustaining treatment
  • Humans
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Specialties, Surgical
  • Ethics Consultation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects


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