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Medicine and Public Policy |

Institutional Ethics Committees and the Shield of Immunity

Janet Fleetwood, PhD; and Stephanie S. Unger, JD
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From the Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Requests for Reprints: Janet Fleetwood, PhD, Medical College of Pennsylvania, Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, 3300 Henry Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19129. Acknowledgments: The authors thank Cynthia Cohen, Susan Goldberg, and Robert Olick for their comments; the New Jersey Bioethics Commission Task Force on Institutional Ethics Committees for their valuable discussion; and Rachel Vivino for assistance in manuscript preparation. Grant Support: In part by the van Ameringen Foundation.

Copyright ©2004 by the American College of Physicians

Ann Intern Med. 1994;120(4):320-325. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-120-4-199402150-00010
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Institutional ethics committees have been hailed as a good resource for physicians confronting complex ethical issues in patient care.Physicians may seek ethics committee consultations to receive impartial assistance in decision making, to resolve conflicts, and to avoid cumbersome court procedures and unwieldy litigation. The endorsement of ethics committees by the President's Commission, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, and the Department of Health and Human Services, along with recent state legislation governing committees in Maryland, New Jersey, and Hawaii, raises questions about the proper scope and authority of ethics committees. We examined the accountability of institutional ethics committees and argue against immunity-conferring statutes that shield physicians who follow a committee's advice from civil and criminal liability.





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