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Clinical Ethics Consultations

To request assistance from the Hospital Ethics Committee, please call 919-843-1470.  Calls will be returned Monday-Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. 

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Bird photograph, copyright Sarah Reuning

© Sarah Reuning

Why make a request?

An ethics consultation may help whenever the health care team, the patient, or the patient’s family has an unresolved ethical concern in the hospital or clinic setting.  A consultation can offer recommendations that the members of the health care team and patient (or patient’s family) may use in their decision-making. 

A few examples:

  • Uncertainty as to who should make health care decisions or how to make those decisions for patients too sick to speak for themselves
  • Conflict between values or religious beliefs and a recommended course of treatment
  • Disagreement over whether starting, continuing, or ending treatment, such as breathing tubes or feeding tubes, is the right thing to do
  • Moral distress about a health care decision
  • A complex medical situation that also raises ethical concerns

Who can make a request?

Any member of the health care team caring for a patient may request a consultation. Current hospital and clinic patients at UNC Healthcare or their family members may also request a consultation. There is no charge.  The UNC Healthcare System now includes seven affiliated hospitals and their clinics outside of Chapel Hill.  If the patient is located elsewhere in the UNC Healthcare System, click here to see who you should contact for assistance.

Hospital staff not directly involved in patient care may not request a consultation regarding a patient.  Instead, they may suggest an ethics consultation and direct the care team or patient to the service via the request line, this web site, or the Patient Handbook.  (If the issue involves patient care more generally, any staff person may call our number for assistance from our education or policy services.)

When should someone make a request?
People often tell the ethics consultation service that they wish they had requested a consultation sooner. If you think a consultation might be helpful, or just have a question about consultations, feel free to call and ask.  It may be helpful to keep in mind that it can take some time (later that day or the next day) for the assigned consultant to respond to your request. That means that we cannot typically offer consultations on an emergency basis, such as requests made the day of discharge or an hour before a family meeting. The timing issue often arises because our ethics consultation service is staffed by health and ethics professionals who volunteer for this service in addition to their full time positions within the institution.

Are there times it is better to contact other hospital resources?

Yes, if you want to report poor medical treatment or have a financial or legal question or concern, please contact Patient Relations at (984) 974-5006. Our services help with difficult ethical decision making but do not offer remediation or other legal or financial solutions.

How do I make a request?

Click here for information on how to make a request and a description of the consultation process.


Consult Service Director
Arlene Davis, JD

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