Treatment for cancer poses many difficult questions for the patients, family members, and healthcare providers involved. Sometimes, these questions are of an ethical nature. At Memorial Sloan-Kettering, individuals who are faced with such questions can seek help from the Ethics Committee, a team of experts that represent all aspects of patient care. The committee provides members of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering community, including patients and their family members, with a multidisciplinary forum for the analysis, discussion, and resolution of ethical issues that arise in the care of patients.
If you or a loved one is faced with a difficult ethical decision while receiving care, we encourage you to seek a consultation with our Ethics Committee. The following are questions that we frequently address during our consultations with patients, family members, and healthcare providers:
- If a patient is no longer able to communicate, who should make his or her healthcare decisions?
- When should life-sustaining treatments (i.e., feeding tubes, ventilators) be used? More specifically, when should these treatments be started, continued, or ended?
- What should family members do if they disagree with their loved one's decision to start, continue, or end treatment?
- If a patient feels that he or she is not being offered the opportunity to participate in his or her own healthcare decisions, what should the patient do?
- What should a patient or family members do when they are uncertain or disagree with healthcare providers about what is best for the patient?
- What should family members or healthcare providers do if a patient refuses treatment that has the potential to be medically helpful?
- What should family members do if the patient, who is a child, wants to discontinue treatment but they want the child to continue?
When a difficult decision needs to be made, the Ethics Committee is available to help:
- clarify the ethical question at hand
- promote discussion of responsibilities and standards related to patient care
- encourage shared decision making among patients, families, and their healthcare team
- make recommendations to the individuals involved.
The Ethics Committee
The Ethics Committee is a team of experts consisting of physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and hospital staff trained to aid patients, their family members and caregivers, as well as staff with questions of ethical concern. All members have training and experience in providing support to patients, families, and healthcare providers as they deal with the difficult questions and choices that arise during cancer treatment, ranging from end-of-life issues to privacy to concerns related to treatment and research.
Any Memorial Sloan-Kettering patient (inpatients and outpatients), family member, or Memorial Sloan-Kettering staff member can request a consultation with the committee.
Ethics consultations are confidential and are designed to help patients, families, and clinical staff deal with difficult situations and questions. There is no fee associated with a consultation with the Ethics Committee. The Ethics Committee exists as a resource for patients, their families, and healthcare providers.
If you would like to request an ethics consultation, ask any member of your or your loved one's treatment team (e.g., a doctor, nurse, social worker, patient representative, or chaplain). He or she will submit the request on your behalf.