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The Delaware Valley Ethics Committee Network (DVECN) has a better indication of who we are and what we do now that we have analyzed member responses to a questionnaire our Education Subcommittee developed last year. The instrument -s designed to learn about the perceived educational needs of our committees and the policies they have in place and are developing. It was sent to the 250 individuals on our mailing list at that time. (Not all were members of ethics committees.) Ninety of them responded, representing sixty-five ethics committees. The majority of our ethics comittees (75%) were located in hospitals; others were in medical schools affiliated with hospitals 8%), and in nursing homes (5%). Most were started after january, 1985; 17 percent were formed from 1976 to 1985. As would be expected, membership on the committees was diverse. Physicians were represented on 67 percent of the committees, followed by nurses 64%), administrators (51%), clergy (50%), social workers 45%), hospital lawyers 39%), ethicists 32%), trustees 32%), community representatives (20%), medical residents 15%), outside lawyers 12%), and patient advocates (12%). Almost one-half the committees met monthly 43%), while 13 percent met as needed; the rest varied between these.

We were interested in discovering whether any one factor consistently had a negative impact on the functioning of ethics committees. Although 26 percent of the respondents believed there were no negative factors, others did note perceived limitations. Among these were time constraints (26%), lack of institutional acceptance/support 24%), lack of member interest 16%), fear of liability (10%), and lack of administrative support (6%). If these perceptions reflect reality, the rapid increase in the number of ethics committees in our area in the face of questionable institutional support is an interesting phenomenon.

Our Policy and Research Subcommittee wanted to know what policies were in place in the various institutions. Policies for DoNot-Resuscitate orders (71%) led the list, followed by treatment for patients with AIDS (59%), organ donation (58%), brain death (54%), withholding and withdrawing treatment 44%), living wills/advance directives 22%), and informed consent I%). Of those committees involved in making policy recommendations, 59 percent indicated a willingness to discuss policy development with other DVECN members. the same functions, 60 percent recognized their role within the institution as educational 54 percent as providing consultative services, and 52 percent as involved in policy recommendation. Committee members perceived various educational needs, including case material in bioethics (39%); texts on medical ethics 35%); texts on ethical theories (21%); and texts on nursing ethics 20%). They also identified a need for articles on the function and structure of ethics committees 399c); no code 37%); withholding and withdrawing therapy 36%); confidentiality (31%); and AIDS' testing (28%).

The questionnaire served to supply some initial data concerning the ethics committee movement in the Delaware Valley. We have a better sense of the structure and function of various committees, the specific issues they perceive as important, and the way in which a network can serve as a positive force in the formation, nurturing, and sustaining of ethics committees.
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Title Annotation:ethics committees
Author:Green, William
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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