Clinical Ethics

Clinical Ethics at Duke University Hospital encompasses several services and activities including the Hospital Ethics Committee and its associated Clinical Ethics Consultation Service, as well as educational programs for nursing staff, residents and fellows, faculty and the wider community. 

The Ethics Committee is responsible for considering and reviewing policies that have a direct impact on patient care.  These have included developing guidelines for resuscitation, the first-in-the-nation policy for allocating drugs during shortages, and a policy for care for unbefriended patients.  The Consultation service receives requests for help throughout the institution and is available to everyone (including patients and families); there is someone on call 24-7 throughout the year (dial 919-684-8111 to ask for the Clinical Ethics Consultant on call).  

The Trent Center hosts a series of biweekly clinical case-based discussions of bioethical issues that arise in the practice of medicine. Trent Center faculty members present cases and moderate discussions that  offer an opportunity to explore a range of complex issues arising in modern healthcare. Topics have included:

  • Can inpatients be prevented from continuing habits that endanger their health?  A case of a patient with morbid obesity who orders takeout food.
  • A schizophrenic man with cancer: what is the meaning of a refusal of treatment?
  • Birth and death of a baby with anencephaly: what is morally permissible?
  • Third life-saving surgery for a 23-year-old man with a long history of intravenous substance abuse?