Ethics consultations are requested for a variety of reasons that include prevention of litigation; mediation of disputes and resolution of conflicts between or among the patient, healthcare professional, and family; confirmation of or challenges to decisions already made; emotional support for difficult decisions; and identification of morally acceptable alternatives. For example, ethics consultation may be requested because physicians and family members disagree about how aggressively to treat a dying, incompetent cancer patient, or because there is difficulty interpreting a patient's living will. Ethics consultants may be called because there is disagreement about the acceptability of a family request to stop tube feeding an Alzheimer patient who refuses to eat. Requests for ethics consultation may come because nurses or house officers are concerned that competent patients are being left out of the decision-making process.
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