The Appropriate Role of a Clinical Ethics Consultant's Religious Worldview in Consultative Work: Nearly None

HEC Forum. 2019 Jun;31(2):91-102. doi: 10.1007/s10730-018-9363-6.


Ethical reasoning is an integral part of the work of a clinical ethics consultant (CEC). Ethical reasoning has a close relationship with an individual's beliefs and values, which, for religious adherents, are likely to be tightly connected with their spiritual perspectives. As a result, for individuals who identify with a religious tradition, the process of thinking through ethical questions is likely to be influenced by their religious worldview. The connection between ethical reasoning and one's spiritual perspective raises questions about the role that CECs' personal religious worldviews should play in their professional lives and their consultative work. This paper offers numerous arguments critiquing the inclusion of a consultant's own spiritual perspective in her work and has identified only limited circumstances under which such inclusion might be permissible. In particular, these arguments lead to the conclusion that a CEC's personal beliefs should never influence her ethical analysis or development of a recommendation. Further, religious appeals should not be used in communication during decision-making conversations other than to describe the patient or surrogate's stated perspective. There may be limited cases in which a CEC may share her spiritual worldview with a patient with the intent of building a collaborative relationship, but such situations should be approached with extreme caution.

Keywords: Clinical ethics consultation; Methodology; Religion; Spirituality.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Decision Making / ethics
  • Ethicists / psychology*
  • Ethics Consultation / standards*
  • Ethics Consultation / trends
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Professional Role / psychology*
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Spirituality*