Development and Retrospective Review of a Pediatric Ethics Consultation Service at a Large Academic Center

HEC Forum. 2020 Sep;32(3):269-281. doi: 10.1007/s10730-020-09397-6.


The primary objective was to review pediatric ethics consultations (PECs) at a large academic health center over a nine year period, assessing demographics, ethical issues, and consultant intervention. The secondary objective was to describe the evolution of PECs at our institution. This was a retrospective review of Consultation Summary Sheets compiled for PECs at our Academic Health Center between January 2008 and April 2017. There were 165 PECs reviewed during the study period. Most consult requests came from the inpatient setting, with the Pediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care Units being the highest utilizers. Consultation utilization increased over the study period. The most common patient age was less than one year. Physicians were most likely to request consultation. Patient Best Interest, Withholding/Withdrawing of Life Sustaining Therapy, and Provider Moral Distress were ethical issues most commonly identified by the consultants. Making recommendations was the most common consultant intervention. The ethics consultation process evolved over time from informal provider discussions, to a hospital infant care review committee, to a pediatric only consultation service, to a combined adult/pediatric consultation service, with variable levels of salary support for consultants. Ethics consultation requests are growing at our institution. Similarities in identified ethical issues exist between our findings and existing literature, however meaningful comparisons remains elusive secondary to variability in approaches to investigation and reporting. A combined paid/volunteer/trainee ethics consultation service model appears sustainable and real time ethics consultation is feasible using this approach.

Keywords: Advisory committees; Clinical ethics; Ethics consultation; Institutional ethics; Medical ethics; Pediatrics; Program development.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers / organization & administration
  • Academic Medical Centers / statistics & numerical data
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Decision Making / ethics
  • Ethics Consultation / standards*
  • Ethics Consultation / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Pediatrics / ethics*
  • Pediatrics / methods
  • Pediatrics / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies