Clarifying and Expanding the Role of Narrative in Ethics Consultation

J Clin Ethics. 2020 Fall;31(3):241-251.


Understanding a patient's story is integral to providing ethically supportable and practical recommendations that can improve patient care. Important skills include how to elicit an individual's story, how to weave different narrative threads together, and how to assist the care team, patients, and caregivers to resolve difficult decisions or moral dilemmas. Narrative approaches to ethics consultation deepen dialogue and stakeholders' engagement to reveal important values, preferences, and beliefs that may prove critical in resolving care challenges. Recognizing barriers to narrative inquiry, such as patients who are unable or refuse to share their story, is also important. In this article we offer specific steps and guidelines that ethicists can follow to systematically elicit and construct patients' stories. We provide a case example to illustrate how a narrative approach to ethics consultation illuminates salient ethical issues that may otherwise go unnoticed. We argue that this approach should be part of every consultant's tool kit.

MeSH terms

  • Ethicists
  • Ethics Consultation*
  • Ethics, Clinical
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Narration