Clinical ethics committees, with their typical threefold function of education, policy formation, and consultation, are present in nearly all U.S. hospitals today, and they are increasingly common in other healthcare settings such as long-term care and even home care. Ethics committees are at least as prevalent in Canadian hospitals as they are in U.S. hospitals, and their presence is growing in Europe, much of Asia, and Central and South America. Although ethics committees serve a variety of needs, their ultimate goal ought to be to promote ethical practices or, in other words, to engender the integration of ethics into the life of the medical center. Of the three primary functions of ethics committees, ethics consultation has historically been the most controversial and problematic, and consult services in many healthcare institutions have struggled to thrive.
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