Ethics Consultation Service

The Ethics Consultation Service (ECS) is a team of staff members from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) who have special training in medical ethics and have a lot of experience helping families and healthcare teams make difficult decisions. The ECS is here help you and your child’s healthcare team as you work together to make important decisions about your child's care.

The Ethics Consultation Service is a free and confidential service for all patients, families and staff members. When teams and families have ethics questions or concerns, they may ask for an ethics consultation (or ethics consult) so they can talk with someone who understands medical ethics issues.

What is an ethical concern?

Ethical concerns can come up when you or the healthcare team must make difficult decisions about your child's care that involve your values or beliefs. At times, members of the team may not agree with each other, or family members may disagree with each other. Sometimes you and your child may disagree about the right thing to do. You may feel stressed and confused about the choices you face. In many cases, it's not easy to choose what is best for your child. When you have an ethical concern about your child's care, the ECS can help you. 

What are some examples of ethical concerns?

Ethical concerns can include things like:

  • You and the healthcare team have different ideas about the best thing to do for your child.
  • You are not sure which treatment plan is in your child’s best interest.
  • Your child disagrees with you about their treatment plan.
  • You and your family members disagree about how much to tell your child about their illness.
  • A treatment plan that the team recommends conflicts with your cultural or spiritual beliefs.
  • Your child is 18 years old (or older), and you have questions about who gets to make treatment decisions about their health.
  • You are worried about whether you or your child is being treated fairly. 

Sometimes people are not sure if their concern is an ethics issue. Even if you are not sure, our team can talk with you about your concerns. If we are not the right team to help you, we can often refer you to the right person, team or department to address your issue.

Some examples or requests that ECS cannot help with include:

  • Legal advice
  • Medical advice
  • Mediation or help with general family disagreements
  • General complaints

What does the ethics consultation process look like?

Our ethics consultants work to help families and the care team better understand each other’s concerns and explore options that meet the needs of your child. The idea of taking part in an ethics consultation may seem stressful to you. Our ethics consultants will be there to help you along the way. Please know that your healthcare team will not be angry with you or hold it against you in any way if you ask for an ethics consultation.

What can I expect during an ethics consultation?

One of our trained ethics consultants will talk with you by phone or in person about your ethics questions or concerns about your child’s care.

With your permission, they may also talk with members of your child’s healthcare team. An ethics consultant may attend a meeting with your child's doctors and nurses to talk about your concerns and questions. The consultant will work to help you and the care team understand each other's concerns. They will also explore options and possible solutions.

While the ethics consultant may make recommendations to you and the care team, final decisions about your child’s care belong to you and the care team. The ethics consultant will keep you informed about next steps in the process. 

After an ethics consultation, you and the care team will continue to partner to care for your child. The Ethics Consultation Service is available for follow-up as needed.

What do I need to do to prepare for my meeting with an ethics consultant?

The Ethics Consultation Service can provide tip sheets to help you and your family gather your thoughts before talking with an ethics consultant. The ethics consultant or a member of your child’s care team can review these materials with you.

How can I reach the ECS?

The Ethics Consultation Service is available to any CHOP patient, parent, guardian or CHOP staff member.

To request an ethics consult:

  • Call 215-590-1000 and ask the hospital operator to contact the ethics consultant on call.
  • Ask any member of your child’s care team to request an ethics consultation for you. 

Next Steps