Membership of a Clinical Ethics Service

  • Chair*
  • Vice-Chair*
  • Doctors, from different specialties
  • Nurses, from different specialties
  • Other healthcare professionals, e.g., allied health professionals, dieticians, pharmacists, psychologists 
  • A lawyer
  • A medical ethicist or philosopher
  • A chaplain or other faith leader/representative
  • A patient or other user of the service
  • Lay members, i.e., someone who is not a practicing healthcare professional
  • Administrative support (to assist with circulating case referrals, preparing minutes, booking meetings, etc.)

* The CEC should ensure it has a Chair and a Vice-Chair. The Chair should be appointed (or, if elected by the CEC, approved) through local governance approval mechanisms. The Vice-Chair may act as Chair in their absence and/or may lead a particular aspect of the CEC’s work. The Chair and Vice-Chair are often – but do not necessarily need to be – clinicians.

CECs should develop a process for recruiting and selecting new members. The process should be designed to ensure that the CEC can meet the expected core competencies. The UK Clinical Ethics Network (UKCEN) recommends an initial exercise to assess the level of competency of potential new members of established committees.

The process should start with an application form, which details (for example):

  • personal and professional details
  • any relevant publications or presentations
  • a statement of commitment to develop the core competencies
  • details of training in clinical ethics and/or a willingness to participate in training
  • an example of a personal response to an ethical dilemma

The applicant should also be expected to provide two structured references, which can assist the CEC is assessing the applicant’s personal attitudes.

CECs may thereafter wish to conduct a brief structured interview, before an application for membership is accepted.

The Clinical Ethics Committee (CEC) and all of its members should be indemnified, i.e., protected against possible legal liability for their actions.

It is possible that the advice issued by a CEC will be acted upon by the referring clinicians and, in hopefully rare circumstances, this might lead to later legal action from a patient or family member. Organisations should ensure that CECs are legally protected, i.e., the CEC and all of its members should be indemnified. Each organisation should arrange this, ensuring (in particular) that external members of the CEC are covered.

  • CEC members who are not employed by the host organisation are covered, for example, via honorary appointments at the institution
  • A CEC should not seek to provide advice outside its host organisation without the explicit agreement of that host organisation. The agreement should include assurance that such advice is indemnifiable. In general, such arrangements are possible between many NHS organisations

We partner with the Institute of Medical Ethics (IME), an organisation which is dedicated to improving education and debate in medical ethics. Visit the IME website