Ethical Concerns of Patients and Family Members Arising During Illness or Medical Care

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



AJOB empirical bioethics




Clinical ethics; family members; inpatients; surveys and questionnaires


Patients and family members ( = 671) were surveyed in five Mid-Atlantic U.S. hospitals to ascertain the number and kinds of ethical concerns they are presently experiencing or have previously experienced while being sick or receiving medical care. Seventy percent of participants had at least one (range 0-14) type of ethical concern or question. The most commonly experienced concerns pertained to being unsure how to plan ahead or complete an advance directive (29.4%), being unsure whether someone in the family was able to make their own decisions (29.2%), deciding about limiting life-sustaining treatments (28.6%), wondering about disclosing personal medical information to others in the family (26.4%) and not being sure whether to undergo treatment because of cost (26.2%). Most were interested to some degree in getting help from ethics consultants in the future (76.6%). Given this prevalence, common concerns might usefully be addressed systematically, rather than exclusively on a case-by-case basis.


Health Policy and Management