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What is health care ethics?

Patients, families, and health care professionals sometimes face difficult decisions about medical treatments that involve moral principles, religious beliefs, or professional guidelines.

Health care ethics is a thoughtful exploration of how to act well and make morally good choices, based on beliefs and values about life, health, suffering, and death.

What are some common ethical questions?

Generally, ethics questions arise when the right thing to do is not clear or when people disagree about what is best for a person who is ill. Some examples of common ethical questions include:

  • When should life-sustaining treatments like breathing machines or feeding tubes be started, continued, or stopped?
  • What should family members and health care professionals do if a patient refuses treatment that promises to be medically helpful?
  • Who should make health care decisions for patients when they are unable to communicate or decide for themselves?
  • What should patients do when they do not understand what professionals are saying and feel they are not offered the opportunity to participate in their own health care decisions?

What should I do if I need ethics advice?

The Ethics Consultation Service is available to provide ethics advice to those directly involved in a situation that has created ethical questions.

Anyone directly involved in a situation that raises ethical questions may request an ethics consultation. Therefore, ethics consultations or discussions on ethical problems may be requested by any member of the heath care team or persons receiving care, or by patients' families or significant others.

Ethics consultation is an advisory service, and will offer advice but will not make a decision for you. Patients, family members, and professionals remain responsible for their own decisions. Ethics Consultation are available Monday to Friday 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. If it is after business hours or on weekends leave a message and someone from Professional Practice will get back to you the next business day.

The deliberations and the proceedings of the Ethics Consultation Service are strictly confidential (unless disclosure is required by law).

Request an ethics consultation by contacting Professional Practice through Niagara Health switchboard at 905-378-4647 or email

Niagara Health System