There is a growing concern in our society about the proper application of life-sustaining medical treatments. This concern has been stimulated by both the explosion in medical technology and the increasing emphasis on patients’ rights and autonomy in clinical decisionmaking. Technological progress enables us to prolong or sustain life, even when its “value” or “quality” is questionable. There is also increased concern, both within and outside the medical community, about the optimal process for making decisions to withhold or withdraw treatment.
Hospital ethics committees have been suggested as a possible solution to this problem. Although few hospitals have actually adopted ethics committees, and little is known about the way that they function or their effectiveness, there have been some recent efforts to study these issues. Despite the increasing recognition of patients’ wishes to know more about and to influence their medical care, there have been no reports about patients’ attitudes toward the role of ethics committees in decisionmaking.