Navigating Professional Norms in an Interprofessional Environment: The 'Practice' of Healthcare Ethics Committees
42 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2017 Last revised: 10 Nov 2017
Date Written: August 2, 2015
One of the hallmarks of a profession is the ability to set boundaries and exclude others from practicing in the field; however in an increasingly interprofessional world, these boundaries can be difficult to navigate. Recently, the Supreme Court case, North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, reminded us that jurisdictional debates are alive and well across a variety of disciplines. In this case, the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners (the Board) sent cease and desist letters to non-dentist teeth whiteners demanding that they stop the unlicensed practice of dentistry. The Federal Trade Commission argued that this violated unfair trade practices under anti-trust law. Amici curiae briefs were filed by a variety of professional groups — from physicians and lawyers to nurses and radiologists — illustrating the wide-reaching concerns regarding the ability to define and enforce professional boundaries across many fields. This paper examines health care ethics committees, groups within hospitals or other health care settings that are called upon to assist with difficult ethical dilemmas that arise in patient care, to see how the multi-disciplinary composition of the committees can lead to conflict between emerging norms of the ‘ethics professional’ and the long-standing norms of members’ disciplines. We find that the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission decision provides an illustrative and provocative framework to explore how the interdisciplinary nature, and increasing professionalization, of health care ethics consultations may affect both individuals and the field. As the burgeoning field of ethics consultations continues to professionalize, there is an imperative for further guidance for consultants regarding how the practice of ethics consultations may intersect with the practice of law.
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