Role of a Clinical Ethics Committee in Residential Aged Long-Term Care Settings: A Systematic Review

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Objectives: To conduct a systematic review of literature examining the establishment and operation of clinical ethical committees (CECs) in long-term care (LTC). Design: Systematic review. Setting and Participants: LTC recipients/family or staff. Methods: Five databases (Ovid Medline, Ovid Cochrane Library, Ovid PsycINFO, Ovid EMBASE, and CINAHL via EbscoHost) were systematically searched from their inception to May 8, 2020. The initial search was conducted on August 22, 2017, and updated on May 8, 2020, to identify peer-reviewed studies, commentaries, or editorials. The quality of studies was assessed using the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool. Results: Thirty-three articles were identified for inclusion, of which 13 were primary studies. Most articles were set in the United States. The purpose of establishing a CEC in LTC was typically to assist in dealing with ethical issues and improve the quality of care. The articles described the roles of CECs to include prospective case consultation, case review, policy development, and ethics education. Articles rarely reported whether the CEC was required by or enshrined in law. Membership of CECs was between 4 and 20 members and most commonly included nursing staff, physicians, and directors/administrators. The rationale behind the membership was rarely described. For case consultation, articles described that CECs were typically convened upon referral. The resident issues which a CEC could address included end-of-life care decisions, autonomy/self-determination, and medical treatment decisions. The staff issues addressed by CECs included medical treatment decisions, end-of-life care decisions, and decision-making issues. The decision-making process followed by CECs varied. The outcome of a CEC meeting was typically a recommendation, whereas the implementation of CEC recommendations and decisions were rarely reported. Conclusions and Implications: This systematic review identifies how CECs operate in the LTC setting. CECs have the potential to provide valuable support in addressing complex ethical issues in LTC; however, empirical research is required to determine their efficacy in the LTC setting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1852-1861
Number of pages18
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Clinical ethics committee
  • ethical conflict
  • long-term care
  • systematic review

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