Bioethics is the study of ethical issues posed by advances in biology and medicine.

Modern health care often offers complex choices for treatment, and sometimes these options can leave us asking “What should be done?” or “What is the best thing to do?” These questions fall within the field of bioethics, the study of ethical issues in health care and biomedical research.

Wake Forest Baptist Health is committed to helping patients, family members, and hospital staff with ethical questions they may confront. The Clinical Ethics Committee, a committee made up of physicians, nurses, lawyers, chaplains, social workers, academics, and community members, can provide assistance in several ways, including advance care planning, educational programming, and the clinical ethics consultation service.

Advance Care Planning

Advance care planning is an organized approach to discussion, reflection, and understanding regarding an individual’s current state of health, goals, values, and preferences for future treatment decisions. Engaging in this process can enable people to formulate and communicate their treatment preferences, both orally and through documents designed for this purpose.  

Anyone who has decision-making capacity can make one’s treatment preferences known by completing advance directives, including living wills and health care powers of attorney, and by asking a physician to enter portable medical orders on one’s behalf. These documents enable physicians to honor patients’ treatment preferences after patients have lost the ability to make or communicate their wishes.

Advance care planning has been shown to increase patient satisfaction during end-of-life care, to improve communication among patients, families, and caregivers during difficult situations, and to give physicians clearer guidance about end-of-life care.

Find out more about advanced directives and other resources to help you make your treatment preferences known.

Educational Programming

Wake Forest Baptist offers opportunities for hospital staff and community members to learn more about bioethics topics and issues. Our goal is to educate both our staff and the general public on important ethical issues that may arise during a patient’s care, and to help them make well informed and morally sound choices.

Clinical Ethics Consultation Service

Sometimes, deciding which treatment is best for a specific patient can be a challenge. Questions may arise about treatments near the end or beginning of life, about who should speak for an unconscious patient, about refusing a suggested treatment, and about cultural or religious differences, to name just a few.

When hard choices arise, people involved in the care of the patient may be unsure how to proceed, or they may disagree. In these situations, consultation with ethics committee members may help those involved understand the situation better and agree on what to do.

During a consultation, the consultation team will talk with the health care team, the family, and the patient in order to understand everyone’s concerns, always respecting the interests and rights of all involved. The consultants will suggest options and advice for the patient’s care, but the final decision will always remain with the doctors, patient and family. The ethics consultants will respect your privacy and ensure complete confidentiality within legal limits.

Clinical ethics consultation is free of charge, and anyone involved in the patient’s care can request a consult by calling 336-713-4400.