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UCLA Health System Ethics Center - Enlightened by Ethics

The UCLA Health System Ethics Center seeks to promote dialogue, inquiry and values clarification to address the many complex and compelling ethical concerns in healthcare today.  By fostering  the integration of ethical discussion and education as foundational practices, the Center hopes to sustain and cultivate an environment committed to respect, caring and fairness amongst all UCLA Health System's endeavors.  UCLA Health System Ethics Center's primary commitment is to the promotion of excellence in patient care and to be a resource for ethical reflection. 

Why is Ethics Important in Healthcare?

Ethical concerns challenge patients, their families and healthcare professionals in unprecedented ways.  Medical advancements and technology provide new possibilities for good, yet also the potential for harm.  Carefully weighing choices about treatment combines a need for comprehensible informed consent, a full appreciation of the benefits and burdens and an integration of one's goals and values.  Moral uncertainty and/or conflict can arise in many situations, such as, when a patient can no longer make decisions for themselves, when their wishes are unknown, when they have no one to represent them or when health care professionals feel a moral obligation to not offer a treatment that will be non-beneficial or even harmful.  Often these choices have to be made at critical intersections of life.  Many decisions will have profound consequences and some, by their very nature, may require  a value to be sacrificed for a greater good.    Practical resolution of such questions requires melding theoretical constructs with clinical sensibilities, an appreciation of the goals of healthcare and individual expectations and values.  The issues are complex -patients, their families, communities and healthcare professionals need guidance and support.  The Ethics Center invites those with a commitment to ethics in healthcare, to ask the hard questions and craft responses that foster moral and humanistic care, to do the right thing, to protect from harm, to balance the demands of many and to support the most vulnerable requires insight, sensitivity and acts of conscience.

The Ethics Center is committed to addressing ethical concerns through clinical ethics consultation, policy development, education and research.   Ethics consultation attempts to facilitate the principled resolution of ethical conflicts through a process of respectful listening and constructive dialogue.  Consultation is available to healthcare professionals, patients and their families.  The Center actively develops and reviews policies dealing with ethical issues which help to guide clinicians and the hospitals in providing consistent and well-reflected direction in resolving ethical conflict. Education for healthcare professionals and staff and the community is accomplished through partnering with the many schools at UCLA, an Ethics Lecture Series, conferences and innovative programs.  The Ethics Center is dedicated to educating future ethicists by providing a clinical fellowship for those with advance degrees in bioethics.  Research and publishing strengthen the field; the Center's wealth of clinical experience provides guidance to others and, incorporated with research, helps to inform new avenues for resolving conflicts and supporting best practices. The Center supports the three UCLA Health System Ethics Committees: their memberships are interdisciplinary (social workers, physicians, nurses, chaplains etc.) and incorporate members from the wider community to promote a broader representation.

The center is committed to:

  • Promoting the care of patients in an environment that is humanistic and compassionate.
  • Drawing on the perspectives of patients, their families and healthcare professionals.
  • Addressing the challenges of rapid socioeconomic, cultural and technological changes in health care.
  • Utilizing the rich and diverse UCLA academic resources to reach out to the community and combine the strengths and perspectives of various disciplines and professions.
  • Carrying out innovative research to advance ethical aspects of healthcare and health policy.
  • Hosting community lectures on healthcare ethics.
  • Utilizing resources and experts in the fields of social work, spiritual care, nursing, public health and law, among others, the UCLA Health Ethics Center focuses the efforts of the university and UCLA Health System on developing innovative, humanistic solutions to ethical issues in patient care.

The History of the Center

The Ethics Center was founded in 2002 with the goal of strengthening the UCLA Medical Center's ethical environment and commitment and improving the humanistic aspects of health care provided for patients and their families. At the time, two members of the UCLA Medical Center's Board of Advisors, Buzz McCoy and Arny Porath had an interest in ethics and expressed a desire to explore the manner in which ethics was integrated in the Medical Center. Their curiosity and vision led to a fuller appreciation of the needs and the development of resources for a comprehensive program. Their interviews shaped a report and then the mobilizing of key leaders and stakeholders/supporters to develop a plan that would address the widespread demands that were emerging. With the support of the leadership at the Medical Center, the chair and co-chair of the Medical Ethics Committee, Neil Wenger, MD, MPH and Katherine Brown-Saltzman, MA, RN, along with the Medical Center's at the time ethicist, Les Rothenberg, Marge Cunningham, a retired associate director of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center became founding members of the Center. Initial funding for the UCLA Health System Ethics Center was provided by Partnership for Care, a fund supported by friends and grateful patients of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, and by gifts from members of the medical center's board of advisors. In addition, a gift given to the medical center in honor of one of its board members enabled the UCLA Health Ethics Center to offer public lectures in healthcare ethics.