On 26 September the University of Sydney launched a new website to help health professionals deal with the wide range of challenging ethical and legal issues they constantly encounter in their work.
The site, the Clinical Ethics Resource, was developed by the University and is funded by NSW Health.
The launch featured a talk by Professor Julian Savulescu, Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, speaking on the controversial concept of medical futility.
Dr Greg Stewart, Acting Deputy Director-General Population Health and Chief Health Officer at NSW Health officially launched the website.
The Clinical Ethics Resource
One of the site’s designers, Associate Professor Cameron Stewart, from Sydney Law School said, “With over 500 links to resources this comprehensive website provides an extensive range of material addressing the ethical and legal issues experienced by the thousands of people working in clinical environments in the NSW health system.”
The site includes guidelines, tools, legislation, policy, reports, articles, books and examples of legal cases.
“The 19 categories covered on the Clinical Ethics Resource include genetics, mental illness, end of life, organ and tissue donation, consent, reproductive health, confidentiality, negligence and standards of care and communication,” Associate Professor Stewart said.
The site was built by the University’s Centre for Health Governance, Law and Ethics at Sydney Law School and the Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine at Sydney Medical School.
It is the sister-site to the highly successful Ethics and Health Law News Service developed by the same two University of Sydney centres and launched in 2009.
Developing clinical ethics capacity
“This website is part of a larger current research study into the practice of clinical ethics in New South Wales,” Associate Professor Cameron Stewart from Sydney Law School said.
“By observing how health professionals deal with difficult ethical issues and what they need to do we will develop a plan to identify further necessary resources. For example providing clinical ethics committees or expanding clinical ethics training might be required.”
This study is also a partnership project between the Sydney Law School, Sydney Medical School centres, and NSW Health and is supported by the NSW Department of Health. The study will be completed in 2011.
The futility of medical futility
To launch the website the University will present a guest lecture, by Professor Julian Savulescu from the University of Oxford, on medical futility.
Medical futility refers to the justification for not treating a patient on the grounds it will not improve their condition.
“In modern times death has, for most of us, become a managed process, where treatment is selectively withheld and withdrawn, commonly on grounds of medical futility,” Professor Savulescu said.
“I believe that the concept of medical futility is deeply flawed. Judgements of medical futility are really covert judgements of best interests, which are frequently mistaken, or judgements about how the medical system’s resources are to be used.
“Decisions about medical futility would be best reframed as explicit resource allocation and distributive justice issues.”