The Maryland Healthcare Ethics Committee Network (MHECN) is a membership organization, established by the Law and Health Care Program at the University of Maryland School of Law. The purpose of MHECN is to facilitate and enhance ethical reflection in all aspects of decision making in health care setting by supporting and providing informational and educational resources to ethics committees serving health care institutions in the state of Maryland. The Network will achieve this goal by:
The development of ethics committees in hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare institutions was a response to the expanding range of difficult ethical issues confronted by health care providers in the care of patients. Nationwide, approximately 80% of hospitals include standing ethics committees within their organizational structures. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) has been a potent force in establishing both the importance and the focus of ethics committees' work, requiring institutions to have in place mechanisms for assisting physicians, nurses, patients, families, and others to resolve ethical conflicts. Ethics committees function in various ways to address clinical ethical issues such as end-of-life decision making and differences in moral perspectives of patients, family and healthcare providers. Ethics committees also work to create a moral environment within health care institutions and to provide education on ethical issues to the institution and the community.
In 1987, Maryland became the first state to enact legislation mandating that all hospitals in the state establish "Patient Care Advisory Committees" or ethics committees, as they are more commonly known. In 1990, this legislation was amended to include nursing homes. In light of this statute, in 1992 Diane Hoffmann, a faculty member at the University of Maryland School of Law specializing in health law, and other interested parties, established the Baltimore Area Ethics Committee Network (BAEN). The purpose of the BAEN was to provide an opportunity for members of ethics committees "to meet one another, share experiences, and learn from one another about how their committees function, what they have found to be successful and difficulties they had had."
Participants were mainly from the Baltimore area. Professor Hoffmann's relationship with the University of Maryland's School of Law provided a degree of support for this fledgling Network, and participants who wished to receive mailings were asked to pay a small fee to cover related expenses. Over time, BAEN became instrumental in exposing members of ethics committees to the latest in research and thought on bioethics and ethics committees, but two questions arose: 1) how to serve ethics committees in Maryland outside the Baltimore metropolitan area and 2) how to provide more organized services to ethics committee members. The response to these questions led to a re-organization of BAEN that began in the summer of 1997 and was formalized in January of 1998 with the formation of the Maryland Healthcare Ethics Committee Network. MHECN was established as a membership organization to facilitate and enhance ethical reflection in all aspects of decision-making in health care settings. MHECN accomplishes this goal by supporting and providing informational and educational resources to ethics committees throughout the state of Maryland.
Network Membership is comprised of three categories:
Professor & Associate Dean Diane Hoffmann works closely with an advisory board to establish Network programs and priorities. The current Board members are:
Diane E. Hoffmann, JD, MS; Associate Dean for Faculty & External Affairs; Acting Director, Law & Health Care Program; Professor of Law University of Maryland School of Law Baltimore, Maryland.
Advisory Board Members
Brian H. Childs, PhD; Director Ethics & Organizational Development Shore Health Systems, Easton, Maryland.
Shahid Aziz, MD; Chair, Ethics Committee MedStar-Harbor Hospital Baltimore, Maryland.
Martha Ann Knutson, JD; Legal Compliance Officer Upper Chesapeake Health System Bel Air, Maryland.
Kimberly Miltonberger: Ethics Liaison, Transplant Resource Center of Maryland.
Phil Panzarella, MD: Chair, Ethics Committee Franklin Square Hospital.
Jack Schwartz, JD; Assistant Attorney General Baltimore, Maryland.
Robert E. Steinke, MA, MREd; Director, Pastoral Services Frederick Memorial Hospital Frederick, Maryland.
MHECN provides a diversity of services for the community of ethics committees in Maryland. Future services to be provided are dependent on continuing funding.
Newsletter: All members receive copies of the Mid-Atlantic Ethics Committee Newsletter, which is published three times a year in conjunction with the Law and Health Care Program of the University of Maryland School of Law. Institutional members receive 15 copies. Individual members receive one copy.
Workshops/Conferences: Two to three times each year, MHECN presents workshops, conferences and/or dinner programs centered on issues of importance to ethics committees. Programs have addressed issues such as advance directives and Maryland law, ethics in an intercultural society, the process of ethics consultation, the importance of communication in ethics consultation, spirituality and the role of ethics committees, and legal/ethical aspects of clinical informed consent and capacity.
Research Projects: In 1997, MHECN, in collaboration with the Law and Health Care Program of the University of Maryland School of Law, was the recipient of a grant from the Greenwall Foundation to assess the skills and knowledge base of individuals performing ethics consultations in Maryland hospitals. Results of this study were published in the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics [Hoffmann, D.E.; Tarzian, A.J.; O'Neil, J.A. 28 (2000): 30-40].
Speakers Bureau: In order to provide Maryland ethics committees with information on basic as well as cutting edge bioethics issues, the Network maintains a list of speakers available to members as they plan their own ethics education activities. This listing is updated yearly. Arrangements, including speaker fees, are made between the desired speaker and the member.
Bioethics Listserv: MHECN has established an e-mail distribution list for its members. The listserv is used to keep in touch with members in a timely manner. Events not included in the Newsletter Calendar, noteworthy legislative issues, updates on current MHECN activities, simple surveys of members' thoughts, etc. have been rapidly disseminated to members through the distribution list.
Public Policy Forum on Issues Before the Maryland Legislature: The MHECN Advisory Board has taken the view that the Network may not take a public position (legislative or otherwise) unless all members of the Board agree on the position. The Board anticipates that policy statements will come in very rare instances. However, as issues arise that may prompt legislative action, the Network will serve as a convener of public policy discussion forums. At these forums, Network members and others can become informed about, and comment on, issues with potential impact on patient care or ethics committee functions.
Lending Library for members: includes videos, audiotapes, and display materials of interest to ethics committees. E-mail MHECN@law.umaryland.edu or call 410-706-4457 for information on how to obtain a list of available materials.
Educational Programs: With its strong commitment to education, MHECN is working to create a stronger educational program for members. The following are available for a reduced fee to members:
Contact Anita J. Tarzian, PhD, RN, Chair of the MHECN Education Committee and MHECN Coordinator, for more information about these programs. See below for contact information.
Diane Hoffmann, MS, JD
Anita Tarzian, PhD, RN