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 (100% of hospitals with 400 or more beds) include standing ethics committees within their organizational structures (Fox, Myers & Pearlman, 2007). This is a result of credentialing standards from The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, presidential bioethics commissions, well-publicized court cases, and state laws that support having an internal mechanism to assist physicians, nurses, patients, families, and others to resolve ethical conflicts. Ethics committees function in various ways to address values conflicts among patients, family members, and healthcare providers that raise questions about the right course of action. 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 specializing in health law at the UM Carey School of 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 found to be successful, and difficulties they encountered.
BAEN reorganized in 1998 with the formation of the Maryland Healthcare Ethics Committee Network (MHECN), which is housed within the UM Carey School of Law and supported by membership dues.