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Bioethics Consultation Service

Clinical & Research Ethics Services

Bioethics Consultation Service

Ethics consultation is one of the major ways, along with teaching and making policy recommendations, that ethicists serve health care organizations.


The purpose of the service is to improve the process and outcomes of clinical care and clinical research at times when ethical quandaries arise by addressing distressing concerns and questions, and assisting with identification and analysis of ethical issues.


The Consultation Service commits itself to providing an opportunity for people to talk through clinical research and clinical care issues with a supportive group that understands the nature of the practical issues. The belief that ethics consultation should provide an open space for deliberation about ethical issues guides the Consultation Service. Fundamental to this philosophy is the view that all who come to the table deserve to be heard, regardless of their knowledge of the bioethics literature or their position in the institutional hierarchy. The Consultation Service's practices embody this commitment to openness and inclusivity.


Most of the senior staff and fellows of the Department of Bioethics organize and staff the Clinical Center's Bioethics Consultation Service. The Service works with and is overseen by the Clinical Center Ethics Committee. Anyone who works at the NIH or participates in research at the NIH Clinical Center can request a consult. A consult can also be requested on behalf of a research participant including research participants themselves, parents, physicians, nurses, social workers, investigators, or any other individual with a relevant interest in the child or adult in question. Consults unrelated to a particular research participant are also welcome. Consultations can take the form of a phone call, an in-person discussion, or when needed, a full ethics committee meeting. When an in person discussion is held, the requestor is encouraged to bring all who might have a stake in the issue at hand to the meeting unless there are good reasons to do otherwise.

  • Information gathered in ethics consultations is kept confidential. Individuals who feel uncomfortable with requesting a consultation may ask for a confidential consultation although such a consult is limited since the consulting staff is hearing only one point of view about the situation at hand.
  • An NIH staff person who requests a consultation will receive a consultation report. If a consultation is requested by or regarding a research participant at the NIH Clinical Center, a report will be placed in the electronic medical record. If a research participant wishes to receive a copy of a consultation report, he or she is welcome to contact to Consultation Service to do so or can view the report in his or her medical record.

The Bioethics Consultation Service occasionally gets requests to consult when a research participant may not be able to personally consent to research. These consultations are conducted by the Ability to Consent Assessment Team (ACAT). ACAT is a joint function of the Bioethics Consultation Service and the Human Subjects Protection Unit of the National Institute of Mental Health. ACAT services can be accessed by contacting the Bioethics Consultation Service.

Contact information:

The service is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

To request a bioethics consultation, use any of the following approaches;

  • Call the Department of Bioethics main number at 301-496-2429
  • Call the NIH paging operator at 301-496-1211
  • Put a request in the Clinical Research Information System (CRIS)
  • Ask for the name of the consultants on call at 301-496-2429, and send them an e mail request

Bioethics Consult Service Brochure PDF Icon (58 KB)


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