In the United Kingdom there is a growing conviction that CECs have an important role to play in helping health care professionals address ethical dilemmas. For example, the Royal College of Physicians, the Nuffield Trust and the unofficial Clinical Ethics Network, which has received financial support from the Department of Health, commend the use of CECs in the UK. The growth of such committees has been influenced by the legal and policy support they have received in the United States. However, there is increasing concern about both the benefits and the quality of work produced by CECs. In addition, despite the rapid increase in the number of CECs in the UK, outside of the United States they remain under-researched and no formal mechanism exists to assess their performance. As a result we know little about the structure, function, impact and effectiveness of CECs. We are currently conducting a research project funded by the Wellcome Trust that seeks to interrogate the competing claims regarding the benefits and disbenefits of CECs. This initial account of our research provides a detailed analysis of theoretical issues that surround the development and use of CECs and points towards the questions that lie at the heart of the social science strand of our project.
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