Italian law n. 219/2017 on consent and advance directives: survey among Ethics Committees on their involvement and possible role [Book Review]

BMC Medical Ethics 23 (1):1-9 (2022)
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Abstract

Background On December 2017 the Italian Parliament approved law n. 219/2017 “Provisions for informed consent and advance directives” regarding challenging legal and bioethical issues related to healthcare decisions and end-of-life choices. The law does not contain an explicit reference to Ethics Committees (ECs), but they could still play a role in implementing the law. Methods A questionnaire-based survey was performed among the ECs of the Italian Institute for Research and Care belonging to the Network of neuroscience and neurorehabilitation, with the aim of (1) knowing whether the ECs participated and, if so, how in the process of implementation of law n. 219/2017 in the referring institutes; (2) investigating the point of view of the ECs regarding their possible involvement in the process; (3) exploring the contribution ECs can provide to give effective implementation to the law principles and provisions. Results Seventeen ECs out of thirty took part in the survey; the characteristics of the responding and non-responding committees are similar, so the responding ECs can be regarded as representative of all ECs in the Network. Nine ECs did not discuss the law in anyway: the main reason for this is that the referring institutions (6) and the health care professionals (3) did not ask for an EC intervention. Nevertheless, the large majority of the ECs believe that their involvement in the implementation of the law as a whole is appropriate (8) or absolutely appropriate (6), while 3 of them are neutral. No EC believes that the involvement is inappropriate. The aspect of the law on which the 14 ECs converge in considering the EC involvement appropriate/absolutely appropriate is the one related to the health facilities obligation to guarantee the full and proper implementation of the principles of the law. Conclusions Our survey confirms that ECs believe they can play a role in the implementation of law n. 219/2017, although this does not entirely correspond to what the committees have actually done in reality. This role could be better exercised by ECs specifically established for clinical practice, which would have a composition, functioning and a mandate better suited to the purpose. This supports the call for a national regulation of ECs for clinical practice.

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