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Ethics Consultation Service

Jennifer Kesselheim, MD, MBE, and Carolyn Hayes, PhD, RN, NEA-BCDana-Farber ethicists Jennifer Kesselheim, MD, MBE, and Carolyn Hayes, PhD, RN, NEA-BC

At Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, we respect your values and those of your family in all aspects of care.

As you go through cancer treatment, or guide your child or another family member through it, you may have such questions as:

  • How aggressive should treatment be?
  • Should I volunteer for a clinical trial?
  • Who should make medical decisions for me if I’m not able to do so?

Advances in technology, multiple treatment options, and differences in beliefs and values can create challenges for all of us. There are so many choices that sometimes we need to pause and ask: What is the right thing to do?

One way to answer this question is to request an ethics consultation.

The Ethics Consultation Service can help you and others involved in your care talk about, understand, and come to agreement about ethical issues.  Our goal is to help everyone involved arrive at a resolution that is right for all.

What does an ethics consultation do?

  • Encourages communication and shared decision-making among patients, families, and the health care team
  • Clarifies the ethical questions
  • Helps identify options and choices related to patient care
  • Offers recommendations to you and your health care team

What happens when I request an ethics consultation?

There are usually three phases of an ethics consultation:


  • A member of the Ethics Consultation Service will speak with you to clarify your concerns. We will also speak with members of your health care team.
  • We may review your medical record. We will maintain your confidentiality at all times.


  • Three members of the Ethics Consultation Service will meet with you, your family, and your health care team.
  • During the meetings, we'll seek to understand everyone’s values and concerns.
  • We'll also help identify options for the decisions that your face.


  • We will offer recommendations that we hope will be helpful to you and your medical team.
  • In most cases, we will put a written summary of our recommendations in your medical chart. We will give you a copy of these recommendations.
Must I do what the ethics consultation recommends?

No. The recommendations are only advisory. However, we hope they will help you reach a decision that feels right for everyone.

To request an ethics consultation at Dana-Farber

Call the hospital operator at 617-632-3352 and ask for the ethics consultant on call. The ethics consultant is available by page Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. If you wish to leave a message, call Dana-Farber's ethics hotline and 24-hour confidential voice mail at 617-632-5713.

For patients hospitalized at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Call the hospital operator at 617-732-5656 and ask for the ethics consultant on call.

For patients hospitalized at Children’s Hospital

Call the hospital operator at 617-355-6363 and ask for the ethics consultant on call.

The Ethics Advisory Committee

The Ethics Consultation Service is part of Dana-Farber's Ethics Advisory Committee.

The committee:

  • Provides ethics consultation to Dana-Farber clinicians, patients, or family members.
  • Develops hospital policies related to patient care and ethics.
  • Facilitates professional education about medical ethics.

Who is on the Ethics Advisory Committee?

The committee has about 20 interdisciplinary members, including:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Patient and Family Representatives
  • Chaplains
  • Social workers
  • Mental health professionals
  • Researchers
  • Ethicists
  • Lawyers

All members of the Committee receive education and training about medical ethics.

Our Ethicists

Jennifer Kesselheim, MD, MBE

Jennifer Kesselheim serves as Co-chair of the Ethics Advisory Committee and is an associate ethicist at Dana-Farber. She is a pediatric hematologist-oncologist who cares for patients at both Dana-Farber and Boston Children’s Hospital. Kesselheim conducts research to explore how to teach ethics and medical professionalism to physicians.

Marylou Nesbitt, RN, MS, AOCN

Contact Information

To request an ethics consult

Call the Dana-Farber ethics hotline and 24-hour confidential voice mail at 617-632-5713.

If you wish to speak to someone immediately, please call the page operator at 617-632-3352 and ask for the ethics consultant on call.

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