What is the UK Bioethics Program

What is a Bioethicist?

Bioethicists are not "moral experts" but persons who have some moral expertise. Bioethicists are professionals from a range of backgrounds (philosophy, law, religion, medicine, nursing, sociology, social work, education, etc.) who help healthcare providers "do the right thing" by looking at tough situations in medicine from various angles and perspectives, and then providing some guidance for all involved.

Most university teaching hospitals have bioethicists on staff for private consults, as well as holding regular hospital ethics committee meetings to discuss hospital policy and cases.

You may request a consultation with a bioethicist to help you make decisions about your care, or help to explain your options.

What is a Bioethics Consult? 

A bioethics “consult” request simply means that you request to meet with a bioethicist. The bioethicist will usually meet with you alone or, if you prefer, with your family members, friends, or any other support person present.

We offer consults for both clinical ethics and research ethics.


Bioethics education is an ongoing outreach activity of our program. Presentations, group case consultations, ethics rounds or "ethics at the bedside" are available to all clinical departments.

We provide a variety of bioethics education programs and courses to the UK clinical enterprise in the form of grand rounds, graduate medical education (GME) or other continuing medical education (CME) activities. For a list of the educational programs available to faculty and staff, contact the Program Director.

Independent study in bioethics can also be arranged for undergraduate and graduate students throughout the university, depending on their program requirements.

For non-clinical departments at UK, bioethics presentations and seminars are also available.

To schedule these activities, please contact the Program Director by e-mailing m.sararosenthal@uky.edu or calling 859-257-9474.

Moral Distress and Moral Residue

We are also the educational resource for the clinical enterprise surrounding ethics and professionalism, moral distress and moral residue in the clinical setting, and organizational ethics in the clinical setting.

Moral Distress

Moral distress occurs when an individual, as a moral agent, is constrained from doing what s/he believes is the right course of action, morally and ethically. Moral constraints may be due to a variety of factors, including legal, social, or institutional barriers. Moral distress creates a situation in which the individual healthcare provider feels as though s/he is compromising her/his moral integrity.

Moral distress was first identified in relation to nurses, but it can affect all types of healthcare providers.

Moral Residue

Moral residue is what is left when there is unresolved moral distress. It is the residue that remains and builds up over time, particularly when morally distressing episodes repeat.

Recognizing the negative impact of moral distress on healthcare providers, and ultimately health care, we have developed a tool to help you better understand and manage moral distress, the Moral Distress Education Project. In addition to explaining causes and possible outcomes of moral distress, we also offer potential solutions, recognizing that moral distress cannot be completely eliminated in health care. We hope you find this tool useful and would appreciate your feedback about it.

Other Issues

Ethical Issues We Don't Handle

Faculty and staff are encouraged to raise issues first with their dean, department chair, department head, director, supervisor or any other person the university recognizes as being responsible for enforcement of policies and procedures. The following offices and programs may also provide helpful information and resources: 

  • The UK Office of Research Integrity (ORI) supports the institution in its efforts to promote ethical conduct of research.
  • The UK Ethics Committee addresses areas of ethics and compliance at the University of Kentucky.
  • The UK employee assistance program, REFER, provides professional and confidential assessment and consultation to UK employees dealing with any of a wide range of problems in life.
  • The UK HealthCare Corporate Compliance Program demonstrates our commitment to honest and fair dealing and centralizes our efforts in preventing and detecting illegal, unethical or abusive conduct.
  • The UK College of Medicine Graduate Medical Education Program provides information and assistance to house staff.
  • The Office of Institutional Equity is responsible for upholding the University’s commitment to equal opportunity for all members of the University community.

The following state and federal programs are available to all UK physicians: