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Topic: Clinical Ethics
November 11, 2014 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, DPS, LMSW

In Peter D. Kramer’s New York Times piece published in the ‘Couch’ section on October 18, 2014 (Why Doctors Need Stories) he affirms the experience of learners, educators, and researchers in his arguments that a case vignette can provide a kind of instruction that cannot be duplicated by data collection alone. While we do still need evidence based material to assure safety and efficacy of treatments, the case study offers contextual material that makes the evidence come to life.

As a Clinical Ethicist each clinical encounter is rich with substantive information that is part of an individual or family story intersecting with the healthcare setting. When invited to provide input, support, or recommendations in any given case, the most informative elements of any case are the story of the patient. What was before, what is now, and what the future may require is different for each patient, and I am often awed by the ‘before.’ The contextual landscape of each story is often where we come to understand the psychosocial factors that weigh heavily in how a patient, family, or community interacts with the healthcare community. Hard data is not as useful as hearing the story that belongs to the patient.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 3, 2014 | Posted By Paul Burcher, MD, PhD

I was at a conference last week in medical ethics, and I was surprised by, or perhaps appalled at, the attitude displayed by many of the philosophers regarding the importance of medical knowledge in medical ethical decision making. Several of them proudly announced a total ignorance of the medical issue they were speaking on, and also showed no interest in what I would call “real world” implications of their conclusions.  Although I have a PhD in philosophy, I am not a philosopher in the sense that I am capable of, or interested in, spinning arguments from “thin air” with no grounding in medical facts, and no implications for real medical practice.  Medical ethics must begin in real life issues and problems, and end with equally real and meaningful conclusions that can be applied, and sometimes even empirically tested. 

This is not to say that philosophers cannot make good, or even great, medical/clinical ethicists. But they need to begin with a healthy respect for the way in which the “facts on the ground” inform the ethical decision-making.  A brief example illustrates my point.  In Hilde Lindemann Nelson’s famous article explaining narrative ethics, she discusses the case of Carlos and Consuela. Carlos is an HIV positive gang member wounded in gang violence, who is recovering from his injuries in a hospital.  He is now ready for discharge, but needs dressing changes at home.  He wants his sister Consuela to do the dressing changes, but he insists that she not be told about his HIV status.  While Dr. Lindemann Nelson uses this case to make several excellent points about the limitations of principle based ethics, one aspect of the question, crucial to any ethical reasoning on the case, is obviously the transmissibility of HIV infection through dressing changes.  This “fact” is an essential aspect that underpins any ethical judgment regarding the case.  The conflict between patient confidentiality and duty of nonmaleficence (toward Consuela) pivots in part on the fact that HIV is not readily contagious, and simple universal precautions should make the risk to Consuela essentially nil.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website

September 4, 2014 | Posted By Luke Gelinas, PhD

There has been a good bit of debate lately in bioethics circles over the concept and proper definition of death.   The disagreement is between those who think that the cessation of brain activity or ‘brain-death’ is sufficient for death, on the one hand, and those who think that brain-dead patients whose circulatory systems continue to function are still alive, on the other.  Consider, for example, the recent tragic case of Jahi McMath.  McMath suffered complications from a surgery to correct sleep apnea which resulted in cardiac arrest and her being placed on a ventilator.  Shortly after physicians at Oakland Children’s Hospital pronounced her brain-dead and so legally dead.  Her family, however, disagreed, and appealed to the courts for Jahi to be maintained via mechanical ventilation and PEG tube.

Although Jahi’s family disagrees with the claim that she is brain-dead (insisting that she is merely ‘brain-damaged’), suppose the Oakland physicians are correct in their diagnosis of brain death.  Nonetheless, even after the pronouncement of brain-death Jahi’s body continued to exhibit the sort of homeodynamic equilibrium—at least for the time being, and with assistance from mechanical ventilation and other life-sustaining interventions—characteristic of living organisms.  It was warm to the touch; her heart continued to pump blood through her veins; and so on.  Indeed the bodies of brain dead patients have in some cases remained functional for weeks and even months, performing such surprising feats as undergoing puberty and even gestating fetuses. This has led certain physicians and philosophers to question whether brain death is really sufficient for death.  Patients who are truly dead, after all, could not be warm to the touch or gestate fetuses.  Could they?  

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

August 11, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

In my last blog I asked the question, “What is ethics doing?” where I contrasted the armchair, academic ethics that I knew as a graduate student with the clinical ethics cases in which I am now involved in clinical ethics consultations. I alluded to the famous paper by Stephen Toulmin (1922-2009), “How medicine saved the life of ethics” by providing ethics with many practical value laden problems to address. The very process of becoming involved with applied ethics and ethical problems of practicing physicians in the healthcare system was itself as, or perhaps more, transformational for ethics than it was for medicine. Even though medicine needed a serious study of its value-laden issues, which has evolved into bioethics and clinical ethics, the very activity of doing applied ethics has evolved into a better defined field of inquiry with a clearer purpose. But what about the armchair, academic pursuits of philosophical ethics of old? Is there anything left for it to do? This is the question I will attempt to answer in this blog.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

July 22, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

I recall being a PhD candidate in philosophy in the 1970’s, I often pondered the subject matter of my graduate courses in ethics. I would ask myself, what does any of this have to do with ethics? What are we doing?

As our courses went from Kant to Mill to G.E. Moore to the Emotivists and others, I couldn’t help but have a sense of unreality about the content of what I was learning.

How can we use reason to find a basis for knowing right action? What are the ways we can define right action based on a normative moral theory?

What is the meaning of good? Right? And obligation? Can these terms be defined within a theoretical, substantive moral framework or are they just expressions of feelings and emotions without any cognitive content? If they are more than the latter, what do they mean?

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

June 26, 2014 | Posted By Michael Brannigan, PhD

Ethics here, ethics there, ethics nearly everywhere. Welcome to the world of hyphenated ethics: business-ethics, medical, environmental, media, sports, advertising, legal, even military-ethics. With ethics commissions, committees, councils, consultants, certificates, etc., ethics is big business. Just about anyone can claim to be an "ethicist," a term I decried years ago.

Who are these "ethicists"? What qualifies to be one? In my field, health care ethics, the stakes are high. Recommendations regarding right, wrong, and in-between can be matters of life and death. While ethicists disclaim moral expertise, their views carry weight in bureaucratic institutions. We expect them to be competent in the demanding task of moral analysis, with in-depth experience and interpersonal skills.

But are they?

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

June 19, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

By sharing a recent experience in which I delivered a lecture and case at a responsible conduct of research (RCR) workshop for biomedical science trainees, I will comment on why I believe that pedagogy on the RCR, specifically for biomedical scientists, needs two essential ingredients: delivering knowledge/information and providing case-based learning. The art is to determine how much of each element is needed and how to most effectively deliver information on an RCR topic and ensure trainees get the most from the ethical analysis of cases.

Ethics Workshop: Responsible Research Conduct & Misconduct in Stem Cell Research

As part of Canada’s Stem Cell Network at http://www.stemcellnetwork.ca, I had the unique opportunity to organize and present an Ethics Workshop as part of the Network’s annual Till & McCulloch Meetings in October 2013. The workshop was a lecture followed by an interactive ethical case using “The Lab: Avoiding Research Misconduct” video hosted by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) athttps://ori.hhs.gov/thelab. The 50 to 60 workshop attendees were primarily master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral trainees, and almost all were biomedical researchers working with stem cells. Most attendees had never heard of RCR. Thus, the goals of the workshop were modest and involved introducing attendees to the following: RCR, research misconduct (fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism), the RCR link to scientific retractions, issues of authorship and publication ethics, and Canada’s RCR framework.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

June 12, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

For over a decade the faculty of the Alden March Bioethics Institute has been designing and developing simulated cases for our graduate students who wish to learn the core skills of clinical ethics consultation. The model that we use is called “mock consultations”, which provides students the opportunity to perform an ethics consultation on a simulated case from the beginning when the request is made, to data collection, interviewing key players in the case, and on to case analysis the final recommendation.

In the process of developing simulated cases we have made every effort to make them as real to life as possible. All of the cases we use are from ethics consultation cases that have been deidentified and made into anonymous teaching cases. We have benefitted immensely from working closely with Albany Medical College’s (AMC) Patient Safety Clinical Competence Center (PSCCC). Those involved in medical education will recognize the importance of simulated cases using standardized patients (SP) and the role they play in training new doctors to communicate effectively with patients and families.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

May 29, 2014 | Posted By Marleen Eijkholt, PhD

Imagine you or your partner want to take your placenta home after birth. You feel that the placenta is part of your (partner’s) body and you should be allowed to take it home.  Maybe to eat it: ‘I ate my wife's placenta raw in a smoothie and cooked in a taco’ (Guardian 30 April 2014) or to bury it for cultural reasons, as protection of the soul and the newborn (LA times 31 December 2013). In Oregon you are legally allowed to take it home. In some hospitals elsewhere, you are not. Imagine that due to circumstances, you end up in a hospital that prohibits you from obtaining the placenta. What’s next?

Requests to take placentas home after birth are increasing. Human placentophagy is on the rise. Kim Kardashian spoke about it in her soap series not too long ago.  Newspapers are full of stories about placentas, their use and ability, and significant amounts of websites discuss the pros and cons of bringing placentas home. Different sources report on the alleged benefits of eating your placenta and other reasons to take it home. The public exposure to this ‘appetite’, its context and the rise in requests, raise concerns about prohibitive practices. Prohibitive policies are likely to come under increased scrutiny. My question in this context: What about eating placentas, what about policies prohibiting this?

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

April 29, 2014 | Posted By Marleen Eijkholt, PhD

Earlier this month, the New York Times (NYT) reported on individuals in a minimally conscious state (MCS). Although the article headed: ‘PET Scans offer clues on Vegetative States’, its contents addressed the technologies around MCS: a ‘newly’ diagnosed state of consciousness. The paper commented that PET scans would be more beneficial than functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (functional M.R.I.) in diagnosing this state. Around the same time, the NYT published a paper that headed: ‘Cost of treatment may influence doctors’. This paper quoted a doc saying: “There should be forces in society who should be concerned about the budget, about how many M.R.I.s we do, but they shouldn’t be functioning simultaneously as doctors,”

In this blog post I want to focus on the cost and price of consciousness. I do not only want to focus on the economic costs, but also on costs in a more holistic sense, including the psychological and emotional costs. In the end, I want to ask you: how much is consciousness worth to you?

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.bvg

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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