Sunday, October 7, 2007

Students Confront Contemporary Issues in Medical Ethics

The Practicing Medical Ethics course is our one-unit, day-long introduction into the interesting yet thorny field of medical ethics. The course is intended to familiarize students with some of the central issues in medical ethics and provide an opportunity for thoughtful and stimulating discussion about some of the hotly debated issues that dominate the public square.

In the first session this fall, students discussed the issues involved in the just distribution of medical resources. The first two cases asked whether alcoholics should be eligible for liver transplants and whether death-row inmates should be eligible for organ transplants. The third case came from recent headlines and dealt with the case of Dr. Anna Pou, who was accused of murdering nine patients at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, though a grand jury recently declined to indict her.

In this second session inspired by another recent tragedy, the Virginia Tech killings, students explored the issue of doctor-patient confidentiality. With the Virginia Tech tragedy, the question of how to balance doctor-patient confidentiality with public safety has resurfaced. The students read three different cases, two of which dealt with the issue of medical confidentiality and the university, and the third involving how much evidence is needed to constitute a “duty to warn.”

On August 1, 2007, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a response to questions concerning artificial nutrition and hydration, thereby reiterating Pope John Paul II’s affirmation that artificial nutrition and hydration should be considered basic care. In the third session, the students discussed this highly controversial issue.