Monday, April 7, 2008

Practicing Medical Ethics, Think about the Hard Questions

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.

When asked if doctors have an obligation to tell their patients the truth, the typical gut reaction is to answer this question affirmatively. This first session featured two cases that were contributed to the 2008 Medical Ethics Conference by a practicing physician. They bring to light the complications in the doctor-patient relationship, the complexity of human lives, and questions about the extent of a doctor’s obligation to tell the truth.

In the second session, students considered the implications of genetic testing and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Currently, the abortion of fetuses that are afflicted with such maladies as Down Syndrome and Spina Bifida is accepted medical practice. Is the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis to discard embryos that display certain predispositions different in any ethically relevant way? Is the use of PGD permissible to discard embryos that have the predisposition to develop afflictions that show up not at birth or early childhood, but much later in life?

What is the point of health care? Is health care a business or a profession? What are the obligations of a health care professional with respect to the sick at large and to his own home community? These are the questions that students faced in this third session, in which we asked them to reflect upon the nature of health care. The students also read an excerpt of The Rebirth of the Clinic by Daniel P. Sulmasy, O.F.M., M.D., Ph.D., the Clarke lecturer for the 2008 Medical Ethics Conference.

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