Monthly Archives: December 2015

Ethics Education: Can You Change a Moral Compass?

Samantha Strong

During the Nov. 13 keynote address for the Future of Professional Ethics workshop, “Committed Professionals: Handling Obstacles to Ethics,” Lisa M. Lee, Ph.D., M.A., M.S., Executive Director for the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, discussed the importance of ethical preparedness in public health. Such preparedness, she argued, is essential to outbreak and disease management; it is a key component to effectively navigate the political realm; and it is the foundation upon which difficult decisions are made. Such preparedness, she stated, is the responsibility of every professional. Such preparedness can be generated through education.

Ethics is everywhere. In the allocation of scarce resources, the application of big data, traversing the political realm, and in the use of authority — ethics is everywhere. And it is for this reason ethics training should be integrated into the education of all professionals, particularly among public health professionals. The day’s conversations revolved around the application and inclusion of ethics training: Should scientists receive ethics training? How should such training be incorporated into public health professional’s education? What about medical schools? How much can we depend on IRBs for ethical matters? What is our responsibility? The conclusion was unequivocal: Ethics training and preparedness are everyone’s responsibility. Physicians, politicians, drug manufacturers, research scientists, public health professionals — we are all ethically responsible. What did remain unanswered, however, was how to ensure all professionals are adequately prepared.

Ethics education and training should be integrated into all professionals’ educations. While this is easier said than done, ethically important issues demand successful application. The incorporation of bioethical training and preparedness in public health curricula will enhance ethical preparedness and hasten the assimilation of ethics across disciplines. As Dr. Lee noted, “having a straight moral compass and being ethical are not the same thing.” Public health educators are not responsible to straighten students and professionals’ moral compasses; they are obliged to teach and prepare their students for an ethical and effectual career. Public health is an “ultra-disciplinary” field, making it a beautiful challenge worth undertaking. Ethical competency is necessary to successfully take on such a challenge.

Public health professionals are not the only ones responsible for ethical competency. It is on the shoulders of all professionals, including scientists. Dr. Lee noted the occasionally strained relationship between science and ethics, stating that such a relationship is not an “ either or an or, but an and.” Science is not the enemy, but it is up to all professionals to learn and discover what we should do in addition to what we can do. Many barriers are preventing ethics from entering the public health sphere, but beneficence, ethics, and responsibility are necessary components in the public health sector. Serving the public requires fulfilling many roles, facing many conflicts, and making difficult decisions. All are enhanced in a humanitarian, civic, and societal level when built upon a foundation of ethics. Ethical preparedness and education can lay this foundation.

Samantha Strong is an undergraduate student at Indiana University studying bioethics and political and civic engagement. 

December 14, 2015

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Research Integrity Inside the Beltway: Looking Back and Looking Forward

The Association for Practical and Professional Ethics is pleased to announce “Research Integrity Inside the Beltway: Looking Back and Looking Forward.” This pre-conference workshop will precede the main program of the 25th Annual Meeting of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) in Reston, Virginia.

This is an exciting time as we reflect on significant achievements in the field, current issues, policy and program mandates, and new challenges.  Our presenters will discuss the research integrity issues their agencies and organizations address, thedifficulties involved in developing policy, and the future of research and policy on research integrity.

The workshop will feature a report from the 4th World Conference on Research Integrity (provided by Elizabeth Heitman and Daniel Vasgird), and presentations by the following invited speakers:

  1. Tom Arrison, Program Director for Development, Security, and Cooperation
    National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
  1. Daniel Denecke, Vice President, Best Practices and Strategic Initiatives
    Council of Graduate Schools
  1. Francesca Grifo, Scientific Integrity Official
    Environmental Protection Agency
  1. Zoë Hammatt, Director, Division of Education and Integrity
    Office of Research Integrity
  1. Allison C. Lerner, Inspector General
    National Science Foundation
  1. Heather Pierce, Sr. Director, Science Policy & Regulatory Counsel
    American Association of Medical Colleges

The pre-conference workshop will take place on February 18th, 2016, from 9-4, and the main conference program will begin at 4:00 and continue through Saturday, February 20th.

Workshop attendees are invited to register and attend the main conference program which features a presentation by Christine Grady (NIH) and peer-reviewed presentations on a number of topics in research integrity, bioethics, business ethics, environmental ethics, and moral theory. Registration for the workshop is $110, and is separate from registration for the conference.

December 10, 2015

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Complacency in the Medical-Industrial Complex

Hussain Ather

Long gone are the days of scientists only locked up in labs, secluded from everything but their microscopes and calculators. Now, more than ever, scientists find themselves writing reports and grant proposals, managing jobs, sitting on committees, and delivering lectures. Scientists work in issues at the forefront of policy, ethics, law, and other areas of society. Though these duties may be as fluid as viscous liquid or as dynamic as biological evolution, scientists and non-scientists alike struggle everyday with understanding science’s role in society.

Lisa M. Lee, Ph.D., M.A., M.S., Executive Director for the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, gave her talk, Committed Professionals: Handling Obstacles to Ethics, on November 13 to an audience of professors, physicians, and other professionals, she considered the current state of affairs in public health ethics and bioethics. She spoke from her background in bioethics, including her work in public health surveillance and privacy. But, as I sat in the front row of the lecture hall, I couldn’t help but wonder, if scientists have expanded their roles in other areas, why was there still such a huge gap between science and policy?

We’ve taught ourselves to be complacent. With the slow death of the liberal arts education, we’ve sold science as a way to manufacture jobs, but forgotten about the important values of humanism necessary for personal growth. We need to encourage science as a way to seek the truth, of both the economy and virtues. No doubt, science should make money, but it should also teach us values such as wonder, curiosity, and humility in the world.

Dr. Lee suggested requiring ethics training programs for graduate students. I was dubious of this solution because, while it may help students understand ethics, a requirement can only do so much to foster curiosity and humanism before encouraging complacency and discouraging innovation.

Students who aspire to become physicians suffer from this complacency. As pre-medical undergraduates, we have long paths in front of us before becoming a practicing physician. We spend four years taking courses like organic chemistry, physics, and biology while preparing for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). Along the way, we volunteer, shadow, and engage in extracurricular activities before entering a four-year medical school program. After that, we have residency and training before becoming a fully-practicing physician. With such a long, stringent path, it’s easy to forget about what’s really important and how to “live in the moment.” Instead, we succumb to utilitarian, consumerist motives as we value information over wisdom, marketability over authenticity, and dogmatism over free thought. And, when we aren’t prepared for the future, the “Medical-Industrial Complex,” as Dr. Lee puts it, thrives.

We can only address the ethical issues in science, medicine, and public health through a thorough examination the values we instill in ourselves through education. Those of us who can break from the complacency of everyday life to higher ideals, including courage, justice, and empathy, will be ready to fight the problems of tomorrow.

Hussain Ather is a pre-med undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington and co-founder of the IU Undergraduate Bioethics Society.

December 3, 2015

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