I just returned from attending the annual conference of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, which this year was held in Minneapolis(allowing me to visit both Surdyk’s for cheese and Kaczmarcuk’s for sausage, just saying). The theme for this year was “Generation(s) and Transformation(s)” reflecting an emerging theme in bioethics, that of “enhancement.” Enhancement is anything which enhances the development or ability of a person, most often applied to the developing fetus but also seen in developments in neurology, orthopedics (i.e., prosthetics) or even use of glasses or hearing aids. I come away from the meeting with a great deal of new knowledge as well as an understanding that bioethicists wear more bowties than any other group I have ever seen.
Over the course of three days, I attended the following sessions:
• Gender, Reproduction and Bioethics: this included papers on approaching the ethics of treating LGBT populations as well as the ethics of disaster preparedness.
• Queer Generations: A second session devoted to the specific ethical issues occurring over the lifespan of LGBT person.
• Politics and Bioethics: featuring two prominent politically-oriented ethicists, John Arras and Jonathan Moreno, who looked at how ethics and politics conflict and come together in a pluralistic society.
• Research Environment and Decision Making: this was mainly about ethical decision making in a research environment.
• Bioethics in News and Theater: this looked at the confluence of bioethics and humanities as used in situations outside formal ethics courses.
• Physicians’ Obligations: This program examined the obligations physicians have to patients, and also explored physician conscientious objections to treatment as well as the concept of “firing” patients.
• Medical Ethics and Humanities Education in US Medical Schools: this was an overview of the development of a project designed to assess the state of training of ethics in the United States.
• Ethics as Transformative: an interesting session which looked at teaching macroethics, as well as how to ethically break the law and how to settle arguments about enhancement.
• Transformations over Two Generations: noted ethicist Dr. Ruth Macklin traced her career over a 40+ year period showing how the bioethics world began and became the force it is today.
• Teaching Ethics: Of interest to me since I do, it looked at the use of debate and role play in teaching ethics to medical students.
• Research Ethics: This session looked at how a controversy in bioethics occurred at one hospital, how consent forms may actually create therapeutic misconception rather than reduce it, and how people understand wrongdoing in ethics environments.
• The Birth of a Bioethics Program: Steps, Strategies and Successes: this looks at the creation of a large ethics program in the Kaiser Permanente Health System, showing how much work had to be done to launch their ethics program.
• Physician’s Role: about what doctors need to do when caring for patients.
• Patient’s Role: a switch on the above, but with a focus on what it means to be seen as a patient.
This was all fertile ground, and I very much enjoyed a program that gave me additional knowledge in an area not too well understood to begin with.