January 30, 2009

Big year on tap for Biomedical Ethics center

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Ellen Wright Clayton, M.D., J.D., and her colleagues at the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society are gearing up for a busy year. (photo by Mary Donaldson)

Big year on tap for Biomedical Ethics center

Vanderbilt's Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society has several exciting projects planned for 2009, including developing a lecture series and supporting the research of two new Stahlman Scholars.

Established in 2005, the center focuses on the ethical, legal and social dimensions of health care.

“We have multiple purposes,” said Ellen Wright Clayton, M.D., J.D., professor of Genetics and Health Policy. “We're very engaged in education. We teach throughout the University, although we focus on the Medical Center. We're also very involved in clinical ethics consultation and ethics policy. We also do research, from empirical interviewing with human subjects to very conceptual theoretical work.

“Ultimately, our goal is to come up with a richer understanding of problems in order to develop more effective and just solutions.”

Clayton was recently named director and has taken the lead on the future plans of the Center, which include growing the clinical ethics consultation service, increasing the breadth and depth of its research, fundraising for a new endowed lecture series, and continuing to grow the Stahlman Scholars program.

The Stahlman Scholars program provides $15,000 in salary support and $2,500 in research funds for a six-month period investigating ethics in research, teaching and patient care.

Andrew Michel, M.D.

Andrew Michel, M.D.

John Paul Rohde, M.D.

John Paul Rohde, M.D.

Michel will research the two opposing schools of thought in psychiatry, humanistic and biomedical, and develop a seminar for psychiatry residents to look more deeply at the two models.

Rohde will perform research in the Emergency Department into moral distress, an emotional disequilibrium that results from recognizing the ethically appropriate action and not taking it.

“These are two very different projects, but we are very excited and delighted they are working with us as Stahlman Scholars,” said Larry Churchill, Ph.D., Ann Geddes Stahlman Chair in Medical Ethics. “Our aim with this project is building capacity. We are taking existing faculty with great ideas and giving them time off to do a project.”

Clayton calls the Stahlman Scholars program a “smashing success.”

“We're giving people who are in the midst of their career a chance to reflect on the implications of what they do. We find people go into medicine because they like people and then realize it's a complex mission. This is a chance to back off and think about the implications, and it's really interesting for us to hear what they have to say,” she said.

The 2008 Stahlman Scholars, Bonnie Miller, M.D., Kim Lomis, M.D., and Brad Malin, Ph.D., will present their work Feb. 2 at noon in 439 Light Hall. All are invited to attend.
The center has also begun fundraising for an endowed lecture series, the Patricia Townsend Meador Lecture in Law, Ethics and Health Care. The inaugural address is expected next spring and will be held annually.

Meador was a 1978 graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Nursing and provided legal counsel to the Medical Center.

“She was a health lawyer very committed to thinking about ethical issues in health practice and provided counsel to Vanderbilt before her untimely death,” Clayton said. “Vanderbilt turned to her so often because in addition to knowing law, she was wise.”

Besides honoring Meador's commitment to ethics, Clayton hopes the lecture series will foster scholarship.

“The point of a lecture is to catalyze work. People have the opportunity to discuss the work they are doing here with outside people and get some ideas,” she said.

“What we are finding out is that people experience their work as complex and at times difficult. We're really trying to open that space to talk about ethical issues that arise for people engaged in day-to-day work in health care institutions.”

To find out more about the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, go here.