In view of the rapid breakthroughs being made in the realm of science, medicine and pharmacy, coupled together with the innovations in the health technology arena, it has become imperative to view these developments through an ethical prism in order to deliver healthcare that is safe, accessible, efficient and equitable to all segments of the population.
The Global Bioethics Initiative’s Manhattan summer school program 2019 was exclusively designed to address the vital need of educating and informing students and professionals across all health disciplines and train them with critical analyzing skills on the various bioethical challenges facing global healthcare. An array of lectures on diverse topics was delivered by a team of distinguished faculty in the field of healthcare ethics.
By and large, the lectures emphasized the most pertinent ethical issues in the area of healthcare and provided a structured approach to ethical decision-making. An introductory lecture on the historical significance of ethics in medicine and science was delivered by Prof. Cheryl Kunis from Columbia University who referred to several ethical misconducts in the past as a means to underpin the role of ethics in modern-day healthcare. Dr. Mirna Mohanraj from Mt. Sinai’s St. Luke’s-West Hospitals further introduced the students to the key ethical frameworks that guide the decision-making process in clinical settings by illustrating a variety of case studies.
In tandem with the progress being made in the field of medicine lately, new ethical dilemmas are emerging that need careful consideration; this was a recurrent theme in a majority of the lectures. For instance, in her timely and insightful lecture, Prof. Inmaculada de Melo from Weil Cornell Medicine discussed the ethical viewpoints in the use of Reprogenetic technologies. Moreover, in the light of improvements in organ transplantation surgeries and immunosuppressive drugs, Dr. Bruce Gelb reflected on the ethical issues surrounding it. Furthermore, amidst an excitement brewing in the scientific community regarding gene editing using CRISPR/Cas9, Dr. Sheldon Krimsky from Tufts University School of Medicine reviewed the ethical implications of using this technique.
Ethical challenges concerning vulnerable population groups was a subject that was at the heart of the summer school. For example, Dr. Nina Urban discussed the ethical gaps in providing healthcare to people with special needs such as those with mental illnesses, refugees and prisoners. As the global aging population is expanding rapidly, Dr. Russel Woodruff from St. Bonaventure University engaged students to explore the dimensions related to the concepts of autonomy and dependency and finally concluded how dependency could, in fact, encourage autonomy in old age. Dr. Ira Bedzow from New York Medical College, conducted an active discussion with the participants to examine the ethical aspects that had to be considered when dealing with minors with disabilities. Dr. Joseph Lowy from NYU Langone Medical Center outlined the various ethical facets pertaining to palliative care for patients with terminal illnesses from the local and global perspective. Meanwhile, David Leven informed the audience on the legal aspect of end of life care and in particular underlined the key difference between medical aid in dying and assisted suicide.
A core principle that resonated in the lectures was patient-centered healthcare. The emotions and the bond of a physician with his patient were elucidated by Professor Michael Berman, from Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai. Meanwhile, Shirin Karsan from the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians touched upon the relevance and impact of culture and religion in healthcare. Dr. Barry Smith from the Rogosin Institute addressed the inequities relating to accessible healthcare particularly in relation to dialysis. The topic of accessible healthcare was further echoed by Dr. Cheryl Kunis in her second lecture at the summer program where she spoke about inequities existing in the US healthcare system and the urgent need to provide affordable healthcare to the entire population.
Finally, ethical research conduct and practices was a topic explored from different angles. Prof. Henry Silverman from the University of Maryland School of Medicine through his expertise in this area brought attention to the various ethical complexities that arose in research practice such as conflicts of interest and discussed potential ways to deal with them. Dr. Ilene Wilets from Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai analyzed the practicalities surrounding informed consents, potential problems that emerged and how to deal with them.
In conclusion, through this unique summer school program, the students gained a wealth of knowledge in the field of bioethics from a global perspective and gained an insight on the skills required to apply ethical principles in real-world situations.
Prince Naif Bin AbdulAziz Health Research Center
King Saud University
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia