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05/27/2015

Bioethics Education from Three Viewpoints

This afternoon, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) turned its attention to three approaches for teaching bioethics.

Emphasis on Empirical Methods

Steven Joffe, M.D., M.P.H., the vice chair of Medical Ethics, Emanuel and Robert Hart Associate Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy and director of Penn Fellowship in Advanced Biomedical Ethics at University of Pennsylvania, made the case for including empirical scholarship in the education of bioethicists. He identified two broad roles for empiricism in bioethics: to inform ethical analysis and to move from a moral vision to ethical behavior and effective, justifiable policy.

“High-quality, high-impact bioethics requires interdisciplinarity, translation to policy and practice, and grounding in nuanced appreciation of relevant empirical realities,” Joffe said.

Teaching Bioethics through Humanities

Margaret Little, Ph.D., is the director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and associate professor in the philosophy department at Georgetown University. Little described how novel approaches to bioethics education, such as the Kennedy Institute’s Conversations in Bioethics series, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and its Ethics Lab, can help prepare students and the broader public to engage in dialogue and deliberation on topics in bioethics with significant public policy implications.

Each of these approaches has unique advantages. Through the university-wide conversations series, for example, students can gain exposure to experts with both deep knowledge and unique personal experience. Through MOOCs, “anyone with an internet connection can access the world’s experts on a variety of topics,” Little noted. And in the Ethics Lab, students use newly acquired knowledge to design real-world tools and interventions.

Bioethics Education through a Clinical Lens

Connie Ulrich, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., an associate professor of bioethics and nursing in the Department of Biobehavioral Health Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, explored the value of nursing to public discourse on ethical issues, the ethical issues that nurses encounter that require bioethics education, and the role of bioethics education in preparing the next generation of nursing professionals.

Ulrich said that nurses face complex and challenging ethical issues in clinical care, partly because of the time they spend directly with patients and their families. Yet only about half of nurses surveyed reported having had ethics education in their basic or advanced professional program, and 23 percent said they’d had no ethics education at all. This lack of preparedness can make nurses feel less confident and less likely to take action when faced with an ethical issue.

“Ethics preparedness can strengthen nurses’ ability to work collaboratively with other health care providers, build confidence to speak about ethics concerns related to patient care, and garner respect as valued members of the caregiving team,” Ulrich said.

Next, the Bioethics Commission will wrap up today’s meeting with a roundtable discussion.

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