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Posted on November 24, 2015 at 5:08 PM

This post also appears on Indiana University’s Future of Professional Ethics site.

On Friday, November 13, Dr. Lisa M. Lee, Executive Director for the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, presented a keynote address for The Future of Professional Ethics workshop series hosted by Indiana University‘s School of Public Health and the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions.

The workshop event began with a panel discussion featuring Dr. Lee and Indiana University Bloomington faculty members Albert Gay, Jon Macy, and Antonio Williams of the School of Public Health, and Mark Bauman of Medical Sciences Program. This discussion focused on a number of ethical public health topics ranging from the Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee project to health communication pertaining to e-cigarettes. The discussions sparked dialogue about the role of ethics in public health from the panelists and the audience of faculty and students alike.

Dr. Lee’s keynote presentation, “Committed Professionals: Handling Obstacles to Ethics in Public Health,” highlighted several key topics, including the evolution of public health ethics over the years, professional ethics in public health, and ethical obstacles and opportunities in public health. Dr. Lee emphasized the importance of being “good” (beneficent) public health professionals; some of their qualities, she noted, include accountability to the public they serve, transparency, and the ability to make ethical decisions when faced with real ethical conflicts. She highlighted some of the work of the Bioethics Commission on the topic of democratic deliberation as a strategy for coming to ethical conclusions when faced with conflicts.

Dr. Lee noted several barriers to public health ethics highlighted by a lack of ethics training in many schools on public health, poorly defined ethics competencies required by many professional accrediting organizations, and an outdated, but persistent, view of ethics as an obstacle to public health work. Further referring to the Bioethics Commission’s work, she noted that ethical considerations, when integrated “early and explicitly” in public health preparedness and practice, facilitate public health activities by anticipating potential concerns and providing decision-making tools to resolve conflicts should they arise.

Dr. Lee closed by suggesting some opportunities and resources for people to get involved in public health ethics, including IUB’s very-own Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE).

This well-attended presentation shows how highly Indiana University students and faculty value professional and public health ethics. In attendance were representatives from a variety of schools, programs, and departments including business, medical sciences, kinesiology, and public health. The audience was engaged throughout and offered many thoughtful questions during the discussion period, including many from students with well-formed thoughts on ethics.

Dr. Lee and the Bioethics Commission staff would like to thank the School of Public Health and the Poynter Center for being such wonderful hosts and for the zeal in which it embraced this very important topic.

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