Informed consent – medicine in action

Medicine in Action (MIA) kicked off its speaker series with a fairly controversial topic – informed consent and refusal.

The series is hosted by the Philosophy Department and is funded by a grant from the Excellence in Undergraduate Education. The series is designed to take a look at issues at the crossroads of ethics, biology, and medicine. The series was put together by Alison Reiheld, assistant professor of philosophy. Reiheld believes that bio ethics is an important topic that span every aspect of life.

Rory Kraft speaks to SIUE students as part of the Medicine In Action speaker series.

“Bio ethics broadly includes not just only human medicine, buy also animal experimentation, the genetic modification of food plants–should we create organisms that contain genes from multiple species, both animal and plant or different animal species like goldfish that fluoresce because they have squid proteins in them,” said Reiheld.  “This [series] is specifically the subsection of bio-ethics that is pertaining to clinical medicine.  There is a lot more even in medical ethics than that, but we’re looking for this idea that the part of ethics that’s is useful and important in your profession extends beyond the classroom.”

Friday was the first of the series, Rory Kraft, a professor of philosophy at York College at Pennsylvania as well as being on the York Hospital Ethics Committee, who tackled the issue of informed consent and refusal. Kraft works with how informed consent and refusal gets complicated when the patients are minor patients and when patients want to refuse treatment.

“That’s one of the cases that I wanted our first speaker to talk about because it challenges what you think you know about informed consent and refusal and the limits of the patient’s right to talk about that,” said Reiheld.  “We talk in every version of these courses about this basic idea of informed consent and refusal.  But, not every professor who teaches [the course] talks about whether or not pediatric patients are allowed to refuse live saving treatment, ever, and under what circumstances that it might be respected or even taken into account, much less just completely ignored by clinical staff and parents.”

After looking at broader philosophical theories and general aspects of consent, Kraft began speaking about a series of cases that complicate the issue of consent. He spoke about the case of Daniel Hauser, a young boy who, along with his parents, wanted to refuse treatment for cancer. Kraft also looked at several cases where the family objected to treatment and the child died and juxtaposed that with cases where state law stepped in and forced treatment.

The main focus of the series is the discussion that Reiheld asks the speakers to moderate. Several students spoke about incidents in their lives where the general idea of consent was not clear cut. One student asked Kraft to speak about current healthcare and the government’s power or duty to tell the public how to eat or exercise.

There series has several more events planned. According to an email from Reiheld, the next talk near the end of term will be on the ethics of off-label uses of medications to alter memory, by Dr. Anna Gotlib.  Spring talks on conscientious objection, moral distress, and quality-of-life determinations will be given by speakers from UW-Seattle and Harvard.

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