Join The Conversation

The Conversation
Join the "The Conversation" and explore hot topics in medical ethics and health policy.

The Conversation Speaker Series is an interactive dive into the world of medical ethics and health policy, presented by the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy.

The 2018-2019 series explores a range of timely topics with our next event on Dec. 13. Mark your calendar and give yourself plenty of time to read the background material. You won’t want to miss a single event!

Sincere thanks to our sponsors: Virginia Clark, Nancy Dunlap, Doe Florsheim, Jill Glanville and Carolyn Kneese 

The Creature Speaks: What Mary Shelley's Frankenstein Can Tell Us About Humanism In Medicine

Dec. 13, 2018, noon-1:30 p.m.
Third Coast

Andrew Childress, Ph.D.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus is often cited as a cautionary tale, one that forecasts the dire consequences of allowing scientific and technological innovation to run amok. While this is a useful reading of the novel, there are other valuable lessons to be learned from the conflict between Frankenstein and his creation. Those of us whose memories of Frankenstein’s creation are limited to Halloween costumes or Boris Karloff’s grunting monster may not be aware that the novel portrays him as an intelligent, articulate, sensitive being who quotes Milton and implores Frankenstein to consider his human rights. How might his dialogue with Frankenstein provide insights into the experiences of patients who have felt abandoned or have lost trust in the fiduciary relationship? What might the creature be able to teach us about empathy, compassion, and communication in the patient-physician relationship? In this conversation, we will explore issues related to trust in medicine, the acknowledgement of suffering, and the unintended consequences of using advanced life-sustaining technologies.

Background Readings

'Frankenstein' Reflects the Hopes and Fears of Every Scientific Era
How Frankenstein's Monster Became Human
Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus (1818) [Project Gutenberg, Full Text]

Million Dollar Baby: Surrogacy Contracts, Reproductive Technologies and the Changing Face of Parenthood

Feb. 21, 2019, 6:30-8 p.m.
Damian’s Cucina Italiana

Claire Horner, J.D., M.A.
The advent of reproductive technologies, spurred by the birth of the first baby through in vitro fertilization in 1978, has expanded our conception of parenthood in myriad ways. Forty years later, we can now welcome babies through uterine transplantation and are exploring the possibility of genetic editing of embryos. The growth of these technologies, from gamete donation to gestational surrogacy, has allowed individuals to have children they otherwise could not have had, but has also caused confusion as our laws struggle to keep up with the ever-changing definition of “parent.” In this session, we will explore the modern pursuit of parenthood in the for-profit fertility business and discuss both the reproductive promise it offers to its hopeful clients and the ethically complicated pitfalls inherent to the market.

Background Readings:
The messy complicated nature of assisted reproductive technology
As surrogacy surges, new parents seek legal protections

Faith and Healing: Patients, Miracle Language and a Space for Faith in Medicine

April 11, 2019, noon-1:30 p.m.
Third Coast

Trevor Bibler, Ph.D.
From ancient shamans, through medieval physician-theologians, all the way to today, the relationship between medicine and religion remains dynamic. In America today, patients, parents, and families often appeal to their religious beliefs when making medical decisions. But finding a balance between respecting a patient’s faith and allowing healthcare professionals to practice according to the profession’s idea of good medicine is often a challenge. What should be done if a family insists that support from a breathing machine should continue while they wait for God to perform a miracle? If medicine is meant to care for the whole person, must hospitals also care for the soul — or is this outside of medicine’s scope? If those who attend worship services live longer and are move active in their final years, should doctors “prescribe” religious worship? During our conversation, we will discuss how faith and healing interact in American medicine today.

Background Readings:
In Jahi McMath saga, science and religion clash
Views on end-of-life medical treatments  (Religion and End-of-Life Care section)
Waiting for a miracle? Perspectives from health care providers
Medical miracle 

Raising Consciousness? Minimally Conscious States, Brain Death and our Growing Understanding of Disorders of Consciousness

May 9, 2019, 6:30-8 p.m.
Damian’s Cucina Italiana

Savitri Fedson, M.D.
“I think therefore I am,” to take Descartes out of his context, in some ways puts forth the question that many grapple with as we think about consciousness. Does consciousness require an interaction with the environment, or an awareness of oneself? The intentionality of responses and of movement, or the ability to be aroused or awakened. Definitions of consciousness are as difficult to grasp as the memory of a dream. The criteria which became the legal and medical understanding of brain death is now 50 years old, and 15-20,000 people are declared legally dead by this brain death criteria every year in the United States. But awareness of different states of consciousness are evolving, and there are ever more frequent calls to challenge the idea of brain death. During this session we will explore the murky waters of awareness, from comas to vegetative states to the awareness of minimally conscious states and the potential for awakenings.


Dinner at Damian's Cucina Italiana
3011 Smith St., Houston, TX 77006
Individual dinner session: $65, 3-dinner bundle: $180
Complimentary valet parking

Lunch at Third Coast
6550 Bertner Ave., 6th Floor, Houston, TX 77030
Individual lunch session: $45, 2-lunch bundle: $80
Complimentary garage parking

Series Package
5-series bundle: $260