Reading the Medical Tea Leaves: Divining Decisions - Oct. 13, 2016

Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D.
During this session on behavioral economics and medical decision making, we focused on the quirks of human decision making and how they impact medical decision making. What are the implications for informed consent? How can doctors use knowledge of these quirks in a way that promotes patient best interests and autonomy rather than slipping into ethically worrisome territory of manipulation and coercion?

Background Readings:
Richard Thaler And 'The Making Of Behavioral Economics'
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – Review
Guiding Forces

1984 or 2016: Big Brother and Big Data - Nov. 10, 2016

Mary Majumder, J.D., Ph.D. and Christi Guerrini, J.D.
This session on health privacy featured a lively debate on the business of selling private health information. We considered both the sale of patient information by the biomedical-industrial complex (which some might view as an incarnation of “Big Brother”), including health insurance companies, provider networks, and researchers, as well as the sale of personal information by patients utilizing new digital platforms that allow them to share in the profits. What are the ethical and legal limits to selling private health information? What are social expectations and norms regarding health privacy, and are they changing? 

Background Readings:
Privacy Or Profit? These Firms Want To Help You Sell Your Data
You Should Share Your Health Data: Its Value Outweighs the Privacy Risk
Health Secrets for Sale
Selling Health Data: De-Identification, Privacy, and Speech
Q&A: Privacy Maven Deborah Peel, MD

Beats, Breathes, and Brainwaves: Defining Death - March 9, 2017

Savitri Fedson, M.D.
During this session on defining death, we explored how we have changed the determination of death.  We looked historically at how death has moved out of the home and been made a medical subject. What is the effect of the Uniform Determination of Death Act in 1981?  How has organ transplantation changed how we think of death? How and why death is not a simple fact.

Background Readings:
Clinically Dead? The Blurred Line Between Life and Death
The Premature Burial

No Country for Old Men: Can You Stop What is Coming? - April 13, 2017

Christopher Scott, Ph.D.
Aging research has a new face: longevity. Baby boomers are living longer and longer lives but are faced with the real possibility that some of those years will be spent in suffering decline. A quiver of solutions is proposed, including stem cell transplants, new gene therapy, and precision medicine. Where does the hyperbole stop and the evidence begin? How will we grapple with what bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel calls the era of “The American Immortal”?  This session explored how this frontier area of the life sciences prompts new ethical questions and forces us to reconsider our relationship with new technologies, our fear of death, and our hope for a long, productive life.

Background Readings:
Is Silicon Valley Birthing the Next Pro-Lifers?
Treating the Aged with Young Blood

Why I Hope to Die at 75 

(Un)natural Selection - May 11, 2017

Amy McGuire, J.D., Ph.D.
During this session on genetics, we focused on lessons from the past. We explored the eugenics movement in the United States during the 1920s-1930s followed by modern day debates about gene editing and designer babies. How similar or different are the issues from 1927 to 2017? How can we avoid going down the slippery slope of eugenics with these new technologies? We will grapple with the concept of genetic determinism and what it means for science and society.

Background Readings:
The Forgotten Lessons of the American Eugenics Movement
Engineering the Perfect Baby

What's the Difference Between Genetic Engineering and Eugenics?