Wake Forest University to host medical ethics symposium

By Cheryl Walker
March 2, 2006

To explore current ethical issues in medicine and overarching questions about quality of life and quality of care, Wake Forest University will host a symposium April 2 in Benson University Center.

Charles Bagwell

The event will bring together experts from the fields of law, medicine, philosophy and religion to discuss topics such as medical decisions at the beginning and end of life, the debate over national health coverage and the relationship of pharmaceutical researchers and manufacturers to medical treatments. The symposium is free and open to the public and will run from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Thomas O. Phillips, director of scholars at Wake Forest, began planning the event when he saw a need to better prepare students who want to enter health professions for the ethical issues they may encounter.

"As the Wake Forest medical center pushes the forefront of 'new medicine' and as undergraduates prepare to take their places as practitioners and participants in that surge of 'new medicine,' the university holds a key in helping current and future caregivers understand what public policy pressures will temper their idealistic charge and what lessons of today can inform the ethics of tomorrow's medicine," Phillips said. "I hope for a genuine debate about the nature of humane medicine."

Dr. Charles Bagwell, professor and chairman of the division of pediatric surgery at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System, will moderate the opening session, "Exploring the Issues: A Panel on Current Ethical Challenges in Medicine," at 2 p.m. in Benson University Center, Room 401.

Bagwell, a Wake Forest graduate, has written or co-written more than 50 articles and books and made more than 80 presentations on surgery, pediatric surgery, the history of medicine, and ethical issues in pediatrics and general medicine.

His remarks will consider the impact of economics on medical ethics.

"Medical practitioners today are under tremendous strain — societal and economic — to justify their 'work' in purely fiscal terms," Bagwell said. "We are urged to meet dollar quotas for every aspect of practice, and even cases which make the ethical issues center stage, like Terry Schiavo, are viewed in terms of cost to society."

Following the opening session, four concurrent sessions beginning at 3 p.m. will feature faculty from Wake Forest's College of Arts and Sciences, School of Medicine, Divinity School and School of Law.

The first panel, "Ethics in the Profession: Medical Education and Training," will consider the training of physicians and how ethical considerations do or do not fit into the medical school curriculum and residency training. Dr. Frank "Chip" Celestino, associate professor of family and community medicine, and Bill Leonard, dean of the Divinity School, will participate. Celestino serves on the medical school's ethics committee and chairs its clinical consult subcommittee. Leonard has written extensively on ethical issues in American religious communities. He has given particular attention to questions of ethics and disability.

The second panel, "Ethics of Shaping a Public Policy on Behalf of Recipients of Medical Care," will focus on public policy trends and topics such as liability limits in medical malpractice cases, HMO reform and consumer-driven health care. Mark Hall, the Turnage Professor at the School of Law and professor of public health sciences (social sciences and health policy) at the School of Medicine, and James Dunn, resident professor of Christianity and public policy at Wake Forest's Divinity School, will speak. Hall specializes in health care law and public policy and has written several books, including "Health Care Law and Ethics." Dunn is an expert on church and state issues and served as the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee in Washington, D.C., for two decades.

The third panel, "Historical and Philosophical Perspectives in Medical Ethics," will consider the evolving definitions of ethical treatment of patients. Hannah Hardgrave, lecturer in philosophy, and the Rev. Jay Foster, a chaplain supervisor at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, will be panelists. Hardgrave teaches courses in medical ethics and applied ethics and serves on the clinical ethics committee at the School of Medicine. Foster serves on the School of Medicine's ethics committee and teaches in the clinical pastoral education program.

In the fourth panel, Kate Mewhinney, managing attorney of Wake Forest's Elder Law Clinic, and the Rev. Dr. Mark Jensen, a chaplain supervisor at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and professor in the Divinity School and religion department, will discuss "Ethics and Aging: Gerontology and Social Equality." The session will focus on how the elderly require special care and serve as an example of the ethical and practical burdens of modern medicine. The speakers will cover such topics as long-term care, family caregivers and end-of-life care.

From 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., a concluding session will feature summaries from each panel presented by Wake Forest undergraduate students who are Carswell Scholars and brief comments from panelists. Then, Bagwell will lead a question-and-answer session followed by a reception.

Nearly a third of students entering Wake Forest as undergraduates express interest in health professions, Phillips said. Approximately 10 percent end up going to medical school after they graduate and another 10 percent or so will enter other health fields.

"It's a fact of life that we graduate a large number of students who become health professionals," Phillips said. "It is a timely opportunity to raise questions about the ethics they will employ when they become professionals."

The event is sponsored by the Carswell Society, a group of about 1,200 Wake Forest graduates who studied at the university as Carswell Scholars. Approximately 250 of them are physicians. It is co-sponsored by the university's Fund for Ethics and Leadership and the Wake Forest scholars program.

For more information, call 336-758-5180.