Health care professionals face ethical dilemmas every day. They don’t have the luxury to treat ethics and gray areas of morality as intellectual parlay, because these challenging situations arise with regularity.
While medical ethics courses are part of academic programs, it’s rare to practice moving beyond the hypothetical and into the realm of reality. How should health care professionals act ethically?
This question and others were discussed at the third annual Aspen Ethical Leadership Program (AELP), held recently in downtown Aspen. The inclusive and forward-thinking program on ethical leadership is geared toward people across the health care spectrum — physicians, students, administrators, lawyers, insurance providers and other leaders. The program is led by founders Matthew Wynia, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, and Ira Bedzow, director of the Biomedical Ethics and Humanities Program at New York Medical College.
Attendees participated in plenary sessions, panels and case studies, all in a highly engaged setting due to the intimate size of the three-day conference. Bringing together professionals from across the spectrum of health care to train in identification and generation of solutions to the ethical dilemmas of our modern age demonstrates the immense power of inter-professional collaboration.
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An interesting component of this year’s program was that many cases fell into the black-and-white category, rather than morally ambiguous areas. Yet, even in situations where consensus regarding solutions was easily obtained, participants quickly learned that the development of policies to carry out those decisions was still quite difficult when confronted with the reality of their implementation.
Finances, a wide variety of stakeholders, conflicting values of autonomy and utilitarianism, and legal obligations — an array of factors must be considered and provide challenges to taking ethical action. The interactive programming of AELP could be likened to a mental gym where ethical muscles are built and strengthened.
Next year’s program will take place from Sept. 9–11.
Guest contributor: Taylor Soderborg, an MD/PhD candidate in the Integrative Physiology Program at the CU School of Medicine.