Consortium Ethics Program Embarks on 29th Year of Programming

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The University of Pittsburgh’s Consortium Ethics Program (CEP) has kicked off its 29th year as the region’s premier healthcare ethics education network.  

Fall Programming. Over 30 healthcare professionals from Western Pennsylvania and beyond gathered for a full day seminar in mid-September that addressed guardianship issues, and discussed ethical issues in using psychiatric advance directives and non-opioid advance directives for continuing CEP participants. Taylor Lincoln, a physician specializing in Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, was the lunchtime speaker.  She presented a series of cases drawn from her experience during her Fellowship in Hospice and Palliative Medicine. They sparked lively discussion about “futility” in medicine and about resolving conflicts between surrogate decision makers with equal standing. 

Members joining for the first time were offered a Foundations in Healthcare Ethics seminar series to facilitate their entry into the CEP’s year-long programming, which includes participation in the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities annual conference held in Pittsburgh this fall.

Winter Programming. The CEP’s next seminar will be December 6 at Cumberland Woods Conference Center in Allison Park, PA. It will explore parallels and contrasts in the ethics of caring for very young and very elderly patients. Judy Navratil from The Pittsburgh Project of the University of Pittsburgh will highlight contrasting ethical frameworks for enrolling pediatric and elderly patients in research that may benefit them. Rollin Wright, a physician from Pitt’s Division of Geriatric Medicine, will discuss ethical issues arising in a personal care setting. In the case she will present, both partners in a couple have moderate dementia and lack decisional capacity for most medical decisions. One is a lifelong alcohol drinker, and current alcohol use is leading to difficult and sometimes violent behaviors. 

Other topics in the December 6 seminar—Ethical Issues in Caring for the Young and the Old: Similarities, Differences, and Challenges—include medical decision making by adolescent patients, healthcare rationing across the lifespan, and ethical implications of how elderly and pediatric patients are portrayed in accounts of their healthcare.

The value of ethics education. Equipping clinical staff to interact with patients, families, and each other in responsible, ethically responsive ways is a critical part of providing high quality patient care. Creating a respectful, supportive, ethical work environment is a fundamental goal of institutional leadership. Reducing moral distress can reduce burnout and turnover among staff, and ethics education is credited with providing a “place and space to address and strengthen both individual and systemic responses to moral distress.”* Yet, while The Joint Commission requires healthcare organizations to have a mechanism for ethics review, it does not specify the structure of that mechanism. Further, most organizations lack resources to develop ethics education programs in-house. (*Pauly et al. “Framing the Issues: Moral Distress in Health Care,” 2012; doi:10.1007/s10730-012-9176-y)

In 1990 the University’s Center for Bioethics & Health Law founded the CEP to provide healthcare ethics education to healthcare leadership, administrators, and front-line clinicians. Participants in CEP programming take their education back to their organizations, which include hospitals, hospices, health plans, nursing facilities. The CEP then supports their efforts with on-site continuing ethics education for their staff and colleagues. CEP leadership helps institutions/organizations develop an Ethics Education Plan tailored to their organization’s needs.

University of Pittsburgh faculty lecture and lead case discussions in CEP seminars and conferences together with faculty from Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne, and West Virginia Universities and other regional experts. National leaders in bioethics speak at CEP conferences, with the past three featuring faculty from Duke, Stanford, University of Toronto, UT Austin, Cleveland Clinic, and Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Join the CEP. CEP membership is open to both individuals and healthcare institutions/organizations, which designate staff members to attend CEP programming. The CEP plans to expand gradually and enroll 3–5 more institutions/organizations for its 30th Anniversary year, beginning Fall 2020. (Visit bioethics.pitt.edu/CEP for information.)

Interested individuals and institution/organization representatives may sample offerings yet this year by contacting cep@pitt.edu, and are especially encouraged to attend next spring’s  conference on March 20 at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine: Medical Ethics 2020: Ethical Challenges of Emerging and Established Medical Technologies