The past couple of years have presented what seem to have been unprecedented challenges to our healthcare and public health systems, our economies and educational systems, our health and well-being, and even our ways of investigating, understanding, and solving problems. A partial recounting: COVID-19 … crises at and over various borders (migration, refugees, war) … wildfires and flooding on a new scale, earth tremors in new places, environmental climate crisis … deaths by overdosing and under-resourcing … shootings in neighborhoods, places of worship, stores, schools, and at traffic stops … abuses of power and failures of authority … zealous assaults on-stage and on the steps of the Capital, on personal freedoms and hard-won rights, and on appealing to evidence and achieving consensus or compromise … metal detectors and fact checkers necessary in previously unimaginable contexts.
Faculty of the Center for Bioethics & Health Law have helped to address these challenges—developing policies to allocate scarce pandemic-related resources, informing both national debates and local policies regarding vaccination, advising on prevention of mass shootings and other violence, and contributing to debate, legal arguments, and practical responses regarding access to abortion.
The challenges are not actually unprecedented. Like the novel coronavirus COVID-19, acute and widespread awareness may be new, but the underlying challenges themselves are not. Persistent racism and poisonous nationalism; inequality of opportunity; intergenerational disparities of health and well-being; problems of structural injustice, distributive justice, and rectificatory justice; fear, insularity, and intolerance; abuses of power, feelings of powerlessness, and acts of despair; porous boundaries of the public and private, the political and personal; the relationships of facts and values and of ethics and law—these are persistent problems, both practical and theoretical. They are the stuff of ethics.
Through its collaborations, programming, educational programs, and resources, the Center continues to advance understanding of these problems. With so much that needs to be done, the Center and its faculty are doing a lot: educating current and future health professionals, informing debate and policy development, and providing resources for other educators, investigators, and the public.
In Fall 2022, the undergraduate Certificate in Health Humanities, developed by Center faculty, is enrolling its first students. A graduate Certificate in Bioethics, complementing the MA Program in Bioethics, is under review. An interprofessional ethics case study, developed for use in the schools of health sciences, is being piloted in Fall 2022. New courses—Ethical and Social Implications of Biotechnology (School of Nursing) and Ethical Issues in Public and Community Health (School of Public Health)—will enroll students in Spring 2023.
Center-affiliated faculty have developed new humanities electives in the School of Medicine—Comics and Medicine and Medical Nutrition: Past & Present Theories and Practice. The Area of Concentration in Medical Humanities and Ethics has a record number of students. In Spring 2023, the Center’s annual Interprofessional Healthcare Ethics Conference will resume with the theme of Ethics, Healthcare, and the Quest for Emotional Well-being, a critical nexus at this time clinician burnout and increased depression, anxiety, opioid overdose, and violence.
The Center is launching two new bioethics lecture series. One in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) will focus this year on ethics, emotional well-being, and quality of life; the second in the School of Social Work will focus on ethical issues in reproductive and transgender healthcare. These join the Center’s Health Humanities Lectures and Healthcare and Religion Lectures. In collaboration with Pitt Cyber, the Center is providing programming on FemTech, the use of digital technologies to protect research participants’ interests, and risks of digital footprints in light of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
The Research, Ethics and Society Initiative, developed at the behest of the University’s Office of Research, launched its seminar series in which local researchers discuss research ethics challenges they have faced, and its lecture series with talks by Eric Hirschhorn, Rupa Marya, Paul Scharre, Lizzie O’Shea, and Chenxi Wang.
Drawing attention to its virtual art exhibition and teaching resource—Experience, Integration, Expression: The Work of Norman Klenicki—the Center will host programs exploring mental health, creativity, and ethical management of medication, in collaboration with Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum and in conjunction with the Provost’s Year of Emotional Well-being. The Center is also collaborating with Carlow University’s Atkins Center for Ethics to host speaker Mona Hanna-Attisha, and also will be working with Carnegie Museum of Art curators to develop bioethics-relevant programming related to the 58th Carnegie International.
In recognition of one of its important on-campus collaborations, the Center was honored as an awardee in the category of “Allies to the Department of Africana Studies” during Africana Studies’ 50th Anniversary Celebration last April. During 2022-2023, when the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program celebrates its 50th Anniversary, the Center is supporting development of an archive and teaching tool on Pittsburgh’s history of LGBTQ healthcare and harm reduction approaches.
These endeavors are united by the Center’s mission of advancing health, well-being, and ethical healthcare. They are also characterized by the Center’s and its faculty members’ openness to collaboration and respectful dialogue, and our respect both for our interlocutors and for standards of evidence and argument.
Lisa S. Parker, Director