Center Update 2021

In 2020, the Center responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing interprofessional ethics education in collaboration with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Public Health Training Center. It also created a collection of pandemic-related ethics and health humanities resources, including COVID-19 Narratives written by students in Literature & Medicine, a core course in the proposed Certificate in Health Humanities. Center faculty members collaborated on influential model policies, position papers, and ethical analyses, including:

The Center hosted colloquia debating the ethical foundations for allocation plans during the pandemic, as well as two Grand Rounds lectures: The Complex Ethics of Reopening America by Justin Bernstein from Florida Atlantic University, and “Settled” Ethical Issues Reevaluated in the Context of the COVID Pandemic: Lessons from Harlem Hospital by Michael DeVita, a former Center faculty member, now Director of Critical Care, Harlem Hospital Center in New York.

Empathy, Ethics, and the Challenges of Difference was the theme of the Center’s Consortium Ethics Program virtual continuing education series. In addition to its ongoing Health Humanities Lecture Series, in 2021 with the Palliative and Supportive Institute of UPMC Shadyside Hospital, the Center will launch a Healthcare and Religion Lecture Series to complement its new Religion, Medicine, and Healthcare Research Initiative.

The Master of Arts Program in Bioethics moved its courses online, which enabled the Program’s first Fulbright Fellow to continue her studies from Colombia. In light of her experience with the Program, the Center is exploring additional collaborations with the University’s Latin American Studies Program.

Based on a series of virtual focus groups with medical students, the Center redesigned Ethical Issues in Clinical Practice, an elective for 3rd and 4th year students. Also redesigned were the clinical ethics sessions in Obstetrics and Gynecology to now include role-play opportunities. Center faculty from the School of Nursing are meeting regularly throughout 2020-2021 to develop an interprofessional ethics module and to discuss increasing attention to structural racism and social justice within the School’s ethics curriculum.

The pandemic delayed the on-campus launch of the Research, Ethics and Society Initiative (RESI) that the Center developed, on behalf of the Office of Research, to promote ethical research practices and awareness of the ethical, legal and social implications of research. The Research Ethics Consultation Service (RECS), largely staffed by Center faculty, as well as other components of the RESI will be introduced in 2021.

In the meantime, small grants from the Center and the RESI have supported the School of Computing and Information’s Social Justice and Tech Reading Group, as well as a Neuroethics Discussion Group. These have met online with virtual visits by Ruha Benjamin (Race After Technology), Matthew H. Rafalow (Digital Divisions), and Laura Specker Sullivan. Through other small grants, the Center is supporting a project in the School of Social Work examining the ethics of living and working with nonhuman animals; a project in the Department of Sociology on health, housing, and human rights; talks on disability studies in the English Department; and examination of French narratives of health and illness, leading to the development of a new course: Ailing Bodies: Narratives of Health and Illness.

The Center and the RESI are, respectively, providing support for two projects in the arts that will be presented in 2021: The “Say Her Name” Memorial Gown, through which Theatre Arts faculty member Karen Gilmer will explore themes of racial and legal injustice, the absence of women in the narrative of police brutality, and disparities in health. The second project is Art’s Work in the Age of Biotechnology, a virtual exhibition of 11 art-science works by internationally recognized artists, organized by Center affiliated faculty members Elizabeth Pitts and Hannah Star Rogers. It situates contemporary genetics within a spectrum of past, present, and future ways of configuring bodies and technologies, prompting viewers to reconsider their relationships with one another and with other species.

As we embark on another year when Center activities will be held virtually, it is the shared intellectual interests and ethical commitments of Center faculty and students that will draw us together.

Lisa S. Parker