This blog originally appeared on Health Affairs and has been reprinted with permission.
Historically, the field of bioethics has focused much attention on ethical issues raised by the latest advances in medical science. For example, is it acceptable to use genetic engineering to create “designer babies”? Should employers be allowed to use brain imaging to assess traits such as truthfulness? What about the ethics of stem cell research, mitochondrial therapy, or chimeric organ transplants? Bioethicists who write about these ethical issues often work in universities or other academic settings.
But these topics may have little practical relevance to people who work or are treated every day in hospitals and other organizations that deliver health care. There, the ethical issues tend to be of a different sort: less “sexy,” perhaps, but no less compelling. Here are a few examples. An elderly woman wants to go home, but a social worker is concerned that she might not be able to care of herself. Doctors recommend chemotherapy for a child’s cancer, while his parents want to try nontraditional medicine. A patient’s adult son wants to continue life-sustaining treatment, and his daughter wants to stop it. Such everyday ethical issues can be heart wrenching; they also often involve high-stakes decisions that have a profound effect on health care outcomes.
Since 2013 the Greenwall Foundation’s grants program, Making a Difference in Real-World Bioethics Dilemmas, has supported innovative bioethics research projects that have a real-world, practical impact. The foundation’s overall mission is “to promote bioethics research in order to improve patient care, to inform biomedical research, and to enhance public policy.” Recently, Greenwall awarded a grant to Altarum Institute and its new Center for Ethics in Health Care.
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