IMG_0536Recently I attended the annual conference of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago. I was a fellow there a decade ago, spending a year steeped in study of the history and mechanisms of making complicated medical choices and attempting to resolve seemingly irreconcilable choices.

The center began in the 1980s, and has trained nearly three decades worth of fellows. As such, the annual event brings back many alumni but also outside speakers and attendees from across not only the U.S and Canada, but also from Europe and Australia. The conference took place at the University’s Law School, where I snapped the accompanying photo of one of the Law School’s most noted former lecturers outside of Classroom V, which was apparently his favorite place to teach.

There were many interesting topics covered at the conference. Among them:

  • Persons donating kidneys are more likely to eventually need dialysis and transplant themselves, and should be informed of such. (Sounds intuitive, but had not been scientifically proven before.)
  • In spite of massive effort, compliance rates for hand washing in hospitals continues to hover near 30% of available opportunities.
  • Frustration with insurance companies approving expensive drugs for conditions like inflammatory bowel disease led one doctor-researcher to ask, “Do insurance companies have medical ethical standards?” (Apparently not; they only have ‘business’ ethical standards.) He used social media to positive effect for some of his patients to get them ‘restricted’ but indicated medication.
  • A physician with a strong humanist bent shared how his frustrations with the practice of modern medicine (productivity constraints, feeling more like a widget in a system than a professional) were put in context by a trainee of his undergoing excruciating treatment for cancer who maintained a wonderful attitude about his life despite his suffering.
  • Several sessions focused on the struggles of the most vulnerable — and providing care for them — children, elderly, veterans, the mentally ill.

That is only a sample of the presentations. Since the center and the conference are underwritten by benefactors, attendance is free and only requires registration.