Doing well together: Promoting Bioethics in Northern Ontario

Saturday is UNESCO World Bioethics Day

By Ryan Tonkens

Bioethics is the study of how we should (“ought to”) act in the context of the medical, biological and life sciences. Classic examples of bioethics topics include thorny ethical issues such as euthanasia and abortion, as well as the allocation of scarce medical resources (e.g. hospital beds and dialysis machines), and proper treatment of human participants in clinical research.

Many other important bioethics topics abound, including questions about privacy of health-related and genetic information, how best to promote health literacy, how best to promote anti-racism and non-discrimination within healthcare institutions, and how to ensure access to basic medical resources in rural and remote areas, etc.

From the examples already listed above, it becomes obvious that bioethics is deeply relevant to everyone, whether in their personal, social, and/or professional lives. We are all vulnerable to disease and poor health, and at some point we all have to visit the doctor, nurse station, or hospital. Also, we all are impacted by political decisions about (e.g.) whether or not to subsidize the cost of pharmaceuticals, and whether or not to allow human gene editing, etc. Many of us are also expected to make ethics and professionalism a central component of our working lives (e.g. nurses and physicians, etc.).

When it comes to bioethics questions, questions about right and wrong in the context of medicine and healthcare delivery, reaching an answer can often be challenging. One reason for the challenging nature of bioethics is that such questions are often controversial; they are questions upon which reasonable and intelligent people often disagree. And, different patients and different medical professionals often have different beliefs, values and interests, which influence their own perspectives.

Despite this challenge, we can expect that all patients (and their families) and all health care professionals aim to exhibit high degrees of compassion, communication and collaboration in their social and professional interactions with each other; we do well together to approach bioethical issues with an attitude of respect, humility and open-mindedness.

Saturday, October 19, 2019 is UNESCO World Bioethics Day. Because bioethics is deeply relevant to us all, on UNESCO World Bioethics Day we all do well to consider ways that we can promote bioethics in our personal, social and professional lives. There are many ways to promote bioethics, and some possible examples include the following:

Posting institutional ethics frameworks in places easily seen by patients and their families (e.g. main foyer, cafeteria, parking terminals);

Promoting anti-racism and cultural inclusion by (e.g.) wearing orange coloured t-shirts and participating in activities run by organizations such as Wake the Giant;

Attend a Lakehead University Centre for Health Care Ethics “Encounters in Bioethics” session;

Candidates for municipal members of parliament in the upcoming federal election, and the political parties that they represent, will have different beliefs and values about issues related to bioethics. Consider what your local candidates have to say on these issues, and whether or not you agree (and why);

Promoting bioethics can be as straightforward as engaging with your family and friends in conversation, over coffee or a meal, and having open, respectful and humble discussions with them about (e.g.) your advanced care planning, and your wishes regarding organ donation, etc.

Promoting bioethics awareness can be a deeply creative enterprise as well. For example, consider organizing a “bioethics art showcase” within your workplace. Or, consider learning about how other creative people are using art to attempt to “bridge gaps between bioethics and aspects of Indigenous culture”.

Above all, promoting bioethics is about coming together in a compassionate and collaborative way, to find ways to promote individual and social wellbeing, in a manner that it respectful, humble and open-minded. Fundamentally, promoting bioethics in Northern Ontario, in our personal, social, and professional lives, is an important element of doing well together.

About Ryan Tonkens, PhD

Ryan Tonkens is a Bioethicist at Lakehead University Centre for Health Care Ethics, and Associate Professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, where he is the Co-Chair for both the Theme 2 Committee (Personal and Professional Aspects of Medical Practice), and the Committee to Support Student Professionalism (CSSP).

Filed in: Briefs, Commentary, Education

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