Medical Ethics Series Starting

March 14, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Dr. Carolyn Clancy's visit here Monday marked the kickoff of a biannual series of free public discussions centered on medical ethics.

About 85 people attended the first DeVos Medical Ethics Colloquy to hear Clancy, director of the national Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, speak on disparity in health care in America.

Like Monday evening's colloquy, future ones will feature a nationally or internationally known speaker and keynote address, followed by a panel discussion with local experts in the field and, lastly, a question and answer session with the audience.

Grand Valley State University and the Richard M. DeVos family initiated the series because the two parties felt there was a need for a place where the public could gather to discuss medical ethics problems with experts, as well as among themselves, said Luis Tomatis, M.D., director of medical affairs for the Richard DeVos family. Unlike a lecture-style medical forum, the colloquy is an open public discussion, he said.

"We all have to face health-care problems, either as a patient or a medical professional, and health-care problems present ethical problems."

He gave as an example an elderly patient who gets pneumonia, and his family is then faced with the dilemma of whether or not to put him on a respirator.

"When you're confronted with a problem like that, you would like to talk with someone about it," Tomatis said. "What we want to do is talk before you're put under that kind of pressure. Other people that are there not only can listen and get something out of it, but can contribute at the same time. We hope people will come with some of the answers, too."

He expects the give and take between the public and members of the medical community will be beneficial for both sides.

Kent Bottles, M.D., president and CEO of Grand Rapids Medical Education & Research Center (MERC), said medical ethics issues are far too important to be left just to the scientists, doctors or experts to decide.

"They are really issues that all of us as concerned citizens of West Michigan need to think about and think deeply about," he remarked.

Speaking on behalf of the DeVos Family, Dick DeVos said the role of health care in West Michigan is changing and the region's responsibilities are changing along with it.

"We have gone from a community where we have some nice, local, community-based hospitals to being a regional referral center today — a cancer center, a heart center, a children's hospital and many other services that have even been expanded recently or are on board for it," DeVos said.

He said that with the expansion of the health-care industry here comes a responsibility for everyone to discuss the moral and ethical issues that have to be confronted every day.

Tomatis said each event in the series will be recorded and available on CD, as well as in print form, for the public, medical schools, hospitals, health-related institutions and agencies.

The October colloquy will feature William Hurlbut, M.D., of Stanford University, whose topic will be "The Human Genome and Genetic Interventions."

The series will continue to be held at the Cook-DeVos Center unless audience numbers rise to a level that requires a larger venue, Tomatis said.    

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