Journey to the Center of Bioethics
October 19th- 22nd marked the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities’ (ASBH) 19th Annual Conference. The meeting was held in Kansas City, Missouri. In a play on words, the title of the conference, Journey to the Center of Bioethics, reflected both the location and the theme of the conference. Many of the sessions focused on core values in Ethical Consultations, Research and Healthcare Systems.
My mission for the conference was to increase my knowledge of Disability, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Legal Aspects of Bioethics. I spent time poring over the list of speakers, paper sessions and flash sessions in hopes of building a comprehensive schedule which reflected my interests. In the end I downloaded the event application they offered and used that platform to schedule my calendar. There were many speakers presenting topics and research which promised to increase knowledge and understanding in my areas of interest. Two notable speakers presenting in the conference were George Annas, JD, MPH and Mildred Solomon, MD. George Annas is a William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor at Boston University, and the Director of the Center for Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights. Dr. Mildred Solomon isSenior Director for Implementation Science at the Association of American Medical Colleges,Associate Clinical Professor of Medical Ethics in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Department of Anesthesia at Children’s Hospital Boston, and the President of the Hastings Center.
As I attended sessions I realized the common thread running through all of the discussions was the right to access healthcare, and the effects that state and federal legislation has on vulnerable populations. Presenters examined how governmental influences such as legislation based on religious views has resulted in minority groups (Women, Disabled, Hispanics and African-Americans) being unable to connect to healthcare options. Decreasing or denying access to healthcare limits vulnerable groups’ equality status in society because they are facing economic, financial and social hardships. The conference sessions voiced concern among the bioethical community about the Federal Government’s stance on healthcare.
The general consensus among the sessions I attended was that legislation which restricts and denies access to health care places an undue burden on minorities, women and the Disabled. A lack of access to healthcare creates an inability to participate equally in society because of economic and educational disparities. Some speakers referenced healthcare disparities as a cause of economic imbalance between minority and the majority groups in our country. Throughout the presentations a call for action was raised. Presenters encouraged attendees to act to protect vulnerable groups through research, advocacy and by stepping out of the neutral zone once held by the ASBH.
It was reassuring to hear so many members of the bioethical community speak about being active participants in the fight to protect disadvantaged populations. The call to step out of a position of neutrality was vital. The ASBH has a long-held policy of not weighing in on political or legislative issues. However, as noted by Dr. Mildred Solomon, the time to remain neutral is over. We must speak out against legislation and members of Congress who strive to decrease or deny a person’s right to healthcare and the opportunities it provides.