New HSC Institute for Ethics developed in the Psychiatry Department

A new Institute for Ethics for the Health Sciences Center (HSC) has been created in the Department of Psychiatry under the directorship of Dr. Laura Roberts. The Institute will perform scholarship, education, policy development, and clinical consultation centering on ethical issues in health care and research.

"The aim of the Institute is to bring together the resources of the University in an effort to help improve the lives and health of New Mexicans. The Institute for Ethics will develop innovative educational programs, clinical services, and valuable knowledge that we hope will translate to a meaningful difference in our community. We will be working on very complex issues that affect patients and staff, as well as the broader community," said Dr. Laura Roberts, associate professor, Psychiatry, and director of the new institute.

"The Institute for Ethics reflects our commitment to the highest ethical standards. We see the Institute as helping us to fulfill our responsibilities to the people of New Mexico through innovative teaching, research, clinical, and partnering initiatives in ethics," said Interim HSC Vice President Philip R. Eaton. A multidisciplinary leadership group has been working collaboratively for the past year to develop the Institute. This group, comprised of faculty, staff, and trainees, represents expertise in philosophical ethics, bioethics and clinical ethics, psychology, theology, sociology, nursing, and medicine.

The HSC's unique mission in the state presents a wide variety of sensitive, complicated, and far reaching issues involving patient care. The institute will bring together existing ethics activities on the Health Sciences Center campus to provide greater coherence, support, and integration of those activities while also addressing the needs of the state's special populations.

"New Mexico is composed primarily of people who are members of special populations," states Dr. Roberts. "This includes seriously physically and mentally ill people, for example, as well as children and elders who come from diverse cultures and life experiences. Providing optimal clinical care to individuals with these special backgrounds can be very challenging. And, there are very important and difficult ethical issues that surface when people from vulnerable populations are invited to participate in research. By giving our careful attention to special populations, we will be able to develop clinical and research practices and policies that are more respectful, attuned, and responsive to their needs. Through such work, we will also be able to help health care professionals, researchers, and policy-makers who are struggling with similar issues in other communities."

The HSC Ethics Program, directed by Dr. Joan Gibson, the Department of Psychiatry's Empirical Ethics Group, directed by Dr. Roberts, and the Biomedical Ethics Committee, chaired by Ned McNamara, M.D., are three of the principal components that initially will be integrated into the new Institute for Ethics.

The research arm of the Institute for Ethics will integrate the existing Empirical Ethics Group, which is a clinical ethics resource and research team in the Department of Psychiatry. Topics under study by this group include: 1) ethical aspects of clinical care and research involving special populations, 2) ethical dimensions of rural health care, 3) ethical issues in genetics and stigmatizing illnesses, 4) ethical aspects of health care for physicians-in-training, 5) ethical aspects of end-of-life care, 6) assisted death practices and attitudes in the United States, 7) family, cultural, and community perspectives in clinical care and research, and 8) developmentally-attuned professionalism training initiatives in medical education, among others.

The institute will provide clinical consultation and service as well as train students, staff, and faculty at the University in biomedical ethics and create workshops, conferences, and other educational opportunities for interested parties in our state.

A new Faculty Scholars Program will begin in October, and within the coming year, the Institute will develop an ethics consultation service that will serve patients, families, and health care professionals throughout New Mexico.

Contact: Cindy Foster, 272-3322

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