Bioethics Falmouth Forum – “Ethical Issues in Organ Donation and Transplantation: Old and New Conundrums in Search for the Gift of Life”

Date(s) - 07/22/2013
7:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Lillie Auditorium

MBL Falmouth Forum Presentation
Lecture in Bioethics – Sponsored by Drs. Gerald and Ruth Fischbach

Ruth L. Fischbach, Professor of Bioethics, Director and Co-founder
Center for Bioethics, Columbia University

Ruth-Fischbach_photo3-smallLecture Abstract:
Transplantation of vital organs offers the gift of life to patients experiencing terminal organ failure. Perhaps no other medical advance generates as many profound ethical dilemmas as we attempt to fix the mismatch between the desperate demand for donated organs and the acute shortage of organs that are available.  As more than 118,000 people languish and all too often die waiting for an available match, varied attempts are being made to obtain lifesaving organs.   In her lecture, Dr. Ruth Fischbach will present the riveting case of 10 year-old Sarah Murnaghan whose parents, using the media and social pressure, involved the U.S. Congress, Secretary of Health & Human Services, a federal judge, and the organ procurement network before receiving not one but two double lung transplants. Her case underscores how organ donation rules are developed and how they may be disregarded.

While a heart or set of lungs are truly a gift of life for the recipient, at the same time it is also the ultimate loss of another loved one’s life—the donor—whose body has provided this gift. Other organs like kidneys or lobes of a liver, which can be extracted from live donors, depend on the altruism and risk-taking of the donor.

Dr. Fischbach’s presentation will raise current, contentious, and unresolved ethical and societal dilemmas in the quest to increase the supply of organs (e.g., presumed consent, brain death v. cardiac death criteria, organs from prisoners, children, or animals, buying and selling organs, religious prohibitions, medical tourism, the reluctance of live donors) and what may lie in the future as the possibility of creating organs from stem cells may become a reality. Ultimately, the solution will rely on the obligations and responsibilities of the medical profession as well as society to help those in need of the gift of life.

Ruth L. Fischbach
is a professor of Bioethics and director and co-founder of the Center for Bioethics at Columbia University.  She is also a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health.  Her work focuses on contemporary issues in bioethics including neuroethics, genetics, stem cell research, and advances in assisted reproductive technology. Dr. Fischbach has published widely and produced courses in Neuroethics and stem cell research. Currently, she is the principal investigator on a study to assess concordance in attitudes and experiences with genetics research and social stigma between parents of children on the autism spectrum and autism genetics scientists.

Throughout her career, Dr. Fischbach has been committed to protecting the rights and promoting the welfare of patients and research participants. Prior to arriving at Columbia, Dr. Fischbach served from 1998 to 2001 as the Senior Advisor for Biomedical Ethics in the Office of the Director of Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health where she participated in many federal interagency committees setting policies to enhance ethical research. She received an NIH Award of Merit for her efforts in establishing the Tuskegee Center for Bioethics.

From 1990 to 1998, Dr. Fischbach was a professor in the Department of Social Medicine and Division of Medical Ethics at Harvard Medical School and founded and directed the Program in the Practice of Scientific Investigation. From 1983 to 1990, while at Washington University School of Medicine, she completed a master’s degree in Psychiatric Epidemiology, headed the Ethics Program, founded the Humanities in Medicine Program, and served as an assistant dean.

At Columbia, Dr. Fischbach serves on numerous committees including the Columbia University Medical Center Milstein Hospital Ethics Committee, Children’s Hospital Ethics Committee, the University’s Stem Cell Oversight Committee, and the Advisory Board for the Center for the Study of Science and Religion. She is also an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) section on Medicine as well as Member at Large of AAAS Section X (Societal Impacts of Science and Engineering).  Dr. Fischbach serves on both the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Medical and Professional Advisory Council and the Gold Foundation Honor Society, the Population Council Institutional Review Board, and the Board of Directors of the Morris Jumel Mansion.  Dr. Fischbach is an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research on which she served for 19 years.

Dr. Fischbach attended Mount Holyoke College, received R.N. and B.S. degrees from Cornell University-New York Hospital School of Nursing, an M.S. and Ph.D. from Boston University, and an MPE from Washington University.  She recently completed a fellowship in neuroethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

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