In my life as hospital chaplain, I have observed that bioethics often entails conflict resolution—usually around end-of-life issues. In these situations, the ethics consultant is called upon to consider difficult treatment possibilities and related factors (emotional, spiritual, personal, etc), and then to make recommendations to the medical team. But I have come to learn that the field of bioethics is much broader than conflict resolution regarding end of life treatment.
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Florida Bioethics Network’s annual conference in Miami. I’ve attended this conference several times in the past and I’m never quite sure how to assess it. This year my bottom line is this: the conference underscores the great diversity within the field of bioethics. There were presentations on bioethics and global climate change, physician orders for life-sustaining treatment (aka POLST), developing functioning ethics committees, setting healthcare priorities, and medical futility. This, I thought, was a fairly wide-range of topics for a one-day gathering. Even so, the list of topics included in the field of bioethics could go on and on.
The diversity of topics within bioethics has a much greater impact than broadening its appeal. It reflects the interconnectedness of life. Bioethics is not limited to the decisions that are made in the ICU or the emergency room; it incorporates decisions that are made in the kitchen, in the grocery store, in the cafeteria line, as well as in the halls of government and in corporate executive suites. We serve our community well when we engage each other about these things and strive for the common good. Easier said than done, of course, but important nonetheless.