Community Bioethics Forum

The Community Bioethics Forum was developed under the direction of the Program for Biomedical Ethics at Yale School of Medicine to serve as a resource to both the Yale medical community and the greater New Haven community.  The Forum is charged with providing education to community members on critical medical ethics issues, and inviting the community’s voice into the dialogue of medical ethics within the institutional healthcare setting.

The Forum is comprised of volunteer members within the geographic regions of the Yale medical community. Forum members are not medical ethicists or doctors, rather they are members of the public who understand New Haven’s needs and values, and who reflect the community’s rich diversity of cultures and perspectives. Six men and six women serve on the Forum and their ages range from the twenties to the seventies. Forum members participate in many faith traditions, including Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and Unitarianism, and some describe themselves as agnostic or unaffiliated. Our Christian members are Baptist, Methodist, and Roman Catholic.  Some members do not have a high school diploma; others have advanced degrees. Members speak many languages including Spanish and Chinese; describe themselves as African-American, Hispanic, and white; one member was born outside the United States, and another member’s parents are first-generation Americans.

Forum members are employed in a wide range of professions. Membership includes a director of an HIV/AIDS skilled nursing facility, an operations director of a New Haven community health center, a professional writer, a hospice administrator, a technologist and inventor, a small business owner, an attorney representing the elderly and disabled, another attorney who serves as a guardian-ad-litem for children in need, and a local alderman. Notably, to minimize conflict-of-interest, no members are either physicians or employees of Yale University or Yale-New Haven Hospital. Members have volunteered overseas (as a medical clinic aide and a Peace Corps Volunteer) and locally (as chaplains, church choir members, park clean-up crew, and literacy volunteers in the school system).  Some members have spent time living in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Ecuador. One member served on the board of directors of a Native American community center, and another served as council for a statewide rehabilitation association. Illness and death have touched all of our lives; some of us have disabilities.

Solicitation for membership on the Forum was cast widely through community, business, and church groups to promote the selection of a diverse and effective working group.   As preparation for Forum discussion and deliberation, members of the Forum have been given specific training in the area of bioethics. That training includes a review of the history of bioethics (including bioethical issues arising during the Nuremberg Trials and Tuskegee, and more recent studies by the President’s Commission on Bioethics), a review of basic bioethics principles (including the concepts of autonomy and informed consent), and case study discussions.

Forum members have agreed to spend 3-5 hours before each monthly meeting completing reading assignments which may be from popular media, academic journals, or publications from bioethics research centers such as the Hastings Center Report. Forum meetings are comprised of presentations by bioethicists, nurses, or physicians from the Yale medical community, leaders in CT’s Departments of Public Health and Disability Services, and may sometimes also include presentations by former patients. Presentations are followed by thoughtful discussions and debriefings. The Forum Chair documents member feedback and does not seek to bring the group to one uniform opinion, rather to enable each member to understand the issue and document the group’s informed (and often nuanced) perspectives.

The Forum is overseen by Mark Mercurio, MD, MA, Director of the Program for Biomedical Ethics at Yale School of Medicine. The Forum is chaired by Lori Bruce, Assistant Director of Yale University’s Summer Institute in Bioethics at Yale’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, Executive Director of the CT Coalition to Improve End-of-Life Care, and Vice-President of Community Voices in Medical Ethics. For additional information on the group, or to arrange a consult, please contact Lori at Lori.Bruce@yale.edu

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