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Bioethics of Medical Error Topic of Georgetown Event

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February 3, 2014 – Medical error and its consequences will be explored at the first event in a new series of “Conversations in Bioethics,” established by Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics (KIE), one of the world's premier bioethics institutes.

A study in the September 2013 issue of the Journal of Patient Safety suggests the number of patients who go to the hospital for care and suffer preventable harm is between 210,000 and more than 400,000 a year.

This year’s Conversation in Bioethics event, taking place Feb. 6 in Gaston Hall, will feature Beth Daley Ullem (F’95), a nationally recognized advocate for patient safety and quality; Dr. John James, NASA’s former chief toxicologist and founder, Patient Safety America; and Dr. Brian Goldman, emergency physician, author and host of Canadian Broadcasting Company’s “White Coat, Black Art.”

Common But Preventable

“The aim of the series is to bring together student work, distinguished speakers and the broader Georgetown community to deeply explore the topic and inspire leadership for change,” says KIE director Maggie Little, who will moderate the conversation. “Medical error is common but often preventable.”

“Patients can suffer grievous harm, and the limits on apology often create a second trauma for health care providers burdened with guilt,” she adds.

The event takes place from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in Gaston, with student work on medical error and apology displayed in the university’s Healy Building foyer from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

A Complex Problem

Maggie Little in Class

Maggie Little, director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics (KIE) at Georgetown teaches a bioethics class. She says the aim of the new KIE series is to bring together student work, distinguished speakers and the broader university community to explore topics and inspire change.

The student work is from a semester-long course Little taught last year with Ann Pendleton-Jullian, a distinguished visiting professor of design at Georgetown, in KIE’s EthicsLab.

The course used visualization techniques and practices from design and architecture to analyze the complex bioethical problem of medical error. 

Students used Josie's Story, a book by Sorrell King, as a case study. King’s 18-month-old daughter Josie died in 2001 from a medical error.

Engaged Ethics

Josie’s death served as a model on which different approaches to the broader issue of medical error, filtered through the bioethical lenses of policy, law, culture, philosophy and medical science, were applied and refined.

“This was truly a different kind of bioethics class,” Little says. “Students worked creatively and collaboratively to address real-world roadblocks. This is a new and powerful way of realizing the Jesuit commitment to engaged ethics.”

King visited the class this past November and offered individual commentary on student projects. She will attend the Feb. 6 event as an honored guest.

The event also includes a book signing in Healy Foyer, during the 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. student gallery, with Goldman, author of The Night Shift and James, who wrote A Sea of Broken Hearts, as well as Josie’s Story author King.

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