Two topics students can’t avoid dealing with during their lifetimes, death and taxes, are both addressed in one Chadron State College upper-division course taught by Dr. Brad Wilburn.
Wilburn, a professor and department chair in English and Humanities, teaches Biomedical Ethics (PHIL 433) where sensitive and pertinent issues of life and death are thoroughly examined and discussed.
“We all interact with the medical system in different roles over our lifespan whether as patients, providers or tax payers. It matters deeply. This is big stuff,” Wilburn said.
Many students pursuing careers as health professionals choose to take the course since admitting officers at graduate medical schools look upon it favorably, according to Physical and Life Sciences Associate Professor and department chair Dr. Wendy Jamison.
The course is one of many that fulfills Chadron State College’s Student Learning Objectives under the Essential Studies Program to “examine the human condition by exploring cultural and aesthetic achievements illustrated in at least one of the disciplines in the humanities…”
Wilburn arrived at CSC in 2005 and started developing the biomedical ethics course that he taught for the first time in the fall of 2006. He has an extensive background in teaching several different facets of ethics, including ethical theory and applied ethics courses such as business ethics and environmental ethics.
“The purpose of the course is to encourage students develop a deeper sense of the challenges involved in this field. They should be able to see there’s something to the other side’s position even if they will never agree,” Wilburn said.
The text for the course, “Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Medical Ethics,” by Ronald Munson, reflects the weighty content at nearly 800 pages.
Wilburn divides the course into three sections: Issues of life and death, the practitioner-patient relationship and social issues in health care.
Abortion, right to life, feminism, genetic testing, reproductive risks and euthanasia are included in the first section.
“We look at social and legal perspectives along with individual decision-making. There are lots of possible positions to take on all these issues,” Wilburn said.
In the second section, he covers the importance of confidentiality. Patients must feel comfortable fully disclosing symptoms and behavior to their practitioners to aid in effective diagnoses and treatment, Wilburn said.
“Over the past 50-100 years, we’ve seen a shift from a doctor knows best mindset to one of patient empowerment,” said Wilburn, who noted some students in the course, pre-health professionals and others, have had Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) training through their part-time jobs so they realize its importance and impact.
Wilburn challenges his students to consider whether it’s ever acceptable for a practitioner to lie to patient or withhold information if he or she thinks it will help the patient’s quality of life.
Research is also a timely topic with developments in the news almost weekly.
“Sometimes there are conflicting goals and trade-offs between good scientific research and ethical treatment of the patient,” said Wilburn, adding that the students study placebos, control groups and other dimensions of research during the course.
Social issues in medicine are considered in the final section of the course. One set of issues involves the systems societies use to pay for health care, that impact costs and access to health care. Options discussed include insurance, health maintenance organizations, single-payer systems, and socialized medicine. Another set of issues has to do with scarce medical resources, such as organs for transplantation.