Tennessee medical school plans to eliminate ethics department

In what may be a first, a bioethics program finds itself on the chopping block. Medical ethicists cry foul.

By Kevin B. O’Reilly — Posted March 26, 2009

Print  |   Email  |   Respond  |   Reprints  |   Like Facebook  |   Share Twitter  |   Tweet Linkedin

A proposal to eliminate the medical ethics department at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center's College of Medicine would deprive medical students of critical training, said bioethicists upset by the plan.

Experts said they had never heard of a medical school eliminating its bioethics program. The Liaison Committee on Medical Education says ethics must be taught, though it does not require a separate department.

The Dept. of Human Values & Ethics is one of eight medical school departments under the gun due to a universitywide $38 million budget shortfall for the 2008-09 fiscal year. The department, which has three tenured faculty, is being targeted because "it has minimal funded research programs," Executive Dean Steve J. Schwab, MD, said in a Feb. 13 memo to university trustees.

The memo outlined a plan to retain one half-time faculty member to coordinate ethics training as part of clinical rotations. Dr. Schwab did not respond to an American Medical News interview request by deadline. The board of trustees meets next in June.

Medical ethicists objected to the proposal.

The dean's plan is "an absolutely unacceptable way of doing this," said Hilde Lindemann, PhD, president of the 1,600-member American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. "It is not taking seriously what's involved in ethical reflection." She worried that if the plan goes through, other medical schools would follow suit.

Haavi Morreim, PhD, is a University of Tennessee medical ethics professor who would be affected by the plan. She defended the department.

"Our approach is not simply a matter of reciting dusty old writing," Morreim said. "It is a matter of helping physicians and students to recognize an ethical issue when it's there and to understand problem-solving approaches."

Back to top



Read story

Confronting bias against obese patients

Medical educators are starting to raise awareness about how weight-related stigma can impair patient-physician communication and the treatment of obesity. Read story

Read story


American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession. Read story

Read story

Policing medical practice employees after work

Doctors can try to regulate staff actions outside the office, but they must watch what they try to stamp out and how they do it. Read story

Read story

Diabetes prevention: Set on a course for lifestyle change

The YMCA's evidence-based program is helping prediabetic patients eat right, get active and lose weight. Read story

Read story

Medicaid's muddled preventive care picture

The health system reform law promises no-cost coverage of a lengthy list of screenings and other prevention services, but some beneficiaries still might miss out. Read story

Read story

How to get tax breaks for your medical practice

Federal, state and local governments offer doctors incentives because practices are recognized as economic engines. But physicians must know how and where to find them. Read story

Read story

Advance pay ACOs: A down payment on Medicare's future

Accountable care organizations that pay doctors up-front bring practice improvements, but it's unclear yet if program actuaries will see a return on investment. Read story

Read story

Physician liability: Your team, your legal risk

When health care team members drop the ball, it's often doctors who end up in court. How can physicians improve such care and avoid risks? Read story

  • Stay informed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn