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Duke Radio Series Covers Wide Variety of Ethical Issues in Medicine

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- Can truth in medicine ever be harmful? What are the ethical issues behind genetic testing? Who should make the medical decisions for those who can't do so themselves?

These are just some of difficult questions that confront the practice of medicine each day and which are addressed in the radio series, "Do No Harm." Each of the five hour-long segments is an intensive investigation of the most critical topics in the field of medical ethics. The series was created by Dr. Jeremy Sugarman, director of the Center for the Study of Medical Ethics and Humanities at Duke University Medical Center. It is hosted by Linda Belans, who hosted public radio's "The State of Things," and is produced by Beverley Abel.

"These programs include intense discussions and investigations of many of the questions that patients and medical professionals deal with every day," Sugarman said. "Hopefully, this will help educate people and help provide them with some important information that they can use in trying to grapple with these difficult situations."

National Public Radio contributors Paul Brown, Pat Duggins, Leda Hartman and Joe Palca provide related stories from across the country for Sugarman and Belans to discuss during the show.

"Do No Harm," which was supported by a grant from the Greenwall Foundation, airs locally at 4 p.m. on Saturdays at WUNC-FM (91.5 FM) through Aug. 4. The show also is being broadcast in other cities across the nation, including New York, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Sacramento, Calif., Tallahassee, Fla., and Trenton, N.J.

The five segments are:

"Truth telling: Helpful or Harmful?" The protest movements of the 1960s spilled over into the medical profession, dramatically changing the doctor/patient relationship, particularly when it comes to telling the truth. Since then, doctors in the United States are more likely to give patients truthful, candid diagnoses. But some believe that the truth could be harmful. This segment of "Do No Harm" looks at truth-telling through history, through the eyes of different cultures, and at the delicate issue of when to warn others.

"Genetics: To Test or Not to Test?" While there can be benefits from genetic tests, many people are faced with decisions regarding testing they feel ill-equipped to make. The choice to have a genetic test is deeply personal, although there are implications for other family members. This segment explores the lives of people who are faced with these decisions and offers ways of thinking about this issue from ethical, theological, and scientific points of view.

"Making Choices: When Patients Do and Do Not Have Options." Confronted with illness, people respond in a variety of ways when it comes to choosing treatment. Some follow their health provider's recommendations completely, others choose a combination of treatments, still others decline treatment altogether. This segment focuses on how we make those choices, and whose responsibility it is to oversee a patient's course of treatment.

"Treatment and Trials: Balancing the Risks and Benefits." Hardly a week goes by without a headline blaring a new way to ward off illness – eat more broccoli, drink a glass of wine, coffee may prevent Parkinson's disease – or to cure it. Who signs up for the research that leads to these headlines? And should you participate in medical research if no other medical alternatives exist? This segment of "Do No Harm" gets behind the headlines to help make sense of the risks and benefits of research.

"Making Decisions: Challenges Across the Lifespan." How do we make medical decisions for ourselves and others? Sometimes, family members make their wishes clear in writing or verbally. But what if the patient is a baby? A teenager? Or a parent? And where should we turn for advice? To health care providers? To the web? This edition of "Do No Harm" looks at all these complicated issues and more.

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