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Medical Ethics and Humanities Center Established at Duke University Medical Center

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. - Recognizing the importance of medical ethics in this advanced era of health care, Duke University Medical Center has created a new academic program - the Duke Center for the Study of Medical Ethics and Humanities.

The interdisciplinary center will be headed by Dr. Jeremy Sugarman, a nationally known medical ethicist who has faculty appointments in both medicine and philosophy. Dr. Peter English, a pediatrician who is the Josiah Charles Trent associate professor of the history of medicine, has been named associate director of the center.

"The ethical issues surrounding medical care touch many people, not just physicians," said Dr. Edward Holmes, dean of the Medical School. "The center is intended not only to be a resource to medical students, but to students and scholars in many areas across the campus."

Sugarman said the fledgling center will create an opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration in medical ethics and humanities.

"Currently, there are multiple isolated scholars working independently with no structured mechanism for collaboration," he said. "The hope is that the center will provide such a forum." Sugarman said he anticipates this collaboration will lead to a more systematic approach to teaching and research in these areas.

"In the practice of medicine today, ethical judgments have to be made daily, including those that occur at the beginning of life, as well as those that must be made at the end of life, on whether or not to seek genetic testing, and whether to participate in research involving new medical technologies," he said. "Students must be well grounded on the issues that are on the forefront today and will be important tomorrow."

The center also will "focus on the areas where medical ethics and the humanities intersect," Sugarman said. For instance, understanding the history of medicine helps to make clear the rationale for current approaches to medical practice, the use of alternative medicine and ethical standards for doing research with human subjects.

Sugarman received his undergraduate, medical school and residency training at Duke. He then received a masters in philosophy at Georgetown University and a masters in public health at Johns Hopkins University. Upon returning to Duke in 1993 he provided expertise in ethics for the hospital ethics committee and has served as co-chair of the ethics consultation service.

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