An Insider’s View

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Medical Ethics in Action
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By Bill Giduz

Thatcher Professor of Philosophy and Director of Medical Humanities Lance Stell has provided Davidson students with an insider’s view of America’s health care system through his two decades of service as ethicist at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. Now he is providing them with insight into the complex issues surrounding organ transplantation.

Stell’s surgical colleagues nominated him for a three-year term as one of 11 regional representatives on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). That private, non-profit organization manages the nation’s organ transplant system under contract with the federal government.

UNOS maintains a national database of available organs and patients needing them, and establishes equitable policies for distribution of organs. UNOS created the system to maximize efficiency and equity in the process, but questions and incidents regularly arise that require reevaluation. Stell serves on the UNOS ethics committee that fields such questions.

Stell said bringing his committee work back to students in the classroom adds rich detail to the issues of medical ethics. “The subject shouldn’t be engaged from 20,000 feet. Student interest increases when they consider the nuts and bolts of policy and surgical procedures.”

Stell’s students get further valuable insight into medicine by meeting at Carolinas Medical Center each Tuesday afternoon to attend rounds, hear guest lectures, and discuss their reading assignments.
Stell said, “Students have the opportunity to be at the elbow of physicians and surgeons as they engage in ethically complex discussions. Seeing how professionals engage with each other over very dramatic choices makes an impact.”

Stell’s course provides all students with the opportunity to study important societal issues that will affect them. As Stell likes to say, “they’re not all going to be doctors, but they will all be patients.”

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