April 14, 2005

Lecture will look at aftermath of medical mistakes

by Pete Rosenbery


Martin L. Smith

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The issue of how health care professionals should talk with patients when mistakes are made – or suspected – will be discussed next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Bioethicist Martin L. Smith presents "Morally Managing Medical Mistakes," at 4 p.m., Thursday, April 21, in the law school courtroom in the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building. Smith is the 2005 Distinguished Visitor at the law school's Center for Health Law and Policy. The event is free, and the public is invited.


Media Advisory

Reporters and photographers are encouraged to cover the lecture. Smith will be available for interviews. For more information, contact professor Marshall B. Kapp at 618/453-8636.


Smith is the chief of the Clinical Ethics Service and associate professor of clinical care at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he and his staff conduct approximately 100 ethics consultations annually.

Smith is the first guest speaker of what SIUC law professors and Center for Health Law and Policy co-directors Marshall B. Kapp and W. Eugene Basanta expect to be a continuing visiting bioethicist program.

It is important for lawyers and medical students to understand the relationship between ethics and the law, Kapp said. The University offers a joint JD/MD program, and the law school annually hosts a Professional Responsibility Day for first-year students in the law and medical programs, and students in the MEDPREP program.

"That is something that most law school health-law programs don't hit hard enough – the ethics part," Kapp said. "Hopefully this will be one of the ways we distinguish our particular Center – that in addition to being concerned with legal issues we will actively recognize the connection to bioethics."

While there is a dispute over how frequently medical mistakes occur and their impact, Kapp said there is broad agreement that mistakes do sometimes happen in the course of medical care. That brings into play a variety of issues – both legal and ethical – about how open the physician should be in explaining to a patient or the patient's family that a mistake has occurred.

The issue remains unsettled, though more professional organizations in medicine are beginning to acknowledge the issue and come up with policies, Kapp said. The Joint Commission on Accreditations of Health Care Organizations now has a standard in hospitals requiring that whenever there is an unexpected result, that fact be shared with the patient. Unexpected result is not necessarily synonymous with mistake, but that could overlap in some cases, Kapp said.

The issue of what, when and how to tell patients about mistakes, and when it is ethically acceptable to not tell patients of problems will be discussed, Kapp said.

Kapp expects the lecture to provide a "general appreciation for the importance of ethical considerations in medical decision making, and an appreciation of how ethical considerations interact with legal considerations."

A clinical ethicist for 18 years, Smith holds a doctorate in theology, a master's degree in divinity, a bachelor's degree in philosophy and classical languages.

"The upcoming program on managing medical errors is the latest in a long line of high quality programs from the law school's Health Law & Policy Center. We are very fortunate to have the Center on campus," Dean Peter C. Alexander said.

Achieving excellence in graduate and professional programs, and pursing leadership opportunities to address social and health of importance to our region are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.