Monday, April 7, 2014

On Holy Ground

Ruth Sanborn, MA
Last month I had the privilege to participate in a two-day Advanced Clinical Ethics Skills (ACES) workshop at the Maywood campus of Loyola University Chicago with three of my fellow graduate students. Participation in this workshop was a key requirement to completing the “Special Topics” course by the same name that we are enrolled in. One of the foundational goals of the course, and more specifically of the ACES workshop, was to provide us the opportunity to improve and refine our skills by participating in clinical ethics consultation simulations. In nearly three years as a community member on an Ethics Committee close to home, I have participated in only a small handful of ethics consultations. I have never been the lead ethics consultant, much less the only ethics consultant. The experience of leading three simulations, and observing my classmates as they lead their ethics consultation simulations, was incredibly valuable to my own formation as an ethicist. The faculty, fellow students, and simulation participants were generous and honest in their evaluations after each simulation. Their feedback and critiques became tools I was able to draw upon in subsequent simulations.

As I chatted with my 83-year old dad in his dining room the other day, I realized that the ACES workshop experience of three weeks ago continues to gift me with learning and insights. After my mother passed away 4-1/2 years ago, my dad named me as his legally recognized health care decision maker in the event he is not able to speak for himself. Dad has experienced some significant medical crises since mom passed away but, like the Phoenix, he has risen from the ashes. Mindful that this will not always be the case, and that he has probably spent time re-evaluating his preferences in light of these crises, I endeavored to explore what his current end-of-life wishes are. I used the details and challenges presented in one of the simulation cases to guide our conversation. I prompted Dad with “what ifs”. As he pondered and responded, and I waited quietly and patiently listened. It was a tender and respectful conversation; it was priceless. It demonstrated the depth of trust my dad has gifted to me. Even more, it served as a reminder of the holy ground on which we bioethics consultants stand when we are invited into the sacred space of patients and families who must make difficult health care decisions.

Ruth Sanborn, MA, is a full-time instructor of ethics for the Religious Studies Department of Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles. She is a student in the Doctorate in Bioethics graduate program at Loyola University Chicago.

The Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics recently conducted their Advanced Clinical Ethics Skills course during a three-day intensive experience in the clinical skills center on the campus of Loyola University Chicago. This blended course provided an opportunity for their advanced graduate students to improve and refine their clinical ethics skills. The focus of the course was for students to develop their own portfolios for quality attestation. Students practiced consultation skills, evaluated the performance of others and received feedback from faculty reviewers.

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