Medical Ethics 2020
Ethical Challenges of Emerging and Established Medical Technologies

This conference has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these talks will be presented at a future date.

In the meantime, visit the Resources Page to find readings suggested by the conference speakers.

Ira R. Messer Lecture:  
Frankenswine and the Suffering Un-dead:  A Bioethical Look at Restoring Function in Post-mortem Pig Brains     
Stephen R. Latham, JD, PhD
Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics
Yale University

Plenary Lecture:  
Ethics and Artificial Intelligence in Medicine:  Beyond the Hype
Alex John London, PhD
Clara L. West Professor of Ethics and Philosophy
Director of the Center for Ethics and Policy
Carnegie Mellon University

Keynote Lecture:
Dilemmas and Disparities:  
Dialysis Decision-making Among Seriously Ill Patients with Kidney Disease
Nwamaka D. Eneanya, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology
University of Pennsylvania


Medical Ethics 2020 will explore ethical challenges presented by emerging medical technologies that promise to revolutionize patient care, medical research, and the prevention or course of many acute and chronic conditions. Some of these technologies challenge privacy, peace of mind, and the pocketbooks of families and societies. They may challenge established ways of caregiving and communicating. Medical Ethics 2020 will also reexamine unresolved ethical issues associated with well-established medical technologies whose use often presents trade-offs between longevity and quality of life, as well as difficult decisions that involve weighing risks, costs, hopes, and personal values.

At both the social, healthcare system-wide level and the level of individual patients’ decision making and clinical care, implementation of available technologies may seem inevitable. Yet the personal, social, legal, and ethical implications of their use can and should be evaluated. Resistance to the so-called technological imperative—'if it can be done, it should be done'—may not involve rejection of a technology, but instead its judicious, carefully evaluated adoption.  Ethical use of technology may involve helping individuals make informed decisions about it, decisions that may sometimes involve saying ‘no’ to technology as traditionally conceived, and turning instead to a different type of techne, to skills, techniques, and processes of care less directly mediated by machines, or less translatable into algorithms or amenable quantification.

This conference affords participants an opportunity to learn about recent technological developments and to discuss their potential benefits and risks, and ways to mitigate those risks, including what role government regulation should play.  A goal of the conference is to enable participants to make informed choices about employing technological interventions at the individual level and to respond responsibly to technologies being implemented within healthcare systems and society.

Following the conference, participants should be able to:

  1. Elucidate the social costs and benefits of implementing systems-based and/or predictive medical technologies (e.g., electronic health record, machine learning, precision medicine, predictive analytics);
  2. Discuss values-related risks and benefits of commencing medical technological interventions for individual patients (e.g., dialysis, ventilator support), and the challenges of stopping or forgoing their use; and
  3. Compare ethical challenges associated with established and emerging technologies, preventive strategies, and therapeutic modalities for acute and chronic conditions (e.g., cancer, sickle cell disease, renal failure, depression.

The 29th Annual Medical Ethics Conference

Providing attendees with an opportunity to learn from national and local experts about pressing medical ethics issues, the Center’s annual Medical Ethics Conference features morning plenary lectures and afternoon concurrent sessions. It is designed for clinicians and researchers, health policy analysts, lawyers, clergy, clinical ethicists, bioethicists, disability studies scholars, patient and disability rights advocates, community members, and students of the health and social sciences and the humanities.

Medical Ethics 2020 is Co-Sponsored by the Ira R. Messer Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation; the Center for Ethics & Policy, Carnegie Mellon University; and the University of Pittsburgh Consortium Ethics Program of the Center for Bioethics & Health Law, Master of Arts in Bioethics Program, and School of Medicine Center for Continuing Education in the Health Sciences.