Decisive Dining

Interactive 'The Conversation' Series Is the Smartest Lunch Around

Dine with Baylor College of Medicine's Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy.

By Alice Levitt September 21, 2017

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How do you navigate uncertainty in a medical context?

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"This all started around my kitchen table," said Doe Florsheim last week, before a group assembled in a banquet room at Grappino di Nino on West Dallas Street. "We started not really knowing what this would be and it's a true success story."

She's referring to a discussion series that she debuted last year in her role as vice president of education programs on Baylor College of Medicine's board of officers. There are plenty of ways to see a medical talk in town. But Florsheim and her fellow board members shot higher. "The Conversation" speaker series is an interactive dive into the world of medical ethics, presented in collaboration with the faculty of the college's Center for Medical Ethics & Health Policy.

Amy McGuire, the center's director, introduced speaker Janet Malek, a professor at Baylor and the director of the Houston Methodist System Biomedical Ethics Program. But not before the whole group dipped into extra-large bowls of Bloody Mary Gazpacho, from the menu at neighboring Nino's. It's an interesting soup, which had a table of people actually using their philosophy degrees talking about what could possibly give it its flavor. The answer: it's a classic, tangy gazpacho, fused with the celery and cumin of a well-made Bloody.

Smart dish, smarter talk. Malek was scheduled to cover the subject "When Doctor and Patient Disagree," but following Harvey, the ethics faculty decided to give the event a post-hurricane spin, calling it "In the Path of Harvey: Ethical Issues in Providing Clinical Care During a Natural Disaster." Over a choice of salad with Nino's beloved wood-roasted chicken or simple rigatoni with a basil-heavy tomato sauce, Malek described the case of a man who came to the hospital with a heart attack three days before Thursday, August 24, the day his doctors hoped to discharge him. His wife was fearful of taking him home in a weakened state with the potential for catastrophic flooding. But doctors felt confident that he would thrive at home and that he lived in a low-risk area. 

Malek took guests through the ethical work-up that she and her team used, starting with identifying relevant facts of the case. Diners were asked to contribute those and available courses of action. Then they assessed those alternatives from the perspective of the relevant ethical appeals: established legal, ethical and professional standards; consequences; rights; virtues; justice; professional obligations and self interests.

Not long after the group had finished its dessert of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies with fruit, Malek revealed what happened in real life: the patient went home with his wife and they were both fine. But it's likely that not every resolution will be as tidy.

The next meal will take place on November 9, when the ethics team discusses neuroethics, a field changing quickly thanks to a growing understanding of the brain's workings. Other subjects in the bi-monthly series will include the role of government in medicine, access to care for vulnerable Houstonians and the ethics of medical marijuana. Hungry to put in your two cents (and have a surprisingly interesting meal)? Click here to learn more or to sign up.

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