UF-VA UNESCO Bioethics Unit celebrates World Bioethics Day

By: Caroline Nickerson

Dr. Khan presents at WBD
Dr. Khan presents at World Bioethics Day

On Thursday, October 19, the UF-VA UNESCO Bioethics Unit met for presentations commemorating World Bioethics Day. UNESCO has 73 units of this particular program, and our unit was set up two years ago with the help of Dr. Russel D’Souza, chair of UN Bioethics Day in Haifa. Dr. Russel D’Souza filmed a short, personalized video welcome for our Bioethics Day celebration.

The theme we selected for this day, “Equality, Justice, And Equity,” encompasses principles we implement 365 days a year. As Dr. Joe Thornton, the leader of the UF-VA Unit, said at the beginning of his presentation for our celebration, “We think of ethics as a verb. We put action into ethics.” The UF-VA UNESCO Bioethics Unit performs a number of functions, including hosting this year’s global conference in Orlando and publishing in journals, but the stated, primary function is to implement ethics into everyday clinical practice.

The Bioethics Day Celebration we hosted was in marked contrast to the hate speech professed by white nationalist Richard Spencer on the same day. To highlight this contrast and establish our positive, constructive tone, mediation expert Beatriz Elena De Bruna led both a mindfulness mediation and a kindness meditation at the start of the conference.

Dr. Thornton and Dr. Rajiv Tandon facilitated a conversation about Puerto Rico and the provision of aid after Hurricane Maria, especially to Puerto Ricans evacuating to Florida. With other UF Health professionals, Dr.Thornton seeks to lend expertise in providing social services, especially with the use of technologies and organization. He is maintaining a google site to this end: https://sites.google.com/view/operationmariarescue/

Dr. Jessica Khan then gave a presentation on Steve Biko, a young man killed while he was fighting against apartheid in South Africa. This story often resonates with medical professionals, as physicians were involved with his death, and Biko was also a former medical student. The Steve Biko Bioethics Center (part of a UNESCO unit) now exists at Wits University. Steve Biko once said, “It is better to die for an idea that will live than to live for an idea that will die.”

Caroline Nickerson presenting
Caroline Nickerson presents on the Christensen Memorial Project

Editorial assistant Caroline Nickerson finished the day by presenting on the Christensen Memorial Project, in particular the ethics curriculum. The ethics curriculum includes Dr. Christensen’s writings along with original content from other UF Psychiatry Department faculty. Featured throughout the curriculum are puzzle pieces decorated by friends, family, and colleagues of Dr. Christensen under the guidance of Maggie Hannon, a recreational therapist. These pieces honor Dr. Christensen, his teachings on ethics, and his focus on serving the underserved. After display in Florida, these pieces will be incorporated into artist Tim Kelly’s “Puzzle Project” in New York, New York.

Our World Bioethics Day Celebration inspired spirited and meaningful conversation. To come to the next quarterly UF-VA Bioethics Unit meeting, contact Dr. Thornton at joethornton@ufl.edu.