University of Chicago's Mark Siegler to receive Lifetime Achievement Award from national bioethics group

September 20, 2010

Mark Siegler, MD

On Saturday, October 23, 2010, the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities will present Mark Siegler, MD, Director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago, with its Lifetime Achievement Award. The Award recognizes an individual whose outstanding contributions and significant publications have helped shape the direction of the fields of bioethics and medical humanities.

The Lindy Bergman Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Surgery at the University, Siegler has long been known for his elegant and insightful writings on the doctor-patient relationship, the development of the field of clinical medical ethics, improved end-of-life care for patients, and new ethical approaches to innovations in surgery and cancer care.

"This is quite an honor," said Siegler. "More importantly, it validates the field of clinical medical ethics and the contributions the MacLean Center has made to the field since 1984."

Siegler has written and spoken extensively on doctor-patient decision-making in complex medical situations, such as intensive care, end-of-life choices, living-donor organ transplantation, and phase-1 cancer clinical trials. These stressful situations serve as "clinical probes," he said. "Because of the intensity of these situations, they can help us understand the process by which patients and doctors reach everyday decisions."

An honors graduate of Princeton University, Siegler received his medical degree in 1967 from the University of Chicago. He was an intern, resident, and chief resident of medicine at the University of Chicago, followed by a year of advanced training at the Hammersmith-Royal Postgraduate Hospital in London, England. In 1972 he joined the University of Chicago faculty as one of the original faculty in the newly created Section of General Internal Medicine. In this capacity, he organized and directed one of the early medical intensive care units (ICUs) in Chicago.

Recalling his work in the ICU, Siegler said, "My work with critically ill patients, their families and the medical team forced me to confront a wide range of clinical and ethical issues, and this led me to develop the field of clinical medical ethics."

Clinical ethics was a term originally developed in 1973 by Siegler and his mentor, the late Alvan Feinstein, MD, to highlight the patient-centered focus in both Siegler's early work in "clinical" ethics and in Feinstein's pioneering work in creating "clinical" epidemiology. Clinical ethics has both practical and theoretical dimensions. As a practical field, it aims to improve patient care and health outcomes by involving physicians and health professionals in the analysis and resolution of ethical problems such as informed consent, end-of-life care, and decision making within the doctor-patient relationship.

When these issues arise in clinical practice or in clinical research, ethics consultation and case-based analysis are often used to help resolve them. "The theoretical grounding of clinical ethics is found in medicine as a practice," Siegler said. "Its intellectual foundation derives from the doctor-patient encounter and the nature and goals of medicine rather than from ethical theory based on philosophy, theology, or law."

In 1984 the University of Chicago established the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, the first program in the nation devoted to this clinical specialty, and appointed Siegler as the Center's director. In its first decade, the MacLean Center was chosen by U.S. News and World Report for three consecutive years as the leading medical ethics program in the country. Since then, the MacLean Center has become the largest program in clinical ethics in the world, a program that now has more than 30 affiliated university faculty as well as five endowed chairs in clinical ethics.

More than 250 physicians and other health professionals have trained at the MacLean Center, many of whom now hold professorships, endowed chairs and directorships of ethics programs in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The research conducted by former MacLean fellows has helped open the bioethics field to a new research approach that is now described as "the empirical turn" in bioethics.

Previous winners of the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities' Lifetime Achievement Award include Howard Brody, Robert Veatch, Renee Fox, Ronald Cranford, Bernard Gert, Eric Cassell, Tom Beauchamp, James Childress, Joanne Troutman Banks, Jay Katz, Ruth Macklin, Daniel Callahan, John Fletcher, Albert Jonsen and Edmund Pellegrino.

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