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July 18, 2018

Popular films spark community dialogue about biomedical ethics

By Caitlin Doran

film stripWhen was the last time a movie really made you think, changed how you viewed the world or helped you understand an important topic?

Bioethics at the Cinema, organized by the Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Program and the Rochester Public Library, wants to do just that. The goal is to use popular films to create community dialogues around important, often complex biomedical ethics issues.

The Bioethics at the Cinema program began in 2017. Previous movie screenings have touched on health-related topics ranging from discrimination and intimate relationships (The Danish Girl) to gene editing and artificial intelligence (Ex Machina).

The next screening in the series will show the 2017 movie, Wonder: the story of a 10 year old boy living with a rare genetic condition who enters a mainstream elementary school. This screening of Wonder seeks to create a dialogue about genetic disorders and appreciation for difference.

Exploring issues hard to describe in words

“Through film we can explore ethical issues that can be hard to describe in words,” says Kylie Osterhus, a research coordinator with the Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Research Program. “Pop culture, like movies, is an important window on the world. It helps us think about our unspoken values and how that informs the way we live our lives—including the way we think about topics in medicine and science.”

Each Bioethics at the Cinema screening is followed by a panel discussion with local experts.  After Wonder, staff from Mayo Clinic will moderate a panel discussion that will include a Mayo Clinic genetic counselor as well as professionals who work with individuals with disabilities.

“The community discussion after the movie is key to our event,” says Osterhus. “I think Wonder is going to inspire more kindness through a healthy conversation on disability and society.  I hope lots of parents bring their kids as a way to start their own family discussions on how to respond appropriately and stand up for kids that look or act different than themselves.”

Why it’s important to talk about biomedical ethics

Richard Sharp, Ph.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Research Program

It can sometimes be challenging for clinicians and researchers to communicate the nature of their work to their patients and to explain what genetic tests or participation in a research study might involve.

Richard Sharp, Ph.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Biomedical Ethics Research Program, calls the program’s community-facing work “incredibly important.” “We try to look ahead,” he says. “Open up the crystal ball to see what kinds of bioethics issues might be coming around the corner. One of the ways we do that is by engaging patients and communities to learn from them and so we can better anticipate the kinds of values they may bring to decisions about medicine and medical innovation.”

Science and medicine are advancing so quickly, today. Dr. Sharp and his team want the community to know that Mayo Clinic cares about making sure innovation happens responsibly. Bioethics at the Cinema helps engage the community as partners in advancing the science of medicine.

“I’m excited about our Bioethics at the Cinema program,” says Dr. Sharp. “It’s an ideal opportunity for genuine dialogue.”

The Bioethics at the Cinema film Wonder, will be shown Sunday, July 22, 2018, from 4-7 p.m. at the Rochester Civic Theater Company, in Rochester, Minn. This event is co-sponsored by the Rochester Public Library, disABILITY MERG, and the Minnesota Children’s Museum

Tags: bioethics, biomedical ethics, Biomedical Ethics Research Program, biomedical research, Center for Clinical and Translational Science, Center for Individualized Medicine, Community engagement, Mayo Clinic, News

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