Medical Doctors Debate Ethics of Caring for the Dying, Feb. 7

Drs. Paul Hutchison and Sean Smith of Northwestern Medical Center in Chicago will take part in a series of classroom discussions on the ethical challenges faced in caring for the dying, on Friday, Feb. 7, at Ripon College.

The doctors will be guest lecturers in two courses: “Biology Senior Seminar,” from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Farr Hall Rm. 130; and “Comparative Religious Ethics,” from 1:05 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. in Todd Wehr Hall Rm. 105. Members of the greater Ripon community are invited to attend both sessions.

“Given the rapid advances in technology extending the life of terminally ill patients is becoming more possible today than ever before,” says Brian Smith, professor of religion at Ripon College. “These advances bring with them new ethical challenges in medicine regarding care for the dying that is both humane and reasonable for the common good given limited resources. However, procedures done in the last six months of life are becoming ever more expensive and are demanded even when it is clear such procedures cannot save the patient’s life nor give much extra time. Nevertheless, growing numbers of Americans want these done for themselves or their loved ones despite the impact this is having on medical costs.”

Among the questions to be discussed by Drs. Hutchison and Smith, include:

  • How much is enough treatment when it is clear that a person is terminal and continued invasive procedures will not enhance the patient’s quality of life and only procure a little more time before death?
  • Should such decisions be those of the patients themselves or/and their families or should hospitals put limits on the amount of invasive procedures done on chronically ill patients close to death?
  • How does the threat of being sued shape decisions of hospital administrators in handling pressures from families to use every possible means of extending the lives of loved ones who are in the last stages of terminal illness and who would be more comfortable with hospice care?
  • Are we approaching a point in our society where medical treatments will have to be rationed and limited in order to keep costs from breaking the system and causing harm for all Americans?

The doctors’ visit is a result of collaboration between Ripon College’s departments of biology and religion, and is made possible by funds from Ripon’s Fourteen for ’14 initiative developed by the Office of the President to enhance the Ripon College campus community.


Dr. Paul HutchisonPaul J. Hutchison, MD, MA is a fellow in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, IL. He attended Duke University for undergraduate studies, majoring in biology and philosophy, and then earned his MA in philosophy and MD degrees from Georgetown University. While in Washington, DC, Paul worked for the President’s Council on Bioethics and was trained by Georgetown’s Center for Clinical Bioethics. For residency he matched at the University of Chicago in internal medicine, and then moved on to Northwestern where he is finishing his third year of fellowship. Paul’s research focuses on the formation of trust between clinicians and surrogate decision-makers in the ICU. He also has academic interests in the ethics of physician recommendations, the principle of double effect, and the role of human dignity in end-of-life care.

Dr. Sean SmithSean B. Smith, MD is a fellow in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, IL.  Sean grew up in Ripon, WI, before attending Lawrence University to study biochemistry and classics.  He then attended medical school at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, where he stayed on for his internship and residency in internal medicine.  Sean worked at University of Chicago as a clinical associate in hospital medicine before moving to Northwestern for fellowship.  He is finishing his third-year and serves as their chief fellow.  He plans an additional year of sub-specialty training in interventional pulmonary medicine.  His clinical interests include decision-making and ethics in critical care.

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