Last Wednesday morning we welcomed Mary Ann Beil to talk to us about the future of medicine, where a new landscape of ethical issues and dilemmas is emerging. Some, but not all, of these are a result of the new information, electronic, and communication technologies which have arrived in short order over the past few years. We looked at issues in medicine which we may, and almost certainly will, face in the not too distant future. Some of these issues are not really medical, but they are peripheral to many medical outcomes, and their impacts on our lives touch upon diverse ethical issues.
Mary Ann has been the Vice President of Ethics and Chief Compliance Officer for Memorial Medical Center in Savannah for eighteen years. The Institute for Ethics at Memorial, which she leads, supports five broad based initiatives: corporate ethics, bioethics, research ethics/institutional review board, medical professionalism, and spiritual and pastoral care. Mary Ann is a member of the Mercer University School of Medicine community teaching facility; she holds a degree in journalism and a master’s in theological studies in corporate ethics from Emory University.

Mary Ann offered us many issues to think about. She thanked us for inviting her to speak and started by reminding us that mortality, our own and/or that of people close to us, is nigh. She told us that we must hold a conversation with those nearest to us concerning our own wishes about how we die, what happens afterwards, that is, services, disposal of remains, etc., - all those things we really don’t want to address, but we must. We must articulate, for ourselves, and know for others, what we want and do not want, such as DNR (do not resuscitate) requests because the medical profession, doctors and nurses, cannot know what is wanted.

Mary Ann addressed the various questions surrounding “designer babies,” since we now have the capability of in vitro fertilization using our own ova/sperm, or someone else’s. Do we really want to “design” our children? We are close to that capability. She talked about embryo switching, ‘in utero’ adjustments, and gene editing. These new capabilities raise issues of privacy, insurance, and legality. There is a possibility for the ‘hacking’ of personal electronic devices by someone – no, not the I-phone or I-pad, but your own pacemaker. There is a possibility of self-monitoring – or monitoring someone else – for example, is your husband’s pacemaker operating OK? – Your mother? Your friend? How about someone you really don’t like?

She went on, and we cringed at the possible future of data/electronic interference and issues we might face with our own bodies or someone else’s. Biotech advancement and neuro enhancement – don’t like your tennis arm or golf swing? Neuro enhancement via artificial limbs is around the corner – actually it’s here for those who have lost a limb. Then we may encounter mental enhancement, the ability to make people smarter, perhaps the ability to buy mental capacity beyond that which we were born with.

There were several further draconian promises for the future, and Mary Ann reminded us that attaining the age of 100 years will soon not be extraordinary. Such age, and the corresponding increase in persons aged over 70, over 80, and over 90 in world-wide populations will change society as we know it. One day soon we may be able to swallow a tiny camera for internal monitoring, and there will be many more robotic functions.

All this, Mary Ann reminded us, is not speculation or science fiction. Much of it is either here now or within our capabilities today. We thanked her for visiting and giving us much to think about.
Below is a photo of President Bill, Mary Ann Beil and Kathy Kleinsteuber.