'Murder or Mercy?' an innovative module helping UK medical students to articulate their own ethical standpoints regarding end-of-life decisions

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Abstract

Objectives This student selected component (SSC) was designed to equip United Kingdom (UK) medical students to respond ethically and with sensitivity to requests they might receive as qualified doctors in regard to euthanasia and assisted dying. The aim was to expose students to relevant opinions and experiences and to provide opportunities to explore and justify their own views and rehearse ethical decision making in a safe learning environment. Method The module is delivered by specialists from a number of disciplines including law, theology, medicine and nursing, each providing students with a working knowledge allowing them to actively discuss cases, articulate their own views and practise ethical reasoning through group and individual study. Visits to local intensive care units, palliative care wards and hospices are integrated effectively with theory. Student assessment comprises a dissertation, student-led debate and reflective commentary. Module impact was evaluated by analysis of student coursework and a questionnaire. Results Students found the content stimulating and relevant to their future career and agreed that the module was well-structured and that learning outcomes were achieved. They greatly appreciated the clinical context provided by the visits and opportunities to apply ethical reasoning to real cases and to debate ethical issues with peers. Students reported an increased discernment of the ethical and legal position and practical considerations and a greater awareness of the range of professional and lay viewpoints held. Student perceptions were confirmed on analysis of their submitted coursework. Many participants were less strongly in favour of euthanasia and assisted dying on module completion than at the outset but all felt better equipped to justify their own viewpoint and to respond appropriately to patient requests. Conclusions The multi-disciplinary nature of this course is helpful in preparing students to deal effectively and sensitively with ethical dilemmas they will encounter in their medical career. Use of an integrated, learner-centred approach equips students to actively engage with their peers in discussion of such issues and to formulate and defend their own position.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)676-681
Number of pages6
JournalSouthern Medical Journal
Volume104
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011

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