Three longtime healthcare professionals were honored for their contributions to healthcare ethics during the 10th annual Healthcare Ethics and Law Institute (HEAL) conference sponsored by Samford University’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy Friday, April 8.
Former U.S. surgeon general David Satcher, medical ethics pioneer Robert M. Veatch and retired pharmacy dean Joseph O. Dean, Jr., each received a Pellegrino Medal at a special ceremony.
Dr. Satcher served as surgeon general from 1998 until 2001 after directing the Centers for Disease Control from 1993 until 1998. He is director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute in Atlanta, Ga.
Dr. Veatch is professor and former director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Dean, who was dean of McWhorter School of Pharmacy during 1991-2006, was instrumental in founding HEAL.
The medal is named for Dr. Edmund D. Pellegrino, the first recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. The medal has been presented to world renowned clinical ethicists for the 10 years of the HEAL Institute’s existence.
Each of this year’s honorees spoke during the HEAL program, which explored the topic, “Eliminating Heath Care Delivery Disparities: An Ethical Quagmire?” Speakers also included University of Alabama at Birmingham philosophy professor Dr. Gregory E. Pence, who received a Pellegrino Medal in 2006.
In his address, Satcher examined the topic, “The Health Impact of Resolving Racial Disparities: An Analysis of U.S. Mortality Data,” and identified troubling health issues faced by everyone.
“Health disparities are real and dramatic,” he said, displaying mortality tables that show significantly more deaths among African Americans from cardiovascular disease and infant deaths in the first year of life. “You can tell a lot about a nation’s health system by looking at rates of infant mortality.”
African Americans also have the highest rate of deaths from cancer, with an interesting qualifier. “African American women don’t have the highest breast cancer rate, but they have the highest death rate from it,” he said.
Obesity trends among all U.S. adults show that more than one in three are obese, a direct result, he said, from the fact that Americans are addicted to salt, fat, sweets and high calorie food. A 2001 report identified obesity as “not just an epidemic, but a pandemic” that is getting worse worldwide.
However, Satcher said, obese people who begin a program of good nutrition and physical activity can dramatically improve their health if they will do as little as 30 minutes of exercise a day and not take in more calories than they burn.
“Even if they don’t lose weight, it makes a difference in their health,” he said, and that is especially true for people with adult onset diabetes. While African Americans and American Indians have the greatest risk for diabetes, it is a growing problem for all groups, including children.
“Mental disorders are second only to cardiovascular disease in terms of disability, performance and suffering,” said Satcher, who was the first surgeon general to issue a report on mental health. The fact that there is still stigma and discrimination associated with it, “shows just how far we have to go” in dealing with it, he said.
He identified key determinants of health as genetics, environment—both physical and social, behavior and access to health care.
His prescription for behavior, he said, involves moderate physical activity, nutrition, avoiding toxins such as tobacco and abuse of alcohol, responsible sexual behavior, and daily participation in relaxing and stress reducing activities.
A key to eliminating disparities in health care, he said, is having leaders in the profession who care enough, know enough, will do enough, and are persistent enough.