Tag: sexual harassment

Bioethics News

Harassment “pervasive” among Australian surgeons

The late Edmund Pellegrino, the chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics under George W. Bush, was a champion of approaching bioethics through the lens of virtue ethics. A virtuous physician must also be a virtuous person, characterised  by the  character traits of courage, honesty, justice, wisdom, temperance and so on.

What would he say about the scandal which has blown up amongst Australian surgeons?

In March, a vascular surgeon, Gabrielle McMullin, made headlines when she complained about widespread sexism amongst her colleagues and about a toothless complaints mechanism. She said that she had advised surgical trainees to provide sexual favours or otherwise their career prospects would be damaged.

But the president of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Professor Michael Grigg, angrily denied that there was a culture of sexual harassment. “The inference is that this is what successful female surgeons and trainees have done in the past and this is deeply insulting,” he said. “Unfortunately, instances of sexual harassment and indeed bullying in general occur in society, but encouraging non-reporting serves only to perpetuate it.”

However, Dr McMullin’s outburst did prompt an investigation by an “expert advisory group” which was released earlier this week. It was shocked by what it had found — that “discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment are pervasive and serious problems in the practice of surgery in Australia and New Zealand”. It called for “a profound shift in the culture of surgery”. Although about half of fellows, trainees and international medical graduates surveyed said they had been bullied, they still believed that lodging a complaint was  “career suicide”. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Guest Post: Bullying in Medicine

Written by Christopher Chew

Monash University

Today, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), the peak representative organization for the surgical profession in Australia, released the results of the Expert Advisory Group convened to investigate allegations of bullying, harassment, and sexual assault earlier this year.

Shockingly, of nearly half its members  who responded to a survey, including trainees and full members (fellows), a full 49 percent reported that they had been subjected to bullying, discrimination, or sexual harassment. The burden fell disproportionately on junior, female, and minority surgeons, with senior surgeons and consultants being reported as the main source of these issues.

As a graduating medical student and soon-to-be junior doctor, these – and other recent scandals  and revelations about both surgeons and the medical profession at large – fill me with a particularly personal apprehension for my future career.

My very first clinical placement in 2012 was at the Neurosurgery unit at Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne, Australia. It was here in 2006 that Dr. Caroline Tan alleges her senior supervising surgeon, Dr. Chris Xenos, sexually assaulted her, leading to her successful lawsuit and the subsequent comments that lifted the lid on this particular Pandora’s box. It was also here that Dr. Imogen Ibbett, the surgical registrar during my placement, alleges she experienced concerted bullying and mistreatment by another senior surgeon, Dr. Helen Maroulis during 2011-2013, as recounted during a scathing expose by the ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster.

I have not been, fortunately, the subject of anything that even remotely approaches the extreme conduct that has made headlines recently, and this would seem to be true of most of my peers.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Regulations versus hierarchies: Commuters creating inhabitable worlds in the Mumbai suburban trains by Annelies Kusters

During a group discussion at the India Deaf Society about the suburban trains in Mumbai, Bhaskar, a young deaf man suggested that a new rule could be introduced in the trains’ “handicapped compartments” (as they are called by Mumbaikars). He thought that the number of conflicts over the occupation of seats would be abated if a reserved-seat area was installed within the compartment. The reserved-seat area would be for blind people and for people who have disabilities in their legs or back which cause difficulties in standing, and not for deaf people and people with minor disabilities. As such, he suggested the idea of formalizing a binary hierarchy of bodies, in contrast with the complex hierarchies that are in play on an everyday basis in these compartments. His suggestion implies that he thought an increase in formal rules (imposed by the state or the railroad governing body) about how to inhabit and use the space of the compartments would be desirable.

Every day about 7 million people ride the Mumbai suburban trains, which constitute the most intensively used and overcrowded rail network in the world. In contrast to public transport in most other countries, in Mumbai, the trains are compartmentalised in a complex manner based on gender, class, luggage type, and “handicap”: the first and second class general compartments, ladies first class and second class, luggage (for vendors with loads) and the above mentioned “handicapped compartments”. Compartmentalising ideally makes travel without sexual harassment possible for women and provides people with disabilities and people with luggage with relatively more space to enter, alight and navigate the compartments.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Statement Against Misogyny and Gendered Violence


We, members of the Dalhousie University community, offer this public statement in response to recent reports of acts of misogyny and gendered violence by student members of the “Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen” on Facebook and other offensive behaviour that has occurred at Dalhousie that contributes to a culture of gendered violence and discrimination.

First, we acknowledge that there is a problem of sexualized violence on Dalhousie campuses, on other university campuses in our province and across our country. It is important to name and own this culture of sexualized violence, only then can we address it effectively.

Second, we apologize for our failure in the past to respond effectively to the problem of sexualized violence on university campuses. For instance, when reports of sexualized violence emerged two years ago at Saint Mary’s University, UBC, and the University of Ottawa, we failed to stand up and demand action on our campus to address our culture of sexualized violence. We allowed events on other campuses to be perceived as someone else’s problem when it was our problem as well.

Third, we commit ourselves to the work required to make our campuses safe and supportive learning environments for women and members of other vulnerable groups. We also commit ourselves to ensuring that the Faculty of Dentistry (and all of our professional schools and academic units) deserve the public trust that has been placed in them as educators of individuals who, upon graduation, will hold professional positions of power and trust in society.

Fourth, we call for an integrated approach to the problem of sexualized violence on our campuses – an approach that (i) responds to the specific harms caused by incidents that have recently been reported that reflect a pervasive culture of misogyny and disrespect for women and sexual minorities and (ii) addresses the underlying systemic causes.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

UNC Accuses Critics of Unauthorized Research

As I noted briefly before, the UNC-Chapel Hill has accused Mary Willingham of violating human subjects rules in her study of the scholastic abilities of student athletes. Willingham has yet to offer a detailed account of her side of the story, and the university’s account remains vague as well.

Was it human subjects research?

A January 17 university press release, “UNC-Chapel Hill leaders share facts on Willingham dataset, findings,” claims that Willingham departed from the plan she filed in 2008, which the IRB had determined not to constitute human-subjects research.

According to the press release,

Every research university is required by the federal government to have a campus body, such as an IRB, to oversee human subjects research. UNC-Chapel Hill’s IRB is an independent governing body comprised of faculty researchers, knowledgeable staff and community members. Willingham’s analysis contradicted information she provided in her formal application to the federally regulated IRB in 2008. At that time, based on information she provided, the IRB determined that their oversight was not needed because 1) the data were represented as secondary (not collected directly from subjects) and 2) individuals could not be identified. De-identified means that the researchers themselves do not know the identities of subjects—not that the researchers do not disclose their subjects’ identities as part of their work. As a result, the IRB allowed Willingham to proceed without direct IRB oversight. Willingham collected and retained identified data, as her public comments over the past two weeks have confirmed, and this was the basis of the IRB’s decision to rescind its earlier determination.

As noted by Inside Higher Ed, the press release does not specify which statements indicate access to identifiable data. Willingham’s co-investigator, Richard Southall, last week said he didn’t know what UNC meant by the charge. CNN Correspondent Sara Ganim notes that Willingham has not identified any students. (Ganim also accuses UNC of lying about CNN’s requests for data.)

If UNC is so sure that Willinghham used identifiable data, why doesn’t it share more facts to support that claim?

If so, was it exempt?

Making matters murkier, the press release uses the phrase, “federally regulated IRB,” and includes the bullet point, “IRB Review Triggered by Federal Rules Regarding Use of Protected Data.” But it UNC may be applying its own rules, not federal rules.

The provost, Jim Dean, told the News & Observer that Willingham “did not have the authority to use identifiable data because to do so would have required (review board) … approval, which she did not have.”

In fact, research with identifiable data may be exempt under 45 CFR 46.101(b)(4), so long as the investigator records the information in such a manner that subjects cannot be identified either directly or indirectly through identifiers linked to the subjects. For example, if a researcher has access to complete records, but just takes notes on select, non-identifiable data, such as test scores.

At UNC, however, there is no such thing as exempt research. Rather, all human subjects protocols must be reviewed by the IRB, which at most determine a project to be “exempt from continuing review.”

It is possible, then, that Willingham’s work was exempt under federal rules but not under UNC rules. If so, the press release’s claim about “federal rules” may be misleading.

What rights do university faculty and staff possess?

Michelle Meyer makes the good point that researchers shouldn’t fib on their protocols, at least not most of the time. But nor should university administrations make unsubstantiated accusations about such lapses (or about sexual harassment, intimidation, etc.)

What, after all, is the value of a vague accusation of violating research ethics? It protects no research participants, provides no guidance for other researchers, yet affords the accused no more dignity than a clear explanation of how the IRB concluded that a researcher has broken her pledge. Both Willingham and the public deserve better.