The University of Texas Medical Branch will conduct a series of community discussions meant to provide academicians more perspectives on bioethical issues evolving in the health care industry.

Two groups — one representing St. Vincent’s House, the other a partnership between the Galveston Alliance of Island Neighborhoods and the Galveston Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association — will participate in the community bioethics dialogues.

The sessions will address research that compares which of several medical treatments is better for a given condition.

“If research shows that two treatments work just as well, but one costs a lot more, what should Medicare and insurance companies do with this information?” asked Dr. Howard Brody, director of the Institute for the Medical Humanities at UTMB and principal investigator for the project. “Should they refuse to pay for the more expensive treatment to save money? Or should they still cover both treatments so that individual patients can choose freely?”

The project is funded by a grant from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The grant is overseen by Dr. James Goodwin, director of UTMB’s Sealy Center on Aging.

Investigators hope that this project will lead to a new way of addressing bioethical issues with input from diverse communities, Brody explained. “Instead of academic experts debating a topic in conferences and journals, we will hear the views of real folks whose lives are affected by these decisions,” he added. Galveston is an ideal location for such a project, and he hopes to eventually extend the dialogue to two to four additional community groups, Brody noted.

Linda Strevell, president of the Citizens Police Academy Alumni, said that her group sees these meetings as an opportunity to influence the future of health care decision-making toward one of quality and compassion.

“St. Vincent’s House is privileged to be invited to participate and partner with UTMB in the bioethics dialogue,” said executive director Michael Jackson. “This is a much needed opportunity for information to get to people who would like to have a greater role in understanding their medical care, how decisions are made about them, and their possible options.”

GAIN president William Brousard added that his organization is pleased to be a part of such an important effort. “Through our participation, our members may have a chance to craft thought and policy influencing how we are viewed as patients in the years to come. Currently, few matters related to living and aging are more important. For this reason we encourage schools and youth to observe our discussions.”

The dialogue process includes six meetings, each for two hours once a week. At the end of the sessions, the group will agree on the important ethical values that ought to guide policy related to comparative effectiveness research.

All meetings will be open to the public. “We especially hope that some school groups will be interested in following the process,” Brody noted. “We have accumulated a lot of reading material that we’ll be asking the participants to study so that they understand the issues. We’ll be happy to share those materials with any teachers who want to discuss this in their classrooms, and to have their students observe some or all of the dialogues.”

The schedule for the sessions:

St. Vincent’s House
Tuesday afternoons, 1 to 3 p.m., beginning Jan. 7, St. Vincent’s House, 2817 Postoffice.

GAIN/Galveston Citizen Police Academy Alumni
Thursday evenings, 6 to 8 p.m., starting Jan. 9 at St. John Lutheran Church annex, 39th Street and Avenue L.