Building a Bioethical Bridge

August 7, 2002
Yale Alumni Magazine, Summer 2002, by Jennifer L. Holley.
One of the most stimulating aspects of medical school for Kenneth Baum, was talking about bioethics and health law.  By enrolling simultaneously at the Law School, Baum says he “had the opportunity to make a medical-legal niche at Yale.”  An early step involved creating the Yale Health and Law Society.
Now, in addition to working at Wiggin & Dana, as a litigator who specializes in medical malpractice defense, Baum continues to bridge the disciplines with a residential college seminar called “Landmark Legal Cases in Bioethics.”  His 18 students represent such interests as premed, law, history, and theology.  “Bioethics needs multiple perspectives if you want to get something out of it,” he says. The class has had fiery debates over such socially contentious issues and cases as abortion (Roe v. Wade) and euthanasia (People v. Kevorkian).
Confronting issues of medical care in a critical way – from both legal and medical perspectives – can be beneficial.  “in medicine, things are very often black and white; you rely heavily on tests and lab values,”  Baum says.   “Law can shed light on all the shades of gray.”
By getting future doctors and lawyers in a classroom together, Baum hopes to bridge the gap (earlier rather than later) between two professions that, historically, have had a strained relationship.  He tells the students who are going to become doctors that chances are they will have a malpractice suit filed against them at some point.  “It’s human nature to want to blame someone,” Baum says.  “I’m letting them know what to expect when it’s their turn.”

Copyright Yale Alumni Magazine 2002, republished by permission.