Bioethics professor named to national role

Kayhan Parsi Begins Two-Year Term as President, American Society for Bioethics and HumanitiesPhoto of Kayhan Parsi

November 1, 2021

“The future looks bright for our field,” said Kayhan Parsi, JD, PhD, HEC-C, professor of Bioethics at the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

“Professionals in healthcare and beyond see the value of ethicists and health humanists,” said Parsi, who became president of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) in October, 2021. With over 2000 members, ASBH is the largest professional and educational society in the U.S. devoted to bioethics and the health-related humanities.

Parsi noted how the field, as well as the organization he now leads, have matured. In addition to promoting bioethics and health humanities through its annual meetings, the ASBH launched the HCEC Certification Commission in 2018. The Commission oversees the certification of clinical ethics consultants, which provides a national standard for the professional practice of clinical healthcare ethics and endorses an individual’s knowledge, expertise, and competence. And, it helps professionals distinguish their role in the growing field of bioethics. In addition to bioethics, ASBH is committed to advancing the health humanities which applies the lens of various humanities disciplines to the healthcare enterprise. Parsi’s training as a lawyer, combined with a PhD in medical humanities, reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the field.

Several factors contribute to the growth of the bioethics and health humanities field. First, an increasingly complex healthcare environment, where demands on care teams continue to increase, points to the need for trained ethics professionals. Second, the Joint Commission requires hospitals to have a protocol for addressing ethical issues arising in patient care. Finally, bioethics and health humanities have grown because healthcare professionals find reflecting on their values and commitments intrinsically rewarding. Becoming part of a supportive learning community provides clinicians with a stable foundation that helps them manage the daily stressors of a fragmented healthcare system. Given these factors, many medical schools have a bioethics and/or health humanities program, center, or department. Not surprisingly, bioethics and health humanities are well integrated into medical education.

Building on Neiswanger Director Mark Kuczewski’s vision for an online bioethics graduate program, Parsi was recruited in 2001 from the American Medical Association, where he was conducting research on physician oaths (Kuczewski, a professor of Medical Ethics and a former ASBH president, launched the first online bioethics program at another medical school). Since then, Parsi has overseen the growth of the bioethics graduate programs, including a doctoral program in bioethics. The Stritch programs helped bolster Loyola University Chicago’s online presence – years before many colleges and universities’ rush to online learning precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic. Program graduates number in the hundreds, hailing from a variety of fields such as medicine, nursing, chaplaincy, social work, law, dentistry, allied health, public health, and even veterinary medicine.

In addition to serving as the Graduate Program’s director, Parsi teaches, conducts research, and is engaged in a variety of service initiatives. Now, as he adds another title and more responsibilities, he hopes to continue to grow the ASBH and more specifically, help define its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals and how DEI will be incorporated into its programs.