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Joseph Colbert, BA

Research Associate

Joseph joined CBSSM as a Research Area Specialist in November 2017. As a project manager, he coordinates the daily operations of Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren’s project “Provider, Patient, and Health System Effects of Provider Commitments to Choose Wisely,” a grant funded research project using novel approaches to reduce the overuse of low-value services in healthcare.

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In the January-February issue of IRB: Ethics & Human Research, Scott Y.H. Kim, Raymond de Vries, Renee Wilson, Sonali Parnami, Samuel Frank, Karl Kieburtz, and Robert G. Holloway present results of a study about the therapeutic orientation of research participants.

The authors examined the relationship between understanding and appreciation of randomization probabilities in 29 individuals recruited for a sham surgery controlled intervention study in Parkinson's disease. 83% provided the correct, quantitative answer to the understanding question; of those, one group (55%) answered the appreciation question correctly using quantitative terms, whereas the remaining group (45%) provided only qualitative comments.

The therapeutic orientation of research participants raises concerns about the adequacy of consent because such an orientation could cloud understanding of key elements of research. Further, even if participants understand (i.e., intellectually comprehend) elements of research, they may not appreciate them because they fail to apply such facts to themselves.

Study participants frequently made "unrealistic" probability statements, even while providing correct quantitative responses. Analysis showed that this apparent "irrationality" may in fact hide a deeper rationality -- namely, conversational rationality, which is part of the contextual nature of meaning conveyed in everyday language. Ignoring conversational rationality may lead to wrongly labeling research subjects as irrational. Click here for more information.

Michele Heisler, MD, MPA


Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, is Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, Professor, School of Public Health, and Research Scientist at the Ann Arbor VA's Center for Clinical Research Management. Dr. Heisler's clinical interest is chronic disease, with a focus on diabetes. Her research centers on patient self-management of chronic illnesses, patient-doctor relations and disparities in processes and outcomes in chronic illnesses.

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2015 CBSSM Research Colloquium and Bishop Lecture (Lawrence O. Gostin, J.D., LL.D Hon.)

Tue, March 17, 2015, 8:30am to 4:00pm
Alumni Center, 200 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor, MI

The Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM) Research Colloquium was held Tuesday, March 17, 2015 at the Founders Room, Alumni Center, 200 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor, MI.

The CBSSM Research Colloquium featured the Bishop Lecture in Bioethics as the keynote address.  Lawrence O. Gostin, J.D., LL.D (Hon.) presented the Bishop Lecture with a talk entitled: "Law, Ethics, and Public Health in the Vaccination Debates: Politics of the Measles Outbreak."

Lawrence Gostin is University Professor, Georgetown University’s highest academic rank conferred by the University President. Prof. Gostin directs the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and is the Founding O’Neill Chair in Global Health Law. He is Professor of Medicine at Georgetown University, Professor of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University, and Director of the Center for Law & the Public’s Health at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown Universities. Prof. Gostin is also the Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law & Human Rights.

The 2015 Research Colloquium Presentation Schedule:

  • 8:30 AM -- Check in & refreshments
  • 9:00 AM -- Welcome
  • 9:15 AM -- Aaron Scherer, PhD, CBSSM Postdoctoral Fellow: "Elephants, Donkeys, and Medicine: Political Differences in Health Risk Perceptions and Adherence to Medical Recommendations"
  • 9:45 AM -- Natalie Bartnik, MPH, Research Associate, HBHE Genetics Research Group, UM School of Public Health: "Why, how and when oncologists disclose genome sequencing results in clinical practice"
  • 10:15 AM -- Michele Gornick, PhD, MICHR PTSP Postdoctoral Fellow, VA HSRD Fellow & CBSSM Research Investigator: "Information and deliberation make a difference: The public’s preferences for the return of secondary genomic findings"
  • 10:45 AM -- Break
  • 11:00 AM -- Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, LLD (Hon.), 2015 Bishop Lecture in Bioethics: "Law, Ethics, and Public Health in the Vaccination Debates: Politics of the Measles Outbreak"
  • 12:30 PM -- Lunch
  • 1:30 PM -- Stephanie Kukora, MD and Nathan Gollehon, MD, Fellows, Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, UM Mott Children’s Hospital: "Epidemiology of outpatient prenatal consultation: implications for decision-making and perinatal outcomes"
  • 2:00 PM -- Minnie Bluhm, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor, School of Health Sciences, Eastern Michigan University: "Oncologists' decisions about administering late chemotherapy: What makes it so difficult?"
  • 2:30 PM -- Break
  • 2:45 PM -- Danielle Czarnecki, PhD Candidate, UM Department of Sociology: "Moral Women, Immoral Technologies: How Devout Women Negotiate Maternal Desires, Religion, and Assisted Reproductive Technologies"
  • 3:15 PM -- Uchenna Ezeibe, MD, Resident Physician, UMHS Department of Pediatrics & Communicable Diseases: "Pediatric Ethics Consultation Service at a Tertiary Hospital: A Retrospective Review"

Funded by Department of Health and Human Services - National Institutes of Health Subcontracts

Funding Years: 2014.

Promoting physical activity and decreasing sedentary behavior are key goals in the fight against cancers; physical activity is associated with lower risk of several cancers [1-10], and lower overall morbidity and mortality [11-26]. Thus, theory-driven initiatives to change these behaviors are essential [1-10, 26-40]. PQ#3 highlights the necessity for new perspectives on the interplay of cognitive and emotional factors in promoting behavior change. Current theories, which focus primarily on predictors derived from self-report measures, do not fully predict behavior change. For example, recent meta-analyses suggest that on average, variables from the Theory of Planned Behavior account for ~27% of the variance in behavior change [41, 42]. This limits our ability to design optimally effective interventions [43], and invites new methods that may explain additional variance. Our team has shown that neural activation in response to health messages in hypothesized neural regions of interest can double the explained variance in behavior change, above and beyond self-reports of attitudes, intentions, and self-efficacy [44, 45]. We now propose a next leap, inspired by PQ3, to identify how cognitive and affective processes interact in the brain to influence and predict behavior change. Our core hypothesis is that the balance of neural activity in regions associated with self-related processing versus defensive counterarguing is key in producing health behavior change, and that self-affirmation (an innovative approach, relatively new to the health behavior area [46]) can alter this balance. Self-affirmation theory [47] posits that people are motivated to maintain a sense of self-worth, and that threats to self-worth will be met with resistance, often i the form of counterarguing. One common threat to self-worth occurs when people are confronted with self-relevant health messages (e.g. encouraging less sedentary behavior in overweight, sedentary adults). This phenomenon speaks to a classic and problematic paradox: those at highest risk are likely to be most defensive and least open to altering cancer risk behaviors [48]. A substantial, and surprisingly impressive, body of evidence demonstrates that affirmation of core-values (self-affirmation priming) preceding messages can reduce resistance and increase intervention effectiveness [46, 49-53]. Uncovering neural mechanisms of such affirmation effects [46], has transformative potential for intervention design and selection. To test our conceptual assumptions and core hypothesis we will: (1) Identify neural signals associated with processing health messages as self-relevant versus counterarguing; (2) Test whether self-affirmation alters the balance of these signals; (3) Use these neural signals to predict physical activity behavior change, above and beyond what is predicted by self-report measures alone. Our approach is innovative methodologically (using fMRI to understand and predict behavior change), and conceptually (self-affirmation may dramatically increase intervention effectiveness). Benchmarks will include objectively measured decreases in sedentary behavior in affirmed vs. control subjects (using accelerometers), and increases in predictive capacity afforded by neuroimaging methods, compared to self-report alone.

PI(s): Thad Polk

Co-I(s): Lawrence An, Sonya Dal Sin, Kenneth Resnicow, Victor Strecher

Announcement of Position: Clinician Ethicist

Announcement of Position: Clinician Ethicist

The Program in Clinical Ethics within the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM) represents an expansion of existing services designed to promote a culture of patient-centered excellence by developing a comprehensive set of ethics-related activities. The aims of this program are to: liaise with and provide support to the adult and pediatrics ethics committees; streamline clinical ethics consultation; assist with ethics-related policy development on a regular and proactive basis; organize and administer structured educational programs in clinical ethics; and coordinate empiric research with relevance to clinical ethics within CBSSM.

Program Organization
The Program in Clinical Ethics is co-directed by the chairs of the adult and pediatric ethics committees and consultation services, Christian J. Vercler, MD MA and Andrew G. Shuman, MD. A dedicated clinician ethicist will manage the program on a daily basis. A cadre of eight faculty ethicists will rotate on service throughout the year and work closely with the clinician ethicist. Trainees and students will rotate as well. Dedicated administrative support will be organized through CBSSM.

One individual will serve as the program’s clinical ethicist. This individual will serve as the “first responder” and contact person for all ethics consults during business hours, ensure continuity with consults, and work in conjunction with faculty ethicists. The role will include arranging team/family meetings, ensuring follow-ups on all consults, and arranging additional consultations as needed for selected cases. He/she will also regularly review relevant institutional policies and attend all ethics committee meetings. Another major component of this role will be to organize and participate in educational efforts and preventative ethics rounds. This position will provide $50,000 of direct salary support annually, to be distributed and allocated in conjunction with their home department. The initial appointment will last two years and is renewable.

Candidates are expected to be employees or faculty at UMHS with a master’s or equivalent terminal degree in their field; any professional background is acceptable. Direct experience with clinical ethics consultation is required. Familiarity with ethics education and related clinical research would be helpful. Excellent organizational and communication skills across multidisciplinary medical fields are required. Candidates are expected to have qualifications that meet the standards outlined by The American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) for accreditation for clinical ethics consultants.

Application Process
Candidates will be vetted, interviewed and chosen by a nomination committee. Candidates are asked to submit:

  • Curriculum vitae or resume
  • One page maximum summary of (1) education/training related to ethics consultation; (2) clinical ethics consultation experience; and (3) motivation/interest in the position
  • Letter of support from Department Chair/Division Head/Center Director or equivalent
  • Submit formal application via email to:


  • Application is due December 11, 2015 with interviews shortly thereafter
  • Appointment will take effect January 1, 2016


  • Co-Directors of the Program in Clinical Ethics: Christian J. Vercler, MD MA & Andrew G. Shuman, MD
  • Administrative contact: Valerie Kahn – 734 615 5371

2018 Bishop Lecture featuring Barbara Koenig, PhD

Tue, May 01, 2018, 11:15am
Add to Calendar
Henderson Room, Michigan League, 911 N. University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI

The 2018 Bishop Lecture in Bioethics will be presented by Barbara Koenig, PhD, Professor of Bioethics and Medical Anthropology and Director of UCSF Bioethics at the University of California, San Francisco. Professor Koenig will present a talk entitled, " Does Enhancing Individual Choice and Control Promote Freedom? Challenges in Contemporary Bioethics." The Bishop Lecture will serves as the keynote address during the CBSSM Research Colloquium.

Abstract: Over the past three decades, the discipline of bioethics has advocated for enhanced patient choice and control over a range of medical decisions, from care near the end of life to participation in clinical research. Using two current policy challenges in California—1) the advent of legally sanctioned medical aid in dying and, 2) efforts to share UC Health “big data” from the electronic health record in research with private sector partners—Professor Koenig will explore how current bioethics practices may unintentionally and ironically impede our shared goals of promoting human freedom.

Barbara A. Koenig, PhD is Professor of Bioethics and Medical Anthropology, based at the Institute for Health & Aging, University of California, San Francisco. She is the Director of “UCSF Bioethics,” a nascent program that spans ethics research, clinical ethics, and ethics education across the university’s four professional schools. Prof. Koenig pioneered the use of empirical methods in the study of ethical questions in science, medicine, and health. Prof. Koenig’s current focus is emerging genomic technologies, including biobanking policy and using deliberative democracy to engage communities about research governance. Her work has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1991. Currently, she: 1) directs the ELSI component of a NICHD award focused on newborn screening in an era of whole genome analysis, 2) is P.I. of UCSF’s Program in Prenatal and Pediatric Genomic Sequencing (P3EGS), part of the CSER2 national network, and, 3) is supported by NCI to conduct an “embedded ethics” study of the Athena “Wisdom” PCORI-funded clinical trial of genomic risk-stratified breast cancer prevention. Previously, she directed an NHGRI-funded “Center of Excellence” in ELSI Research. Prof. Koenig was the founding executive director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University; she created and led the Bioethics Research Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco joint program in Medical Anthropology. She is an active participant in policy, having served on the ethics committee that advises the director of the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services “Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing.” She recently served on a state-wide “Health Data Governance Task Force” which advised UC’s president.

2016 CBSSM Research Colloquium and Bishop Lecture (William Dale, MD, PhD)

Wed, April 27, 2016, 8:30am
Founders Room, Alumni Center, 200 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor, MI

The Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM) Research Colloquium was held Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at the Founders Room, Alumni Center, 200 Fletcher Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

The CBSSM Research Colloquium featured the Bishop Lecture in Bioethics as the keynote address.  William Dale, MD, PhD presented the Bishop Lecture with a talk entitled: "Why Do We So Often Overtreat, Undertreat, and Mistreat Older Adults with Cancer?"

William Dale, MD, PhD is Associate Professor of Medicine and Chief, Section of Geriatrics & Palliative Medicine & Director, SOCARE Clinic at the University of Chicago. A geriatrician with a doctorate in health policy and extensive experience in oncology, Dr. Dale has devoted his career to the care of older adults with cancer -- particularly prostate cancer. Dr. Dale has a special interest in the identification and treatment of vulnerable older patients who have complex medical conditions, including cancer. He is actively researching the interactions of cancer therapies with changes associated with aging.


The 2016 Research Colloquium Presentation Schedule:

  •     8:30 AM -- Check in & refreshments
  •     9:00 AM -- Welcome
  •     9:05 AM -- Katrina Hauschildt, MA, PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology: "Language and Communication as Professionalization Projects in Clinical Ethics Consultation"
  •     9:30 AM -- Devan Stahl, PhD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Ethics, MSU: "Is there a right not to know?"
  •     9:55 AM -- Chithra Perumalswami, MD MSc, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Veterans Affairs Clinical Scholar: "Insurance Status of Elderly Americans and Location of Death"
  •     10:20 AM -- Break
  •     10:35 AM -- William Dale, MD, PhD, 2016 Bishop Lecture in Bioethics: "Why Do We So Often Overtreat, Undertreat, and Mistreat Older Adults with Cancer?"
  •     12:00 PM -- Lunch
  •     12:45 PM -- Lauren B. Smith, M.D., Associate Professor, Department of Pathology/Ginny Sheffield, UM Medical Student (M3): "Special treatment for the VIP patient:  Is it ethical?  Is it dangerous?"
  •     1:10 PM -- Naomi Laventhal, MD, MA, Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases: "Roman Charity Redux: The Moral Obligations of the Breastfeeding Physician"
  •     1:35 PM -- Archana Bharadwaj, Graduate Student, UM School of Public Health: "Patient understanding and satisfaction regarding the clinical use of whole genome sequencing: Findings from the MedSeq Project"
  •     2:00 PM -- Kayte Spector-Bagdady, JD, MBioethics, CBSSM Postdoctoral Research Fellow: "Direct‐to‐Consumer Biobanking"
  •     2:25 PM -- Break
  •     2:40 PM --Panel Presentation (Susan Goold, MD, MHSA, MA & colleagues) : "Community engagement in setting research priorities: Representation, Participation and Evaluation"
    • Why (and how) was CBPR supported in DECIDERS?
    • How were communities represented in DECIDERS decision making?
    • Why and how was the partnership evaluated?
    • How were the 47 focus groups engaged in setting research priorities?

The Privileged Choices (Jan-08)

What's the difference between opting in and opting out of an activity? Who decides if people will be put automatically into one category or another? Click this interactive decision to learn how default options work.

Scenario 1

Imagine that you're a US Senator and that you serve on the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The Infectious Diseases Society of America has come before your committee because they believe that too many health care workers are getting sick with influenza ("flu") each year and infecting others. As a result, your Senate committee is now considering a new bill that would require that all health care workers get annual influenza vaccinations ("flu shots") unless the worker specifically refuses this vaccination in writing.

Do you think you would support this bill for mandatory flu shots for health care workers?

  • Yes
  • No

Scenario 2

Imagine that you're the human resources director at a mid-sized company that's initiating an employee retirement plan. Management is concerned that many employees are not saving enough for retirement. They're considering a policy that would automatically deduct retirement contributions from all employees' wages unless the employee fills out and submits a form requesting exemption from the automatic deductions.

Do you think a policy of automatic retirement deductions is reasonable for your company to follow?

  • Yes 
  • No

Scenario 3

Organ transplants save many lives each year, but there are always too many deserving patients and too few organs available. To try to improve the number of organs available for donation, the state legislature in your state is considering a new policy that all people who die under certain well-defined circumstances will have their organs donated to others. The system would start in three years, after an information campaign. People who do not want to have their organs donated would be given the opportunity to sign a refusal of organ donation when they renewed their drivers' licenses or state ID cards, which expire every three years. Citizens without either of these cards could also sign the refusal at any drivers' license office in the state. This is a policy similar to ones already in place in some European countries.

Does this seem like an appropriate policy to you?

  • Yes 
  • No

How do your answers compare?

For many decisions in life, people encounter default options-that is, events or conditions that will be set in place if they don't actively choose an alternative. Some default options have clear benefits and are relatively straightforward to implement, such as having drug prescriptions default to "generic" unless the physician checks the "brand necessary" box. Others are more controversial, such as the automatic organ donation issue that you made a decision about.

Default options can strongly influence human behavior. For example, employees are much more likely to participate in a retirement plan if they're automatically enrolled (and must ask to be removed, or opt out) than if they must actively opt in to the plan. Researchers have found a number of reasons for this influence of default options, including people's aversion to change.

But default options can seem coercive also. So, an Institute of Medicine committee recently recommended against making organ donation automatic in the US. One reason was the committee's concern that Americans might not fully understand that they could opt out of donation or exactly how they could do so.

The policy scenarios presented to you here have been excerpted from a 2007 article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled "Harnessing the Power of Default Options to Improve Health Care," by Scott D. Halpern, MD, PhD, Peter A. Ubel, MD, and David A. Asch, MD, MBA. Dr. Ubel is the Director of the Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine.

This article provides guidance for policy-makers in setting default options, specifically in health care. Generally, default options in health care are intended to promote the use of interventions that improve care, reduce the use of interventions that put patients at risk, or serve broader societal agendas, such as cost containment.

In this NEJM article, the researchers argue that default options are often unavoidable-otherwise, how would an emergency-room physician decide on care for an uninsured patient? Many default options already exist but are hidden. Without either returning to an era of paternalism in medicine or adopting a laissez-faire approach, the authors present ways to use default options wisely but actively, based on clear findings in the medical literature.

Some examples of default policies that may improve health care quality:

  • routine HIV testing of all patients unless they opt out.
  • removal of urinary catheters in hospital patients after 72 hours unless a nurse or doctor documents why the catheter should be retained.
  • routine ventilation of all newly intubated patients with lung-protective settings unless or until other settings are ordered.

Drs. Halpern, Ubel, and Asch conclude, "Enacting policy changes by manipulating default options carries no more risk than ignoring such options that were previously set passively, and it offers far greater opportunities for benefit."

Read the article:

Harnessing the power of default options to improve health care.
Halpern SD, Ubel PA, Asch DA. New England Journal of Medicine 2007;357:1340-1344.

David Sandberg, PhD


Dr. Sandberg is a pediatric psychologist and clinical researcher.  As a pediatric psychologist, he delivers psychoeducational and behavioral health services to persons with endocrine disorders and their families, in particular, conditions affecting linear growth or disorders of sex development (DSD), i.e., congenital conditions in which development of sex chromosomes, gonads or sex anatomy is atypical.

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