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Oxford University Press has published Evaluation of Capacity to Consent to Treatment and Research, by CBSSM's Co-director Scott Kim, MD, PhD. The book is part of the series Best Practices in Forensic Mental Health Assessment. For further information about this volume, click here.

H. Myra Kim, ScD


H. Myra Kim is a Research Scientist at the Center for Statistical Consultation and Research and and Adjunct Professor at the Department of Biostatistics. She received her Sc.D. in Biostatistics from Harvard University in 1995 and worked at Brown University as an Assistant Professor from 1995 to 1997. She has worked at UM since 1997 and has collaborated with various researchers from around the UM community as well as from other universities.

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Michael Fetters, MD, MPH, MA

Carl Schneider, JD


Carl E. Schneider is the Chauncey Stillman Professor for Ethics, Morality, and the Practice of Law and is a Professor of Internal Medicine. He was educated at Harvard College and the University of Michigan Law School, where he was editor in chief of the Michigan Law Review. He served as law clerk to Judge Carl McGowan of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and to Justice Potter Stewart of the United States Supreme Court. He became a member of the Law School faculty in 1981 and of the Medical School faculty in 1998. 

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Along with Ted A. Skolarus, M.D., M.P.H., CBSSM Co-Director, Angela Fagerlin authored a Viewpoint article titled "Rethinking Patient-Physician Communication of Biopsy Results -- The Waiting Game." In the article, they conclude, "Telemedicine approaches can potentially relieve much of the anxiety associated with in-person consultations while delivering bad news in a timely, compassionate, and patient-centered manner."

Last Saturday, Dr. Susan Goold had the highly esteemed task of presenting to the AMA House of Delegates on modernizing the Code of Medical Ethics. As the chair of the AMA Committee on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA), Dr. Goold is very involved in this massive reformatting and modernization effort. More information can be found in the AMA Wire press release.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury (Jun-09)

How should the US judicial system determine compensation for "pain and suffering"  Take a look at a complicated case. 

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury

Let's suppose that you're a member of a jury for a court case involving an industrial accident. A 29-year-old employee, Charlie, has suffered brain damage in this accident.

Charlie was once a skilled worker who operated complex machinery. Since the accident, he has functioned cognitively at the level of a three-year-old child, and there is no chance for improvement of his state. Charlie has no visible scars on his body and is not experiencing physical pain from the accident.
Furthermore, as a result of the brain damage, Charlie is emotionally happier than he was before the injury. Several witnesses have testified that Charlie was somewhat volatile before the accident—he got angry easily and had bouts of sadness. The witnesses noted that since the accident Charlie is always happy, despite his cognitive impairment.
You are now in the jury room. You and your fellow jury members have decided that the factory where Charlie worked had inadequate safety precautions. The jury will return a verdict for the plaintiff, Charlie. The jury has already agreed on a sum to compensate Charlie for his medical expenses, his ongoing medical care, and lost wages for the rest of his life.
Charlie's attorney has asked for an additional monetary award for pain and suffering. Which statement below most closely describes your thoughts, as a juror trying to decide on an award for pain and suffering?
  • Charlie should get a very large award for pain and suffering, since his life overall has been so adversely affected by the accident.
  • Charlie should get a moderate award for pain and suffering, since he has suffered cognitive impairment, but he does not have ongoing physical pain.
  • Charlie should get a very small award for pain and suffering, since he is actually happier now than he was before the accident.
  • I don't think that the US judicial system should allow awards for pain and suffering at all.
  • I'm not sure what pain and suffering means in a legal sense, and I don't know what to award to Charlie.

How do your answers compare?

In a recent article, CBDSM's Peter A. Ubel and Carnegie Mellon University's George Loewenstein challenge the conventional view that awards for pain and suffering should be made literally as compensation for feelings of pain and of suffering. Ubel and Loewenstein argue from their expertise in the psychology of judgment, decision making, adaptation, and valuation of health states.

They cite many studies showing that people adapt well to very serious disabilities, such as paraplegia and blindness, returning fairly quickly to near-normal levels of happiness after a period of adjustment. Thus, if juries make pain-and-suffering awards literally on the basis of misery, such awards would be unacceptably small.

But Ubel and Loewenstein delve further. Even though people with serious disabilities have normal levels of happiness, they would still prefer not to have the disabilities. "We believe that the reason for this discrepancy between hedonic measures and stated preferences . . . is that people care about many things that are not purely hedonic, such as meaning, capabilities, and range of feeling and experience."

In enlarging the definition of pain and suffering, Ubel and Loewenstein do not propose to merely add to the factors that a jury must take into consideration in the current judicial system. Indeed, the authors find several problems with the current system, including inequities in compensation and the evaluation of injuries in isolation. They include in their article a three-part proposal for a radical change in judicial procedure.

First, they would recruit a random panel of citizens to compile and categorize injuries. Groups of injuries would be ranked on the basis of the appropriate level of compensation for those injuries. This panel would call on experts to inform their decisions. "Decisions about an injury's proper category would take into account not only the emotional consequences of the injury but also the person's ability to function across important life domains—social functioning, work functioning, sexual functioning, sleep, and the like."

This list of grouped and ranked injuries would have some similarities to the list of health conditions that the State of Oregon created in the 1990s to help allocate Medicaid funds. Another existing model for this list would be lists used to make decisions about workers' compensation claims—for example, benefits for loss of a thumb are twice as great as benefits for loss of a second finger.

Second, Ubel and Loewenstein propose a mechanism for determining monetary damages. Using the list produced by the citizen group described above, federal or state legislators could determine a maximum award for pain and suffering. Based on this damage cap, a range of awards would be set for each category of injuries.

Third, the juries would enter in, using the guidelines set up in the steps described above and then tailoring awards to the individual circumstances of each case. Under this plan, juries would do what people tend to do best: compare and rank things. Ubel and Loewenstein note that "juries could help determine if the victim has extenuating circumstances that should drive the award to either the lower or upper end of acceptable compensation for that group of injuries. . . Our proposal does not do away with jury trials but instead enables juries to involve themselves in the kind of judgments they are best suited to make."

Ubel and Loewenstein conclude, "The determination of pain-and-suffering awards should be revised to take account of recent advances in understanding human judgment and decision making."

Read the article:

Ubel PA, Loewenstein G.Pain & suffering awards: It shouldn't be (just) about pain & suffering. Journal of Legal Studies 2008;37(2):S195-216.

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

PIHCD Working Group

Thu, December 11, 2014, 3:00pm
Bldg 16, B004E

Aisha Langford will be speaking about a potential study about risk communication, self identity, and colorectal cancer.

Kathryn Moseley served as one of the judges at "The Big Ethical Question Slam 5" hosted by In addition, Naomi Laventhal, Michele Gornick, Christian Vercler, Lauren Smith, and Lauren Wancata served as judges at the "Michigan Highschool Ethics Bowl 2."

Thanks to all the CBSSM folks who contributed their time!

For more information about these events and other great ethics-related activites, go to

A short video about the Highschool Ethics Bowl can be found here.