December 6, 2022

Tackling the ethical considerations of dementia research

When Emily Largent worked as an ICU nurse at UCLA, she didn’t shy away from the difficult cases. It wasn’t necessarily the medical procedures themselves that were challenging; caring for patients after organ transplants or managing a patient on life support were part of the job description. What really drew Largent to a case was the tough decisions that were involved. Should this patient really be a candidate for an organ transplant? What do we do when a patient’s family disagrees about ending life support?

As Largent worked on these cases, she saw the same questions come up again and again—and she had to solve them, again and again. “And it struck me,” she says, “that these might be instances where we need a systemic change, so that we weren't repeatedly needing to come up with one-off solutions.”

That realization drove Largent to enter a bioethics fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with Ezekiel Emmanuel, now a Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor and the vice provost for global initiatives. She went on to obtain her J.D. and Ph.D. in health policy and is now an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. While she no longer works in the ICU, she’s built a career dissecting the ethical issues around one of the leading causes of death in the United States: Alzheimer’s disease.

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