Heidi Mertes - DIME

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Heidi Mertes is an associate professor in medical ethics at Ghent University and one of the founding members of the Bioethics Institute Ghent and the interfaculty METAMEDICA platform.

Her academic research focusses on the ethical implications of innovations in healthcare, with a particular focus on reproductive medicine, genetics, embryonic stem cell research and more specifically ethical challenges at the intersection of these different domains. She has, for example, published articles on the ethical issues related to so-called social egg freezing, embryo research, stem cell derived gametes, genetic parenthood, genome editing, genetic screening of embryos, etc. She is currently the principle investigator of the ERC-funded project DIME, focusing on the impact of disruptive innovation in healthcare on medical ethics and on shifting responsibilities in healthcare.

She is also a member of the Belgian Federal Commission for Medical and Scientific Research on Embryos in vitro and the current coordinator of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology’s special interest group Ethics and Law. Het societal outreach is most tangible in her role as the president of De Maakbare Mens vzw, a non-profit socio-cultural organization that stimulates critical reflection about the individual and societal impact of new medical technologies.

Heidi teaches courses at Ghent University in bioethics, medical ethics, moral philosophy and global health ethics.

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Several recent medical innovations do not conform with the way medicine traditionally operates, but rather blur the boundaries of medicine and/or side-line the doctor-patient relationship as an essential aspect of healthcare. Examples of this are healthcare apps, direct-to-consumer genetic testing, disease surveillance, electronic patient records, telehealth and certain types of clinical decision support systems. Several of these new innovations will fundamentally change the very concept of medicine and thus turn out to be disruptive innovations.

Given that medical ethics are tailored to ‘traditional’ medicine, we should be critical about its current ability to cope with these changes and question whether the discipline of medical ethics is sufficiently equipped to guide new, disruptive innovations in healthcare towards their great potential in terms of improving patients’ access to good quality healthcare, while also safeguarding patients/users for the risks that come with them, not only in terms of health, but also in terms of infractions against firmly rooted values such as patient autonomy, the duty of care, confidentiality or privacy. If the medical ethics toolbox is ill-equipped to deal with these challenges, we urgently need to rethink or replace procedures, principles or theories in order to remedy this problem.

DIME will address these challenges by focusing on three main objectives:

  1. To establish where the most prominent ethical disruptions are located and therefore in which areas reorientations of ethical principles are most urgently needed.
  2. To develop normative arguments regarding which fundamental procedures, principles or theories in medical ethics ought to be reinforced, adapted or replaced in the face of disruptive innovations to better cope with the challenges ahead.
  3. To critically analyze the shifting moral responsibilities in healthcare as a consequence of disruptive innovations.