Rebecca Brendel Appointed to AMA Ethics Council

Center faculty member James Sabin completes term as council chair

Rebecca Brendel Appointed to AMA Ethics Council
Rebecca Weintraub Brendel, MD, JD

Rebecca Weintraub Brendel, MD, JD, associate director of the HMS Center for Bioethics and director of the Master of Bioethics Program, was appointed to serve a seven-year term on the American Medical Association's (AMA) Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) at the organization’s 2019 meeting in Chicago.

The Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs acts as an advisory body to the AMA House of Delegates and adjudicates allegations of physician misconduct. The nine-member council is made up of seven physicians, each serving a seven-year term; a resident/fellow, serving a three-year term; and a medical student, serving a two-year term. Each year a new member comes onto the council and a member rotates off.

This year, Brendel is new physician CEJA member who was nominated by the AMA president-elect and confirmed by the House of Delegates, the AMA’s policy-making body. Her candidacy was supported by the Massachusetts Medical Society and the American Psychiatric Association.

 Jim Sabin, MD
 Jim Sabin, MD

Brendel will replace Jim Sabin, MD, (left) HMS clinical professor of population medicine and psychiatry and former director of the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Ethics Program, who is completing his term as chair of the prestigious council. Sabin previously served as vice-chair and member-at-large on the council.

A medical student member was also newly appointed to replace Harvard Medical School student Laurie Schleimer, whose term recently ended.

In her acceptance remarks to the AMA House of Delegates, Brendel said, “I am honored and humbled by this appointment to CEJA.  As a delegate to this House, I have seen and experienced the ability of our great profession to overcome deep personal and political differences to advocate for the advancement of medicine, the wellbeing of our patients, and the promotion of public health more broadly. Our ethics are the backbone of our professional integrity, and, at this critical time of unprecedented advances and diversity in biomedicine and society, our AMA must navigate a course forward that is both faithful to the core values of medicine AND inclusive of progress and possibility.”

Brendel is director of the Master of Bioethics Degree Program and is assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She bases her clinical work at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she is also the director of law and ethics at the Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior, and provides medical oversight for the hospital’s inpatient guardianship team, and practices clinical and forensic psychiatry. From 2006–2007, Brendel was the Edmond J. Safra Faculty Fellow in Ethics at Harvard University.

Brendel graduated from both University of Chicago Law School and Pritzker School of Medicine. She completed her psychiatry residency at Mass General and McLean Hospitals and a forensic psychiatry fellowship at Mass General. She is also admitted to the Massachusetts Bar.

In an interview with Psychiatric News, Sabin said, “There couldn’t be a better appointment to CEJA than Becca Brendel. Becca has deep knowledge of clinical practice, ethics and medical law. She has an excellent understanding of how organizations work, and an exceptional ability to move between ethical deliberation and practical action. She’s a great colleague and member of a team, and while I’m sad that my own term on CEJA has ended, I’m delighted to have Becca taking my place on the council.”

Sabin, reflecting on his service as chair of the council, said guiding the council report on physician-assisted death through the more than 600-member AMA House of Delegates—from initial rejection to eventual approval of the measure on June 10, 2019—was a highlight of his tenure.

“These are complex ethical issues that could have split the Council and the House of Delegates. I feel that my experience leading discussions in HMS ethics classes and consortia over the years sharpened my skills at finding common ground, and eventually resulted in a unifying conclusion on this issue,” Sabin said.

 “I’m proud that, despite very different views among the Council members, we were able to come to consensus on a balanced perspective on physician assisted suicide—unanimously supported by the Council,” said Sabin. Brendel will begin work on the council when they gather in August.

The mission of the AMA is the promotion of the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health.