Conference Report: IME National Student Conference 2024 ‘Ethics of the Mind’

Roosa Harmo, a 2nd year Universities of St Andrews/Dundee ScotGEM student, received an IME grant to attend this conference on 10th February 2024, London. Read her summary below:

By lorrainep · March 14, 2024

I had the pleasure of attending the IME National Student Conference in February 2024. The conference was aimed for medical students and focused on the ethics of the mind. I am very grateful to have received a travel grant from the Institute of Medical Ethics to support my attendance at the conference.
As a second-year medical student with a previous master’s degree in bioethics, this conference seemed like an excellent opportunity to explore ways to integrate my interest in ethics with my current studies. I found the careers panel at the conference very helpful in this regard as the panel consisted of mostly doctors talking about how they have managed to combine ethics with their clinical role. To me, the discussion was an important reminder of the fact that doctors face ethical dilemmas at the bedside every day and that it is not always necessary to be officially involved in ethical decision-making in order to have your fix of ethics as a doctor.
However, the panelists also encouraged students to proactively seek out opportunities to participate in ethics boards and other groups, even without official qualifications. This started an interesting conversation about expertise in ethics and the imposter syndrome. Who should be regarded as the authority when it comes to ethical issues? How much experience or how many qualifications must one have to be able to call themselves proficient in ethical decision-making? The panelists emphasised ethical decision-making as a collaborative process in which the ability to engage in a constructive debate is more important than having some sort of ultimate knowledge on a topic. I personally recognise the imposter syndrome in myself when it comes to medical ethics but the way the topic was discussed made me feel more confident about getting involved.
Of the other topics discussed in the conference, I particularly enjoyed professor David Nutt’s talk on the use and regulation of psychoactive drugs in medicine. He spoke passionately about how there has been a political drive to ban research on psychedelics but how there is now a renewed interest in learning how these substances could be used in the treatment of depression, anxiety and PTSD, to name a few. I find the data supporting the use of these substances very convincing and hope that the use of this approach becomes more widely accepted in the future. I personally think that the more interesting ethical question is around the recreational use of these substances. Psychoactive drugs have the potential to unlock a new levels of consciousness and their use can be a transformative experience even to people who lack psychiatric diagnoses. If psychedelic substances are generally regarded safer than alcohol or tobacco, for example, how can the ban on their recreational use be ethically justified?
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed attending the conference and learning more about the ethics of the mind. I look forward to future events organised by the Institute of Medical Ethics and would like to thank them again for their support.

Roosa Harmo
ScotGEM (Scottish Graduate Entry Medicine)