Assistant professor of ethics and humanities in medicine
Dr. Fern Brunger has joined the medical school as a specialist in ethics and humanities, taking over the teaching responsibilities of Dr. Daryl Pullman while he pursues research. As a medical anthropologist, Dr Brunger’s areas of specialization include cross-cultural clinical ethics, the ethics of health research involving socially-identifiable populations and the ethics of novel genetic technologies.
Dr. Brunger’s current research focuses on the culture of health care ethics and she is particularly interested in the history of the development of the Canadian Tri-Council Policy Statement on Ethical Considerations for Research Involving Humans. She is conducting an ethnography of the developing of Canadian policies governing research involving humans, with a focus on the implications of novel genetic technologies for research ethics.
Dr. Brunger did her PhD in medical anthropology at McGill University, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council on the Sri Lankan Tamil refugee community in Montreal. She researched the Tamil’s ideas around health and illness and the construction of identity, which led her to an interest in genetics and the meaning around heredity and ethnic identity. She then went on to postdoctoral training at the University of British Columbia, and also did consulting work for the BC Office of Health Technology Assessment and the Centre for Applied Ethics, UBC.
“I was a social sciences adviser to some of the health technology assessment projects they were doing. My job was to raise questions about the context of the testing for example one project was on bone density testing and I raised the issue of what kind of social supports there are for elderly women with hip fractures. The fracture is there because of low bone density, but also for social and economic reasons that require very different means of prevention than testing and drug treatment. Sometimes the medical technologies and drug treatments are being promoted and pushed for corporate interests, whereas for the health consumer a more effective approach might be a lifestyle change of increased economic support.”
From 2001-03 Dr. Brunger was a research associate and assistant professor at Dalhousie University’s Department of Bioethics, where she conducted research on ethics in relation to stem cell research and gene therapy. She facilitated the Dalhousie-based Novel Genetic Technologies Research Team, of which she is still a member. “We ask fundamental questions about what it means to be human, this is the kind of stuff that really excites me. Why are we investing all this time and money into things like stem cell research and gene therapy where are we going with this and what does it mean to be human?”
Dr. Brunger is currently a member of the National Council for Ethics of Health Research, the CIHR Ethics and Health Law Grants Review Committee, the Canadian Bioethics Society Nominations Committee, and Genome Canada’s Annual Genomics, Ethics, Law Society Symposium Planning Committee.