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Social Medicine

Adjunct Professor
Department of Pediatrics and Psychiatry

Center for Bioethics

UNC Hospitals Clinical Ethics Committee


Arlene Davis’s work focuses on practical ethics in both clinical and research settings, drawing upon her prior experience in private practice and in pediatric and public health nursing. Within the School of Medicine and elsewhere, Davis teaches on topics related to ethics and to health law. In UNC Hospital, she co-chairs the Hospital Ethics Committee. As Director of UNC Hospital’s Clinical Ethics Service, she conducts or supervises ethics consultation for patients throughout the quaternary hospital system, offers educational programs for GME and hospital staff, and helps develop policy guidance at the intersections of law and ethics.

Since 1996, Davis has been co-investigator on a series of grants from NHGRI’s ELSI Program, including an historical, ethical, and legal analysis and reevaluation of policy focusing on the federal regulatory framework of human subjects protection and the case law of informed consent, and a six-year study examining understandings of benefit and of vulnerable adult and pediatric populations enrolled in early phase gene transfer research. More recently, as an investigator in the Center for Genomics and Society, she conducted research regarding the creation, understanding, and dissemination of genetic information through genetic screening and biobanking. Currently, as an extension of this prior ELSI work in gene transfer and in genetic screening, Davis is an investigator on an ELSI project that examines the implications of gene editing where prevention and treatment modalities may raise issues of enhancement.

In other research, Davis has worked collaboratively with interdisciplinary teams. Products of these collaborations include efforts to: examine ethical issues in research on the newly dead, create simulation modules for use in assessing required professionalism milestones within residency programs, elucidate how the emotional labor of treating teams affects their moral understanding in complex cases, identify practice implications for critically ill patients when surrogate decision-makers have not been properly identified, and more recently, to compare hospital visitor policies in the setting of pandemics in order to offer recommendations for ethical policy development and implementation. She has also served as an IRB member and consultant to the Research Triangle Institute International’s IRB for over 20 years. Davis has also been a faculty member in the Translational and Clinical Sciences (TraCS) Institute, funded by the NIH to effectively translate scientific discoveries into health improvements, and continues to offer research ethics consultation in collaboration with other Center for Bioethics core faculty.

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Arlene Davis