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Professor, Social Medicine Director, Center for Bioethics Director, UNC Hospitals Clinic Ethics Service Adjunct Professor, UNC Departments of Pediatrics and Psychiatry

JD, University of Washington
BS, Nursing, South Dakota State

Arlene M. Davis is an attorney and Professor of Social Medicine, as well as Director of the UNC Center for Bioethics. She is also a member of the North Carolina State Bar. Davis’s work focuses on practical ethics in both clinical and research settings, drawing upon her prior experience in private practice and in pediatric, psychiatric, and public health nursing. Within the School of Medicine and elsewhere, Davis teaches on topics related to ethics and to health law. She is an active member of the UNC Academy of Educators and serves on educational committees within the School of Medicine. Davis is a member of the advisory board for the UNC Parr Center for Ethics. In UNC Hospitals, she co-chairs the Hospital Ethics Committee. As Director of UNC Hospitals’ 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 where she focused 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. In legal research and in conjunction with the School of Government, she co-directed a 10-year project examining the legal issues facing pregnant and parenting adolescents in North Carolina, an effort that produced four widely distributed legal guides, maintains an active web site, and informed North Carolina law regarding pregnant and parenting teens. 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.

Clinical Ethics Service:
As co-chair of the UNC Hospitals Ethics Committee and Director of the Clinical Ethics Service, Davis works with a multidisciplinary team which offers ethics consultation for over 150 patients each year as well as an average of 40 educational offerings – across critical care, acute, and clinic settings and with various patient populations. Using an embedded ethics model, Davis also rounds with medical teams and participates in hospital-based meetings where challenging issues at the patient or system-level are addressed. Davis leads three different monthly case-based educational sessions with resident groups in pediatrics and medical intensive care, a teaching model for which she received an Innovation in Teaching Award from the UNC Academy of Educators. Further educational opportunities that Davis helped to create and now supervises are available through two SOM ethics electives for fourth year medical students and an ethics elective for residents which may be tailored to any specialty. Finally, with fellow HEC leadership, Davis organizes regular issues-based meetings with HEC chairs within UNC Health and with area HEC chairs across various health systems.


Arlene Davis, JD, RN