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Why Study Bioethics?
Because It's Interesting
Carrie S. Zoubul,
Case Western Reserve University
I took my first philosophy class, Introduction to Ethics, in my second semester of college. The professor asked each student why he or she chose to take the class. The overwhelming response was "It fills a requirement." Then he asked me; my response was "Because I think it is interesting." He chuckled and asked me whether I had seen any want ads for philosophers lately. But no matter, I was hooked and quickly decided to major in philosophy. Regardless of job prospects, I believed that philosophy would satisfy me intellectually and provide a solid preparation for anything I might choose in the future. My interest in bioethics was first piqued in a Biology and Society course. With bioethics, I had found a field in which I could apply my interest in ethics and philosophy to practical contemporary moral questions. The interdisciplinary nature of bioethics also appealed to me because it gave me the chance to combine philosophy with other areas in the humanities and sciences that interested me. As I completed my undergraduate courses in philosophy, I decided that I wanted to study bioethics in graduate school.
Though graduate-level programs in bioethics have in recent years increasingly opened up to traditional students, when I finished college there were few willing to accept students with only undergraduate degrees. Partly because of this, I began to consider going to law school, but I knew what I really wanted was to study bioethics. After working for a year and looking into various options, I chose to enter the M.A. program in bioethics offered by the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU). I never gave up on the idea of law school, but for many reasons I wanted to pursue the M.A. before entering a professional program. I wanted immediate exposure to bioethics: the literature, the scholars, and the prominent institutions. Every time I read about related issues, I had a feeling of urgency that made me want to be involved in the field. I also thought that experience in graduate school would give me a better idea of what kind of professional I wanted to be and what might be the best way for me to contribute to the growing field of bioethics.
I chose the program at CWRU primarily because of its curriculum. The core seminar, Foundations in Bioethics, offers a year-long overview of both theoretical and practical issues in bioethics. The course requires extensive reading and writing, including a number of shorter essays on assigned topics and culminates with a research paper on a topic of the student's choosing. The research phase gave me the opportunity to focus on the ethical dimensions of the diagnosis and treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, an issue of particular interest to me, in light of what I had learned throughout the seminar. The elective course offerings afforded me the chance to take three law courses—health care professions, genetics and law, and bioethics and law—giving me an idea of what law classes are like and a better understanding of issues at the intersection of bioethics and law. In addition to the academic aspects of the program, CWRU adds a significant clinical component, which, when I was in the program, was unique to the school. The clinical rotations consisted of spending ten hours a week shadowing physicians, nurses, social workers, and chaplains throughout University Hospitals of Cleveland, MetroHealth Medical Center, and the Hospice of the Western Reserve. The program was designed to expose students to the contextual aspect of the field of bioethics and to allow students to witness ethical issues as they arise in the clinical setting. We spent time in many areas of the hospital, from intensive care units to well-patient clinics. The fact that our clinical time was split between hospice and hospital gave us the opportunity to see two very different sides of the provision of healthcare&mdash...