Last year, thanks to the generosity of Dr. Paul Wright, the Center organized a one-day medical ethics course designed to give undergraduates considering a vocation in health care the opportunity to engage in conversation with physicians, philosophers and theologians familiar with medical ethics. Due to the overwhelming success of the course, we decided to offer the course every semester. This Fall, on Saturday, October 29th, almost 100 undergraduate students met together, using the small-group discussion format of our Medical Ethics Conference, to discuss real case studies that they might encounter in their future medical practices.
The cases focused on three major themes designed to provide a context in which to explore more deeply the idea of medicine as a moral enterprise. In the first session, we reflected on the principles, virtues, and practices that characterize a good doctor. Some of the questions explored included how we should educate doctors with respect to moral character, and in the day of pharmaceutical advertising and market pressures, what sorts of outside interests can influence a doctor’s judgment and practice. In the second session, we reflected on a series of complications that can arise in the doctor-patient relationship, specifically focusing on the limits of patient autonomy and consent. In the final session, we explored the more general problems of social justice in the health care system.
In addition to providing an excellent educational opportunity, the course also provides a forum for students to form an on-going mentoring relationship with practicing alumni physicians. This year, six alumni physicians who regularly attend the Philip and Doris Clarke Family Medical Ethics Conference, along with two other resource people, volunteered their time and expertise to make the course another huge success. The physicians were Dr. Paul Wright of Youngstown, Ohio, who initiated and generously funded the course; Dr. Paul McCauley, who runs a free clinic in Maryland; Dr. Mark Lindenmeyer, who currently
practices law and works in an administrative capacity for three hospitals in the Cincinnati area; Rev. Jim Foster, CSC, MD, who serves as an adviser to pre-med students at Notre Dame; and finally—our first husband and wife physician team—Dr. Tom Murphy, a clinical endocrinologist, and Dr. Laura David, an OB/GYN, both professors at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. In addition to these physicians, John Robinson of Notre Dame’s Law School and Center director David Solomon served as resource people for the course.
Feedback from the student participants has been overwhelmingly positive. One student commented that, “The subject matter that we covered was more contemporary than the usual philosophy classes, and with that came a relevance to my own personal life, [which] heightened my awareness of the issues confronting medicine today, and motivated me to take a stand in these pressing issues that are around me.” He continued, “The discussion leaders were great—they were kind, intelligent, and honest. They had hope and love for their patients (and/or clients), which filled me with optimism for the future, whatever field I may choose.” Perhaps the highest compliment from a college student was this: “I really enjoyed the seminar, and am really glad I convinced myself to give up a Saturday for it!”
We are grateful to all the resource people and physicians who generously gave their time to lead this course, and are especially grateful to Dr. Wright for his generosity in funding the project.