Last year, as a freshman, I advanced with my teammates past the Regional Ethics Bowl at UNC Chapel Hill to place third at nationals. I’ve derived innumerable opportunities from my membership in Ethics Society and my place on an Ethics Bowl team.
Still, I never imagined that I would be one of several students invited to attend a lecture and dinner with Ezekiel Emanuel. This event was part of the Adrienne Arsht Distinguished Speaker Series in Ethics, sponsored by UM Ethics Programs. Emanuel is the head of the department of bioethics at The Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health. Some know of him through his brother Rahm, chief of staff to President Obama.
Sarah Palin mischaracterized Emanuel’s discussion of rationing healthcare as a call for the creation of government “death panels.” Emanuel actually has spoken out against the legalization of euthanasia. He favors the creation of living wills/end-of-life directives that compel doctors to follow through with the wishes of patients who can no longer communicate.
Although conservative pundits critique liberals for attempting to ration health care in this country, Emanuel simply reiterated the inescapable truth that we have a limited supply of medicine and organs available for transplantation. Some level of government rationing is inevitable.
But how do we determine who should get the life-saving treatment and who should suffer without it? These questions are heart wrenching, to put it mildly. Our very contemplation of questions that require cold, calculated answers to determine who should die seems inhumane. Still, in a world where the demand for organs makes the supply seem meager, certain determinations have to be made.
These types of questions dog ethicists around the world. Questions like, “Why should we value the integrity of a corpse of a person who did not donate his/her organs over the lives of people who die because of a scarcity of needed organ donors?” “All other factors being equal, should a billionaire CEO get an organ transplant, instead of a student in the School of Business, because thousands already depend on him/her?”
Members of Ethics Society contend with these questions and a slew of other ethical concerns related to every area of study at this university. Should you want to consider these questions and also join a team that consistently makes it to national championships, the Ethics Bowl team is for you.
Josh Kornfield is a sophomore majoring in international studies and political science. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.