Bioethicist warns students about life's unpredictability
Judith Andre, a bioethics professor at Michigan State University, speaks to students and staff at Viterbo University about ethics in future careers Monday at the new Ethics Center. PETER THOMSON photo
By GAYDA HOLLNAGEL / Of the Tribune staff
Viterbo University had its first ethics lecture for students Monday in its new D.B. and Marge Reinhart Ethics, Science and Technology Center, the same day the
$11 million building was dedicated.
Judith Andre, an author, bioethicist and professor in the Center for Ethics in the Humanities and Life Sciences at Michigan State University, spoke to students in the center's distance learning center as part of her dedication day presentations. She also spoke Monday night in the Fine Arts Center Recital Hall.
Rick Kyte, director of the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics and Leadership, which is housed in the new building, said Andre was chosen as dedication speaker to illustrate the kind of issues and ideas that Viterbo's leaders hope will be explored at the center.
Andre, a 1967 Viterbo graduate and a former Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, drew on her own experiences to tell the students to be prepared for the unpredictability of life and the surprising and often difficult decisions they likely would be making.
She said that back in 1967, she wouldn't have been surprised to learn she eventually would have a career in academics, but she couldn't have known the direction her career would take.
"The field of bioethics did not exist," she said, adding that she took that path because it was one of several positions she was offered during a job search.
Andre, who first arrived at Viterbo in 1959, said girls who graduated from college then expected to become nurses, teachers, medical technicians or social workers, while today's women graduates can look at careers in dozens of fields, and might end up in careers not even thought of today.
Students often come into college expecting to learn specific information to handle specific situations. But in ethics, the answers are not always black and white, Andre said.
Professionals, especially in medicine, technology and science, can expect they will have to make many decisions without being completely comfortable they are making the right choice. They also might have to get used to making decisions with others, such as a medical team, she said.
For physicians, she said, some challenging issues could include when to stop treatment of a terminal patient, how much to tell a patient about his or her condition, or what to do if a terminally ill patient asks for assistance in ending their life.
For nurses, who generally don't make final decisions about patient care and treatment, the ethical questions become more difficult, but a nurse always does have the authority to say no, Andre said.
Scientists and researchers also face ethical questions, especially in areas of human life and reproduction, Andre said. Individuals need to determine what kind of research they are willing to do and what areas they want to stay away from.
Andre led students through an exercise that asked what they would do if they thought a classmate was cheating. The responses varied with some students saying they believed they had a duty to report the classmate to a teacher because it was breaking the rules and was unfair to the rest of the class.
Others said they wouldn't report it because they feared reprisal, or it wasn't their responsibility, or because they thought the classmate would get caught anyway.
Andre said there was no right or wrong answer. The exercise was meant to demonstrate the process of moral reasoning as a way to sort through an issue, she said.
"Saying ‘I'm mad' is no help to anyone," she said. "A lot of moral reasoning starts with thinking out loud
Gayda Hollnagel can be reached at (608) 791-8224 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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