Undergraduate Bioethics Research Showcase Winners Announced

The Kennedy Institute of Ethics’s Undergraduate Bioethics Research Showcase, a juried exhibition of student work in a variety of categories and disciplines, brought in submissions ranging from academic papers to policy proposals to multimedia performance pieces to poetry and journalism. A panel of bioethics experts and disciplinary specialists was convened to judge this year’s most outstanding submissions.

The Showcase’s first evening recognized winners in the Showcase’s analytic categories. Second prize winners in the “academic paper” category were Ryan Canavan (C’16), for his essay “The Moral Responsibility to Reduce Meat Consumption,” and Rebecca Renée Rinehart (C’16), for her essay “Caster Semenya and Beyond: Gender Ambiguity in Athletics.” First prize winners Ali Carter (“Harmful Humanitarians: When Food Aid is Morally Problematic”) and Christine Slobogin (“The Pregnant Female in Jan van Riemsdyk’s Art and William Hunter’s Science”) joined first prize winners in the “academic poster” category, Margaret Dunne and Eleanor Birch (“Ethical Considerations of the Medicalization of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting”), on stage in Georgetown’s Intercultural Center to be interviewed about their work by NPR science correspondent Joe Palca.

Slobogin (C’16), an English and Art History double major, first became interested in the body and art and medicine through a curatorial internship last spring in which she worked directly on an exhibit on illness and the body. Her paper analyzes of a series of images from a famous 18th century obstetrical atlas through the lens of the changing culture of obstetric medicine in the 18th century. As Slobogin describes it, these meticulously detailed images of dissected pregnant bodies as scientific objects reflect a contemporaneous shift in the practice of birth from a home affair typically managed by midwives and other female caregivers to a more medicalized affair managed by male obstetric practitioners.

Dunne (NHS’17) and Birch (NHS’17), both International Health majors, first encountered the issue of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) — the non-medical partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to female genital organs — in a class at Georgetown on Maternal and Child Health. Most FGM/C is performed by “traditional circumcisers,” but nearly one-fifth is now performed by healthcare professionals, in a practice known as “medicalized” FGM/C. Though both Dunne and Birch began their exploration firmly opposed to the medicalization of the practice, their research ultimately led them to reverse course, and their poster advocates medicalization as a harm-reduction technique and morally-acceptable intermediate step to the ultimate eradication of the practice.

The Showcase’s second evening recognized outstanding submissions in creative categories. Prior to the evening’s keynote performance — a cross-cultural exploration of transgender identity by actor-playwright Mashuq Deen — Showcase organizer Laura Bishop of the Kennedy Institute of ethics and Keren Hammerschlag of the Art History Department awarded prizes to Lauren Rubino, for her “Prognosis of a Modern Death” in the category of creative writing, and Marnie Klein, for her “‘Liberty and Justice for All:’ A Reflection about the Guatemala Experiments” in the category of multimedia and performing arts.

Rubino (C’18) always thought she wanted to be a physician like her mother — but when a pathology internship two years ago exposed her to some of the hidden complexity of medical science, she became more interested in finding ways to articulate and share that complexity with others. Her goal now is to work at the intersection of science and creative non-fiction writing, and her “Prognosis of a Modern Death” reflects on some of her experiences in the pathology lab of Manchester Memorial Hospital in Connecticut.

Klein (NHS’18), first encountered the now-infamous Guatemala STD Experiments (1946-1948) in a class on bioethics with KIE Scholar Tom Beauchamp. American physicians intentionally infected a variety of vulnerable populations — prisoners, mental patients, prostitutes, orphans, school children — with sexually transmitted diseases without informed consent. Klein explains, “While many subjects were treated with antibiotics, many were not, resulting in at least eighty deaths and countless infections both inside the study and in the larger population.” Her multimedia piece vividly evokes the experiences of four victims of these experiments. “Art allows us to talk about things that otherwise make us uncomfortable,” says Klein, “[making] bioethics tangible through stories.”

The final evening also recognized the Showcase’s “grand champion,” awarded to the student whose work was selected as the most impressive by the entire panel of judges: Ali Carter.

Carter (C’16), a bioethics minor whose essay on humanitarian intervention in food policy was sparked by a class on global justice and environmental ethics she took with KIE Scholar Madison Powers, was surprised to learn that hunger is responsible for more global deaths each year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. Her analysis of “food aid,” which redistributes food from areas of plenty to areas of need, turned up some disturbing moral truths. “[Food aid] programs are often carried out wastefully and in ways that are not necessarily the most helpful to countries in need,” Carter explains. She argues that food aid “is paternalistic, undercuts the resiliency of local markets, and does little to increase structural fairness around the world. [A]s a program to help those in need,” she concludes, it stands in need of serious moral reform.

“We were so impressed with all the student submissions,” says Bishop, who notes that the majority of winning submissions were actually created for the Showcase itself, or otherwise honed and refined by workshops and faculty mentorship sponsored by the Showcase.

Says Institute director Maggie Little, “it was an extraordinary first year for this new program, and a privilege to serve as a space where extraordinary student work in bioethics can be nurtured, grown, and exhibited to full effect.”

In addition to three gallery receptions on campus, showcasing student work to the Georgetown community, the work will be curated online and disseminated to a global audience early this summer.

Learn more about the Showcase »