This piece was submitted as part of an application, in response to an open-ended question that prompted the submission of “…a brief essay, either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you.” I drafted the piece simply with the goal of describing a unique aspect of myself. Once completed, however, I found that the story also captured a very personal, micro-level account of the bioethical issue of in-vitro fertilization, and an exclusive interpretation of its impact that can only be described by those—like myself—that have been inside a test tube. While rooted in the physical biology of IVF, the piece also explores its equally important mental component and how it shapes my notion of self-actualization. With my account in mind, the nuances of IVF addressed on an individual-level lend themselves to further consideration of the role of such intervention measures in our continuously developing world.
This piece explores the intransitive properties of time based on different weather patterns, and through the narrator’s confusion at moving to a place with only a slightly different weather pattern than her home, goes on to show how climate change will soon affect everyone’s perception of time.
Two summers ago, I worked as a mental health technician at a local psychiatric hospital. I was often placed on an older adult unit, which is also referred to as a geriatric psychiatric floor. This poem is a result of an experience there. The patients on the unit were elderly and suffered from a number of different psychiatric conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and clinical depression. As such, the burden of decision-making regarding their future course of treatment often fell to family members. One of the saddest patient interactions I encountered was with a man who had end stage Alzheimer’s disease. I was assigned to watch him one-on-one while his family visited, as he could not be left alone. This man was severely incapacitated, and he could no longer speak. I waited while his wife and daughter talked to him. There was not even a flicker of recognition when he saw them. In fact, he was barely able to sit with them and often got up to wander around the hospital unit. The daughter and wife cried a lot during that short visit. They even showed me an old photo of the patient from a year ago, dressed up for a special occasion. It made me really sad to think about how he led a normal life just a short time ago. Even though I was an outsider, seeing such an intimately painful familial interaction was both disturbing and troubling to me. From my perspective, this personal experience solidified the devastating and horrific nature of Alzheimer’s disease. This patient encounter also illustrated the pain Alzheimer’s disease inevitably brings to many families. In cases like these, when a patient cannot make autonomous healthcare decisions, the principles of bioethics can guide families as they dictate what is best for the patient.
A college student struggles to adapt to an environment where his wealthier peers were designed, genetically, to be perfect at birth.
Children who spend weeks in hospitals due to chronic disease use books to engage their imaginations. However, most children’s books depict children who regularly play outside, attend school, and kiss their parents goodnight – experiences that are uncommon for hospitalized children. This suggests to many chronically ill children that their lives are abnormal, and their experiences isolated. I am creating a children’s book that resembles the narratives of children experiencing chronic hospitalization; the book will create not only characters and a storyline that children can identify with but also a medium to explain difficult aspects of hospitalization, such as pain, isolation, and instability.
In the news, suicides are often reported on mentioning “long struggles with depression” and the like, and I wonder to what extent treatment in any of those cases has improved the victim’s life before their eventual relapse or if it might have only prolonged their suffering. As assisted suicide becomes legal under very specific circumstances (most often with bodily incurable or terminal diseases), I wonder if any form of depression might ever grow to be understood as terminal. If there might be any point at which it would be better to let a person die with dignity rather than suffering and ending their own life through more violent and traumatic means. This story is a reflection on what sort of individual might choose such a means of dying if she was allowed, and on the impressions she makes just before she dies. Her name is Sam, short for Samantha.
Henrietta Lacks’ story is one of conflicting interests, curiosity, and abuse of power. The well-intended curiosity of the doctors overwhelms any concern about Henrietta’s well-being, while the blind greed of her tumor acts directly against her health. Not only is she overpowered by ‘the knot’ (i.e. her cervical cancer), but scientific inquiry, which crosses into the realm of unethical inquiry when she does not consent to cell research. Although Henrietta is the focus of this non-fiction work, I wanted to emphasize the strong contrast between the childish nature of the knot and the sterile nature of the doctors. Both of these actors leverage biological or social capital over Henrietta in order to achieve their goals. The cancer wants to expand regardless of her health, while the doctors want to create life-saving medicine at Henrietta’s expense. This type of medical treatment is not only unethical, but leaves long-lasting, dangerous implications: if doctors can take anything they want for research, what can be done to stop doctors with far more sinister intentions? If a patient can save thousands of lives but refuses to be part of research, can medical researchers override their needs? In addition to these difficult questions, I wanted to exhibit Henrietta’s forced silence in the dialogue of my work: Henrietta only has one line of dialogue, and one paragraph to express her concerns, until disease and conflicting interests overpower her narrative. Her family also remains behind the scenes when it comes to her health, and are only informed about her posthumous treatment when they can further medical achievement. As the audience reads this piece, it is my hope that they analyze their frustration and sympathy for Henrietta’s treatment, then explore the implications of unchecked inquiry.
Sarah writes a response to one of the cases from the National Undergraduate Bioethics Conference Bioethics Bowl. She examines the legitimacy of a DNAR (Do Not Attempt Resuscitation order) that has been written on Post-It notes preceding a suicide attempt.
Jesse writes about his personal experience having his genome tested with 23andMe. He tells the story of his family’s struggle to decide what, if any, good might come from the information he received after having his genome tested. He hopes that his writing can serve as a cautionary tale to all, and argues that knowledge may not always be power.
Emma writes a response to one of the cases from the National Undergraduate Bioethics Conference Bioethics Bowl. She examines parental rights over tissue samples originally collected during newborn screening tests.