On a Monday in early March, Honors College students gathered in a College of Law classroom to share their ideas on how to address the lack of adequate health care for the incarcerated and other ethical quandaries facing the criminal justice system.
Their spirited conversation was part of an honors course in bioethics, bringing the theme out of its typical health care setting and instead placing it behind bars. During the discussion, students touch on a variety of interdisciplinary topics including health disparities, capitalism, Western culture and for-profit probation and prison companies.
The HON 4500 course, titled “Through a Different Lens: Examining the Enduring Questions of Bioethics from Diverse Perspectives,” is the first at Georgia State to look at bioethical issues primarily through the lens of racial and ethnic diversity, said Courtney Anderson, associate professor of law and one of the course’s creators. It’s also a prime example of an upper-division honors course that challenges students to explore complex questions or problems facing humanity through the ages.
“It has far exceeded my expectations,” said neuroscience major Haritha Dhamodharan. “I’m pre-med and this seems more applicable to the kind of physician I want to be in the future.”
The course sprung from a 2019 Greenwall Foundation grant awarded to the College of Law. Course creators—Anderson, along with Leslie Wolf, interim dean of the law college, and Paul Lombardo, Regents’ Professor and Bobby Lee Cook Professor of Law—said it introduces bioethics to diverse students and ensures that they’ll be able to apply its framework throughout their careers.
“We try to blend theoretical frameworks with social justice and legal advocacy by using simulations, reflection papers, guest speakers in relevant areas of expertise and small group discussions,” Anderson said.
Aidan Coleman, who is majoring in linguistics, pointed to a recent class exercise in which students had to bring in examples of real-life bioethical dilemmas as an example of how he and his fellow classmates are encouraged to find practical ways to apply what they’re learning.
Coleman said his example was the disparity in police and government response to this past summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol, noting the racial elements of both events.
“Even if it’s not a medical situation, it is still [about] who is cared for in what way and how people prioritize [things],” he said.
But problems aren’t the sole focus of “Through a Different Lens.” Rather, the course encourages students to share their ideas on how to fix social injustices, leaving the classroom with hope and a drive to improve the world they live in.
“We would like our students to leave the course understanding the limitations of traditional approaches to solving injustices,” Anderson said, “and understand how a patient-centered approach in health care can be applied to solving problems in any context.”
Photos and feature story by Evelyn Farkas (B.A., B.S. ’24)