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Bioethics: Ruth Retassie

  • Admitted to:

    • University College London
    • Columbia University (Skype Interview)
    • Durham University
    • University of Minnesota (Skype Interview)

    Enrolled in:

    Durham University (United Kingdom), Philosophy and History of Science and Medicine program with full scholarship

    Ruth's Statement of Academic Purpose

    Through the master's program in Bioethics at Columbia University, I intend to further investigate a few areas of interest. Reproductive ethics is a major area of interest and importance to me. I want to research how current societal attitudes and values about sexuality affect reproductive medical practices. Although my strength is in philosophy, I believe that looking at the history and social perspectives of reproductive medicine will help shed light on the current healthcare practices and their possible directions in the future. Through my bioethics independent study in college, I researched how autonomy is respected—or not—for patients with diminished capacities. I would like to research this area further to critique current practices and policies regarding respecting patients’ autonomy as well as assessing their capacities, in order to determine whether or not they protect the patients well enough. The director of Columbia University’s Center for Bioethics has similar research interests regarding elderly patients’ autonomy.

    I am particularly interested in reproductive medicine as seen socially, the reform of sex education, and assessing the structure of U.S. hospitals, as well as deepening my understanding of bioethics and medical ethics in general. I want to research how social perceptions of sexuality affect the practice of medicine. Medicine is a social practice and is influenced by culture in many ways. Since modern society has a new attitude toward sexuality as seen through media and in other social practices, I want to look at how these attitudes, assumptions, and behaviours affect the reproductive care that people receive.

    Another topic I am interested in is a broad foundation for my primary interest. I want to research how the history of Westernized medicine influences current medical practices. I want to look at the institutional structure of hospitals, and critique it based on economical, ethical, and practical bases. This is also a structural assessment, because I want to research why the organization of the institution became the standard.

    I studied philosophy and natural science because my future plan is to do work that pertains to medical ethics. Indiana University of Pennsylvania was a great university for me because of the Robert E. Cook Honors College. Being a student of the R.E.C. Honors College has benefitted me in ways I would have never dreamed to be possible. The Honors College has pushed me and encouraged me to become a highly educated, well-rounded student. The Honors College awarded me with scholarships to study at the University of Cambridge, the University of Pittsburgh, and Yale University during the past three summers of my undergraduate career.

    At the University of Cambridge, I attended the summer science program through which I took courses, including Anaesthesia, Awareness, and Consciousness, and A History of Medicine: from the Ancients to Anaesthesia. This was when I first became interested in bioethics and issues such as how the history of the medical field influences current medical practices. This also got me interested in the connection between consciousness and a person’s decision-making capacity.

    Through my internship with the University of Pittsburgh, I worked with the Consortium Ethics Program, which educates current medical workers in medical ethics. This experience taught me the practical power of ethics and the importance of it within healthcare. One class helped me become interested in the structure of hospital institutions as well as the issue of the labels and diagnoses of patients affecting directly how they were treated by medical personnel.

    My internship with Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics was a truly beneficial experience because of its exposure to many of the issues within bioethics. We looked at medical, animal, environmental, social, and political issues in the world through a variety of lectures, seminars, and field trips. I was able to attend institutional review board meetings as well as visit the Hastings Center. My primary research for this program focused around my paper titled “What Constitutes Dying Well?,” through which I assessed modern death rituals within the U.S. and maintained that our grieving traditions are often not sufficient enough to fully and effectively support mourning loved ones.

    My philosophy and science background will provide a strong foundation for my research, but I also plan to study bioethics from other perspectives as well, including economics, sociology, and history. I feel that I have a lot to contribute to the bioethics field, and my strong background has helped me refine my research interests. I look forward to the refreshing city atmosphere and the new variety of perspectives the professors will bring toward my future education in bioethics.