Rutgers organization sheds light on ethical issues


An organization at Rutgers sets out to tackle ethical issues in the world.

The organization, Rutgers Bioethics Society, discusses various biological issues, current events and ethics related to healthcare and science. They propose solutions to the issues they discuss and occasionally bring in guest speakers to provide different perspectives to those issues.

RBS is led by Co-Presidents Krishan Patel, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, and Alex Lin, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, Vice President Suraj Shukla and Publicity Chair Cristina Correia, School of Arts and Sciences juniors.

“In general, bioethics is very interdisciplinary. We had meetings on space ethics, food ethics (and) mental health ethics,” Lin said. “It’s very flexible and it’s an open forum for people to come, bring in their opinions, and see what other people think, because college is the time for sharing ideas.”

In the past, RBS has discussed topics such as mental health, maternal health and the Ebola outbreak. They use current events to raise awareness on relevant issues, Shukla said. They also have discussed the ethics of colonizing Mars.

“Last year we had almost everything related to maternal health, it was kind of the theme of the year. We have a symposium at the end of the year in the springtime and we had a really great talk,” Patel said.

The executive board meets before the general meetings to review potential discussion topics. They use current events in order for conversations to be open ended, as members might already have a unanimous opinion about older topics, he said.

There are two kinds of meetings, discussions and debates. 

Discussions are where the programming chair asks questions to the general body. The general body responds with their own opinion on the issue with a potential solution, he said. 

The debates force the general body to split into different sides and take perspectives they might not agree with, in hopes of keeping the debate interesting, he said.

“We try to force people to have two different sides and play devil’s advocate and really formulate an argument,” he said. “If you actually start looking into the other side and ask questions about it, you see that there actually is some kind of substance there to that side of the argument.”

Discussions are structured so certain ideas are spoken about, but members are allowed to bring forward topics they choose. They have had formal debates, skits and videos presented during meetings, Shukla said.

The executive board members initially joined because of the topics RBS discusses and their appreciation for these discussions, Patel said.

“We’ll bring up topics and I’ll go home and present everything I’ve learned to my family, and then we’ll all take sides and we’ll have a mini discussion about it,” Correia said. “I think I’ve always been interested in ethics in general.”

RBS prides itself on respectfulness. Members are free to speak their mind without being judged, which helps carry on discussions. Hearing ideas that initially sound "absurd to even think about” can provide meaningful solutions, Correia said.

The board members hope RBS will raise awareness of ethical issues in everyday life. It is important to ask questions about issues in order to become more informed and create “well-rounded” opinions, Patel said.

“I think it’s really easy to say, ‘Somebody else will do it, somebody else will say that.’ But you should really speak up and say it, because there might not be anybody,” Correia said.

Over time, the discussions held by RBS have become more active and structured so the conversation is not as one sided, Patel said.

Speakers are invited to provide perspective on topics. Having primary sources helps provide greater insight into the range of effects felt by various issues, he said.

The board members have been invited to ethics meetings at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital to see how ethical issues are handled in real situations. Patel said being able to witness how hospitals and doctors handle real situations in contrast to hypothetical situations is important. 

RBS has also branched out topics so students of different majors can bring different perspectives to the same issue.

“Because of the broad scope of the meetings, it’s not just focused on healthcare anymore,” Shukla said. “We get people who are interested in politics, social policy, environmentalists (and) animal science. It’s just so broad now that it’s very accessible to everybody.”


Harshel Patel

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