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Rutgers organizations promotes discussions on bioethical issues

<p>The bioethical society collaborates with other organizations to promote important dialogues about current events. They are working to expand and increase their presence on campus.</p>

The bioethical society collaborates with other organizations to promote important dialogues about current events. They are working to expand and increase their presence on campus.

Students can meet and debate the ethics of research and other scientific topics with the Bioethics Society of Rutgers University, a discussion-based student organization on campus.

Alex Lin and Suraj Shukla, both School of Arts and Sciences seniors, are co-presidents of the Bioethics Society, which opens up conversations about bioethical topics.

“Our organization is about creating an open forum where students can come together and discuss current controversial issues in health and medicine,” Lin said. “We know that students have strong opinions about (these topics), and our organization is a place for them to voice that opinion in an open forum and safe space.”

The organization discusses a new topic in each of their meetings, Lin said. Topics range from issues in reproductive technologies, genetic editing and marijuana legalization.

“What I like about bioethics is that it's so interdisciplinary. We have so many different types of topics including public health, medicine, law and policy,” Lin said.

One of his favorite discussion topics included the ethics of sending humans to Mars, Shukla said 

"We talked about how living on Mars would affect someone’s health and what the implications of that would be and sending them there and not having a return flight back," he said. “It was all very speculative and it was a lot of fun to think of all the possibilities."

Many meetings are organized as open discussions, but some meetings are held in a debate style, Shukla said. 

The club tries to collaborate with other organizations to enhance discussions, Shukla said. They will work with the Pharmacy Governing Council to have discussions regarding marijuana legalization and in the past have collaborated with the Rutgers Astronomical Society to have a conversation about the implications of human migration to Mars.

"We want to do more novel things (like) presenting a case study in the form of a skit or inviting more students from ethics classes from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital to come talk to us," Shukla said. "We’re trying to branch out more and have more diverse meetings."

In addition to these discussion meetings, the organization also hosts events throughout the year.

Every year the club hosts an event called "Real World Medical Ethics," which features Dr. Eric Singer, an assistant professor of surgery in the Urologic Oncology Section in the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, as well as a member of the ethics committee for the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

Singer discusses how bioethics and clinical medicine intersect, Lin said.

“Last year he spoke about Ebola and this year he spoke about rationing scarce medical resources, particularly organs,” Lin said. “It’s a cool way for our members to see how our discussions impact how medical care is actually done.”

The Society also holds an annual "Bioethics Symposium" during the spring semester. The symposium has a different theme every year and features a mini-involvement fair and a speaker panel, Lin said.

“Last year our topic was on genetic technologies like clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) technology. This year the theme is going to be on health disparities,” Lin said. "The symposium is a free event and will be held sometime in mid-March."

Some members of the organization also get a chance to sit in during ethics committee meetings held at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

“Every major hospital has an ethics committee composed of physicians, nurses and other hospital staff. Some of us get the chance to actually sit in on these meetings where they talk about ethical dilemmas at the hospital that deals with real patients,” Lin said.

A subdivision of the Bioethics Society is the Bioethics Journal. Vandana Apte, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, is the editor-in-chief of the journal.

The journal accepts article submissions from people nationwide, Apte said.

“Anything that falls under the umbrella of bioethics we consider and accept," she said,“We have an article about clinical trials taking place in third world countries and how first world countries kind of take advantage of that."

There will also be an article examining the extent to which medical professionals are trained to perform CPR on women and the stigma associated with performing CPR on women, Apte said.

“We try to urge as many Rutgers students as possible to submit (work),” Apte said. “Often times we’ll go out to professors or their classes and try to get students to submit work that they’ve previously done.”

The journal goes through an intensive editing process and is published in time for the Bioethics Symposium in the spring, Apte said.

Last semester the Bioethics Society started a Facebook campaign featuring the hashtag #RUBioethical.

The campaign features photos of Rutgers students along with their opinion on a certain bioethical topic in the captions.

Apte was one of the first students to post a picture for the social media campaign.

“Everybody should have the choice to use these technologies to have genetically-related children, and withdrawing funding from new assisted reproductive technologies (ART) would deny infertile couples this choice," Apte said in her Facebook post on reproductive technology.

The campaign is a tangible way of connecting with the Rutgers student population, Lin said. A social media campaign similar to the concept of Humans of New York would be an interesting way to share peoples' opinions. 

Club meetings involve a lot of diverse opinions on topics, Shukla said. 

"The multiple perspectives from different majors who have wildly different ideas about things ... they come up with things that I would never think of and I really appreciate that," he said. "The multiplicity of perspectives is really refreshing."

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