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Science students helm inaugural biomedical ethics conference

OSU Bioethics Society

The OSU Bioethics Society hosted its first annual NW Collegiate Biomedical Ethics Conference (NCBC) in April 2019, bringing in ethicists and physicians from around Oregon. The conference provided an opportunity for students to present their scholarly work and discuss pressing issues in the world of modern healthcare.

Students from several majors in the College of Science played a key role in making the conference a successful and intellectually engaging experience. Undergraduate students from programs in biochemistry, molecular biology and biohealth sciences enthusiastically volunteered and participated in the conference. The young scientists who dedicated much of their time and energy to the event include Delaney Smith (’19), a recent biochemistry and biophysics graduate and outgoing vice president of the OSU Bioethics Society; biochemistry and molecular biology graduate Nick Brown (’19), outgoing president of the OSU Bioethics Society; biochemistry and molecular biology student Avalon Kelly; and biohealth sciences majors Francine Mendoza and Sydney Phu. Pharmacy, psychology and public health students also volunteered and participated in the conference.

The conference stimulated thoughtful conversation between students of diverse backgrounds by bringing together alumni, undergraduate, and graduate students from Oregon State University, Western Oregon University, and Oregon Health and Science University.

Dr. Michael Huntington, an oncologist with a 35-year career, kicked off the conference with an enlightening keynote address. He discussed universal healthcare, exploring healthcare disparities and the effects on both individuals and businesses.

Following the keynote presentation, the conference featured three panels: a student panel where Smith, Phu and other participants shared their research followed by an insightful Q&A session, and two professional panels on patient autonomy and resource allocation.

female students sitting on panel during meeting

Student panel at the biomedical ethics conference.

Led by students and their research, the student panel covered topics in pediatric cancer patients, healthcare rationing, the pharmaceutical industry, and stem cell therapies. With a surplus of questions from both students and professionals, participants were actively engaged in examining biomedical topics from different perspectives.

“The insight students shared was profound and the participants definitely learned something new,” reported Smith.

Dr. Steve Neville, an oncologist and guest speaker on the patient autonomy panel, also featuring OSU faculty Courtney Campbell and pulmonologist Dr. Cliff Hall, found his discussion with the students to be “insightful” and “always interesting and provocative.” The panel examined the Dax Cowart case, a chilling story about a burn victim that exemplifies some of the complex issues surrounding patient autonomy.

The resource allocation panel examined a medical triage case for admittance to the intensive care unit between five diverse patients. After the discussion, biochemistry major Nick Brown stated that the panel was “very educational in the sense that we learned a lot about outcomes for ailments commonly persisting in ER patients, but we were also shocked to learn how medical professionals and ethicists would triage these patients based on various metrics.”

The conference was sponsored by OSU’s School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, and the Hundere Endowment.

NCBC was organized by OSU Bioethics Society’s officers, with the support of their club members who volunteered at the event. “It was so exciting to see everything finally come together and see how easily discussion flowed,” said Francine Mendoza, the newly elected president of the OSU Bioethics Society. “Hearing everyone’s thoughts and perspectives was really enlightening and I can’t wait for us to bring the conference back next year!”

Header image: (Back row, l to r) Delaney Smith, Nick Brown and Dr. Courtney Campbell. (Front row, l to r) Kelli Hoang, Sydney Phu, Francine Mendoza, Andrea Chiou.