Students study medical issues from different perspectives and develop solutions drawing on a range of disciplines.
By MARALINE KUBIK
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
HIRAM -- Physicians appear to be more God-like than ever, successfully treating illnesses and injuries that would have done their patients in just a few years ago.
As medical technologies and treatments for illnesses and injuries advance, the question is no longer, can it be done, but should it?
A new major in biomedical humanities at Hiram College prepares students to address this increasingly complex issue.
"It's a bare bones pre-med major," said Carol Donley, the Herbert L. and Pauline Wentz Andrews Professor in Biomedical Humanities, but it's also a starting point for students interested in a wide variety of occupations -- medical ethics, genetic counseling, medical journalism, health care law and administration.
Endowment: Dr. Thomas W. Andrews, a physician and member of Hiram's board of trustees, made the biomedical humanities program possible through a $1 million endowment. The gift was in honor of his parents, Herbert L. and Pauline Wentz Andrews.
Herbert L. Wentz graduated from Hiram in 1928 and later worked at a chemist and chemical engineer for the Firestone Tire Co. Pauline Wentz taught high school English.
The Andrews professorship is structured to recognize the fields of both of Dr. Andrews' parents as well as to reflect his own interests in science and the arts.
Donley, co-director of the Center for Literature, Medicine and the Health Care Professions at Hiram, and a seasoned professor of English, will serve as the Andrews Professor for five years.
What is biomedical humanities?
"It is an interdisciplinary examination of issues in health care and medical research using the perspectives of literature, philosophy and the arts, as well as knowing the science," Donley explained.
It encompasses ethics, religion, communications and literature because the issues in modern medicine are too complex for a single-discipline solution.
Immortality: As technology advances, allowing researchers and physicians to keep cells alive longer and grow new organs to replace those that fail, "there is a push toward immortality that may redefine what we mean by being human," she said.
How far should science go? If it becomes possible, should life be prolonged indefinitely?
Review boards at hospitals and research institutes address such issues. But, because technology has advanced so quickly, Donley said, the guidelines boards haven't been able to anticipate the questions as quickly as they must be considered.
Employees prepared to address these complex issues from many perspectives and who recognize the ambiguities behind the questions as well as understand the science are in great demand, she said.
Graduates with degrees in biomedical humanities can find work easily, she said, even though most graduates of the Hiram program go on to pursue graduate degrees.
Programs created: Before the biomedical humanities major was introduced, a handful of students created individualized programs focusing on these issues. Two of those students have gone on to medical school, Donley said.
Another graduated from Case Western Reserve University's school of law -- "the law gets into these issues too," she noted. People are in court often battling over what should be done with frozen embryos at fertility clinics if the couple undergoing fertility treatment splits up or decides not to use them.
Thus far, between 25 and 30 students at Hiram have declared biomedical humanities as their major. Several others are enrolled in biomedical humanities courses, most of which are team-taught by Donley and a physician.
Hiram also offers summer seminars on biomedical humanities for health-care professionals. About half of the attendees from throughout the United States, Canada and a few European countries are physicians, Donley said. The others are nurses, hospital chaplains and other professionals.