- Frank J. Leavitt, Ph.D.
The Jakobovits Center for Jewish Medical Ethics Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev Beer Sheva, Israel.
The recently-settled university lecturer's strike in Israel caused the suspension of most university activities (except research), which of course benefits the lecturers often more than the students- for nearly three months. Medical and nursing schools were least affected. But this was only very partially because of ethical objection to the strike. Many medical and nursing lecturers simply happen to be employed by hospitals or sick funds and do not, therefore, fall under the authority of the National Academic Staff Association.
Unlike industrial workers' strikes, which usually punish the bosses responsible for the worker's problems and not the public (a scarcity of new cars, for example, really hurts nobody) lecturers' and teachers' strikes, like those of physicians and nurses, punish the innocent (students, pupils, the sick).
In the aftermath of the strike it is hard to teach bioethics in Israel without a certain hypocrisy. Those of us who refused to strike cannot really separate ourselves morally from the intellectual and scientific community to which we belong. Although it would be nice to say: "I'm OK. Those other guys are the bad ones", the truth is the "no person is an island". When we teach bioethics, like any other subject, we do so as part of a curriculum and help initiate our students into an academic community, its values and traditions. But the academic community into which we bring our students has shown that for financial motives it is willing to suspend the life of the mind, the pursuit of truth, wisdom, beauty and goodness. How can I teach future physicians and nurses that money is not an ultimate value when so many lecturers have demonstrated that it is?
Here in Israel I have been trying to publicize my idea of a solution to the materialism which caused the lecturers' strike. I have a dream of a real university, where money and careers would not be important, where we would pursue learning for its own sake. The models would be the medieval intellectual monasteries (but without celibacy), the traditional Jewish yeshivot, and the Israeli kibbuts. Students and lecturers alike would provide for much of our physical needs by putting part-time into agricultural or other manual labour. This would both reduce tuition fees and contribute to that direct, first hand experience with land and nature which is necessary for a deep appreciation of the ecological aspects off bioethics. Interdisciplinary and cross-cultural studies would provide a basis for the bioethics of the future. The Bioethics University should be international, with one campus in Israel and another in Japan (two countries which have combined the most advanced science with the most profound spirituality). The community of students and lecturers, academia bioethica, should spend half of each year in each country for the sake of constant development of the cross-cultural approach. Is this a crazy dream, or it there a way to raise the money and backing to make it possible?
The Lord Immanuel Jakobovits Center for Jewish Medical Ethics and Ben Gurion University's Overseas Students Program are happy to announce that the first course in the international program is now underway. The lectures are given by Lord Jakobovits, by Prof. Shimon Glick (Internal Medicine), by Prof. Velvl Greene, (Epidemiology), and by Dr. Frank Leavitt. Dr. Leavitt is also coordinating the course and running the seminar and free discussion sessions. The classes are held on the grounds of Soroka Medical Center in order to expose students as much as possible to the realities of a large, active Israeli hospital and to encourage contact between the international students and our Israeli medical and nursing students.
Among the topics treated are the interdisciplinary character of bioethics, the empathetic physician, ethical dilemmas in the internal medicine ward, ethics of public health, ethics of biomedical research, ethical aspects of the AIDS epidemic, Maimonides's approach to health, Jewish opinions on defining the moment of death, abortion in Jewish law, Judaism and animal experimentation, Judaism and the Human Genome Project, medical school anatomy courses and the Jewish view on respect for the dead.
A major goal of the course is the give the students a clear idea of the role of Israel and Judaism in global cross-cultural bioethics, and some basic familiarity with the contribution to bioethics of such Israeli sources as Scripture, Mishna, Talmud, Maimonides and later rabbis and Jewish philosophers.
This semester our first international course is being given in English for ten students, including pre-medical, from the United States. We hope to expand the program considerably next year, and to include students from all over the world.