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Summer at Oxford: Keio Students Talk Medical Ethics

Euthanasia, abortion, organ transplants, stem cells, cloning, and genetic enhancement--these are just some of the topics discussed in the 10-day Medical Ethics Summer School Programme at Exeter College, Oxford University, from August 2-15, 2014. Originally tailored to suit the needs of students at Keio's School of Medicine, the programme now attracts students from the best medical schools in Japan. Since 2013, ten students from Keio have made the journey to the 700-year-old college to learn and debate contemporary issues in medical ethics, a topic for which Oxford University is uniquely suited. Among Oxford's important contributions to modern medical practice are the development of penicillin, the correlation between smoking and lung cancer, and its more recent contributions to genetics, immunology and epidemiology. It is also home to the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, where scientists and philosophers congregate to conduct pioneering work in ethics with a specific emphasis on stem cells 1.

During the programme, students stay on Oxford's scenic Exeter College to attend morning and afternoon classes and immerse themselves in British college life. In the evening, students complete smaller tasks to reinforce learning and prepare for classes the next day. In addition to their academic curriculum, students can join in any number of quintessentially British and collegiate activities like punting, rounders, or socializing at the local pub with local Oxford students. Replete with academic content and extracurricular activities, the programme keeps students intellectually and physically engaged.

The programme does not require specialised knowledge of medical concepts and techniques as a prerequisite and is geared toward medical students of any year 2. The traditional lecture format has no place here; students are expected to be active participants in serious discussions surrounding medical ethics and to discern between the hard facts and subjective values in case studies. Classes comprise Japanese and British students, who must formulate opinions on issues as a group and present rational arguments without relying on logical fallacies. Fellow students play devil's advocate, poking holes in unsound ethical arguments. One first-year medical student from Keio remarked, "Very often, several fundamental values would conflict with each other, so it was difficult to decide which value should be given priority." Hence, it is strongly recommended that students read up on medical ethics beforehand as preeminent scholars in the field personally tutor students. This year's professorial lineup included Dr. Mark Sheehan, Dr. Thomas Douglas, Prof. Janet Radcliffe Richards, and Prof. Julian Savalescu, the Director of the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics.

The following characteristics define this ambitious programme. It provides ready access to today's experts in the field of medical ethics, a topic often overlooked in Japan, and is relevant to medical students of any year. Oxford dons personally engage students in an interactive classroom environment where all participants are able to both improve their verbal and critical thinking skills and argue on equal footing, regardless of age and level of medical studies. Participants also experience living and learning in one of the most historic colleges in the world and gain confidence, teambuilding and leadership skills, and work on cross-cultural communication over the course of the two weeks.
Here is what some of the faculty at Keio's School of Medicine had to say about the programme.

From left: Prof. Timothy Minton, Prof. Masato Yasui & Dr. James Thomas

"One of the best things about the programme is that medical students can argue medical ethics on the same footing regardless of year or nationality."
-Prof. Masato Yasui

"The whole course is taught by Oxford dons, so it's very powerful."
-Prof. Timothy Minton

"Exeter College provides a scenic, historic, and relaxing setting for the course, and the balance of educational and social activities is a perfect mix." 3
-Dr. James Thomas

1. From Exeter College Course Guide: Dilemmas for Doctors and Medical Ethics
2. Ibid.
3. From Medical Ethics Summer School Programme: Exeter College, Oxford University, UK

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