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Introducing Medical Ethics

Introducing Medical Ethics

Philosophy/pre-med student launches series for pre-health students

By Katherine Yungmee Kim
March 2005

It was a surprising standing-room only turnout at the first symposium in the College’s speaker series, “Becoming a Physician,” which examines existing and emerging issues in medical ethics. Over 350 pre-health students—pre-med, pre-nursing and pre-pharmacy—attended the discussion entitled “Stem Cells: Hope or Hype?”
Program director Joshua Hornstein said effusively, “You know there’s an incredible outcome when Richard Fliegel (Assistant Dean of Academic Programs) and Debbie Bernstein (Director of Advisement for the College) are sitting on the floor!”

The speaker series is the brainchild of Hornstein, a remarkably productive philosophy/pre-med junior in the College. In a matter of a few weeks, he got together faculty, student and administrative support, and ten speakers for four events throughout the spring semester.

Although he always wanted to be in the helping profession, Hornstein attributes his desire to becoming a physician to his training in philosophy. “It brought out the moral dimensions in medicine that I found worth pursuing,” he explains.
Last summer, Hornstein attended the Intensive Bioethics Course at The Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University with his father, a practicing physician and head of two ethics committees. The younger Hornstein was the only undergraduate there.

He met with leading writers in medical ethics and spent a few “mind-opening” weeks with them, learning the issues and theories of the field.

Calling the experience, “emotional,” Hornstein said he wanted to bring those ideas back to the pre-med students at USC. “What are the ends of medicine?” he asks. “What obligations does it have? What ethical issues tie the physician to the patient?

“I wanted to create a similar environment at USC to raise an awareness to the hugely controversial issues in health care,” he says.

Gerald Larue, an emeritus professor of religion and adjunct professor of gerontology at USC, and one of the speaker series’ advisers, calls Hornstein a “bright young man with good social skills who is excited about ethical issues in the developing field of modern medicine.”

Larue spoke in early March at the second symposium on “Physician Assisted Suicide: Dignity or Desertion.” Again, over 250 students attended the discussion, between Larue and Rabbi Elliot Dorff, co-chair of the bioethics department at the University of Judaism.

The next two topics for the semester will be “HMOs: Commercialism Meets Professionalism” and “Rationing Healthcare: Can We Afford Our Current System?”

As for next year, Hornstein already has his speaker series outlined. The topics he wants to address are theoretical: moral dilemma; autonomy; beneficence, nonmaleficence and justice. But he also wants to tackle feminism—“not just the paternal ethic in medicine”— and multicultural medicine.

He says he would love to continue on at USC, to attend the Keck School of Medicine and carry on his active role there. He has already put together a proposal to hold a series of lunchtime seminars for medical students on medical ethics. “USC has amazing potential to offer,” he says, smiling.

And with the success of his speaker series, it seems vice versa.

For more information on the “Becoming a Physician” speaker series, please contact Joshua Hornstein, Program Director at