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A joint program of the Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics and the Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study

The series is organized by USC students in health and medicine who seek dialogue with USC faculty across disciplines in order to increase the integration of ethical themes into their curriculum. 

zygo / ˈzʌɪgəʊ, ˈzɪgəʊ pref. relating to union or joining.

ZYGO Student Director - 2014-2015: Varun Awasthi, Dornsife Natural Sciences '16 and Keck Global Health '16

Spring 2015 Events

QUARANTINE: Balancing Human Rights with Medical Best Interests

January 23, 2015, 12:30 PM - 2:00 PM | Doheny Memorial Library 241 | Lunch Provided

The first known usage of quarantine dates back from 1377 in the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia when ships suspected of carrying the Black Plague were subjected to a 40 day hold before being allowed to enter the port. Quarantine is distinct from isolation in that it is solely a preventive measure enacted to seclude individuals who may be at risk of spreading a certain disease. Although quarantine has not been frequently implemented in recent history, during the recent outbreak of Ebola, entire villages in Liberia were subjected to quarantines, and in the US, multiple states implemented mandatory quarantines for health care workers returning from West Africa. These quarantine policies were heavily criticized by many as violating basic human rights and simply being unnecessary. Panelists for this forum will consider the medical relevance and necessity of quarantine and the human rights concerns associated with it.  

Moderator: Varun Awasthi, ZYGO Student Director

Sofia Gruskin, J.D., MIA, Professor, Department of Preventive Medicine and Gould School of Law, and Director, Program on Global Health & Human Rights, USC Institute for Global Health
Alison Dundes Renteln, Professor of Political Science, Anthropology, and Policy, Planning, and Development, USC Dornsife
Paul Holtom, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Orthopedics and Program Director, Infectious Disease Fellowship Program, USC Keck School of Medicine                                                   
Abelard Podgorski, Ph.D. Student, Philosophy, USC Dornsife
Jacob Roberts, Undergraduate Student, Economics and East Asian Languages and Cultures, USC Dornsife

Pictured (from left): Jacob Roberts and Varun Awasthi

MEDICINE IN THE MEDIA: Ethical Obligations to Viewers

February 20, 2015, 12:30-2 PM | Doheny Memorial Library 241 |  Lunch Provided
Medically themed TV shows cover a wide range of genres; they include comedies such as Scrubs, dramas such as Grey’s Anatomy, and soap operas such as General Hospital—the longest-running American soap opera currently in production. Too often the scientific-relevance of treatments presented on such shows is difficult to grasp and inaccurate. Research presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in 2010 accordingly found that 46 percent of seizure cases depicted on medical dramas were subject to inappropriate treatments.

Along these lines, American news outlets are often criticized for presenting health-related news items in a sensationalist and distorted manner. Panelists for this event will consider the relationship between health issues and their representations in the media. Do TV producers and filmmakers have any ethical obligations to accurately present medical cases? How do current depictions of health on TV and in the news impact the way viewers seek out and view medical treatment?

Moderator: Varun Awasthi, ZYGO Student Director

Doe Mayer, Mary Pickford Professor of Film and Television, USC School of Cinematic Arts, and Professor, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Armine Kourouyan, MPH, Project Manager, Hollywood, Health & Society, USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center
Lara Bradshaw, Ph.D. Student, Critical Studies, USC School of Cinematic Arts
William Reckner, Ph.D. Candidate, Philosophy, University of California, Los Angeles

Pictured (from left): Prof. Doe Mayer, William Reckner, Lara Bradshaw, Varun Awasthi, and Armine Kourouyan

'MERCY KILLERS' BY MICHAEL MILLIGAN: A One-Man Play and Discussion on Health Care in America

April 3, 2015, 12:30 PM - 2:00 PM | DML 241 | Lunch Provided

Playwright and actor, Michael Milligan, will present scenes from Mercy Killers, a one-man theatrical performance directed by Tom Oppenheim. This provocative play takes an honest and heartbreaking look at the increasing dysfunction of the American health care system. Following the performance, moderators will engage Milligan and the audience in a discussion on his play and health care in America. Milligan’s performance is brought to USC as part of the USC Medical Humanities, Arts and Ethics Series, which engages core health issues in society today.

Moderated by:
Alexander Capron, University Professor, Scott H. Bice Chair in Healthcare Law, Policy and Ethics, Gould School of Law, Professor of Law and Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, Co-Director, Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics
Sucharita Yellapragada, ZYGO Student Program Manager

Mercy Killers is a raw, topical piece that shows the collision of ideas and reality in a system where health and well-being go up against profits. It is a show that is very much of the zeitgeist.” –Star Tribune

Mercy Killers Description:
Joe loves apple pie, Rush Limbaugh, the 4th of July and his wife, Jane. He is blue-collar, corn-fed, made in the USA and proud, but when his uninsured wife is diagnosed with cancer, his patriotic feelings and passion for the ethos of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are turned upside down. Mercy Killers powerfully reveals Joe’s journey as he struggles with the uniquely American experience of losing your health in the land of plenty.

Cosponsored by the Keck School of Medicine’s Program in Medical Humanities, Arts, and Ethics, the USC Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics, the USC Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, and the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study

Fall 2014 Events

HOBBY LOBBY: The Ethics of Healthcare between Corporation, Church and State

Friday, October 3, 2014, 12:30-2 PM | Doheny Memorial Library 241 | Lunch Provided

In September 2012, Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts and crafts stores, filed a lawsuit against the United States over a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) which mandated that health insurance provided by employers must include access to emergency contraceptives. Hobby Lobby stated that this provision violated their religious beliefs, and argued that they were protected by the First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Supreme Court eventually ruled in their favor. This panel will discuss the various ethical issues associated with the intersection of religion and health care, and the implications of this ruling. Is it ethical for a corporation to determine the exact services included in government- mandated health insurance for religious reasons? Furthermore, did this PPACA provision prevent Hobby Lobby from freely exercising religion, for which the RFRA was initially enacted? 

Moderator: Varun Awasthi, ZYGO Student Director

Hilary Schor, University Professor, English, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies and Law, USC Dornsife and USC Gould School of Law
Varun Soni, Dean, USC Office of Religious Life
Alida Liberman, Ph.D. Candidate, Philosophy, Levan Graduate Fellow, USC Dornsife
Drew Schmidt, Undergraduate Student, Philosophy, Politics, and Law, Levan Undergraduate Fellow, USC Dornsife

Pictured (from left): Dr. Hilary Schor and Varun Awasthi

PHARMACEUTICAL ACCESS: Global Drug Management and Underserved Populations

Friday, October 24, 2014, 12:30-2 PM | Doheny Memorial Library 241 | Lunch Provided

The pharmaceutical industry is frequently criticized as being focused entirely on making a profit and not truly caring for the wellbeing of the people. This seminar will explore if pharmaceutical companies have any ethical obligations towards underserved populations, or if, like any other company, ultimately serve to gain profit. The Agreement of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights was passed by the World Trade Organization in 1996, enabling countries without access to patented pharmaceuticals to apply for compulsory licenses and produce generic copies of drugs without the permission of the patent owner. Since 2003, compulsory license holders can also export generic drugs to other countries that lack production capabilities. Panelists will consider how compulsory licenses both improve and complicate the landscape of pharmaceutical access on a global scale.

ModeratorSucharita Yellapragada, ZYGO Student Program Manager

Jeff McCombs, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Economics & Policy, USC Schaeffer
Erin Quinn, Associate Dean for Science and Health, USC Dornsife
Heather Wipfli, Associate Director, USC Institute for Global Health and Assistant Professor, Department of Preventative Medicine and School of International Relations, USC Keck
Harleen Marwah, Graduate Student, Global Medicine, USC Keck

Pictured (from left): Varun Awasthi, Harleen Marwah, Jeff McCombs, Heather Wipfli, Erin Quinn, and Sucharita Yellapragada

DOCTORS VS. PARENTS: Decision-making in Pediatrics

Friday, November 21, 2014, 12:30-2 PM | Doheny Memorial Library 241 | Lunch Provided

Making decisions for children in a medical context can be extremely stressful and complex. In some notable pediatric cases, parents have made decisions that go against the recommendations of doctors. Such cases have included denying treatment for cancer or refusing to allow their children to receive vaccinations. Furthermore, in the case that a child appears to be suffering from serious abuse or neglect, medical centers are now able to forcibly provide care by implementing Child Protective Services (CPS). However, this service has often been criticized for being used incorrectly and simply as a means for health care providers to avoid liabilities.

Panelists for this seminar will discuss how parents and doctors can best make decisions concerning the treatment children should receive. They will also consider how CPS can most appropriately be implemented in a medical setting and if treatment should be forced if deemed medically necessary.

Moderator: Varun Awasthi, ZYGO Student Director

Janet Schneiderman, Research Associate Professor, USC Social Work
Kenneth Geller, MD, Director of Dornsife Pre-Health Advisement, Associate Professor of Clinical Otolaryngology, USC Keck
Ankit Shah, MD, JD, Assistant Professor, USC Keck, Lecturer in Law, USC Gould, Attending Physician, LAC+USC Medical Center
Rima Basu, Ph.D. Candidate, Philosophy, USC Dornsife

Spring 2014 Events


Friday, February 28, 2014, 12:30-2 PM | Doheny Memorial Library G28

Co-sponsored by the USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education

Human experimentation was a major war crime during the Holocaust and cruel experiments resulted in the death and disability of many, but yielded medical research. USC Libraries hosts a copy of “Pernkoph atlas” – a highly controversial Nazi medical publication. This seminar will discuss questions about this resource, such as:  If USC Libraries hosts a copy of this book do Nazi experiments become an accepted part of medical history? What can we learn from these experiments?  From a broad perspective, questions will be asked, such as:  What are the conceivable uses for these types of texts? How have we used other ethically questionable medical or psychological experiments to inform us ethically and academically?

Moderator: Pavitra Krishnamani, ZYGO Director, Levan Graduate Fellow and Harman Academy Fellow

Wolf Gruner, Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies and Professor of History
Sari Siegel, USC Graduate Student studying Nazi medicine
Megan Rosenbloom, Head of Metadata & Content Management for the Norris Medical Library

Pictured (from left): Megan Rosenbloom, Pavitra Krishnamani, Sari Siegel, and Wolf Gruner

AUTHORITY TO KILL: The Human Choice to Euthanize Humans and Other Animals

Friday, March 28, 2014, 12:30-2 PM | The Fishbowl (URC)

In both research and veterinary medicine, humans have been given the right to decide when it is humane for an animal to be put down. However, it is not the same with other human beings, as evidenced by the debate about human euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS). While some countries have legalized PAS, the United States remains in doubt about giving patients the “right to die” and doctors the authority to euthanize them as per their wishes. It is out of this debate that legal documents such as the advanced directives have arisen. This seminar will seek to explore the perspectives on both animal and human euthanasia and discuss if, and under what circumstances, human beings have the authority to kill.

Moderator: Isabella Wu, ZYGO Program Manager, Levan Scholar and Dornsife Undergraduate

Alex Capron, University Professor, Scott H. Bice Chair in Healthcare Law, Policy and Ethics, Gould School of Law, Professor of Law and Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, Co-Director, Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics
Ilanit Brook, MD, Assistant Professor, Pediatrics and Palliative Care, Keck School of Medicine
Jim Burklo, Associate Dean, USC Office of Religious Life
William DePaolo, Assistant Professor, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, Keck School of Medicine

HALF THE STORY: The Increasing Role of Alternative Medicine

Friday, April 25, 2014, 12:30-2 PM | Doheny Memorial Library 241

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is being used increasingly alongside conventional medical treatments for a wide variety of medical conditions; however, the techniques employed by alternative health systems such as Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine have not been researched in a manner acceptable according to many US physicians. This seminar seeks to explore how alternative medicine is currently being used in conjunction with conventional medicine and alternative medicine's academic status. Panelists will discuss how alternative medicine and cross-cultural healing is being integrated into medical school activities, if at all, and whether research on alternative techniques is increasing in the United States.

Moderator: Pavitra Krishnamani, ZYGO Director, Levan Graduate Fellow and Harman Academy Fellow

Julia Borovay, Professor, HP 450, “Traditional Eastern Medicine & Modern Health,” Keck School of Medicine
Murali Nair, Clinical Professor and Co-Author of “Healing Across Cultures,” USC School of Social Work
Armaity Austin, MD, Associate Professor of Clinical Family Medicine and Education Committee Co-Chair at the USC Institute for Integrative Health, Keck School of Medicine
Debu Tripathy, MD, Professor of Medicine, Priscilla and Art Ulene Chair in Women’s Cancer, and Clinical Committee Co-Chair at the USC Institute for Integrative Health, Keck School of Medicine
Samantha Myers, Fourth-year Medical Student, Keck School of Medicine
Kristen Roehl, Second-year Medical Student, Keck School of Medicine

Pictured (from left): Samantha Myers, Debu Tripathy, Pavitra Krishnamani, Murali Nair, Armaity Austin, and Julia Boravay (not pictured: Kristen Roehl)