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Suzanne Metselaar, Dept. of Medical Humanities, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam and Gerben Meynen, Humanities, Dept. of Philosophy, VU University, Amsterdam, and Ruth Horn and Michael Dunn from the Ethox Centre, Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, University of Oxford.

Making the transition from being a student to becoming part of an international community of bioethicists can be a challenge. What to expect when participating in conferences? How to critically engage in current bioethical debates? How to bring your point across as convincingly as possible, but to do this in a respectful way, acknowledging the work done by others?

In order to support students in making this transition, we have been organising an annual Winter School for students of the MA-program Philosophy, Bioethics, and Health (PBH), a two-year MA-program of Philosophy and Medical Humanities, VU University (Medical Center) in Amsterdam. The Winter School January 2018 was its 5th edition.

The Winter School has the format of a symposium: the students, in a series of sessions throughout one week, present an analysis and critical evaluation of selected papers written by Oxford scholars, after which they engage in a group dialogue on the subject with the author him or herself. Prior to the visit to Oxford, the students thoroughly study all papers that will be discussed in Oxford and prepare their own presentations and questions to the authors. We were happy to see that some DPhil students and junior researchers from Oxford also joined the program this year, and we hope to welcome more Ethox students in future editions.

A novelty this year was the participation of colleagues from the new Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities (WEH) affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry and the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. We also greatly enjoyed the superb facilities of the new Big Data Institute building where the WEH is based.

This year, the program included the following topics:

  • Ethical issues in prenatal genome sequencing (Ruth Horn)
  • Brain damage and the moral significance of consciousness (Guy Kahane)
  • The role of trust in biomedical research (Angeliki Kerasidou)
  • Risk assessment tools in forensic psychiatry (Thomas Douglas)
  • Patient Access to Electronic Health Records (Federica Lucivero)
  • Self-in-Relation Competence and Self-Harm (Camillia Kong)
  • Children’s perspectives on authenticity, moral agency stimulant drug treatments (Ilina Singh)
  • Resources and the ‘Rule of Rescue’ (Mark Sheehan)

Collaborating with each other in order to make each session a succes is an important part of the Winter School, which some students describe as a ‘pressure cooker’ and as ‘the most educational and exciting course of their curriculum’.

Some reactions of this year’s students:

"One of the nicest things about preparing all the papers was that they each covered a different topic within the field of bioethics, such as research ethics, neuroethics, clinical ethics and forensic psychiatry. By preparing the papers we not only obtained a good understanding of the argumentation in the papers themselves, but we also acquired an overview of the broader debates in bioethics today. I presented on Guy Kahane’s article on what the presence of consciousness means for patients thought to be in a vegetative state. This was especially intriguing, because we were able to look at the practical and ethical implications of the theoretical-philosophical discussion about what consciousness is and what it means." – Krishma Labib, VU Amsterdam.

"To spend dedicated time to really come to an in-depth understanding of a philosophical argumentation, and to critically evaluate it was a great learning experience. And it is a real challenge to present on a paper with the author right there in front of you! I was very inspired by all the Oxford scholars we met. What stood out for me was that they are not only researchers but also people who are really engaged with a certain issue. I was also struck by how interdisciplinary bioethics is." – Kimriek Schutten, VU Amsterdam.

"I think it is safe to say that many of us were quite nervous when thinking of the moment that we had to express our thoughts on a bioethical paper in front of the author who actually wrote it. This having said, in Oxford, I noticed that the bioethicists we were going to meet throughout the week were all very interested to hear our comments on their articles. Their enthusiasm and response led to great discussions after the presentations. To me, this is the most valuable lesson I learned: it doesn’t matter whether you are a professor or a student, it is always worthwhile to listen to the ideas of others about your work. It was an unforgettable week!" – Yorick van de Pavert, VU Amsterdam.

We are very grateful to all scholars who participated in this year’s Winter School.

We are looking forward to continue collaborating between our institutions and countries, on the level of both education and research!

Suzanne Metselaar
Gerben Meynen
Ruth Horn
Michael Dunn