CURF 1: Beginning with Bioethics and the BPhil in Mind

Hi Everyone! My name is Mike Sobol, and I am a junior from Buffalo, NY (still recovering from the Bills’ playoff performance). I am pursuing dual degrees here at Pitt–a BPhil in Politics & Philosophy and a BS in Neuroscience–as well as minors in Chemistry, Economics, and Physics. On campus, I’m a teaching assistant for Biochemistry and Honors Organic Chemistry, a leader in AMSA and Science Olympiad, and an Honors College Ambassador and Community Leader. I’m also involved in auditory neuroscience research at UPMC Children’s Hospital and residency curriculum development in the UPMC Department of Neurological Surgery. In my free time, I enjoy running, reading, and studying some niche interests in agriculture law and policy. This semester, the CURF isn’t my only major project–I’m also training for the Buffalo (half?)-marathon!

 I am looking forward to using the Spring 2023 Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship to begin the first intensive phase of my BPhil thesis research, under the direction of Dr. Michael Deem (Department of Human Genetics, Center for Bioethics & Health Law). Broadly, my BPhil project will synthesize context-dependent clinical bioethics applications (with a special focus on pediatric bioethics) into a broadly applicable philosophy of the right to life and the right to die, responsive to accelerating scientific and technological advancements in medicine. However, before generating this philosophical approach, I must investigate the landscape of context-specific bioethical approaches. Through the CURF, I will work to develop a detailed, scientifically sound, and philosophically inclusive review of the current bioethical perspectives on neonatal euthanasia as the first case study from which to begin a consideration of ‘life or death’ clinical ethics.

In 2004, a Dutch committee led by Dr. Eduard Verhagen set forth the Groningen Protocol, a medicolegal framework regulating the practice of neonatal euthanasia. A year later, the Netherlands legalized neonatal euthanasia, effectively endorsing this Groningen Protocol for use in the Dutch medical system. In the two decades since this action, there have been forceful, categorical rejections of neonatal euthanasia by prominent American professional associations– including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics–while clinical implementation of non-voluntary active euthanasia has gained acceptance in Europe. The broad spectrum of approaches to neonatal euthanasia represents more than a continental divide; it is a crucial bioethical debate that remains unresolved and, critically, underappreciated in the literature. Identifying the bioethical status of neonatal euthanasia integrates considerations of patient autonomy, parental consent, physician responsibility, and policymaking utilitarianism all unique to the neonatal context. American medical professional associations have very different postures on neonatal euthanasia and abortion–it must be determined whether these approaches are consistent or ultimately in conflict with each other. More broadly, discussions of non-voluntary active euthanasia contribute to rich conversations about the interpretation of the Hippocratic Oath in the modern clinical context, the value of life, and dignity in dying.

Immediately following my graduation from Pitt, I hope to enter the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education Teaching Fellows program and spend two years earning an M.Ed. while serving as a high school teacher in underserved Catholic schools. After that, I hope to pursue medical school, with a particular focus on primary care and rural healthcare access. Combining clinical work with educational and policy work, I hope to engage in plain-language scientific communication that restores faith in a medical field that has lost trust and credibility in the eyes of many. This CURF project will allow me to engage with the ideas of prominent medical professional organizations and leading bioethics academicians past and present while writing plainly about ‘life or death’ issues that infuse the public square. I look forward to pursuing interdisciplinary research and integrating diverse perspectives–from Edmund Pellegrino’s canonical philosophy of medicine literature to O. Carter Snead’s modern legal scholarship–into a cohesive bioethical perspective.

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