For the second time in four years, a Gettysburg College student is a winner in the national Elie Wiesel Prize In Ethics Essay Contest.
Aimee Griffin, a 2012 graduate who majored in both philosophy and English, examined the ethics of euthanasia in the context of her own cousin’s vegetative state after a car accident. Her essay, “Victims of Progress: Examining the Collateral Damage of Medical Technology,” earned the third prize of $1,000.
“Would Jake, lying in that hospital bed, be kept in some state we call ‘life’ by machines, not walking, not talking, not even opening his eyes, until someone could not take it anymore?” Griffin asks in her essay. And, when her cousin did open his eyes, “The heavy and lucid stare that Jake leveled on me did not have any questioning hesitation, nor was their any anguish of a plea for help” but “I felt him tell me without words that he would rather be dead.” Citing philosophers Emmanuel Levinas and Daniel Callahan, Griffin wrestles with the question of how much of her cousin remains, and what obligations arise as a result.
"Aimee's essay is exactly what one hopes for in an exploration of an ethical issue — reflective and sensitive analysis of an actual case study,” said Kerry Walters, Gettysburg College’s William Bittinger Professor of Philosophy. “In writing it, she also displayed real courage, focusing as she did on a member of her own extended family. I'm delighted but not surprised that her essay was honored."
“In developing the essay I sat and talked with Professor Walters a lot, just talking through what I was thinking and feeling when I replayed events in my mind and wrote about them, and I soon realized that the visit to my cousin years ago had really stuck with me since then,” Griffin said. “Finally admitting all of the things that were conflicting to me about the situation, things I had never told my family before, was a huge catharsis for me. I told Professor Walters once I had submitted the essay that it didn't matter to me if they liked it, I was very proud to have written it.”
Griffin received Gettysburg College’s John W. Ostrom English award this spring for her essay “'Lovers of a Day’: Native Women as Disposable Keys to South Sea Culture.” It was a comparison of the function of native wives Robert Louis Stevenson's novella The Beach of Falesa and Paul Gauguin's journal Noa, Noa. She also was this year’s nonfiction editor for the student literary magazine The Mercury.
In 2009, a Gettysburg graduate of that year also earned third prize in the Wiesel competition. Philosophy major Alex Englert’s essay recounted his weekly visits with a retired philosophy professor and former German soldier who was in a nursing home. The bond that result led Englert to probe personal responsibility within history. Walters also mentored Englert.
Thousands of college and university students from across the United States have taken part in the contest, established in 1989 by the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. "Whatever the answer to essential questions of society and individual human beings may be, education is surely its major component," Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize-winning author and Holocaust survivor, wrote on the foundation's website. "But what would education be without its ethical dimension? Many of us believe them to be inseparable."
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college, which enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students, is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
Contact: Jim Hale, associate director of editorial servicesPosted: Thu, 24 May 2012
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