An Interview with Li Li:
My English teacher back home encouraged me to go abroad, so I could study English more. She thought you could have a broader view by going abroad and getting an international perspective. China is developing a lot and needs people with more international experience. I would like to learn here and take back what I have learned to benefit my country. I have always been interested in the differences between China and the US. I am taking ENG100 and getting a broad view of all of engineering, but Computer Science is my biggest interest. I hope to learn CS, then also get a broader view of other subjects. I am also interested in the environment because there is a lot of pollution in China. It seems that people here in America are more connected to their environment, so I would like to learn about that.
I connected with the book because my grandmother had cancer, so I know the feeling of family members having to deal with that kind of tragedy. She was cured, but we were all really worried about her health for a long time. In my paper, I talked about how many papers she had to sign while in the hospital, and how easily she could have gotten confused and signed away her rights. The book sparked many connections for me to human rights issues in China, including health care. China is just now starting to pay more attention to health care and there are parallels between medical and scientific advances, and the advances in human rights, which seem to be evolving together. I think that America pays more attention to individual rights and China focuses more on the whole, and sometimes we force people to conform to the group. For example, in high school we wore uniforms, which was a small thing but reflected the larger philosophy. We were taught to focus on unity, strength, and sacrifice, though here we are focusing more on the individual.
I see China's human rights moving along that continuum. If the government wants you to move, they now ask for consent instead of requiring your obedience. China now seems similar to how America was in the 50's. I like to read about the 1950s, like "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac and books by Allen Ginsberg. I like to read about that time, when Americans were starting to question their society, pursue their own freedoms, and worry less about what other people thought about them.
My favorite character was the author; I really respected her. Even though she met resistance when she tried to interview Henrietta Lack's surviving family members, she persisted, and that is impressive. I think she succeeded because she tried to understand them, and go outside her own culture and perspective to try to see what they were thinking or going through. She tried to stand in their shoes. I like that because I also value different perspectives and that is why I came to the US. I notice a lot of differences, like they are more pragmatic, whereas Chinese are very idealistic. We think of problems that are not related to real life, whereas people in the US have a focus on real life. In China, we discuss the future, but Americans focus on the present. Combining the two is good.
winning essay by Li Li
I used to think that one of the most troublesome and thorny problems in the real world today is the problem between science and ethics. As the development of technology skyrockets, ethics seems to be unchanged. This growing gap between science and ethics has given rise to various inevitable ethical puzzles. However, after reading the book, what I actually saw is that ethics itself, though rather slowly, is evolving with the pushing power of science. For example, human rights regarding to medical issues are evolving in the past 50 years.
According to the book, in the early fifties or even earlier, the public, including doctors and biologists, paid little attention to individual rights in the medical field. There was no such thing called informed consent. Scientists could use patients in hospitals as samples for experiments freely without their knowledge. "Scientists believed that since patients were treated for free in the public wards, it was fair to use them as research subjects as a form of payment." The result was that the cervical cells of Henrietta Lacks were taken away without her own consent.
Not only the scientists and doctors, but also the patients themselves had no idea how dangerous it was to be treated as research subjects without their consent. In chapter 17 "Illegal, Immoral, and Deplorable", the scientist Chester Southam and Alice Moore injected prisoners in Ohio prison with HeLa cells, in order to find whether cancer cells could infect healthy people. The idea was so dangerous and frightening that if people today were asked to undergo such an experiment, no one would even bother think about it. But the prisoners reacted differently: "I done a girl a great injustice, and I think it'll pay back a little bit what I did to her", "I believe the wrong that I have done, in the eyes of society, this might make a right on it". This fact clearly shows that the prisoners had not realized the danger of the experiments, considering informed consent much less important than their atonement for crimes, and this case was later considered as a medical tragedy comparable with the Nazi research which brought about the Nuremberg Code.
What scientists, doctors and patients thought at that time can be concluded as utilitarianism, which is condemned by many people today. Utilitarianism is a way of thinking that the right thing for the society to do is to maximize or produce the greatest benefits for the greatest number of people. In the medical field, scientists in the fifties faced two choices - the first, based on utilitarianism, is to sacrifice the individuals, use them to perform experiments, and invent vaccines that benefit the large majority; the second choice is to regard individuals just as important as the majority, but not as research subjects - and they chose the first option.
What I support is the thought called humanitarianism, which opposes to utilitarianism and states that we should regard both the individual and the majority as human, who has the basic human rights that should not be violated by others. There is no difference between the individual and the majority, because they are all human. It is true that doctors may make contributions to the majority after they get the vaccines by sacrificing their patients, but it is also true that they actually KILL them! Think of what the patients will think after they know that they had been unknowingly injected with some kind of fatal medicine, for the public's sake. Is it fair to let a small portion of people cry in pain whereas the others laugh just like nothing happens? In chapter 12 "The Storm", Gey's assistant Mary said, "When I saw those toenails, I nearly fainted. I thought, Oh jeez, she's a real person. I started imagining her sitting in her bathroom painting those cells we'd been working with all this time and sending all over the world, they came from a live woman. I'd never thought of it that way." "That way" is a way of thinking in humanitarianism. The woman with those red toenails is not HeLa, but Henrietta Lacks; she is not a research subject, but a real person!
The thought of humanitarianism brought about the term informed consent. Only after scientists tell their patients everything about their experiments and get the patients' consent, can they start their experiments on the patients. They should obey this rule just as they should obey the rule not to kill others. In my opinion, it is a great advance in the history of science. Informed consent undoubtedly promotes human rights in the filed of public health greatly. It not only protects individuals from being unconsciously exposed to dangerous tests and experiments, but also changed what the way people thought: human is not samples for experiments. Human is human itself.
Both scientists and patients become much more concerned about the human rights in science - this is the reason why I think the human rights in the medical field are evolving in the last fifty years. Similarly, I notice that human rights in medical areas also evolving in China.
In the past, due to the lack of policies on medical issues, the lag of medical facilities and the huge population, Chinese people seldom cared about the human rights issues. As a result, many medical tragedies occurred but were soon forgotten by the majority. For example, people could only know the general information about their money paid in hospital, but could not get the detailed information such as the price for some specific medicine. It seems that the history of human medical rights did not begin until the last thirty years. However, things seem to change in recent years, especially after the mid-80s in the last century. As the medical system in China grows more developed, people start to divert their attention to human rights. For example, one of the hot words in China recently is "free medical allowance after retirement". People debate on issues like the fairness of medical allowance, how much allowance elderly people in poverty can get, etc. Even though the medical rights in China have developed for only a few years and are not comparable with that of the United States, I am quite optimistic about the future and I am sure more human rights issues and policies in China will come out as science and society develop.
However, I think it is also necessary to confine human rights from growing too large. What would happen if we enlarged our rights blindly and without stopping? Surely it will lead to many provocative problems which are really difficult to solve. For example, If we granted people rights to buy guns(still not allowed in China), shooting would seem to be inevitable.
The process of pursuing human rights on medical issues is a long story with hesitation, doubts, conflicts and sacrifice. However, after years, humanitarianism conquered utilitarianism, for it confirms the existence of individual and the value of human being itself. People's awareness and consciousness of protecting individual rights is evolving gradually, together with the pace of science, a phenomenon also common in China. As a beneficiary of the modern science today, I am very grateful for the older generation for their sacrifice and hard work to devote their lives seeking a better future life. I can not predict what would happen tomorrow, but I am sure that the brighter future is opening wide and waiting for us.