Winter School @Ethox: “A most exciting experience!”

Suzanne Metselaar, Dept. of Medical Humanities, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, and Gerben Meynen, Dept. of Philosophy, VU University, Amsterdam

Since 2013, a one-week Winter School at the Ethox Center is part of our master programme Philosophy, Bioethics, and Health (PBH). PBH is an interdisciplinary, two-year MA-programme of the Dept. of Philosophy of VU University in collaboration with the Dept. of Medical Humanities of VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam. Students describe the visit to Ethox as a great learning experience: it is seen as the highlight of our Master programme. And the beautiful scenery and history of Oxford are certainly a great bonus!

The central idea of our Winter School is that the students, in a series of sessions throughout the week, present an analysis of and critical reflection on academic papers written by Ethox scholars, and engage in a 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. Each of the articles is assigned to a small group of 2-3 students who are to prepare their presentation together.


Naturally, this didactic format provides a highly exciting (and potentially nerve-racking) challenge for our students. By setting high aims (to discuss work with an Oxford scholar!), the students are encouraged to excel. Moreover, they are encouraged to support each other in understanding and evaluating the material and in making their presentations as good as possible. Hence, this format enables the students to improve not only their critical understanding of bioethical literature, and their academic presentation skills, but it also trains them in academic collaboration and giving constructive feedback. For those who aspire an academic career, the Winter School provides a ‘sneak preview’ of what they can expect when actively participating in international workshops, symposia and conferences.

This year, the programme included the following topics:

  • Moral expertise in the clinic (session with Anne Slowther)
  • Health diplomacy: a new approach to the Muslim world? (Mehrunisha Suleman)
  • The role of trust in biomedical research (Angeliki Kerasidou)
  • The nature and sociology of bioethics (Mark Sheehan and Michael Dunn)
  • The use of leverage in community mental health (Michael Dunn)
  • The role of therapeutic optimism in recruitment to a clinical trial (Nina Hallowell)
  • Physicians’ duties to respect advance directives (Ruth Horn)

Some reactions of this year’s students:

Engaging in discussions with Oxford scholars is such a rewarding opportunity for students, especially in the academic environment that is Oxford University. Together with two fellow students, I gave a presentation on Ruth Horn’s article on the implementation of advanced directives (AD’s) in end-of-life care in different countries in Europe. We discussed Horn’s premise that the principle of autonomy should be leading in the way AD’s are treated by physicians, and presented an alternative perspective, in which non-maleficence is given more importance. Afterwards, we engaged in an interesting dialogue with Ruth Horn on this subject.” – Jana Hopstaken.

“The Oxford Winter School was a great motivation for all of us to thoroughly get to know academic research of very high standards. The possibility of discussing our reflections with the actual researchers was a most exciting experience! As the researchers had quite different backgrounds, the range of topics was great, which made the whole program varied and very interesting. I myself presented on a paper by dr. Michael Dunn on ethical issues concerning the use of leverage in psychiatry.” – Auke Jelsma

“We were given the opportunity to present a critical evaluation of an article of Nina Hallowell on therapeutic optimism among midwives in the role of recruiters of patients as research participants, which was heartily received by Dr. Hallowell. It was a great learning experience to explore the ethically challenging position of medical professionals who are also involved in medical research, and we had an interesting discussion on the interaction between health professionals and patients in this context.” – Margot Zomers & Fleur Godrie

We all very much appreciate the hospitality of the Ethox center. To be continued!

Suzanne Metselaar (coordinator of the Winter School, vice-coordinator of PBH) and Gerben Meynen (coordinator of PBH)

Winter School @Ethox: “A most exciting experience!”

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