UT Health med student chosen for unique ethics program

Cope will study the moral code, and consequences, of physicians in Nazi-occupied Europe

Spencer Cope of The University of Texas Health Science Center, now called UT Health San Antonio,, is one of 15 medical students chosen by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE) to participate in a two-week program in Germany and Poland this summer, which uses the conduct of physicians in Nazi-occupied Europe as a way to reflect on medical ethics today.

FASPE provides a unique historical lens to engage graduate students in professional schools as well as early-stage practitioners in five fields (business, journalism, law, medicine, and seminary) in an intensive course of study focused on contemporary ethical issues in their professions.

The FASPE Medical program offers an approach that differs from the usual classroom experience in medical schools or graduate bioethics programs by providing a holistic curriculum that looks beyond the specifics of formal rules to focus on ethical problems faced by individual doctors in the various settings in which they practice. Daily seminars are led by specialized faculty who engage fellows in discussions and critical thinking about both the historical and the contemporary. The medical program is strengthened by the diverse perspectives of its participants and the power of place and context.

“By educating students about the causes of the Holocaust and the power of their chosen professions, FASPE seeks to instill a sense of professional responsibility for the ethical and moral choices that the Fellows will make in their careers and in their professional relationships,” said David Goldman, FASPE’s founder and chairman.

Prior to World War II, German professionals were well regarded internationally. In many respects, they set the standard for a commitment to quality of practice and for independence from state and political influence. Yet, leaders and practitioners in each of the professions, and often the institutions they represented, were fundamentally involved in designing, enabling, and/or executing the crimes of Nazi Germany. FASPE studies the perpetrators to emphasize the essential role of professionals and to ask how and why professionals abandon their ethical guideposts.

The FASPE medical program examines the role of physicians and the medical profession in the Nazi state, underscoring the reality that moral codes governing doctors can break down or be distorted with devastating consequences. With this historical background, the Medical fellows are better positioned (and more willing) to confront contemporary issues.

“The in-depth, multi-disciplinary FASPE medical program will be monumental in helping me to become the type of physician who not only treats disease, but stands in defense of humanity,” said Cope, a third-year medical student at UT Health San Antonio. “I am the first physician on either side of my family and feel compelled to learn all that I can from my clinical predecessors as I begin to forge my own professional identity.”

Originally from Michigan, Cope received a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and served a two-year mission for the LDS Church in Alaska following college. As a child, Cope battled juvenile dermatomyositis. After getting into medical school, he deferred his studies for two years in order to pursue research on pediatric autoimmune disease.

Cope joins a diverse group of 63 FASPE fellows across all five programs who were chosen through a competitive process that drew close to 1,000 applicants from around the world. FASPE covers all program costs, including travel, food, and lodging.

The experience of the medical fellows is enhanced by traveling alongside the FASPE seminary fellows, who together—in formal and informal settings—consider how ethical constructs and norms in their respective professions align and differ. In 2017, the two groups will begin their trip in Berlin on June 19 and travel on to Krakow and Oświęcim (the town in which Auschwitz is located), Poland, on June 23.

In Berlin, the program includes museum visits, meeting with a Holocaust survivor, and educational workshops at the House of the Wannsee Conference, the site where state and Nazi Party agencies convened in 1942 to coordinate plans for the Nazis’ “Final Solution.” In Krakow, fellows will continue their seminars at Jagiellonian University, one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities, and at Auschwitz, they will be guided by the distinguished educational staff of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

After the program, each fellow will submit an essay focused on a contemporary ethical issue of his or her choice. Select essays are published in the annual FASPE Journal, which showcases work in all five disciplines.

FASPE maintains long-term relationships with its fellows in order to sustain commitment to ethical behavior and to provide a forum for continued dialogue.


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