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Posted by: Belle Barendregt & Merel Mulder

In January, the highlight of our master’s program Philosophy, Bioethics and Health (BPH) at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam finally took place: the annual Oxford Ethox Winter School. Since the establishment of BPH in 2013, the Oxford Winter School has been an integral part of its second year’s curriculum. The Winter School revolves around a ‘critic-meets-author’ structure in which students present their reflection on academic papers written by scholars affiliated to the Wellcome Centre for Ethics & Humanities, after which they have the unique possibility to engage in a stimulating discussion with the author(s) and other participants in the session.

This exceptional opportunity all motivated us to start the new year by studying the selected articles extensively. Even though this edition was online because of Covid-19 restrictions, the paper topics and the prospect of conversing with the authors made us eager to dive into it from the start. Guidance was provided in several preparation tutorials, in which the content of the articles sparked lively conversations that contributed to both the process of shaping the presentations and our growing enthusiasm. At the end of the rehearsals, we were left feeling excited, well-prepared and to be completely honest, also a little nervous.

It turned out that the great enthusiasm with which the teachers and former students had spoken about the Oxford Winter School was entirely justified. For the first session not only Anneke Lucassen was attending, but also her co-authors, which made this session a wonderful kick-off to a great week. Furthermore, it was interesting to hear about all the dilemmas and other considerations that can hide behind papers of such a clear and concise nature. This Winter School confirmed something we all hoped for when starting our masters: the field of bioethics is dynamic, relevant and challenging.

It is interesting to see how, after almost two years of living in a pandemic, bioethical perspectives and attitudes on Covid-19 have developed. We have discussed the following papers:

The other papers covered a wide range of interesting topics:

  • Use of medical information from the deceased to guide care of living relatives (S. Tadross, H. Carley and A. Lucassen)
  • The ethics of genomic medicine (M. Gaille and R. Horn)
  • Before and beyond trust: reliance in medical AI (A. Kerasidou, M. Buscher et al.)
  • Dealing with prognostic uncertainty after severe brain injury (M. Graham)
  • The ethical landscape(s) of non-invasive prenatal testing (A. Perrot and R. Horn)
  • Agents of change for mental health of young people in LMICs (G. Pavarini et al.)
  • Frailty triage ethics (D. Wilkinson)
  • Values, rules, and capacity assessments (B. Hass)

This experience has improved our presentation skills, expanded our academic knowledge on topics we did not get to discuss during the Master program, and taught us to express our critical perspective on papers in a constructive manner.

Some reactions of our fellow students who participated in this year’s Oxford Winter School:


‘What a special and fun experience the Oxford Winter School of 2022 was! Even though we traveled to Oxford online instead of in real life, it was an insightful adventure that I would not have wanted to miss out on. The opportunity to have an open dialogue and discuss ethical papers with the experts themselves in small groups which are all interested in ethics is really amazing. I especially enjoyed changing thoughts, ideas and arguments with each other. The Winter School confirmed my ambition to pursue a career in the field of ethics!’ – Inge Boukema, PBH student and medical doctor

‘After attending the Winter school, I agree with Suzanne Metselaar that it is a highlight of our Master program. I have learned so much from the authors, who really engaged us in their expertise. It was an honor to participate.’ – Quint Langeveld, PBH student and MA student Bioinformatics.

‘To me the Oxford Winterschool was a real highlight. The open atmosphere sparked in-depth discussions exploring many different key ethical issues. I never thought that an online event could be so interesting and inspiring. I am very grateful to the Oxford scholars. My enthusiasm for the field of ethics has only increased during this week.’ – Tonke Versteeg, PBH student and MA student Medicine. 

We want to thank everyone for making this week memorable. First of all, the Ethox and WEH team, Aileen Mooney, Mary Foulkes, Mike Parker and Ruth Horn, for being so hospitable. Moreover, we would like to thank the authors for their insightful papers and their willingness to share their time and considerations with us. We also like to thank Suzanne Metselaar, Gerben Meynen and Billy van Zoomeren for the organization of the Oxford Winter School, and Justin Bernstein and Mira Vegter for their constructive feedback during the rehearsals. And last but not least, our fellow students for doing the great job of presenting, participating and helping each other to feel comfortable in expressing our perspectives to such an impressive crowd!

Merel Mulder & Belle Barendregt, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Belle Barendregt

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash