After such success at combining Notre Dame’s medical ethics conference with a little adventuring of Rome, I decided to use the same logic when booking my flight to Madrid for the Bare Life & Moral Life Symposium hosted by Saint Louis University, University of Notre Dame, and Trinity University.


Since I’ve been splitting time between my dissertation and medical school applications in recent weeks, my trip to Spain was admittedly less planned than it was for Italy.  Based on my very quick intro to these cities, I have to say my favor lies with Rome. Perhaps that just means I need to make return visits to collect more data though. 😉

The symposium in Madrid was different from the rest that I’ve been to because it was heavy on (theoretical) philosophy and lighter on bioethical cases. For all of my non-philosopher readers out there, the title comes from Italian philosopher Agamben and his work Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life.  From the Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Agamben develops [“bare life”] from the Ancient Greek distinction between natural life—zoe—and a particular form of life—bios…Neither bios nor zoe, bare life… can be defined as “life exposed to death”…. (For more, see:

To say I was out of my league is to put it kindly. There were scholars of all types: not just proper philosophers, but also physicians, ethicists, and theologians with specialties in Judaism, Catholicism, and multiple Christian denominations. As such, I spent most of my time silently soaking in the presentation and Q&A session and saving my comments for the more informal but still very robust conversations (mostly related to care at the end of life) over coffee, lunch, and tapas.

Perhaps my background in engineering has made me very comfortable working in teams, but in comparison, the life of the academic can seem quite… lonely.   To my refreshing surprise, however, the symposium attendees in Madrid were about the most charitable, most welcoming academics I have ever met.  They were not only eager to explain some philosophical building blocks to which I hadn’t previously been exposed, but they were also interested in learning about my perspectives as a biomedical engineer / bioethicist / medical school applicant.

On the subject of Spain-adventuring, I must say that my short day trip to Toledo stole the show. Though this may surprise some of my readers, I must admit that I am not too fond of touring churches. I quite enjoy encountering different houses of worship, using them for what they were intended and not really just treating them as a tourist spectacle equivalent to the London Eye or Big Ben.  Nevertheless, since I was only in Toledo for a few hours and it didn’t coincide with the mass schedule, I paid my admission fee and accepted the audio guide that was included with the ticket. In short: SO worth it.

A segment of the ceiling
A segment of the ceiling

Beyond the cathedral, Toledo was just a beautiful city to wander—what you’d imagine if you thought of an old Spanish city: dusty cobbled stone paths, a fortress on the river, and intense summer heat. Here are a few pictures that might convey this better than words.




Featured Image: taken within the Toledo Cathedral

Three cheers for Spring!

If I was paid a nickel for every blog post that I intend to make, well… I would have a lot of nickels by now. But alas, life catches up, and I seem to have far more words floating in my head than I can manage to fit on paper in 24 hours each day. Here’s a tribute to the highlights of Spring 2015!


Stonehenge on the Equinox

Cici and Andrea Stonehenge


In case you missed that post, check it out here.

Isle of Man


See Ben’s post here for more pictures & the rest of the story.


Lake District


And see his post here about the “walking” (British word for hiking) in Lake District.


Adventures in Scotland

from Glasgow to Edinburgh with Gretchen & Joan



Theatre bingeing

My love of theatre and the performing arts was treated quite well when I lived in A2, and it has only grown since moving to London. I was probably averaging about 1 show every 6 weeks… until I introduced Gretch & Joan to the West End. After a thrilling night with front row seats to Memphis, we decided that the 2nd of their two day visit to London should be spent going to a matinee (Billy Elliot) and an evening performance (Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap).  Gotta make the most of those London minutes!!


As a student, I have the pleasure of tapping into the crazy-cheap student tickets with my last my last 6 shows ranging from £0 to£5 each. Just as golfing in Jackson, MI can be cheaper than going to the movie theater, scoring student tickets for the West End can be less expensive than meeting up at the pub. The more that I indulge however, the less I am able to shut my mind off and enjoy the show.   (Well… let’s be real. I don’t think I was ever the type to just shut my mind off.) I described part of this when I spoke of Matilda.  And I think it has become even more noticeable as I indulge. Consider, for example, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. (The Spark Notes summary is here if you haven’t seen the show or read the book.) While the 12 year old girls sitting next to me were trying to solve the mystery during intermission and gushing over how “Christopher is so good at Maths*!!” after the final curtain call, my mind had drifted down some other paths.


  • How do we as a society treat people who fall outside of “normal”? From an early age, we learn to be tolerant of people that are different from us. This earns us the badge of being civil. What is the difference between being tolerant and being kind?
  • What responsibilities do parents have to their children? Do these responsibilities depend on the child’s individual needs and talents? I was particularly interested in the contrast between Christopher’s mother and father. The father stayed with him the whole time, but there were some obvious parent / child clashes made more frustrating by misunderstanding Christopher’s autism. The mother—overwhelmed by having an autistic child—copes by having an affair and moving away with the new man, but continues to express her never-ending love for Christopher through letters.

[*Brits say Maths instead of Math. This still hasn’t stopped bringing a smile to my face. 🙂 ]

If I ever become bored, I think I shall develop a lecture series about Social Science, Health, and Medicine in the West End.


…And reliving the excitement of seeing London for the first time through the eyes of visitors

Featured Image: from the Columbia Road Flower Market

Roma, Italia

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a medical ethics conference hosted by University of Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture at their Rome campus. As you may recall, this is the second year that I have been able to attend this medical ethics conference.  I had a bit of deja vu returning to the conference that helped fuel my desire to study bioethics, and more broadly, healthcare from the perspective of the humanities. To be fair though, this had a much different feel since we were just a block away from the Colosseum. 😉

I was impressed with how far I have progressed in my understanding of medical ethics in a year’s time.  Don’t misunderstand this as me thinking I’ve got it all figured out. Far from it! But I much better understood the language of this field and have become a bit more comfortable making bioethical arguments.  I guess my studying is paying off. 😉

I could write a book about what I have taken away from the conference discussions and then fill a few other volumes about tasting delicious Italian food… (click for enlargements + captions)



…strolling through beautiful museums, piazzas, and villas…


…standing in awe as a pilgrim in Rome (and Vatican City)…


…but I might have to drop out of my master’s program in order to make time for that. Instead, I present to you a snapshot at the intersection: is spirituality relevant to healthcare, medicine, and the understanding of bioethics?

This sends me back a few weeks ago when I was invited to speak to KCL’s Life Society about palliative care. From their website:

“We exist because universities are important spaces for the exploration of ideas and opinions, and it is important that the Pro-Life voice is heard on campus. Our message is a positive one, it is not about shaming or blaming, it is about discovering the beauty of human life, and protecting it.”

To be honest with you, I was pretty freaked out: why are you asking me?  How am I qualified to speak? To which the student in Life Society replied rather straightfowardly: You study bioethics right?  And you’re going into medicine? Seems like you would have a better idea about the topic than any of us!

It is amazing how much you can learn when you have to ‘teach’. I didn’t just want to speak on my own authority since, despite her encouragement, I honestly didn’t think I had much authority at all. In search of good reference material, I consulted a voice for whom I have profound respect, Ed Pellegrino, whose name I was introduced to little better than a year ago and whose literature continues to be a source of guidance in my study of bioethics.

Though I wouldn’t do justice to ‘summing up’ Pellegrino’s philosophy in a blog post, a central aspect is that:

Cure may be futile, but care is never futile.

The optimal end of healing is the good of the whole person– physical, emotional, and spiritual. The physician, manifestly, is no expert in every dimension. He or she, however, should be alert to the patient’s needs in each sphere, do what is within his or her capabilities and work with others in the health care team to come as close as clinical reality permits to meeting the several levels contained in the idea of the good of the patient. [1]

Considering the fact that a patient’s physical condition often provides the trigger to visit a doctor, it follows naturally that doctors have a reputation of focusing on the physical aspects health. Sometimes they are so focused though, that the patients’ emotional and spiritual needs are forsaken.  Although this applies to all aspects of medicine, I think it is particularly relevant to healthcare at the end-of-life which provided a good framework for my talk with the Life Society. It was also helpful for the conference last week where the keynote lecture was about international perspectives on the euthanasia debate… AND this week’s topic in my Case Studies module: “Ethics at the end of life– the biopolitics of dying.”

This post would get out of control if I tried to summarize all of the points relevant to this topic, so instead I’ll leave you with some important questions that I’ve been mulling over:

  • Does care change when cure is futile? Should it change? How so?
  • Aquinas’ Doctrine of Double Effect is often cited as a reason to prohibit euthanasia. Is there really a difference between [a] giving medication to a person that is intended to give them comfort but has a foreseeable outcome of shortening his life and [b] giving medication that has the intended effect of shortening his life? If there is a difference, how should this inform our ethics and legality of end of life care?
  • Conversations about emotional components of health (and even more frequently, spiritual components of health) are often omitted from clinical encounters. How does this effect patients’ care?  Should physicians be responsible for providing this care? If yes, in what capacity? If no, who (which member of the health care team) would better be able to provide this care?

Until next time,


[1] If you have access to a university library or other collection of journal articles, I highly recommend reading this full article! –> Pellegrino, E. (2001). The Internal Morality of Clinical Medicine: A Paradigm for the Ethics of the Helping and Healing Professions. The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 26(6), pp.559-579.

Featured image: St Peter’s by night

Bristol: England’s Ann Arbor

Quick snapshots from Bristol! This trip was planned as a detour en route to my Host visit in Cornwall, so it was only 6 hours long.

Some brief observations:

On three separate occasions people came up to offer help.  I’d like to think I don’t look that helpless, but I suppose looking at bus routes or consulting a map in a small-ish city is a good indicator.  Not only did these people stop to ask if I needed help, they even offered to go out of their way to walk to a key intersection or otherwise point me in the right direction.   I’ve made a habit of being rather self reliant in London.  Even if I did ask for directions, there is a pretty good chance that the person may not know where Such-n-Such place is because (a) London is so vast and (b) there are so many “transients” (people like me that have just moved here, tourists, etc) that you may end up asking someone who is more lost than you are.  Beyond that though, the pace of life in London is faster.  If someone is power-walking in a tailored suit and heels, she is probably not going to want to break stride to see if you need help.  No time for that.

I also might point out that I wouldn’t necessarily describe this helpfulness as friendliness.  (That’s not a word I would use to describe an initial encounter with many Brits.)  They weren’t interested in starting a chat about my American accent, why I in Bristol, or other questions you may get in a small town.  Rather, they saw a need, fulfilled it quite cordially, and went along their merry way. Combine that with an abundance of street art, the type of people that like street art, delicious food, the University, students… and, well, it was almost like being in Ann Arbor for the afternoon. 🙂


Around Bristol Collage
Strolling the city. Clockwise from top left: 1 The bankside; 2 St Nicholas Market; 3 A pub that would have fared well in A2; 4 Clifton suspension bridge– celebrating 150 years!

Banksy etc collage
The left panel features 2 pieces by Banksy— Mild Mild West & Golden Earring.

Love and Light Collage
Stained glass window is from Sts Peter & Paul Cathedral.

MShed collage
Snapshots from the MShed. Top center is represents the annual hot air balloon festival that Bristol hosts.

Street Art collage 1
Easel: dumpsters, apartments, convenient stores…

Street Art collage 2
A final sampling of my favorite street art.


Happy Michaelmas!

As I finish off my 3rd week here, I’m starting to get find my routine.  Speaking for myself, having a regular ~7 hour sleep schedule is glorious– and a marked improvement from my (unfortunately quite regular among the SWEboard) 5 hour power nap that sustained me last year.  During international orientation, many of my peers remarked that one of the main “culture shocks” is the pace of life in London.  Hmmm, fast paced, you say?  I guess when you’re used to riding a roller coaster, life on the expressway seems rather manageable.

My current routine for Sunday is among my favorite: mass & a museum.

Sept 22 – St George & the Imperial War Museum

Last week was at St George’s Cathedral in Southwark which was just a 15 minute walk south of my apartment.  I met up with one of my friend’s from UM (who is also studying for a year in London) for the 10am “Family Mass”.  Unlike the congregation at English Martyr’s 9am mass, the crowd was much more diverse:  as Wikipedia confirmed “every Mass is attended by people of different ethnicities and ages ranging from African to Asian to European.”  Perhaps it was more noticeable at this “family mass”, but children were definitely a-plenty. The typical attire was also much nicer– my skirt & dress top were no match for the standard Sunday’s Best.

Going back to what I had said earlier about my enthusiasm for learning about the community through their worship services, this week was an excellent lesson in history.  Here is a summary of some interesting points from the St George’s Visitor’s Guide that I picked up.

  • 1793 – 1828:    “The congregation, still largely consisting of wretchedly poor Irish, had numbered about 3,000 in 1793, but by 1828 seems to have increased fivefold.  Two or three of the chaplains died from infectious diseases endemic amongst the poor.”
  • 1848:  St George’s Church is opened
  • 1852:  Officially becomes a cathedral.
  • 1941:  Bombed.
  • 1953 – 1958: Cathedral is rebuilt. (This is the building that currently stands.)
  • late 20th C:  “Visitors to the rebuilt Cathedral have included Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, and, marking St. Geroge’s commitment to interfaith dialogue, the Dalai Lama.  Today the congregation reflects the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of South London.”

Be sure to click on the pictures to see an expanded view and caption.

The entrance to the Imperial War Museum is just a stone’s throw away from St. George’s.  Upon arrival we received tickets to their current special collection on WWI; good thing that we arrived near the beginning of the day because they were already booking 2 hours in advance (to manage foot traffic).  Any tourist guide that I’ve seen ranks the IWM as one of London’s best attractions, and after visiting, I can definitely see why.

Again, be sure to click on the pictures to see an expanded image with caption.

Moving maps to help illustrate key points that lead to WWI:

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Keeping everyone interested:

War effort propaganda:

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Sept 28 – Brompton Oratory & the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum

Since “Family Mass” seemed to go well, we decided to give that a go for this week, too– this time at the Brompton Oratory.  This was the most conservative parish of the three that I’ve been to since I’ve arrived. A number of the women I passed on my way in were wearing lace veils; I later learned that the 9 and 11am masses (2 of the 7 masses they say every Sunday) were “1962 Missal” and “Latin High Mass” respectively. Large signs were on the doors requesting that visitors refrain from photographs, but you can view images from their photo gallery on their website.

The 10am “Family Mass” had an unbelievable children’s choir: 5 boys, ~35 girls with a glorious blend (and impressive vowel matching!) that suggested skillful instruction.  There may have been a hymn book for people to pick up on their way into the church, but I must have missed it. It probably wouldn’t have done much good anyway since I’m unfamiliar with the local music and the common hymnal around these parts only has words (no music).  And anyway, the congregation only joined on the opening & closing songs; everything else, including all the mass parts, were sung by the choir. Though I really enjoy singing to participate, being “forced” to just listen provides a unique opportunity that I am very grateful to have had.

The priest focused his homily on this week’s Gospel (click here for the excerpts) which excellently complemented the philosophy reading I have been doing this week on Moral Theory. What is right?  Good?  Just? More on this to come soon!

The Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum of art & design was literally next door, so a post-mass visit only seemed fitting.

USA represent! VA Rotunda Chandelier by Dale Chihuly of Seattle , WA.


The museum is quite large, so I dedicated this visit to the Medieval and Renaissance wing.  Enjoy a few rounds of Identify Me, similar to Interpret This except there are correct answers this time.

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Some of the many representations of St George:

And finally, in honor of the liturgical feast celebrating the Archangels today:

Fun fact: September 29 is the feast of St Michael the Archangel.  Termed “Michaelmas” this date falls near the summer equinox each year and, conveniently, the beginning of the academic “fall term”– or as KCL (and other institutions) refer to it, the Michaelmas term. Check out this short Wikipedia article for a bit more info.

\ˈärt, ərt\

Since we had a few hours before the Comedy of Errors began at the Globe, we decided to walk next door to the Tate Modern Museum. My first memorable introduction to Tate Modern was via this lil documentary that my brother posted on my facebook wall this summer:  Why Beauty Matters (Roger Scruton – BBC, 2009).

Less eloquently summarized by the river boat captain: if you’re interested in seeing a building dedicated to displaying rubbish posing as art, make your way over to Tate Modern.

Ouch. Feeling like that was undeservedly hostile, I wanted to see for myself so I could draw my own conclusions.

High school aged art students presumably sketching various works throughout the museum
High school aged art students presumably sketching various works throughout the museum. Not quite sure what is meant by these Charlie Brown deciduous trees…

I was delighted to some works by Picasso including this one:

Seated Nude – Picasso (image from Tate Modern website)

I remember being introduced to Picasso in those Art inserts in my elementary school literature books.  His works were indeed… different from more classically trained artists, but from my perspective he pushed boundaries without jumping off the deep end like Duchamp did with his “Fountain” (harshly criticized in Scruton’s documentary).  Defining any random object as art does not necessarily make it so.  I further grew in appreciation for Picasso when his work was discussed in my UM English class: “more” does not always mean “better”.

Bull – Picasso

His classical skill is not as well publicized, probably because he rejected that style to portray the world in a unique, profound way.  I understand that just because something is “unique” or “profound” doesn’t necessarily make it art, but Picasso was definitely on to something.

Here was another piece that I found particularly interesting:


Homeworkers – Margaret Harrison

From the display caption: (courtesy of Tate Modern)

“Harrison advocated action and strong political discourse as the only effective means of fighting for workers’ and women’s rights. She began to research Homeworkers when the Equal Pay Act came into force in the UK in December 1975. Harrison worked with the National Campaign for Homeworkers in London for two years and interviewed several piece workers. The canvas includes items such as gloves, brooches, buttons and safety pins, flanked by their selling price, their production time and the money paid to their makers. The seven hands painted at the top symbolise the manual toil involved in piece work.”


I feel confident in disagreeing with the river boat captain’s claims, but there were some pieces in this gallery that were more… dodgy.  Enjoy a few rounds of Interpret This. Feel free to jot down your guesses in the comment section! Each picture is followed by Tate Modern’s description of the work so you can check your “answers”.

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Week 1: Call me a tourist?

This officially marks the end of my 1st week in London. Since classes haven’t yet started, I’ve had a remarkable amount of free time to see London.  Though I’m hesitant in calling myself a tourist– I know how to navigate multiple forms of public transit, I shop at the grocery, etc– I am many moons away from being considered a local. In the past few days, I’ve taken advantage of navigating myself to some of the more popular sites as well as some places off the beaten path. For the geographically inclined people out there, enjoy this map:


Roman Catholic Church of the English Martyrs

I really enjoy participating in mass when I travel because in addition to the religious aspects, it provides a unique perspective on the culture and community.  On Sunday I went to “Roman Catholic Church of the English Martyrs” since it was in the direction of the Whitechapel art gallery that I was planning to visit that afternoon with some friends I met during orientation.  Their 9am mass– one of two masses that are said at that parish each Sunday–  had ~50 people most of whom were 2, 3, and 4 times my age.  Hymns were led by one man singing very loudly in the back of the church and and each member of the congregation could pick up a hymnal (or rather, prayer book as it only had words and no music) on their way into the church.

Fitting to the church’s namesake, one of the petitions and a good portion of the homily was focused on David Haines, the British man who was recently beheaded by Isis.  Though Mr Haines was not a parishioner of that parish and it is reasonable to suppose that nobody in the church that morning knew him directly, they came together to grieve for the loss of one of their. In a somewhat strange way, by being invited to share in this grief, I was able to more fully connect with the parishioners and participate in the mass.

Petticoat Lane & Old Spitalfield’s Market

Mostly pictures. Definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in London. It is less crowded and less touristy than many of the places in Central London.

The Whitechapel Gallery featured modern art, but no photos were allowed.  We then headed to the WWI poppy memorial displayed at the Tower of London. It was amazing to compare these two modern exhibitions.  While I didn’t mind keeping a rather quick pace throughout the multilevel Whitechapel Gallery, I trailed along the edge of the Tower of London for quite some time.  Though I haven’t developed a definition of art in general terms, I know it when I see it.

We also found ourselves in the midst of the Tour de Britain. Apparently I’m good at finding bike races, because the Tour de Polone ended in Krakow when I was studying abroad there last summer.

Tour de Britain
Tour de Britain




Classic Boat Rally, St Katherine Docks

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Tower Bridge & The Scoop

On our walk back into Central London, we happened past the Totally Thames festival which focused on celebrating the local area.  In addition to the earth-fairy hats (see picture below) there was a petting zoo and a Sing for Water performance at the Scoop, an outdoor amphitheater.


British Museum

Another popular place to visit, even on a Monday!

After visiting Athens last summer, I was a bit disappointed to learn that many sculptures from ancient Greece were actually in the British Museum in London.  We have nice facilities, we’ll preserve and display them with care, said the Brits. So Greece built their Acropolis Museum in 2009… but they still didn’t get their artifacts back. Though I’m not necessarily supporting the politics behind this setup, it is certainly exciting for me to have access to this Grecian culture in my London neighborhood.

Ancient Greece exhibit in the British Museum
Ancient Greece exhibit in the British Museum

Even though classes will be starting soon, I’m looking forward to continuing the adventures. Here’s to a year of discovery, of becoming a Londoner and not just a visiting student in London.





On Saturday, I made a plan to go to the Borough Market, National Gallery, & National Portrait Gallery.

Borough Market

National Gallery

After the market, I took the train up to Charing Cross and walked to Trafalgar Square to visit the National Gallery & National Portrait Gallery.

I was lucky enough to arrive just as a free tour was starting at the National Gallery.  Since I am now living here instead of just visiting, it is really awesome to just stop in a gallery for an hour or two. That being said, it was a little bit unsettling to see how people were perusing the gallery.  I don’t proclaim to be an art expert, but I can tell the difference between a gallery and a zoo…

The former SWE president in me started brainstorming methods for improvement. Should the require you to participate in a tour? Or maybe charge a small admission fee to encourage people to be more conscious about their visit?  Or maybe just be more vigilant about chastising people for inappropriate behavior?  I was developing my remodeling plan until the end of the tour when the guide came up to one of the women standing behind me.  I hope my descriptions were ok for you, the guide said. Was this some sort of critic? I did a bit of obvious eavesdropping and soon realized the woman being addressed was holding a white cane.  While staring at people is generally not seen as polite behavior in the US culture (and as far as I can tell this rule remains true in London) I couldn’t help my eyes from widening: (1) in embarrassment for my train of thought that tried to limit access to this treasure , and (2) in amazement that such concerted efforts were being made to support art education for all.

Curious about the Gallery’s endeavor to make art accessible to everyone, I did a bit of research to find their Disability Equality Scheme (support for deaf, blind, physically handicapped visitors) and their mission to provide “the widest possible access to the national collection of paintings in the Western European tradition to around 1900, which it houses, conserves and displays.”  My fascination with this gallery runs much deeper than the beautiful artwork.

The Portrait Gallery was just around the corner, and I spotted St Martin in the Fields, the name sake of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the chamber orchestra directed by one of my favorite violinists, Joshua Bell.  I had the amazing opportunity to hear them perform Beethoven’s violin concerto as part of the UMS series in 2012 and will be keeping an eye out for tickets this year. 🙂

St Martin in the Fields
St Martin in the Fields

National Portrait Gallery