Sometimes the things we do by chance are the most rewarding. Just ask 3L Jennifer Siegel, who submitted a class paper on a whim to a writing competition—and won.
Siegel’s paper “Advancing Ethical Research Practices in the Military” won the 2011 American Bar Association Health Law Section Law Student Writing Competition. The award includes publication in The Health Lawyer, attendance at the Health Law Section’s Emerging Issues Conference in San Diego, California, and an honorarium. “I am so proud of Jennifer,” said Assistant Professor Leslie Meltzer Henry. “She originally wrote this paper for my bioethics seminar and had the fortitude to continue working on it after the semester ended. A terrific result.”
A University of Michigan alum who majored in neuroscience, Siegel is now pursuing a joint degree in law and public health at UM Carey Law and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Siegel became interested in the ethics of human subjects research as an undergrad, during summer jobs at the National Institutes of Health. Later, in Professor Henry’s class, she focused on the ethical issues of research using vulnerable populations: children, the developmentally disabled, prisoners, and, surprisingly, members of the military. Professor Henry helped her parse through the research, and Siegel discovered several military experiments in which participants had not been informed of the risks.
Many people may find it hard to imagine that highly trained warriors are a vulnerable population, but others argue that the hierarchical structure of the armed forces, with its emphasis on patriotism and self-sacrifice for the greater good, make true consent difficult, perhaps impossible, to achieve.
The challenge, Siegel explains, is “trying to keep up with other militaries in technological and medical developments, while balancing the U.S. emphasis on individual autonomy,” as well as protecting military secrecy and respecting human dignity, which many ethicists believe relies on transparency. “The military has taken significant steps to try to improve this process,” Siegel says, noting that there are now a host of regulations regarding research on military subjects.
But there is still plenty of room for improvement, in Siegel’s view. For instance, she recommends that recruits receive a know-your-rights manual before they enlist. Once on board, they should be told that they can refuse to participate as research subjects or contact an inspector general if they suspect violations of research regulations. Siegel also points out that some existing regulations do not specify penalties for noncompliance.
In addition to her dual degree, Siegel is pursuing a health law certificate, which she hopes to combine with her interest in patent law; she would also like to “improve the standard of care,” she says, whether that means working for a firm, within government, or at a university.
In the meantime, though, Siegel is making the final edits to ready the paper for publication—and packing to go to California.
Rachel W. W. Granfield