Medical student travels to Auschwitz, Berlin and more to study ethics

As a rising fourth-year medical student at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, Yeu-Shin Cindy “CJ” Chang has seen her fair share of the world already—and her worldview is quickly about to expand, as she was just one of 50 students selected for the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE).

Born and raised in Japan until age 10, Chang then lived in Taiwan until age 15 and moved the U.S. to attend Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., for high school. Following high school, she attended Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., for her undergraduate degree and masters in biomedical engineering, and she studied abroad at University College London.

Now she’s in Cleveland, but she’ll head to New York City June 26 for orientation at the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust and then travel to Berlin and Krakow and Oświęcim (the town Germans called Auschwitz), Poland. And after that whirlwind two-week trip? Chang will leave Poland and head straight to Malawi for her research year.

While in Berlin, she and other fellows will focus on what their professions did during the Holocaust; in Poland, they will tour Auschwitz-Birkenau and discuss contemporary ethics.

Students from law, medical, journalism and seminary backgrounds were selected to take part in the program. FASPE’s goal is to increase participants’ awareness and preparedness for the ethical issues they will confront as professionals. “By educating students about the causes of the Holocaust and promoting their awareness of contemporary related issues, FASPE seeks to prevent future collaboration by professional and religious leaders in genocide, racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia,” a statement from FASPE said.

For Chang, who intends to work with disadvantaged communities as a physician scientist, public health professional, engineer and anthropologist, the goals of FASPE fit perfectly with her future. “Given the vulnerability of the populations I plan to work with throughout my career, I think it’s particularly critical for me to have heightened awareness and sensitivity for ethical violations,” she explained. “Medicine might be where it is today because of the numerous experiments conducted on the disadvantaged, but I believe that it’s my responsibility to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself.”

FASPE sparked Chang’s interest because she wants to understand the Holocaust in the context of global history. “While the Nuremberg Code continues to profoundly shape Western research and bioethics, nothing like it resulted in Asia [after atrocities]. The Nanjing Massacre is still frequently denied by Japanese politicians, and debate about whether the data collected should be used is non-existent,” she said.

During her year in Malawi, Chang will run a 2,700-patient clinical trial to identify the best treatment for severe malnutrition in children between 6 months and 5 years old. She will travel to rural villages to evaluate malnourished children, give them nutritional supplements and conduct follow-up assessments. “I know it will be hard work, she said, “but I couldn’t have designed a more perfect project for myself.”

For more information on FASPE, visit their website.