The Philosophy Department is thrilled to announce that philosophy major Emily Zhang '23 has been awarded the Jonathan B. Rintels 1927 Prize for the Class of 2023 for her honors thesis, "Critical Interests and Advance Directives of People with Dementia." The Rintels Prize is awarded annually in the fall for the best honors thesis written in the Arts/Humanities and Social Sciences.
Samuel Levey, Associate Dean of the Arts and Humanities, noted, "We agree with Professor Ann Bumpus's assessment that Zhang's thesis is 'impressive for many reasons' and that Zhang 'convincingly defends her own position' and succeeds in 'advancing the discussion of a timely and important dilemma in medical ethics.' It's an exemplary piece of philosophy."
Emily's thesis advisor, Professor Ann Bumpus, provided the following comments in her nomination letter:
"Emily's thesis tackles the difficult question of when to follow a dementia patient's advance directive. A mentally competent person can change her mind and override or alter an advance directive. Someone in a coma cannot do so. With a dementia patient, the situation is far murkier. Is someone with middle or late-stage Alzheimer's still the same person? If a dementia patient's advance directive no longer seems in that patient's best interest, what should a provider do?
This dilemma was most notably addressed by Ronald Dworkin in his book Life's Dominion. Dworkin argues that medical providers fail to respect the patient's autonomy and best interests if treatment diverges at all from a patient's advance directive. Dworkin believes a dementia patient lacks the cognitive capacity to override earlier wishes and assimilates the case to that of someone in a coma. Philosopher Rebecca Dresser, on the other hand, argues that the dementia patient is no longer the same person and thus the advance directive is no longer applicable. Emily takes a middle position, assuming that patient is still the same person but arguing that Dworkin's position fails to appreciate the nuances of Alzheimer's and underestimates the abilities and agency of those in early and middle stages of the illness.
Emily's thesis is impressive for many reasons. Among them is that she is able to convincingly argue against Dworkin on both empirical grounds — bringing her experience shadowing a palliative care specialist to bear — and on theoretical grounds, raising incisive and thoughtful criticisms of Dworkin's position. She posits and convincingly defends her own position, advancing the discussion of an important and timely dilemma in medical ethics."
Please join us in congratulating Emily on this terrific achievement.