Students Learning ‘Death Panel’ Ethics

Last week, The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview devoted one of its daily “Breakpoint Commentary” pieces to a recent situation at an Illinois high school.

Ninth and tenth-graders at St. Joseph-Ogden High School were given an assignment, which John Stonestreet describes as follows:

“The lesson began by telling students that ten people shared a serious problem: Without access to a dialysis machine, they would all die.

“Unfortunately, they were told, the local hospital only has enough machines for six of them. The assignment was to decide who got the treatment and who didn’t. The students were asked to rank the potential recipients from one, the person they most wanted to receive treatment, to ten, the person they least wanted.

“All they knew about the people was age, race, and occupation or lack thereof: a housewife, doctor, lawyer, disabled person, cop, teacher, minister, college student, ex-convict, and prostitute.”

The school has defended the exercise, saying the lesson was about “bias.” If that’s the case, why ask students to make theoretical life-and-death decisions about total strangers using little more than racial, occupational, and medical information? Why not at least give them additional info and ask students to weigh whether a person’s value is tied to more than what they contribute to society through their job?

The assignment is very similar to another popular lesson that has popped up now and again in public schools across America the past few decades: The “lifeboat exercise.”