Plan II Honors Logo
Plan II Honors

2012 Worthington Essay Contest

Tue, September 11, 2012
2012 Worthington Essay Contest

Topic: The Ethics of Controlling Disease

You are a physician who serves as Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One afternoon you get a call from a close friend, Stephanie Boyd, who was your classmate in medical school. Boyd is a colonel in the US Army and commands the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).

“I need some advice,” Colonel Boyd says. “I’m calling from Fort Bloom. I can’t give you all the particulars, because some of the details are still classified, but the broad strokes of the story—what I’m about to tell you—will become public information soon.

“With the cooperation of some of his staff, a senior medical officer here intentionally exposed his patients—including military personnel and civilians—to an infectious disease. The patients had no knowledge of the infection. The medical officer, Major Pena, made no effort to treat the disease, but instead studied its symptoms, its progression, and its transmission. There are some very sick people here and there has been one death.”

“How can I help?” you ask.

“The army has contained the outbreak. We are treating the infected and we have the situation under control. Dr. Pena and his staff have been arrested and will face courts martial. Here’s the problem: I don’t know what to do with Dr. Pena’s data. There’s a lot of information here. With the exception of the glaring ethical violations, the study was conducted with rigorous clinical methodology. This is a disease we don’t know a lot about. Pena’s data could be helpful in preventing or containing a future outbreak, or in diagnosis and thus in saving lives. Which is exactly what motivated Dr. Pena to run this awful experiment in the first place. I worry that by sharing these results with the medical community, I might be justifying or validating Pena’s actions. In the end, the decision might not be up to me, but to my superiors.

“I have always valued your judgment. What I need from you is an advisory letter, offering your opinion as a healthcare and research professional. You should address the letter to me, but it should be written in language that would be comprehensible to officers in the Pentagon who have no medical background. Should this ill-gotten but valuable data be published or not?”


Essays should be 1000 - 1500 words in length and offer a clear, well-reasoned answer to the question below. No prizes for essays that argue both sides. Faculty will evaluate and judge the essays.

The first-year prize will go to the best essay by a student entering in the Fall, unless that student should win the grand prize.

Grand Prize, $3000
First-Year Prize $2000
(for an incoming student who does not win the grand prize)
Second Prize, $1500

NOTA BENE:  If you are receiving financial aid, the amount you win may be limited.

Essay Instructions:

Your job is to write a 1000-1500 word memo to the USAMRIID Commander along the lines discussed above.  You must take a stand either for or against the policy proposal, making a convincing case for your position while addressing the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing position.

The essay should be long enough to make a convincing argument, yet be clear and concise. 
Include a title page with your name, UT EID, email address, and your class (freshman, sophomore, etc.).

Deadline:  5 p.m., October 26, 2012 

Submit your essay to the Plan II Honors front desk.  NO LATE ENTRIES.

Students who receive financial aid should check with the UT Office of Student Financial Services to find out if winning a prize will affect their aid package.

Bookmark and Share

  •   Map
  • Plan II Honors Program

    University of Texas at Austin
    305 East 23rd St
    CLA 2.102
    Austin, Texas, 78712-1250