Delving into bioethics

Karin Dienst

Princeton NJ -- Titled "Manic-Depressive DNA: An Ethical Analysis of Genetic Discoveries for Bipolar Affective Disorder," Valerie Gutmann's senior thesis took her deep into issues of bioethics and health care policy, a focus of hers while studying in the Woodrow Wilson School.

"I chose this topic in order to address a key issue at the intersection of science and ethics," said Gutmann. "The opportunity to explore the worlds of mental illness and genetics was ideal because it enabled me to look at many of the issues that are fundamental to bioethics (for example, genetic testing, gene therapy and reproductive decision-making), while also addressing less tangible issues such as personhood, agency, free will and determinism."


Gutmann was particularly interested in exploring the myth of the "mad artist." Her thesis considers the "possible implications of genetic discoveries for the suggested correlation between artistic creativity and manic-depression."

A highlight of Gutmann's research was meeting people working in the field, including Kay Jamison, author of "Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament," and Steven Hyman, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Gutmann also found working with her adviser, President Shapiro, to be a rewarding part of the thesis process. "President Shapiro was always engaging, responsive and supportive," she said. "As chair of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, he helped put my thesis in a new and exciting context."

Shapiro describes Gutmann's thesis as a "fascinating study dealing with what many would consider an extravagantly imagined future. She is trying to anticipate the day when we may have identified a gene or a complex of genes responsible for bipolar disorder. She then addresses the scientific, legal and ethical issues that would be involved in deploying this knowledge."

Gutmann refers to her experience writing a senior thesis as "quintessential." She adds: "On the one hand, I am definitely relieved to have met my deadlines and accomplished what I set out to accomplish. However, I am excited about the possibilities of research and policy decisions that could result from considerations such as these."

The combination of successfully meeting the challenges of the senior thesis and feeling excited that the work might mean something to a wider audience is powerful proof of the value of the process.

"I believe the senior thesis remains not only a distinctive but important and very valuable part of the Princeton undergraduate curriculum," said Shapiro. "The experience of conceptualizing and carrying out an independent research project can add a great deal to a student's overall capacity to think through difficult problems and formulate useful solutions."


May 7, 2001
Vol. 90, No. 27
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Senior thesis
Independent work caps Princeton experience
Delving into bioethics
Researching the court
Combining two interests
Analyzing theses topics

Minicourses provide 'continuing education'
Dale touched students lives
Faculty team serves up a slice of the universe

Communiversity 2001
PWB readers surveyed soon


By the numbers: Endowed professorships
Nassau Notes
Calendar of events

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Editor: Ruth Stevens
Calendar editor: Carolyn Geller
Contributing writers: Karin Dienst, Jennifer Greenstein, Marilyn Marks, Caroline Moseley, Steven Schultz, Lauren Sun
Photographer: Denise Applewhite
Design: Mahlon Lovett, Laurel Masten Cantor
Web edition: Mahlon Lovett