A central Illinois school recently gave students an assignment many are calling a “death panel” assignment. The fifteen year olds were told to decide what six of ten people would be allowed to get life-saving medical treatment.
The school, St. Joseph Ogden High School in St. Joseph, IL, presented students with the situation where ten patients needed dialysis treatments. But, the kids were told, the local hospital only had six dialysis machines with which to save their lives. Four people must die, the assignment gravely said. Then the kids were given a list of descriptions of ten people and were told to pick the six who would get the treatment and the four who would die.
On the list were a lawyer, a housewife, a doctor, a disabled person, a college student, an ex-convict guilty of man-slaughter, a prostitute, a teacher, a cop, and a Lutheran Minister.
Kids had to choose which of these people would live and which would die.
The class was a social sciences class and the assignment is the sort of ethical dilemma scenario that college students are often presented in philosophy classes. But many are questioning the propriety of giving 14 and 15 year olds such an assignment.
The school did respond to questions in a statement by school principal, Brian Brooks.
“The assignment you are referring to is not a ‘Death Panel’ assignment. The assignment is one in the sociology unit of our Introduction To Social Studies class. The purpose of the assignment is to educate students about social values and how people in our society unfortunately create biases based off of professions, race, gender, etc. The teacher’s goal is to educate students in the fact that these social value biases exist, and that hopefully students will see things from a different perspective after the activity is completed. The teacher’s purpose in the element of the assignment you are referring to is to get students emotionally involved to participate in the classroom discussion, and to open their minds to the fact that they themselves have their own social biases. The assignment has nothing to do with a ‘Death Panel.’”
“We encourage parents to contact their son/daughter’s teachers if they have any concerns about an assignment in the classroom. That line of communication typically clears up any potential misunderstanding.”
But some Illinoisans are wondering if this is an appropriate assignment.
Questions on whether or not this is a part of Common Core curriculum, exactly who approved of the assignment, and why was the assignment really created are being asked by parents and others in the Land of Lincoln.