Tāmaki Innovation Campus


BUTLAND AWARD WINNER DEBATES ETHICAL QUESTIONS


Monique Jonas
Dr Monique Jonas

Ethical theorist Dr Monique Jonas has a job that gets her heading into Tāmaki Campus each day with a bounce in her step. Working in the School of Population Health, Dr Jonas teaches ethics within the Bachelor of Health Sciences and the Medical programme. She is also director of the Bachelor of Health Sciences, with a two-pronged research focus: the ethics of advice-giving and the parental role/role of the state in decision making for children.

Describing her job, she says, “I absolutely love working with large classes of undergrads. We spend lots of time in class analysing tricky cases and it really doesn’t feel like work to have those sustained conversations about ethics with my students.

“It feels like a massive privilege and I learn as much as I hope they do, from those conversations.”

Dr Jonas is the 2018 recipient of the Butland Teaching Award, for Sustained Teaching Excellence. She says receiving the accolade was very humbling. “In some ways I feel it is easier to look successful teaching ethics than some other subjects. The topics we discuss - e.g. should an expensive unproven new therapy be funded for a five-year-old boy with a brain tumour; is a 15-year-old who has suddenly developed acute heart failure competent to refuse the heart transplant she needs to stay alive? - are so inherently interesting, it is not too much of a struggle to sustain a class’s interest.

“The challenge is more about providing a way to move forward to resolution when there are viable arguments supporting multiple courses of action, and when people have different intuitions about what is required. Making ethical theory accessible and able to be operationalised is a challenge that I enjoy.”

Dr Jonas’ undergraduate degree included Politics and English, but a growing interest in political philosophy and ethics, especially medical ethics, drew her to the Centre for Medical Law and Ethics at King’s College London, where she completed her PhD.

Drawn by her heart north to Manchester, she says she was lucky to find several career opportunities there: a research assistant role at Manchester University and a lectureship in ethics at the Centre for Professional Ethics at Keele University.

“The centre at Keele was a dream place for a new academic to learn about teaching. My colleagues were inspirational and experienced teachers and most of the teaching was team-teaching, so I learnt from their wonderful examples. It was a very happy time for me and taught me a lot about how to cultivate positive respectful learning relationships and how to build a committed, happy functional team.”

For Monique Jonas, ethics was a childhood interest as well, discussed at the dinner table talking about some of the ethical dilemmas her registered nurse mother encountered in her work role.

“I like to work my way systematically through moral complexity and I’m interested in the way humans reason through moral dilemmas. I was drawn to decision-making for children as a particular focus, because I have always loved children and the responsibility that comes with looking after and deciding for children is so great, yet so difficult to interpret.

“Parents often feel unclear about what the right action is (I know I do!), so I think that there is value in addressing some of those zones of concern in a structured way.”  

Dr Jonas says new technology is generating new ethical challenges. For example, the ability to access genetic information about a patient which has implications for other family members. “Does a patient have an obligation to share such information with affected family, even if they would prefer it to be kept private? Or can such information constitute a burden rather than a benefit, and who gets to determine that?

“These are questions that we don’t have established answers for, and ethical theorists have a role to play in addressing them. The rise of new and expensive therapies also generates questions about distributive justice: is there an upper limit to the amount that the state should be prepared to pay to extend a person’s life, and if so, what considerations establish what the limit should be? These are questions that we consider in ethics classes.”

Reflecting on lessons learned on the career journey, Dr Jonas says she would advise her younger self to take more risks in terms of learning, “I tended to stick with areas that I felt safe and able in, and the result is that I have a very lop-sided skill set! Possibly I focussed too much on marks and not enough on learning and extending myself; that’s something I am now consciously addressing.”

For a Tāmaki-campus newbie (she had never been to Tāmaki whilst studying in the city), she admits it was all very new.  “I have really enjoyed the solitude in the quiet parts of the year, the fact that we see our students on campus and can get to know them a little talking in the coffee line for instance, and the great sense of community that I have experienced at the School of Population Health. But my favourite aspect of the campus is the role that Clara and Daniel (who run the café) play - they are so friendly and kind. We have been lucky to have them!