With an award-winning author as their guide, Northeastern’s incoming first-year students this summer walked the halls of a New Orleans hospital immobilized by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. What they saw was both uplifting and deeply concerning— heroism juxtaposed with ethically troubling decision-making.
The journey was made possible by Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, a New York Times bestseller and a landmark investigation of patient deaths at the city’s Memorial Medical Center. The book was selected for Northeastern’s First Pages program this year.
On Tuesday night at Matthews Arena, Fink spoke to Northeastern’s 2,800 newest students about covering a crisis that saw thousands of people trapped at the hospital after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 and led medical staff to euthanize some of the hospital’s most critically ill patients.
“The important takeaway from this is that going through ethical dilemmas before we actually have to face them in real life can be very useful,” Fink said. “We can’t really know what we would do in this situation, but we can think about what we would want to have done if we faced this.”
Launched in 2006, the First Pages program requires incoming students—and encourages faculty, staff, and upperclassmen—to read a challenging book that highlights critical questions facing today’s students.
In welcoming remarks, Stephen W. Director, Northeastern’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, addressed the program’s goal. “I hope the book has and continues to stimulate a great deal of reflection and discussion on this campus about fundamental morals, public policy, and social issues of our day,” he said.
As a precursor to Tuesday’s talk, new students in Northeastern’s Honors Program attended a panel discussion on Thursday in Blackman Auditorium where three professors used Five Days at Memorial to discuss their research in English, philosophy, and medical law.