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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Interview with Ann Mongoven

Erin Fox

Journalism Intern Erin Fox sat down with Ann Mongoven, new associate director of Health Care Ethics, for a chat about the interrelationship between science, medicine, and religion, and how Mongoven's previous experiences led her to her new position at the Center. 

While some scholars love abstract theory and research, Ann Mongoven, the Center's new associate director of Health Care Ethics, has a different approach. “My vision of academia is the opposite of an ivory tower,” Mongoven said. “The Center’s community oriented-engagement was really attractive to me, and my enthusiasm for that kind of mission was part of the reason why the Center and I seem to be a good match.”

Mongoven has an educational background in religious studies, ethics, and public health, as well as experience in teaching, clinical bioethics, and public policy-related work. Throughout her careermost recently at Michigan State UniversityMongoven has worked either in a religious studies department or in a medical school. Seems like an odd pairing, but Mongoven says they go hand-in-hand. “I think that science and medicine are deeply religious in the sense that they have myths and rituals and gurus and symbolic landscapes and language,” she said. “So thinking about how symbolic language and rituals form us is important in health care too.”

Mongoven gave the example of the so-called obesity epidemic, which is not literal language because epidemic is a metaphor from infectious diseases. “A question to ask is what is helpful and unhelpful about using that symbolic language to describe obesity,” Mongoven said. “You don't catch obesity like it's like Black Plague sweeping through Europe.”

Mongoven’s concern with the impact of language is part of her multidisciplinary approach to her field.  “Bioethics is coming to be seen more as a technical specialty and I think that's a mistake,” Mongoven said. “The biggest goal of bioethics is to look at health care with a social justice framework. It’s about relationship-building across medical teams, across science and humanities. At the end of the day it's about human relationships and bearing mortality together.”

“I think one thing that connects everything I've done is trying to find ways to listen to the people who are directly affectedso that’s patients and their families.” Mongoven is also committed to listening to communities in public health contexts, including people awaiting organ transplants or participating in research.

Margaret McLean, director of Bioethics at the Center, served as chair of the hiring committee that selected Mongoven.

“What was striking was her breadth of experience,” McLean said, “particularly working with hospital ethics committees and doing consultations. Also, her experience working with institutional review boards and doing some qualitative research.”

According to Mongoven, she had a “wonderful” experience with the Center early in her career just after she finished graduate school and started her first job at Indiana University over 20 years ago. The Center had annual organized symposia on a theme, and that year was about civic virtue, which was related to Mongoven’s dissertation. Half of attendees were from institutions all around the country and half were interdisciplinary faculty from SCU.

“We got together for a long weekend every month that year, and we had guest speakers come who were prominent in that field. The Center financed this for me so that I could be part of this really cool conversation, and they helped me writeI published one book and that experience contributed to it,” Mongoven said.

One of the reasons she was drawn to the associate director position was her “indebtedness” to the institution, as well as its commitment to engagement with the public through blogs and accessible events, as opposed to just narrow scholarly audiences. Though Mongoven’s on a self-proclaimed “learning curve” in the new job, something she’s been able to grasp easily was the intellectual curiosity of SCU students. “You’re not ‘robo students’ going through the motions,” Mongoven said. “You have incredible intellectual curiosity and you are forging new pathways and doing research that's original in its own right.”

According to Mongoven, the most important bioethics issues are perennialsuch as how to protect people’s privacy.  What keeps coming back to me in my career is that the old issues still are the biggest. And we shouldn't be seduced by tech, even though the promise is really exciting and does offer a lot, but it doesn't erase these old issues.”

Nov 7, 2018


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