Creighton ILAC Ethics

The ethical topic I will discuss is the existence of the Creighton University ILAC program, through which Creighton sends dozens of students to the Dominican Republic every summer. The Institute for Latin American Concern “exists to educate its students with a view to their intellectual expansion, social adequacy, physical development, aesthetic appreciation and spiritual enrichment. Service to others, the importance of family life, the inalienable worth of the individual and appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity are core values of Creighton” (ILAC Website). High school students, undergraduate nurses, dental, medical and pharmacy students travel to the Dominican Republic for two weeks, followed by a second shift of the same students from the same programs who also stay for two weeks. During the month long annual project the students utilize the skills learned in their respective programs to administer medical care, prescribe drugs and fix the teeth of local populations in the Dominican Republic. During their stays, the students and faculty split time between staying in the ILAC headquarters and with host families in the communities surrounding.
The ILAC program is an ethical dilemma because of the tremendous cost of the transportation, installation and sustainment of the temporary care facilities. The program raises the question, “Who is the program for? The students, or the people of the third world Latin American communities served?” Certainly, many lives of Latin Americans are changed forever, or perhaps even saved, by the care provided by Creighton students. However, depending on how one looks at the situation, the program could be considered wasteful in that it does not best utilize the funds afforded to it. The cost incurred by each student personally is $3,000 (ILAC Website). The number of students who took part in ILAC during the summer of 2016 was 78 bringing the total cost for students to $234,000 per year. This number does not include costs incurred by the local community, donations, or cost to Creighton University itself. These numbers are not available.
The first position holds that the ILAC program is justifiable in its cost because the purpose is to enrich the health sciences students of Creighton University. One can make the case that the benefits achieved by a student over the course of the ILAC program are well worth the cost and vastly improve the student’s development as a student. These students go forth with the well-rounded education provided by Creighton University, including the rich Dominican Republic experience, and benefit the world in countless ways. The quarter-million dollar investment in the students is leveraged beyond measure as these students go forth in the world living the Jesuit values realized on the ILAC trip.
The students who have the opportunity to embark on the trip gain a tremendous sense of community. By physically travelling to such a remote destination with smells, flavors, dialect and ecosystem so vastly different than American homes, the students are able to return to the United States with the priceless value of global community and the sense that all men, all across the world, have value.
The second position holds that the ILAC program is not justifiable because the people of Latin America are not best aided through a program like ILAC. Over the years, many millions of dollars have been spent on student enrichment in the Dominican Republic with the pretense of helping the local populations. This expense is an embarrassment to Creighton University and a fraud to the Jesuit mission. With the time and dollars invested in the ILAC program, Creighton University could invest in real infrastructure and education that permanently provides healthcare in the Dominican Republic sustained and propagated by the locals and monitored and enriched by Creighton remotely.
In addition, the students who are seeking an enlightening experience could spend their time and exercise their skills in Omaha and surrounding communities also in desperate need of healthcare. This provides for all the benefits of the Dominican Republic trip with only the loss of frivolous and shallow values such as prestige, global knowledge and a bit of humility thanks to the heat.
The ethical theory which will be utilized to make this argument is the utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism is the belief that there is only one intrinsic value: happiness. This statement is simple, but it carries implications that are often misunderstood and perverted in order to dismiss utilitarianism. What JSM and utilitarian thinkers mean by the word happiness is more than pleasure or fun. Happiness results from the achievement of objective good by a person or group of people. Happiness is the feeling and knowledge that ethical and moral ideals are in harmony with practical action and functional realism is the world. Further, JSM teaches the critical principle of universal or ultimate happiness. Ultimate happiness is not simply the calculation of the number of people who are happy. Happiness is not a value defined by and bound to human emotion and intellect. It stands alone, independent of space, time and circumstance. Happiness is the natural, essential, objective driver of human action and inaction; this is what is meant by intrinsic. Finally, it must be understood that there is no other intrinsic value—all other values large and small such as honor, loyalty, family, pleasure, exercise, alertness, service, satisfaction, duty (et al.) are merely contributors and detractors of happiness.
The ILAC program and the Dominican Republic trip do not amount to the greatest universal happiness. The 78 students do indeed gain immeasurable happiness through the skills, community and faith gained on the trip. Indeed, the people of the Dominican Republic are relieved of temporary pain and suffering as well. But if one applies the principles of utilitarianism, the greatest possible happiness can only be achieved if the Creighton University family makes a permanent, sustainable impact on the Latin American populations. The greatest way this could be accomplished is through the leveraging of the assets Creighton already has: namely, the buildings and people of Omaha. Creighton could spend the millions of dollars on training students of the Dominican Republic in the arts and sciences of healthcare, then provide the equipment necessary for those students to implement healthcare programs in their own communities. There would be a significant loss of satisfaction for the students perhaps, but the values lost are not nearly as great as the universal happiness achieved through the sustainable impact of the native population pulling itself up from pain and suffering.
The first objection to this position challenges the premise that the purpose of the ILAC program is to aid the people of Latin America. ILAC, in fact, holds the purpose of educating and benefiting the students of Creighton University. Thus, the program is justifiable because it justly achieves this goal.
The argument falls apart because the utilitarian calculus does not consider the lasting impact of the Creighton students on potentially infinite persons through their children and their impact on friends, acquaintances and associates for generations. The lasting impact of the ILAC program, and thus, happiness, can be spread through relationships far outside the simple physical boundaries of Latin America. If one takes this into account, perhaps the Dominican Republic trip does provide for the ultimate happiness through the exponential spread of values embedded within students on the trip.
The second objection challenges the application of the utilitarian principle described as ultimate happiness. When Creighton students arrive at the ILAC headquarters in the Dominican Republic, they give up a very small price of comfort for the pleasurable feelings of aiding others, growing in skills, building resumes and stoking the ever raging fires of the savior complex. This massive influx of happiness is met with a complimentary increase in happiness from the local people the ILAC program is assisting. This happiness can be seen, it can be felt, it can nearly be measured by considering number of patients taken out of pain and number of patients walking away with smiles.
This is the most common critique of utilitarianism, essentially, it is a base level confusion with hedonism: a philosophy of maximizing pleasure. The second objection makes the mistake of being too narrow minded, to defined by space and time and too entrenched in the seeking of visible values. Hedonism does not consider the timeless properties of happiness, because pleasure is bound in time. If one were addressing the problem from the perspective of a hedonist, certainly the ILAC program is a great source of pleasure and, thus, “utilitarian.”
A very famous platitude goes: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” The ILAC program gives many men many fishes. Investment in real infrastructure and healthcare support from within the community teaches men to fish. Utilitarianism is a superior ethical theory and the proper application of it clearly arrives at this conclusion.

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