By: Meena Alnajar
To study abroad is to take on a great and unique challenge in your life. It can be daunting to head off to a new country, but I found that every challenge I faced on my semester abroad ended up yielding amazing results that will last me a lifetime. As I set off to Maynooth University, Ireland for my 2019 winter term I was ecstatic yet nervous at some of the challenges that lay ahead. Of those challenges, my fourth-year law class Contemporary Issues in Medicine and the Law seemed the scariest. It was a higher grade level, a subject I had never taken before, and my whole mark depended upon one thing: the 100% exam! Thanks to this class though, I returned from my exchange with a new perspective on what direction to take my career. Sometimes the nerve-wracking things end up being the best things that could happen to you on your exchange.
The course content was not overwhelming but truly engaging because it was based on real human lives and the challenges they faced with getting access to healthcare. For example, we discussed the concept of “death tourism”, which occurs when assisted dying is illegal in one country so people go to another country to die without the proper safety legislations in place. This concept demonstrated how people will fight for the care they want, even if their own country may not allow it. This course was structured by two broad themes every month such as “Consent and Capacity” and “Reproductive Law”. The lectures were split, half of the content was legislation and by-laws while the other half were related cases that acted to show either the strengths or weaknesses of the laws. The course also made me aware of the differences between Canadian and Irish laws. What is interesting about taking this course on my semester abroad is that until 2018, Ireland had the Eighth Amendment, a law that gave equal rights to both the pregnant mother and the unborn. Whereas in Canada, the pregnant mother has all the rights regarding the pregnancy at any stage. Our readings were not just facts and legislation but real stories about what can happen when legislation is limited in a certain area or does not keep pace with emerging innovations in healthcare. I read with an open mind and learned so much about changes in Irish law such as organ donation systems being created and adoptive parent laws that I would have otherwise never heard of outside of this class. This course helped me enhance my understanding of Irish culture and beliefs. Some previous laws like that regarding the unborn were heavily tied to Ireland’s religious views. This class urged me to examine a variety of perspectives on what is considered just healthcare. Gaining different perspectives and cultural understandings are skills you take away from every exchange, look forward to it!
I came away not only with an accomplishment but with a new vision. I am now very interested in working on something related to medical ethics and law as part of my career. This course was being offered for the first time at Maynooth and nothing like it was offered at McMaster. It is these experiences you should seek on your exchange, ones you will not find anywhere else.
Meena Alnajar is a fourth year Honours Arts and Science student at McMaster University. She studied for a single term at the National University of Ireland Maynooth.