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Op Eds

Pre-Med in a Post-Roe Era

By Haley A. Lifieri, Crimson Opinion Writer
Haley A. Lifrieri ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Computer Science concentrator in Winthrop House.

I am the daughter of a nurse.

Growing up, I spent dinners listening to the visceral rundown on my mother’s patients — procedures they’d undergone, updates on their diagnoses, treatment plans, and anticipated recoveries. To this, my brother and my dad often reacted with hands-over-ears squeamishness, plates pushed away in disgust. On those evenings in our one-bedroom apartment, teeming with questions and grinning widely, I leaned in to hear more.

Against all the caution of my mother’s stories, I wanted to go into medicine.

While learning about anatomy and medical terminology are certainly perks of having a nurse as a mother, the most valuable lessons my mother gave me at dinner were not strictly medical in nature. They were about values: humanity, compassion, and empathy. She spoke not just of her patients’ physical suffering but of their home countries, cultures, jobs, and dreams. My mother carried with her the twinkle that sparkled in her patients’ eyes as they looked adoringly at their partners and children spending hours with them despite the plasticky discomfort of the hospital waiting-room chairs. In the ridges of my mother’s tired hands, I could feel her extraordinary efforts to prioritize her patients’ dignity and comfort and, before they were discharged, to teach them how to care for themselves.

Through her work on the floor and at the table, she showed the real purpose of medicine — to return humility and agency lost. That’s what I thought it meant to be pre-med.

At Harvard it isn’t. Or at least, for far too many, being on the pre-medical track isn’t about upholding the values my mother instilled in me. Many of my pre-med peers chose this path for its hefty salary or prestige and not (as one would hope) out of selflessness. And their actions reflect this: rushing to slap their name on as many PubMed articles as possible, concerning themselves primarily with the health of their precious GPAs, and most likely numbering among those who partied maskless during a pandemic.

While at Harvard, the overturning of Roe v. Wade sent a second tectonic shock through my pre-med world. The moment my roommate burst through my bedroom door to inform me of the leaked draft of the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson during last semester’s finals season will forever be stained on my frontal lobe. Hunched over my laptop, I paused from editing my final project, speechless as my heart sank and my tired eyes drooped with a different, more profound exhaustion.

As an American uterus-owner, the repercussions of a decision made by five Supreme Court Justices do not leave my mind. What haunts me most is a newfound sense of my precarity — the realization that just a few differences separate my circumstances from the dire realities of victims of rape and incest, pregnant people with health complications, and those simply uninterested, unfit, or unprepared for parenthood. As a member of this last group, I can now sense that my station in society is the only thing preventing my government from regarding me as reproductive livestock.

As a future doctor, I am preoccupied not just with thoughts of being in their shoes but of one day encountering them as patients in whichever specialty I choose. In this post-Roe world, a long list of additional questions about my future in medicine eats away precious minutes of my sleep each night. Should I prepare to be targeted like Dr. Caitlin Bernard, who saved the life of a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio and now faces threats of investigation despite doing her job? Could I have my medical license revoked, after working tirelessly for years on end and taking on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, for providing life-saving reproductive care? And the question that troubles me most of all: How will my peers and I respond when expected to deny patients the right to their own bodies?

My worry is that we will lend our hands to the destruction of lives impacted by sexual assault, ectopic pregnancy, and unprotected sex by failing to treat abortion as essential healthcare. My hope is that we, America’s pre-meds, won’t shy away from specialties like OB-GYN for fear of future legal battles. Where it already runs too thin, I say to all the pre-meds post-Roe: the medical field needs a higher dose of our compassion.

Haley A. Lifrieri ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Computer Science concentrator in Winthrop House.

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