February 2015


Marjorie Shultz insterests deal with complex human values stems from her childhood. She grew up in Southwest Los Angeles in the 40s and 50s; her father, a minister, pacifist, and activist with CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality) was forced out of the church because of his political activities. "My family was peace-minded," she says. "Over dinner, we talked about racial and social issues and the importance for caring for others."

After earning her B.A. in history, Marjorie applied to graduate programs at two prestigious universities. She was turned down for a scholarship by both because she was a married woman. "They didn't want to waste a scholarship on a student who would probably have a kid and drop out. I wasn't enough of a feminist at the time to see the rejection in a larger context."

Marjorie and her husband, Jim Shultz, lived in Chicago in the 1960s where he pursued a doctorate in Human Development and she taught history in a small college. Later, they moved to Washington, DC, where she worked on a research project about political change. "Every other person I met was a lawyer. I had always been interested in social justice and decided I wanted to go to law school." Jim wanted to come to Berkeley to study Tibetan Buddhism, and Marjorie entered Boalt Law School. After graduating first in her class, she was immediately offered a teaching job at Boalt. Yes, it was 1976 when law schools were being pressured to hire women, but it was still an honor to be hired right out of law school and sweet revenge for Marjorie, then a mother of two, who had earlier been denied a scholarship as a married woman. She taught contract law and health at Boalt for 33 years and retired in 2008.

Marjorie missed teaching and was eager to return to the classroom at OLLI. Her class will approach biomedical ethics from a legal perspective but, most cases, she says, cannot be decided on strict legal or medical grounds. "These are issues of values, which is why it is so difficult to reach consensus."

Marjorie's interest in biomedical ethics was sparked years ago by a case of a pregnant woman whose baby would be born with severe impairments. The parents informed the hospital that they didn't want the baby to be resuscitated, but a hospital lawyer reversed their wishes.

Years later, the division of authority between health professionals and lay persons became a personal issue for Marjorie and Jim after their 19-year old son suffered catastrophic injuries in a head-on car crash. The doctors old them that he would never come out of the coma, but they fought the hospital's recommendation to give him only custodial care. With heroic efforts their son survived, although with impairments. Marjorie's experience with her son inevitably influenced her views on decision-making by medical professionals and the family, which will be one of the themes discussed in class.