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Laura Perrins: This girl can wield a knife but does that make her a heart surgeon?


Just how rotten is the culture and what is going on with the students? On close reading of the case of Lavina Woodward suggests that all is not what it should be in the Dreaming Spires.

Press reports about the ‘extraordinary medical student and aspiring heart surgeon’ who stabbed her boyfriend with a kitchen knife caused outrage because of the suggestion that she may not go to jail. In truth, legally, this is not that surprising as explained here.

However, The Times report hinted at the culture that exists at the university.

“Lavinia Woodward, 24, is an aspiring heart surgeon who met the man, a Cambridge graduate, on Tinder. During a drink and drug-fuelled row at Christ Church, Oxford, last September, she punched him and swiped at him with a bread knife. She then stabbed him in the leg before hurling a laptop, a glass and a jam jar at him.”

In terms of what happened on the night of the assault: “Cathy Olliver, for the prosecution, said that Woodward had met the man on Tinder and that by the time of the attack on September 30 her behaviour had deteriorated.

“The student’s boyfriend — who was not named in court because he is a victim of domestic violence — called Woodward’s mother on Skype. Woodward then punched him in the face before picking up a bread knife and stabbing him in the leg.”

Woodward’s defence barrister told the court, “Woodward had had a ‘very troubled life’ and had been abused by another former partner, adding that her crime had resulted from her addiction”. That addiction was to cocaine.

Now, before I really get started, I am not denying that we have all made youthful, stupid, mistakes in our time. I am not denying that university culture has and probably always will be saturated with drink, which can leave students vulnerable as well as encouraging them to do things they would not dream of doing if sober.

But can I just ask, what is going on with the medical students and more importantly those who are choosing them? This young woman, who I hope will rebuild her life, is surely not fit to be a heart surgeon. Perhaps she will be a talented doctor – I don’t know – but my understanding of heart surgery is that it is very high-pressured.

It is not just a question of whether you are an extraordinary talent and can churn out academic papers. This is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for the job. The most important requirement is that you are sober, have a steady hand, and can take the pressure day in day out, hours at time in theatre and for decades at a time.

Ms Woodward obviously had a serious cocaine habit and, as we have heard, has had ‘a very troubled life.’ My guess is her cocaine habit was used to alleviate the pressure of her degree. Is this pressure going to reduce when she qualifies? I doubt it.

Woodward met the victim on Tinder, who seems to have become her boyfriend. On the particular night he attempted to call Woodward’s mother on Skype – we are not told why – and she punched him the face, before picking him up a bread knife a stabbing in the leg. She then hurled a laptop, glass, and jam jar at him. It would be incredible to believe she could be a heart surgeon after this.

The judge in deferring sentence said: “It seems to me that if this was a one-off, a complete one-off, to prevent this extraordinarily able young lady from following her long-held desire to enter the profession she wishes to would be a sentence which would be too severe.”

It is not known if the judge was holding a bunch of roses and looking quite doe-eyed while making this statement. Anyway, such is the privilege of the cognitive elite. I can only assume that the not-so-extraordinary drug-addicted prostitutes can quietly make their way to Holloway prison.

Yet, there was still more evidence of students behaving badly. Within this report we are told that Woodward “previously dated Inigo Lapwood, an Oxford student who was temporarily banned from Christ Church after taking a flamethrower to a party.” As you do.

Lapwood is a vicar’s son (of course he is) and he is a philosophy and psychology student at Christ Church (of course he is) and was suspended after the flamethrower incident.

Perhaps I am being unfair in focusing on these two cases. Perhaps they are just unusual, but I am not sure. We’ve all had a few wild nights at university, but the flamethrowers and cocaine and drink fuelled rows that ended up with a stabbing are something new.

What makes the whole thing even more depressing is that this is the elite – these will be the folks running the country or saving our lives. We should not be surprised that this is what we get in a culture that values academic results and professional status over character and ethics. What a nightmare.

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