The questions and issues in healthcare, medical research, and technology are changing. Through the 21st annual summer conference, Bioethics in Transition, The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity (CBHD) joined the conversation from various Christian perspectives.
From June 19-21, over 200 individuals from five countries gathered to hear several keynote speakers discuss the expansion of bioethical issues, the loss of theological grounding, global perspectives, and public policy challenges.
Thursday evening, Michael Sleasman, PhD, Managing Director and Research Scholar at CBHD, framed the conference discussion by highlighting key transitions in the 40+ year history of bioethics as a field of inquiry in general, and the 20 years of Christian bioethical engagement through CBHD in particular. He was followed by Gilbert Meilaender, PhD (Valparaiso University) speaking on “Enduring Issues in Bioethics.” He unpacked three significant concerns: the unity and integrity of the human person; the relation between the generations; and human suffering and vulnerability.
Jeffrey Bishop, MD, PhD (Saint Louis University), traced the move from thinking about bodies in an I-Thou relationship, to the medical philosophical shift in regarding the body as “dead matter in motion,” an I-It relationship. The body was to be studied in terms of its function, not its purpose. The initial desire for organs for transplantation triggered a change in the definition of death. Dr. Bishop soberly reminded the audience that “technology is not our savior,” yet technology propels the bureaucratization of organ procurement aimed at increasing the number of organs.
Henk ten Have, MD, PhD (Duqusene University), an internationally renowned bioethicist who is director of the UNESCO Division of Ethics of Science and Technology, traced the move “From Biomedical Ethics to Global Ethics.” Dr ten Have asked, “What is bioethics?” He noted the contrasts between the North American/European emphasis on medicine, healthcare and technology through the lens of autonomy, and the dissimilar perspectives in Latin America, Asia, and the Arab region. In addition to noting the array of bioethical issues that are globally interconnected, Dr. ten Have also pointed out the “New Issues”: Big Food, Big Pharma, scientific integrity, corruption, disasters and vulnerability, and social inequality.
On Saturday, Lisa Anderson-Shaw, DrPH (University of Illinois Medical Center), drew attention to “Transitions and Trends in Bioethics: Rural Health Care Ethics and Inter-professional Education.” She noted the differences between urban and rural settings that raise distinct ethical issues. How does one protect confidentiality in a small town where everyone knows who visits the doctor, and wants to know why? Dr. Anderson-Shaw also discussed inter-professional education as a way forward to remove the specialist “silos” that prevent holistic patient care.
Drawing on more than thirty years of experience in public policy, Mr. Richard Doerflinger (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) traced the transitions from biomedical and technological developments to legislative and regulatory involvement. Current bioethical issues were once in the realm of science fiction: human cloning and “fetus farming” for research, creating human/animal hybrids, “three-parent” children, and redefining death in the name of human well-being. He questioned the prevailing value of “scientific progress for its own sake,” as the new religion of the 21st century.
Paige Cunningham, JD, CBHD’s Executive Director, closed the conference with a challenge to the secularized academy to return to God, the root of all ethics; to the next generation of bioethics scholars to be serious, credible, and charitable; to the church to gain a clear theological understanding of what it means to be made in the image of God; and to the audience to finish well with perseverance.
National organizations participated as well: Family Research Council, Americans United for Life, Christian Medical & Dental Associations, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Nurses Christian Fellowship. Presenters at five workshops and 24 paper sessions, represented professionals and academic from a number of different field and specializations. Graduate and doctoral students presented papers, including TEDS and TGS students.
Even though the challenges of the fundamental transitions in bioethics are daunting, the conference was a success. In the words of one attendee, “I want to say that we were mightily blessed by all the events of last week’s conference. We were blessed because CBHD has remained true to its Christian calling. We were blessed because so many very busy presenters graciously gave of their time. We were blessed because you worked so much behind the scenes to keep the ship on its true course.”
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