CBHD Unveils BioethicsNEXT at its 25th Anniversary Conference
Trinity CommunicationsJuly 06, 2018
FOR 25 YEARS, The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity (CBHD) has borne witness to the enduring strength and ongoing need for a decidedly Christian bioethics, and, according to Executive Director Paige Comstock Cunningham, “it aims to do so well into the future with a comprehensive strategy poised to meet the rapid changes in biomedicine and biotechnology head-on.”
In light of this perennial need, during its 25th annual conference on June 21–23, CBHD unveiled BioethicsNEXT, a strategic initiative with the express intent to “equip a new generation of thought leaders in the church and the academy.”
“BioethicsNEXT entails CBHD’s response to the ongoing need to provide emerging Christian leaders with credible and accessible bioethical resources grounded in theology and biblical wisdom,” said Cunningham. “In so doing, our hope is to inspire young thinkers to courageously promote human dignity and foster human flourishing, as well as help pastors guide congregations to wisely face difficult decisions about medicine, science, and technology.”
At a special anniversary dinner celebration during the conference, CBHD announced the launching of this initiative in the midst of a program that included a personal welcome from Congressman Randall Hultgren (IL-14), a keynote address from Jeanne Mancini, president of Mar2ch for Life, and a closing reflection from John F. Kilner, professor and director of the bioethics programs at Trinity International University.
The conference theme focused on innovations in biotechnology and how they threaten to engulf traditional notions of human dignity, untethered as they are from shared guiding principles. Human-animal hybrids, gene editing, 3-parent embryos, computer-brain interfaces, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence undermine certainty about the boundaries of the human species, and the meaning of being human.
But this is not a novel problem, as the conference’s plenary speakers made clear. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published 200 years ago, also raised the questions: What does it mean to be human? Who is the human, and who is the monster? Victor Frankenstein, or the creature he made? Are there any aspects of human nature that are rightly considered sacrosanct, off-limits to being enhanced, modified, or eliminated?
While the seriousness of the questions prevents convenient answers, CBHD sought to grapple with them from across the spectrum of Christian traditions, professional engagement, and disciplinary vantage points.
One of those engaging these questions was Stephen Williams, honorary professor of theology at Queen’s University, Belfast, who returned to the podium after having participated as a speaker at CBHD’s first conference 25 years ago.
“True human flourishing must take into account its cruciform nature, and that is, of course, completely at odds with the transhumanist agenda,” said Williams, in what is perhaps a succinct summary statement of the theological bottom-line shared by those on the platform.
Another highlight of conference was the announcement of the Robert D. Orr Endowed Fellowship recipient for the 2018–2019 academic year. Michael Cox (PhD ’18) was the fellowship’s inaugural recipient this past year; Mario Tafferner (PhD cand.) will take up the role this coming year.
“I have been mentored by the leadership at CBHD, and it has been one of the crown jewels of my graduate education,” said Michael Cox.
The fellowship was established in honor of the contributions of Robert D. Orr, MD, CM, to the work of CBHD and to Christian bioethics. The fellowship is awarded each year to qualified students of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School committed to exploring the implications of biblical and theological perspectives for engaging medicine and technology.
This year’s recipient of the International Bioethics Scholars Program was also announced: Stephen Ombok, MBChB, MMed. The program enables the participant to spend one month of concentrated research and strategic planning at the Center. Ombuk comes to CBHD from The Nairobi Hospital, in Nairobi, Kenya. He is a specialist in bioethics and a paediatrician in private practice. He plans to work on developing bioethical curriculum for the sake of clinical and public health ethics, along with strategizing how to best advocate for and equip hospital ethics committees.
A number of graduate bioethics courses were offered in conjunction with the conference, including one-day pre-conference workshops on resolving conflicts in medicine and healthcare, and on controversies surrounding death and dying. During the conference, attendees could attend workshops on topics ranging from rights of conscience, to legal issues in fetal tissue procurement, to implications of reproductive and genetic technologies for disability.