Experts Urge Catholic Colleges to Teach Bioethics Classes

Bioethics   |   Adam Wilson   |   Jun 15, 2011   |   4:33PM   |   Washington, DC

A leading expert in Catholic bioethics is calling on Catholic colleges and universities to ensure that students are knowledgeable of key bioethical concerns in today’s culture—a plea that is supported by several bioethics professors at Catholic colleges.

Dr. Marie T. Hilliard is director of bioethics and public policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, which consults regularly on life science issues and medical issues with the Vatican, the U.S. bishops, public policy-makers, hospitals and international organizations.  She is a former director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference and has graduate degrees in religious studies, canon law, nursing and higher education administration.

In her proposal published by the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education, a division of The Cardinal Newman Society, Dr. Hilliard considers the indispensable role of Catholic colleges and universities in preparing students to confront the secular culture which continues to bring forward new bioethical questions.

“Today medical research and technological developments outpace our ability to address easily the bioethical questions that necessarily arise,” Dr. Hilliard writes.  “Graduates of Catholic higher education, regardless of their fields of study, more than ever need to be academically prepared to address and shape the ensuing bioethical debates in our society.”

In “Bioethics Studies in Catholic Higher Education,” Dr. Hilliard proposes that Catholic higher education should ground students in the natural moral law through an integrated approach to examining current bioethical dilemmas.  She writes of the importance of a core curriculum in philosophy and theology for all students regardless of major.

Dr. Patrick Lee, who holds the John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Chair in Bioethics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville and directs the University’s Institute of Bioethics, finds merit in Dr. Hilliard’s proposal.

Dr. Lee said: “In Evangelium Vitae the late Pope John Paul II exhorted all Catholics to join in the work of mobilizing consciences to build up a culture of life, against an emerging culture of death.  Near the end of that encyclical he made a fervent exhortation to Catholic universities to make a specific intellectual contribution in this great effort…  Dr. Hilliard’s detailed proposal, ‘Bioethics Studies in Catholic Higher Education,’ is a much-needed, realistic, and detailed plan on how to answer that call.  Dr. Hilliard’s article also realistically assesses the cultural and political threats that recent developments in medicine and biotechnology pose to the faith, and makes a persuasive case for why bioethics should be taught in every solid Catholic university.  I highly recommend educators and Church leaders to read and seriously consider her concrete proposals.”

Dr. Hilliard also has the support of Msgr. David Liptak, co-director of the Pope John Paul II Bioethics Center and theology professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., and Br. Ignatius Perkins, O.P., Ph.D., dean of nursing at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn.

Brother Perkins, an internationally acclaimed nurse educator, said: “Built on the natural law, the principles of human dignity, freedom and conscience, and the centuries-old Catholic moral tradition, Hilliard proffers a curricular framework and presents an irrefutable challenge to the leadership in Catholic higher education to prepare women and men to engage the growing culture of secular relativism and to help re-shape and evangelize it.”

He hopes that Dr. Hilliard’s call for bioethics education will “provide the stimulus for radical change for the sake of the Gospel.”

Monsignor Liptak agrees: “Dr. Hilliard’s presentation can readily serve as an accelerant for urgent academic planning for what must be recognized as among the most dynamic, occasionally explosive areas of ethics today, generally under such attack that the perennial norms defending human dignity as derived from Revelation and reason illumined by Revelation, are being ‘redefined,’ if not discarded, by fragile, compromising and nondirective apologies sourced in our Age of Absurdity.”

Among materials well-suited for college-level bioethics studies are those produced by the Human Life Foundation in New York City, including its journal Human Life Review and its publication The Debate Since Roe, a compilation of pro-life arguments from authors as varied as Malcolm Muggeridge, Nat Hentoff, Hadley Arkes, Rev. Francis Canavan, S.J., and Ronald Reagan.

The Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education is a division of The Cardinal Newman Society that advises and assists academic and religious leaders in efforts to strengthen the Catholic identity and academic quality of Catholic colleges and universities.