University of Mary and the NCBC invite the public to two-day bioethics seminar

BISMARCK, ND—In an alarming tone the TV anchor proceeded to address her national primetime viewers with this developing story out of the United Kingdom.

“A huge scientific and moral debate is brewing tonight after a landmark decision in the U.K. where the ethics council gave the green light to genetically modified babies, meaning that parents could choose what DNA they do and do not want their children to have,” she said. Then she continued by reading a graphic on the screen: “The Guardian newspaper writing, quote, ‘The U.K.-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics says changing the DNA of a human embryo could be morally permissible if it is in the child’s best interests.”

As the TV news program continued with their guests to discuss this breaking news, it was reminiscent of a movie in the late 70s called “The Boys from Brazil.” A fictional film based on the real Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, the notorious concentration camp medical doctor known as the “Angel of Death,” who performed horrific experiments on camp victims during World War II. The film picks up its story after he had escaped Europe to South America where he continued biological engineering on people. While at the time the movie’s premise and Mengele’s actions seemed out of reach, these recent actions in the U.K. prove nothing can be viewed as far-fetched anymore.

This decision by a U.K. ethics body is medical experimentation on human beings, says Father Tad Pacholczyk, Ph.D. Pacholczyk earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard and is now one of the world’s experts in the bioethics field as a member of the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) in the United States and professor of bioethics at the University of Mary in Bismarck.

Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education at NCBC stressed that the August seminar seeks to address questions of bioethics in practical terms.

“On first glance, genetic editing of human embryos to treat diseases seems like a laudable project,” said Pacholczyk. “But the reality is far more complex. The most likely approach that scientists would take to genetically modify an embryo would require that the embryo(s) be created in glassware through in vitrofertilization, a step that violates their human dignity and ‘objectifies’ them. Humans are entitled to be brought into the world not in the cold, impersonal world of laboratory glassware, but exclusively in the loving bodily embrace of their parents. The proposed genetic ‘therapies’ would not involve treating the embryo as a unique patient, within his or her mother’s womb. It would rather involve treating the embryo as laboratory fodder, prepped up for experimental protocols that, in fact, would require numerous embryos to be simultaneously created (or thawed out), treated as ‘products’ and subjected to genetic ‘treatments’ to see if just a few of them might end up surviving and developing without the disease.”

Pacholczyk will be discussing the ethics surrounding human embryo experimentation and be one of the many world-renowned bioethics experts presenting at a two-day seminar at the University of Mary, in partnership with the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), Friday and Saturday, August 10 and 11, 2018, inside the Lumen Vitae University Center’s Lower Level Conference Center. The event, which is open to the public, brings together authorities in the field to make sense of it all and answer questions regarding other current topics including physician-assisted suicide, stem cell research and end-of-life care.

Pacholczyk noted that the proposal to move forward with designer babies raises numerous ethical questions, and involves significant risks.

“The use of genetic modification technologies on embryos imposes significant risk for the embryo, simply in terms of the mechanical procedures themselves, the numerous manipulative steps involved, and the risks of potential ‘off target’ genetic changes that might reasonably be expected to occur,” Pacholczyk observed. “Granting permission, as the U.K. ethics board has done, for research on genetically modifying embryos to proceed is to open up the floodgates for further subjugation of vulnerable, embryonic humans, individuals at the earliest stages of their existence who will be created in unsuitable settings, manipulated, manhandled, and will often end up perishing as part of the experiment.”

Others concur. Marc Thiessen, author, national columnist, and currently a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), one of the guest experts appearing on the TV news program, says the long-term consequences are enormous from a health perspective and it also creates all sorts of societal injustice issues.

“If we alter the faulty genes, we don’t know what we’re doing, what the scientists are doing to the healthy genes and it’s not just affecting that one individual child,” he added. “You are changing their DNA sequence, which means their children, and their children’s children, and their children’s children will be affected by whatever changes you make in the laboratory. So it’s enormously problematic. Look, everybody wants to eliminate the suffering of these genetic diseases, but there are all sorts of unintended consequences that come along with this. Because if you can change the DNA in order to eliminate diseases, you can also change the DNA to make better athletes, to make them more intelligent, to make them more attractive and all of a sudden you get down on the slippery slope of this genetically altered designer babies where parents are choosing what attributes they want for their children. That’s going to have a lot of downstream impacts. One of the things it’s going to do is it’s going to dramatically exacerbate inequality because only the wealthy are going to be able to afford genetic engineering. So what you will have is you have income inequality replaced by genetic inequality where you have two classes of people: the genetically altered elite who have more skill, more intelligence, more talent; and the unaltered poor, who are going to be even more of a lower class society.  So this has really, really big downstream consequences nobody has thought about.”

Since it was an “ethics” board that gave the go ahead in the U.K., designer babies must be okay, right? Not according to Father Jonathan Morris, who also spoke on the TV news program.

“Very often when there is money involved, what these hospitals or governments do is they hire bioethicists to tell them that it’s okay,” said Morris. “And so we have to be careful. This was a bioethical committee organization that said ‘we think this is now morally permissible.’ And then the government, or the hospital can say ‘we passed it by our bioethics committee and it turns out it’s all good.’ Very dangerous.”

The urgency of these controversies evoke the importance of seeking the fullness of the truth in science, and one way to do so is by attending this year’s public bioethics seminar at the University of Mary August 10 and 11.

People interested in the two-day bioethics seminar or would like to register for the event online can do so at wanting to learn more about the University of Mary bioethics program should contact the Director of Bioethics, Dr. Karen Rohr, at kmrohr@umary.eduor (701) 355-8113.