Public invited to keynote address at premier bioethics seminar at University of Mary

BISMARCK, ND — Growing up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s got really complicated and controversial with the national media’s attention towards one man’s desire to assist in suicide for some terminally ill people. Dr. Jack Kevorkian invested a mere $45 to assemble his infamous machine known as the “instrument of death,” and even proposed to set up a franchise of “obitoriums,” where doctors could help the terminally ill end their lives in a matter of seconds.

A student in Ohio at that time named Ashley Fernandes, already aspiring to a career in medicine, quickly took notice of those headlines as they providentially began to influence what would begin his deeper passion for bioethics and a lifelong crusade for a “culture of life.”

Dr. Ashley Fernandes

Dr. Ashley Fernandes

“I saw, in those early days of Jack Kevorkian and assisted suicide, that medicine is much more complicated than ‘science,’ and that the human aspect of human medicine needed the help and guidance of moral truth if it was to survive at all as a healing profession,” said Fernandes, now a pediatrician and associate professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and associate director of the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “What shocked me the most about him was the argument that he applied forcefully—that a man has complete dominion over himself and is so unanswerable to anyone that he may apply a moral obligation even to another person who has professed to heal (i.e. the physician).”

Since the days of Kevorkian, Fernandes has gone on to become an award-winning academic and one of the world’s most sought-after speakers and authorities on Catholic bioethics. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society, and a member of the Arnold P. Goldman Humanism Honor Society, receiving the prestigious Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine award in 2010. Fernandes, the author of more than two dozen peer-reviewed publications and a member of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) and a CMA advisor to students, will be the keynote speaker at the nationally recognized University of Mary fall 2016 Bioethics Distinguished Lecture Series on Friday, December 9, in the Harold Schafer Leadership Center Great Room. A continental breakfast begins that day at 8 a.m., followed by Fernandes’s presentation “How Personalism Can Inform the “Business of Medicine” from 9 a.m. until noon.

“Personalism is a philosophical anthropology that posits that the ultimate value of existence is the individual person herself,” added Fernandes. “The business of medicine must remind itself of this truth and consider its aims on this basis, rather than profit or efficiency only. Sometimes the only proper care of the person is inefficiency.”

Mass in Our Lady of the Word Chapel and lunch in the Benedictine Dining center will follow at noon. The day concludes with Fernandes’ second presentation named “Ethics in Action: Clinical Cases,” from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Fernandes graduated from the University of Toledo with honors in two degrees—philosophy and biology. He received an MA in philosophy from Johns Hopkins University (1999); an MD from The Ohio State University (2003); and a PhD in philosophy (Bioethics) from Georgetown University (2008).

Fernandes’ achievements as a physician and bioethicist can no doubt be partly attributed to his obvious success in higher education. However, he’ll admit, just as profound an influence came earlier in his life as the third of five sibling brothers born to immigrant parents who came to the U.S. in the ‘70s from a Catholic region in India.

“Because so much of Indian life is defined by religion, Indian Catholics tend, as a whole, to be more religious, and more faithful to the teachings of the Church,” added Fernandes. “In my house growing up, we said the rosary daily and grew up with many elements of traditional piety; yet, my parents also tried to show us that faith was compatible with education (not opposed to it), and encouraged us to ‘look it up’ if we had questions about the faith and/or current events. So it was a very excellent mix of both love and truth in my family, and I am most grateful for that.”

And that is how faith and medicine came together for Fernandes.

“You can be a doctor without faith,” said Fernandes. “But I make no apologies when I say that you will be a better doctor, and practice a better medicine, in light of the Catholic faith.”

Where faith and medicine came together in the household for Fernandes, it could be debated, that is where it went awry for Kevorkian. Along with Kevorkian’s academic prowess came a highly critical mind, and he rarely accepted ideas at face value. Although his parents were strict and religious, Kevorkian often debated the idea of God’s existence every week in Sunday school until he realized he would not find an acceptable explanation to his questions, and stopped attending church entirely by the age of 12.

So who or what is today’s Jack Kevorkian?

“Now in so many issues in bioethics, the human person’s value is obscured by some other good—autonomy or ‘choice,’ (think: abortion, marijuana legalization); a life free of suffering (assisted suicide, euthanasia, infanticide); ‘science’ (think: embryonic stem cells); or economics (think: care for the disabled, health care reform),” said Fernandes. “But if we work toward building a society based on the value of a single person (not people en masse) as the absolute criterion of good, then we will, to paraphrase the great French philosopher Jacques Maritain, live in a world in which society is made for persons, not the other way around. We really must press forward persuasively with a positive view of the value of every human person—from conception to natural death. There should be no ‘false good’ that supplants the authentic good of being a person.”

While Kevorkian spent what would amount to pocket change to end peoples’ lives, Fernandes has invested his life extending and bettering the lives of children and adults through medicine and ethical practice—by valuing every human person and the Catholic faith as his core.



Cost for this event is $25, which also includes continental breakfast and lunch. To register, visit For more information about the seminar contact Dr. Karen Rohr, associate professor and director of Bioethics and Faculty Formation at the University of Mary at or (701) 355-8113.