Bioethics Faculty a Trailblazer in Academia

Interview With Rector of Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum

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ROME, MAY 31, 2001 ( The world´s first faculty of bioethics will be inaugurated this October.

It is an initiative of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum, an ecclesiastical university center that operates in Rome and near New York.

The new faculty and its students will study such issues as euthanasia, genetic engineering and genetic tests, which challenge scientists and doctors, as well as lawmakers, philosophers and theologians.

ZENIT interviewed Father Paolo Scarafoni, rector of Regina Apostolorum, about the new faculty´s objectives.

–Q: Why is an ecclesiastical university center like the Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum concerned with the topic of bioethics to such an extent that it creates a faculty?

–Father Paolo Scarafoni: The apostolic constitution «Sapientia Christiana,» the pontifical document that guides the activities of ecclesiastical universities, requests that the latter not be dedicated solely to philosophy and theology, but that they be able to address current problems of great interest for the Church and society, in light of Revelation.

Undoubtedly, at present one of the areas of greatest interest are the problems linked to biomedical sciences, and behavior related to human life and life in general, in other words, the field of bioethics. This is the reason we have been concerned about this for years, in particular, by offering a master´s course in bioethics — in cooperation with the Bioethics Center of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart — and by organizing some congresses on these topics.

–Q: But, why create a faculty of bioethics?

–Father Scarafoni: Bioethics has become a genuine academic discipline, which calls for serious dedication to study and research. Moreover, this discipline has a marked interdisciplinary character, requiring the interaction of different areas of learning, such as philosophy, medicine, law and also theology.

We thought that the best, and virtually the only, way to acquire adequate preparation in this field would be to institute a formative curriculum, which would establish the bases in each one of those sectors, and then add bioethical reflection to them.

Of course, graduate studies, congresses, study seminars, etc., are very interesting, but their very temporal limitation does not allow for that interdisciplinary and profound preparation that we wish to give the students of our faculty, through an ambitious and adequately long program.

Lastly, bioethics is increasingly required at the professional level, which means that, henceforth, there is a need to have a corresponding university degree that guarantees the adequate preparation of professionals in bioethics.

–Q: To whom does the faculty appeal and what is the content of its formative program?

–Father Scarafoni: The faculty opens its doors to all those interested in issues of bioethics, the promotion of health, and defense of life. Youths who wish to dedicate themselves professionally to bioethics, or professionals in areas more directly related to life, particularly priests, catechists and other pastoral care agents, who are especially committed to proclaiming the Gospel of life.

The formative program consists of three cycles: the bachelor´s degree, licentiate and doctorate. In the two years of the bachelor´s degree — preceded by an introductory year for those coming from pre-university studies — the foundations are established in the fields of philosophy, theology, medicine and law, and a comprehensive and rigorous knowledge of bioethical topics is acquired.

The object of the licentiate is further study and specialization, which will enable the student to be a professional in bioethics. The doctorate consists primarily of writing a research thesis, which offers a new contribution in the realm of this discipline.

–Q: It is interesting that the first faculty of bioethics in the world is established in an ecclesiastical university. What characteristics will the faculty have?

–Father Scarafoni: Well, the first characteristic is, precisely, that it is a faculty, as you yourself say, the first in the world, and, therefore, the first to able to offer, at the university level, both formation and the corresponding degrees.

In addition, it seems to me that it is significant that this first faculty of bioethics is established in a university that is not only ecclesiastical but pontifical. This is proof that the Catholic Church, its institutions, and living forces, are always concerned with new problems and man´s aspirations.

Bioethics has become an exciting field of dialogue and debate around some issues that affect all of us, such as health, respect for the human person, and life. The Church has much to say in these areas, and wishes to say it in open dialogue with all. Our faculty of bioethics can be yet another instrument for this task, operating in full harmony with the magisterium of the Church, in the sincere search for truth.

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