The Faculty of Bioethics at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum seeks the truth and engages today's most pressing issues.
Today we witness an exchange of personal opinions made public and shared through articles, stories, social media and any other means of communication at our disposal. This discourse of opinion concerns any topic from the most futile to the most “challenging.” When the subject shifts to bioethics, the challenge is all the more pressing, even urgent.
This environment, while on the one hand, might have the merit of generating dialogue, raising new questions and providing potential starting points for a true spirit of sharing, freedom and community. However, on the other hand, it runs the very risk of becoming disorienting. There is no longer “an authoritative source”, no longer a distinction between true and false, good and bad. The prevailing absolute is “in my opinion” and everything becomes “fluid”: anyone can express his or her own point of view even on a subject he or she does not know at all.
Every field of science—science taken both in a narrow and in a broad sense—is somehow affected. For example, consider medicine. Think of “alternative” cures that never go out of fashion or the recent controversies about vaccines against Covid-19 which are viewed as more or less “biased” interpretations. It may be an invasion of the field of Einstein’s law of relativity, but surely, this relativism has been increasingly successful in moral issues.
Conscience and truth
We therefore wonder: whatrelationship exists between conscience and truth? It has often been said that conscience has supremacy over all our moral choices. This is true, but it must be well understood, not to be blinded by our own self-centeredness. Indeed, what is necessary for conscience to be validly heard? It must be well formed.
This is a principle that we mundanely absorb even as children when Mom and Dad tell us, “No, don’t do this, because you’ll get hurt!” We are so sure of the inherent good behind those words that we are willing to learn from them, despite the tantrums that accompany this learning process and still serve to solidify our identity and freedom.
As Catechism teaches: “The education of the conscience is a lifelongtask. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart” (CCC, 1784).
As we grow up, we sometimes forget to seek this truth and goodness, to learn, convinced that we have to do it on our own, or even, that we need to invent something to believe in. The loving attempts of those who want to “educate” us are always misunderstood as intrusiveness because, in a context where everyone can say everything, we no longer have tools that help us understand whom to trust for this type of guidance. The absolutization of oneself, then, leads to great loneliness, especially in those moments when one does not know how to act and in which one experiences the oblivion of freedom that cannot stand on its own.
Instead, the truth is always waiting for us, waiting for our conscience to open the door so that we can continue to learn and follow it. The good continues to be a fascinating and eternal invitation that corresponds exactly to our desires.
The role of universities
Universities, in this sense, play a fundamental role in this panorama. They should be the authoritativepoints of reference in the field of training and research. The same university institutions that are increasingly attentive to rendering the best possible service, according to the intentions of those who carry out the responsibilities, continue to question their own function. Today we speak of the triple mission of the university: in addition to education and research, we highlight the need for openness and interaction with the social, cultural and human fabric in which these institutions are located.
The Faculty of Bioethics at APRA
Our Faculty of Bioethics of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum has at its core this mission of being open to the world and the engagement with the urgent issues of our time. We therefore seek to offer solid and structured training, which takes into account the scientific, philosophical, legal and theological. Striving to give future bioethicists what John Henry Newman in his book The Idea of a University described as a liberal education, (giving to this expression a meaning far from that of today), we cultivate the intellect to its perfection, according to reason and truth, integrating scientific knowledge with the light of faith.
For the academic year 2021/2022 we have launched several paths, suitable for anyone interested in expanding their training in bioethics at various levels, remotely and in foreign languages: Licentiate (degree) in ordinary or intensive mode, Doctorate, Postgraduate Course in Bioethics, Postgraduate Course in Neurobioethics, Masters in Global Bioethics, Maestría de Bioética en línea en Español, Masters in Social Doctrine of the Church, Summer Courses, and more.
Not everyone can do bioethics: it is true however, that everyone can apply themselves to the study of the discipline, which has a well-defined epistemological and methodological statute. Just as in the moral field, especially dealing with empirical sciences and contemporary scientific discoveries, there is a great need for guidance and training, and this is what we try to do as teachers: to give tools to those who want to be prepared to build a better society and a better future, which takes into account the welfare of the individuals and their dignity, from conception until natural death.
Melissa Maioni, Ph.D., is a guest lecturer at the School of Bioethics of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum