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Notre Dame to host National Bioethics Conference

Emma Driscoll | Thursday, March 9, 2006

The National Undergraduate Bioethics Conference – started nine years ago by a group of Notre Dame students – will return to the home of its originators today through Saturday in McKenna Hall.

Entitled “Health Care in an Increasingly Health-Obsessed Culture,” this year’s conference will feature speakers in the field of bioethics from across the country. Lectures, panels and discussions about various topics in the field of bioethics will focus on a “consideration of how health-obsessed the country has been and what that means,” according to junior Kathryn Wilson, Conference Chair.

Wilson said the conference “gives [undergraduates] a chance not only to listen to experts, but to interact with them.” Experts include Dr. Paul McHugh, Psychiatrist in Chief of Johns Hopkins University and member of the President’s Council on Bioethics – who will deliver the keynote speech on Friday.

Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford University, another President’s Council member, will discuss biotechnology and stem cell research. O. Carter Snead of the Notre Dame Law School will also speak at the event, Wilson said.

Other topics addressed by speakers will include the role of the patient, the responsibility of the doctor to the patient, reproductive health and bioethics in the judicial system.

Senior Michael Subialka, a member of the Forum on Biomedical Ethics, said the event is comprised of three main components: presentations by professionals in the field, three student presentations and participant discussion. A Notre Dame student will give one of the student presentations and two Notre Dame students will serve on the panels, he said.

“We really believe firmly that the more undergraduates interact with professionals in the field, the more they are going to get out of it personally,” Subialka said.

Wilson said the conference is “entirely planned by and for undergraduate participation in bioethics.”

“The purpose is just to expose undergraduates to the field,” she said.

Schools typically bid to host the conference two years in advance, but while attending the conference at Michigan State her freshman year, Wilson discovered there were no bids to host the 2006 conference.

“With huge interest at Notre Dame, I thought we could definitely put one together,” she said.

Notre Dame students presented their ideas last year at the conference held at University of Pennsylvania and successfully obtained the bid to host this year’s conference.

Though University organizers “had one year to do what most schools get two years to do,” Wilson said this conference has the “best lineup in years.”

Approximately 170 people have signed up to attend the conference from schools across the country and from Canada, the majority being from Notre Dame, Subialka said. Hosted by the Forum on Biomedical Ethics, the conference is free to students, who may still register online.