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Religion's role in biomedical ethics to be explored

By Charlotte Crystal

Where does cutting-edge medicine stop and "playing God" begin?
It all depends.

Doctors steeped in science may have one view while religious patients may have others. Navigating between the secular and the sacred at times of medical crisis has never been easy, and continuing advances in medicine are only making it harder.

The Center for Biomedical Ethics at the University is sponsoring a conference that will explore the intertwined relationship of religion and bioethics in the light of recent medical advances.

"Belief and Bioethics: Religious Faith and Secular Medical Ethics" will bring together some of the nation's top minds in religion and bioethics. The Gordon T. Ford Memorial Conference, dedicated to the memory of a U.Va. alumnus with an avid interest in religious and contemporary social issues, will run March 15 and 16 at McLeod Hall.

"The field of bioethics is now over 30 years old and you can hardly turn around in our public conversation without tripping over it," said Jonathan Moreno, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics. "Yet the dialogue with theologians and concern about the way religious belief relates to modern, high-tech medicine has languished. Our goal is to reinvigorate that dialogue."

The keynote talk on "Religion is a Private Affair/Religion is a Public Expression: A Paradox of Contemporary American Life" will be delivered March 15 by preeminent Protestant theologian Martin E. Marty of Park Ridge Center and the University of Chicago. His talk will be chaired by Gerald Wolpe of the Finkelstein Institute, and will include a general discussion.

The two-day program will be of particular interest to front-line health care workers -- physicians, nurses, social workers and chaplains -- as well as to members of the clergy, and students and teachers of philosophy and religious studies. The conference is open to the public with payment of a $100 registration fee, which covers conference materials and the cost of breakfast and lunch for two days.

Other noteworthy speakers include: Elliott Dorff, University of Judaism, leading conservative Jewish theologian; Renee Fox, University of Pennsylvania, outspoken critic of the field of bioethics; and U.Va.'s John Arras, Jim Childress and Margaret Mohrmann.

The conference has been planned with the cooperation of the Jewish Theological Seminary's Finkelstein Institute and is co-sponsored by the Department of Chaplaincy Services at the U.Va. Health System, its Program of Humanities in Medicine and U.Va.'s Department of Religious Studies.


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