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Online bioethics panel

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During this time of global uncertainty and suffering, schools have had to consider the impact of the coronavirus on all school activities and planned events. Cancellations and postponements have been the most common response, but those responsible for planning the annual bioethics panel at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores did not want to miss the timely opportunity to examine a bioethical analysis of COVID-19 and our response to it. The planners of the annual event conceived of a way to overcome the obstacles preventing them from meeting and decided to bring their panel of experts into the homes of the school’s community virtually. Earlier this month, students, faculty, staff and parents came together to listen to the panel of experts, to discuss, question, and examine the many medical and ethical dilemmas we encounter.

The panel featured six members of the faculty and staff at John Paul the Great. Each member shared from his particular area of expertise to help illuminate the multi-faceted issues the world is facing. Father Keith Cummings, chaplain, opened and closed the discussion with prayer and talked about the unique challenges of the church and her people. Richard Gildersleeve, a bioethics teacher, spoke on the topic of vaccines and pharmaceutical research. Marianne Madiedo, a science teacher, explained emerging therapeutics. Leanne Hanson, science department chair, presented on the topic of epidemiology of pandemics and the ways to combat spread. Dominican Sister Terese Auer, bioethics department chair, addressed the issues of stockpiling, do-not-resuscitate orders and triage. Gina Votovich, the school nurse, offered a unique perspective from the medical field. Drawing from her experience treating patients with AIDS, Votovich described the day-to-day challenges of our medical workers. 

The event, moderated by Andrew Kubick, chief organizer and bioethics teacher at John Paul the Great, brought a degree of normalcy to the student’s lives as they participated in the discussion; examining ethical issues is integral to the school’s curriculum. All attendees were able to ask questions of the panel and express concerns in an academic environment.

"It was wonderful to hear the thoughts from teachers I have enjoyed learning from in the past and receive true information during this time of crisis," said senior Erin Dolan.

Katie Ulrich, a junior, described her most significant takeaway. "The answer to my question about how far scientists and medical professionals would go with experimentation on human embryos was beyond reassuring. So far, the medicine in lead development does not involve experiments on human embryos."

“The JP the Great bioethics panels are founded on the school's commitment to form our students with special emphasis on their ethical development,” said Kubick. “This year, the topic was timely, extremely troubling and ethically complex."

Over one hundred registrants attended the virtual panel discussion; many posed thought-provoking questions, but all seemed to aspire to the 2019-20 school theme, "Learning to think rigorously, so as to act rightly and serve humanity better."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020