Monsignor James Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., recently told The Cardinal Newman Society in an exclusive interview about the great impact the University’s newly announced Master of Science in Bioethics degree will have on the institution and its Catholic identity.
“I see this program as enhancing and deepening the Catholic identity of the University of Mary and our ability to serve the Church and our country in these troubled times,” said Msgr. Shea.
Central to the new program is a partnership with the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), the “flagship institute for the Catholic Church” in the field of bioethics within the United States, Msgr. Shea said.
“We’re very pleased with our partnership with the National Catholic Bioethics Center and we’re very grateful for their collaboration and their support,” Msgr. Shea said.
The first year of the degree program will start this fall with an online certification course with the NCBC and will count towards 12 graduate credits. The certification, like the curriculum at U-Mary, uses the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, guiding principles for healthcare delivery set forth by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In the second year of the program, after completing the certification with the NCBC, students take courses directly from U-Mary professors.
The University is currently accepting students for the inaugural class beginning this fall. Upon completing the NCBC certification, students will commence classes at the University in May 2015. Graduation is slated for April 2016 for the first class.
In addition to its Catholic identity, the University’s strong health sciences program has always been an important element of U-Mary and a main attraction for students, Msgr. Shea explained. Motivation for developing the Master of Science in Bioethics degree stemmed from a series of seminars the NCBC presented at the University, and from the biomedical issues and concerns that arose in the classroom.
“In the midst of all of this, we took a half a step back, gazed at the landscape and we realized that there were very few graduate programs in bioethics that had specific care for fidelity to the teachings of the Church about these matters. And so we realized that this was a deep need,” he continued. “We realized that we had a particular moral obligation to make sure that our programs were particularly steeped in and familiarized with the challenging bioethical questions of our time.”
“We’re hoping that we will be able to educate real leadership for the United States and beyond in the question of bioethics,” continued Msgr. Shea.
Rather than concentrating heavily on corporate protection from lawsuits and litigations, he said, “Our program will be much more focused upon right action according to the mind of the Church and according to the principles of natural law within the realm of healthcare delivery.”
This focus will inevitably affect the way in which patients are cared for by providing “a respect and reverence for the human person” and by viewing patients “primarily for their life and their dignity,” he explained.
Thousands of professionals including Catholic hospitals and dioceses and those studying healthcare, theology, philosophy, law and medicine will also benefit from the program, according to Msgr. Shea.
“It will include the philosophical and the theological, but it will also have a rigorous and significant clinical component,” he said.
He continued to explain that the goal of the program is to do more than simply train students in the theories of bioethics. It also aims to give them knowledge and understanding of the practical applications by familiarizing the students in a clinical setting. The curriculum, he said, is “formed and shaped in the mind of the Church” and centers on the human person.
In addition, the program will “have a deep impact upon the way that health care education is offered at the University of Mary” and aid in the formation of both students and faculty, Msgr. Shea explained. The program will provide resources for faculty and students to stay current in an important, ever growing field.
In today’s society, technological developments constantly raise new ethical questions, but, Msgr. Shea explained, “That doesn’t mean that the timeless principles of right and wrong are in flux. It means that this isn’t something that you can study once and then put it on the shelf to gather dust.”
This is an opportunity for faculty “to have among their colleagues here at the University of Mary, skilled ethicists with whom they can consult to make sure that the ethical components of the courses that they’ve been teaching are as up to date and as faithful as possible,” said Msgr Shea.
The University of Mary is recommended in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity.
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