Katie Springer Forum Explores Ethics of Genetic Intervention

"If everyone looks like Brad Pitt and has the brains of Albert Einstein, I don't know where I'm going to get my groceries," quipped Saint Mary's College Assistant Professor Christy Scott at the second annual Katie Springer Forum: God and Science.

Scott's perspective was one of many exploring the morality of genetic engineering at the Feb. 22 standing room-only forum at the Soda Center.

Dean of Science Judd Case set the tone of the forum by questioning the use of genetic intervention to prevent disease, or to enhance physical and mental characteristics in offspring. A faculty panel eagerly delved into the ethics of such technological advancement, while audience members fueled the dialogue with questions challenging the spiritual as well as the scientific ramifications of such "progress."

The forum, designed to foster dialogue between science and religion, was led by panelists Allan Hansell, professor of biology, Brother Mark McVann, professor of religious studies, Benjamin Davis, assistant professor of mathematics, Patrick Downey, associate professor of philosophy, and Christy Scott, assistant professor of psychology.

The panel agreed on the inevitability of genetic engineering going beyond the genetic screening that already occurs, but there was much debate over whether Professor Hansell's opinion of the "obvious benefits" of modification -- disease prevention and control -- are indeed benefits.

"Where's it going to stop?" asked Scott. "Who is going to decide what is a disorder worthy of modifying?"

While some faculty defended characteristics such as height, vision, learning disorders, and deafness as equally ripe for genetic modification as Down syndrome, pre-cancerous cells, and Type II Diabetes, others advocated for guidelines on which potential conditions warrant alteration of a child's genetic makeup.

In response to one of many repeated themes of the evening -- how genetic intervention alters our relationship with God -- Brother Mark pleaded that we must not fear scientific progress as a hindrance to our faith.

"Human beings show praise and love for God by exercising our minds in ethical ways," he said.

Last year's inaugural Katie Springer Forum took place only three months after Springer, the student who created it, died in a car accident. Although Springer did not live to see the culmination of her efforts, friends Savannah Pronovost, Kayla Banion, Annie Chase, Rachel Garcia, Natalie Pratt, and Courtney Smith made sure Springer's dream of an open dialogue about God and Science at Saint Mary's College was made a reality. Springer's vision, thanks to the dedication of these friends, went on to win Event of the Year for 2005 at Saint Mary's College.

Seated in the front row of the audience, Springer's mother, Sue, and younger brother Michael, in his freshman year at Saint Mary's, witnessed the overwhelming power of their loved one's creation, as well as the response of a community still touched by their loss.

Banion, a coordinator of the event and friend of Katie, beamed as she reflected on the evening, "Katie would be absolutely surprised and excited by how successful the event has been, and especially happy that these important issues are being talked about on campus."

--Brianna Hardy
Office of College Communications