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Hood College professor discusses bioethics in modern era

By Staff | Aug 16, 2019

Hood College Biology Professor Ann Boyd speaks about bioethics, during the First Tuesday Speaker Series on Aug. 6. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — How does ethics apply to modern biological advances? Should any experimentation be banned from being conducted?

According to Hood College bioethics professor Ann Boyd, the answer to that question should be determined on an individual level. While she teaches her undergraduate and graduate students to recognize potential ethical quandaries in biology, she said she avoids spoon-feeding them her personal views.

During the First Tuesday Speaker Series at Christ Reformed United Church of Christ on Aug. 6, Boyd presented some examples of these dilemmas, to help community members understand the difficult situations some biologists face on-the-job.

“I go to bioethics conferences around the world, to understand what issues are going on that we might not be aware of in North America. I know why epidemics and AIDS are important, but I also know why cancer and diabetes are important issues.,” Boyd said, mentioning this is her 38th year as a Hood College faculty member. “I teach everything from freshman to graduate level classes — anywhere from 100-level to 500-level.”

The former minister of Saint John’s Episcopal Church, in Hagerstown, Md., said she attends these conferences, not only to educate herself, but to also make sure her students are getting an accurate picture of ethical issues around the globe.

According to Boyd, she has been debating for many years about what developments in the field of biology could mean for future generations.

“A few years ago, when my first grandson was born, I asked myself, ‘What does this mean to him?'” Boyd said, mentioning that question led her to enter seminary. “So I started taking theology courses, and although I never intended to get ordained, I was encouraged to do so by the bishop. Twelve years later, I’ve retired as an Episcopal priest.

“The question I want to ask, is ‘What is our moral obligation? How do we know what that is, as time and opportunities change?'” Boyd said, before mentioning some developments that give biologists pause. “What’s possible right now — they’ve sequenced the human genome, the mouse genome and the fruit fly genome. One-to-five percent of our DNA, they know what the coding stands for.

“Over 5,000 things affect human well-being, because of the four chemical bases in DNA sequencing,” Boyd said. “In one direction, we can try to fix disorders and suffering in people. There’s a lot of people who think we should leave the genome alone, because it could cause a lot of havoc. But there’s been so much money that has gone into genome research.

“Genetic intervention — is it an individual issue, or should it be a community discussion?” Boyd said, mentioning genetic intervention developments could even change how cases are determined in the courtroom. “Some children who have grown up with a condition sued their parents for letting them live. It hasn’t won in a court of law yet, but I think there will come a day when it will.”

Although the future may hold catastrophic consequences from biological experimentation, Boyd said many advances still need to be made, before testing could be done on humans.

“We’re still figuring things out — scientists don’t know everything,” Boyd said.