KIE co-hosts symposium on health care, ethics, and genetics

Last week the KIE, in collaboration with the Embassy of the Czech Republic, held a symposium titled Mendel’s Peas and Today’s Genes: Healthcare, Ethics, and Genetics. The event was part of the Mutual Inspirations Festival, which celebrates both a famous Czech and the transatlantic ties between Czech and American cultures. This year’s festival focuses on Gregor Mendel and his legacy. The Embassy of the Czech Republic leads the festival, which runs from September to November with events throughout the Washington area.

Czech Ambassador Hynek Kmoníček opened the symposium with remarks on the importance of Gregor Mendel’s work and legacy. Ondřej Dostál, Director of the Mendel Museum in the Czech Republic, followed the ambassador with a keynote address discussing the history of Mendel, including his origins, history, and journey as a student, scientist, and theologian.

The event featured a series of speakers who focused on a wide-range of ethical, medical, and legal issues at stake in the field of genetics. Speakers included Susan Crockin, J.D., LeRoy Walters, Ph.D., Beth N. Peshkin, M.S., C.G.C., and Kevin T. FitzGerald, S.J, Ph.D., Ph.D.

Czech Ambassador Hynek Kmoníček starts the symposium discussing Mendel’s legacy. 


Susan Crockin, legal expert and scholar at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, delivered a presentation titled “‘Repro-genetics’: How Rapidly Advancing Embryo Testing Technologies are Transforming and Challenging the World of Baby Making.” Crockin discussed how old legal theories are applied to new scientific and medical innovations, including IVF, embryo cryopreservation, and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. She closed her presentation with a series of legal and ethical dilemmas in the evolving field of “repro-genetics,” pushing attendees to “listen to scientists and ethicists in the community.”  

LeRoy B. Walters, Professor Emeritus at the KIE and Georgetown University Philosophy Department, presented on “Eugenics in Bohemia and Moravia, 1915-1945.” Walters discussed the history and evolution of eugenics and the laws, theories, and societal impacts shaping the movement. When discussing eugenics as a government program today, Walters described such a policy as “a taboo idea,” stating “I don’t know of any country in the world that has involuntary sterilization as an explicit public policy.”

Beth N. Peshkins followed Walters. Peshkins is a Professor of Oncology and Senior Genetic Counselor at Lombardi Cancer Center. Peshkin’s presentation, titled “Beyond the Angelina Effect: Lessons for the Brave New World of Genomic Testing,” focused on the growing role genomic testing plays in patients’ health care choices and options, particularly for women with a heightened risk for breast and ovarian cancers. She noted that while Angelina Jolie’s choice to be tested for inherited cancer certainly increased testing requests, most women at highest risk are still not being tested. This fact, and the known elevated risk for inherited cancers, has caused some to propose that offering all women genetic testing for these cancers might be most effective.

Kevin T. FitzGerald closed the day of presentations. FitzGerald is the Dr. David Lauler Chair of Catholic Health Care Ethics in the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University and Associate Professor of Oncology. FitzGerald’s presentation, titled “Global Genomic Medicine: Promise and Peril,” tied the day of presentations together, discussing the promise and potential disruptive impacts genomic medicine can have on individuals and societies. FitzGerald’s presentation hinged on the definition of health and the potential role genomics can play in shaping this definition. He also discussed the ethical dilemmas genomic medicine poses, and how we as a society can best navigate these issues. FitzGerald argued that a focus on “care” might be the most important aspect of health.

The symposium closed with a lunch buffet provided by the Embassy of the Czech Republic.

If interested in future events within the Mutual Inspirations Festival, please click here.