The Saint John Paul II Bioethics Center

The Saint John Paul II Bioethics Center exists to engage the modern project in a critical dialogue. It arose as a response to the visionary insight of John Paul the Great in his first encyclical letter, Redemptor Hominis:

The development of technology and the development of contemporary civilization, which is marked by the ascendancy of technology, demand a proportional development of morals and ethics. (n. 15)

The Center was founded as the Pope John Paul II Bioethics Center in 1980 by Christian existentialist Father Francis J. Lescoe, who was soon to serve as President of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, Monsignor David Q. Liptak, and physician Leo T. Duffy. They envisioned the Center as an interdisciplinary ethical encounter with the technological revolution, drawing together scholars in medicine, science, philosophy, theology, education, and law, including the vast range of natural, applied, and social sciences. 

That modern society is staggering through epochal change is unquestionable. Technological development and its accelerating pace offer unprecedented opportunity and exceptional risk. The modern project has placed man at the center of all human activity but without an objective standard by which to assess the rapid developments of technology or evolving norms of social structures. The prevailing ethos has devolved to personal preference or the prerogatives of power. Faced with the demands of technological efficiency, personal autonomy, institutional and political power, and a seemingly ever-expanding capability, humanity finds itself in possession of knowledge and methods that eclipse its ontological grasp. 

The Center proposes to engage this situation with a natural law ethic based on human reason that is grounded on three propositions. First, creation has an intelligible order that allows human reason to discern moral precepts to guide human action.  Second, ethical assessment of human acts proceeds from identification of its object and its relationship to intention and circumstance. Third, there exist universal norms that bind every person precisely because we all share the same human nature, one open to the precepts of natural law through the faculty of intellect. 

In 1982 the Center established the Pope John Paul II Lecture Series in Bioethics. The series drew upon the finest Catholic scholars to address developing issues in the emerging field of bioethics. 

The inaugural lecture was delivered by Ronald D. Lawler, O.F.M., Cap., Ph.D. at the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Saint Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Outstanding addresses followed by notable authorities including theologians Germaine Grisez and William May, philosophers Donald DeMarco, Ralph McInerny, and Raymond Dennehy, and Monsignor Liptak. Each presented, defended, advanced, and anticipated developments in Catholic teaching that touch upon the interface of morality, technology, culture, and corporeal life. The center published the early lectures in a three volume series entitled Perspectives in Bioethics through Marial Publications. A hiatus followed the death of Father Lescoe. 

In 2009 the Center developed and launched the Monsignor David Q. Liptak Resource Library, honoring its surviving founder who continued to serve the Center as Director emeritus. The library was conceived and developed by Deacon Tom Davis, who had assumed leadership of the Center at Monsignor Liptak’s urging, and established a partnership between the Center and Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, where Fathers Lescoe, Lawler, and Liptak had all served as Rector.  The library is an online collection of catholic resource documents related to such disparate topics as the limits of medical interventions, the ethics of suicide and euthanasia, the meaning of human sexuality and gender, the significance procreation, the nature familial relations, the regulation of birth, health care regulation, genetic manipulation, political philosophy, regulatory challenges to religious liberty, and the anthropological question in light of the biological revolution. 

In 2010 the lecture series returned with an address by Francis Cardinal Arinze. That notable event was followed by annual lectures from leading scholars in moral theology, bioethics, law, pastoral ministry, inter-religious dialogue, neurobiology, endocrinology, and philosophy.  

In 2016 the Bioethics Center established its Redemptor Hominis Award, recognizing outstanding contributions to the field of bioethics. The award has been conferred on four recipients: 

  • 2016          Rev. Nicanor Pier Gregorio Austriaco, O.P.
  • 2016          Msgr. David Q. Liptak, D.D.
  • 2017          Paul Hruz, M.D., Ph.D.
  • 2018          James V. Schall, S.J. 

In 2018 the Center published the first volume of the Saint John Paul II Journal of Bioethics, a new venture collecting outstanding contributions in the field of bioethics. Volume I included articles on medicine and ethics, the emerging development of three-parent human embryos, and a proposal for therapeutic intervention in the case of ectopic pregnancy. 

In 2018 the annual lecture series moved to a new format. Recognizing the vast reach and enhanced impact of Internet based multimedia presentations, the series finalized an evolving migration to professionally produced audio/visual recordings in addition to its traditional print media format. 

In 2019 the Center affiliated with the Liberty Institute for Faith & Ethics (LIFE), where it continues its mission to examine the development of bioscience, medicine, human society, and the social and legal norms that touch upon the realm of ethics and morals. 

The Saint John Paul II Bioethics Center is a project of the Liberty Institute for Faith & Ethics (LIFE). LIFE has been recognized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation by the Internal Revenue Service of the United States.