Bioethics in Bismarck

University of Mary Offers New Degree


The University of Mary’s campus in Rome is bursting at the seams, its program in Arizona is flourishing, and its main campus in Bismarck, N.D., is launching a new graduate degree in answer to secular society.

The degree will be a master of science in bioethics. What’s more, it is offered in partnership with the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC).

“Bioethics is one of the most urgent issues of our time,” said Msgr. James Shea, president of the University of Mary. He noted that the dignity of human life and the problems involved in technical progress must be addressed with correct knowledge and perspective.

“Because the Church has a perspective that is so valuable and filled with wisdom,” he said, “for a Catholic university to offer an in-depth program about the principles of bioethics is really a crucial move in the midst of the New Evangelization.”

This degree is practically unique at this time. According to Msgr. Shea, while some other Catholic schools offer theology degrees with an emphasis on bioethics, this degree will be granted by the university’s School of Health Sciences.

Medical Connection
Msgr. Shea explained that since the University of Mary was originally founded in 1959 to train teachers and nurses, it has always been connected to the medical community in North Dakota. That is another reason he sees this new educational connection to health care as essential for the school.

According to Msgr. Shea, the partnership with the NCBC is not simply for the formation of this particular degree, as the NCBC will also partner in the overall ethical formation of the university’s health-sciences faculty. The NCBC uses the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as the framework for the certification.

“I believe we already offer a very well-rounded and responsible ethics program in the health sciences across every discipline in our bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate programs,” he said. “But we want to start giving our faculty an even deeper formation in the principle of Catholic bioethics.”

Msgr. Shea equally envisions that hospital chaplains, those who sit on hospitals’ ethics boards and practitioners of all kinds “will also want to take advantage of this program, so they can navigate thoughtfully the turbulent waters of medical ethics in our times.”

Well-Formed Consciences
With these bioethical issues becoming more urgent, practitioners with solid, well-formed consciences, as well as subject matter knowledge and expertise, are in demand.

“I have found there is such a critical need for this kind of bioethics degree,” explained Karen Rohr, an associate professor and the new director of bioethics and faculty formation.

In addition to her Ph.D. in nursing from the University of North Dakota, Rohr has three degrees from the University of Mary and is a nurse practitioner. For 10 years, she worked at a health-care facility and set up a bioethics and clinical-research department.

“As health-care professionals, we encounter ethical issues on a daily basis,” she said.

One major need concerns “how to identify and resolve ethical dilemmas, especially in relation to some of the biotechnological advances. The health providers have questions because there might be a conflict of conscience with the biotechnical advances they encounter.”

Equally important, Rohr has also found that “many people need assistance coming to a reasoned analysis on how to solve ethical issues. There needs to be an educational process based in faith, reason and science. The master of science in bioethics program at the University of Mary is designed to fulfill this need.”

Certification Program
According to the NCBC, the University of Mary is only the second Catholic college partnering with them thus far; the other school is Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn. The University of Mary-NCBC partnership is the first to offer a master of science degree specifically in bioethics.

To earn this degree, students must first complete the NCBC certification program that begins in September and ends in May. Most of the flexible program is done online. But first, students must attend a two-day seminar held in Bismarck, Philadelphia or New Orleans.

Then, independently, the students interact with an instructor over the course of the online studies. The program finishes with a required one-day seminar at the NCBC offices in Philadelphia in May 2015.

Completing the NCBC certification earns the students 12 graduate credits from the university toward the master of science in bioethics, which will be 33 credits total, as of now. The university anticipates the first class of master of science degrees in bioethics will be granted in 2016.

Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., an ethicist and the director of education at the NCBC, will lead the two-day seminar in Bismarck.

“We’re very excited,” Father Pacholczyk said. “The need for a master’s degree in bioethics in a Catholic environment is a very urgent need.”

He explained how the NCBC especially focuses on helping professionals who deal with these bioethical dilemmas directly.

Because people are constantly confronted with modern bioethical problems and decisions, “it’s really important we have this program in collaboration with the University of Mary, which is at the vanguard in trying to make this a broad form of outreach,” Father Pacholczyk said.

Little wonder that Msgr. Shea emphasized, “It will be a huge degree for us.”

Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.

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