Photo caption: (back row, from left) Richard Blissett, Justin Donlan, professor Andrea Kalfoglou, Michael Young, (front row from left) Mary Rhee, Jacqui Wanjohi, and Melissa Chapman attend the National Undergraduate Bioethics Conference at Harvard University.
Three members of the UMBC Bioethics Student Association (BSA) presented research papers at the National Undergraduate Bioethics Conference at Harvard University March 13th and 14th.
Melissa Chapman, a junior biological sciences major and vice president of BSA, discussed the ethics of genetic testing of Ashkenazi young adults to determine if they are carriers of Gaucher’s Disease. Some organizations have advocated not informing carrier couples due to the availability of a new enzyme replacement therapy treatment. Chapman argued that not informing couples denies them the right to make informed reproductive decisions.
Richard Blissett, a junior bioinformatics and computational biology major and treasurer of the BSA, discussed the ethics of continuing to market preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) to patients seeking in vitro fertilization for infertility. The screening is controversial due to a lack of evidence that it increases pregnancy rates and consensus in the US and EU scientific community that it should be considered "experimental." Blissett argued that with the recent change in NIH funding for embryo research, PGS for infertile couples should only be offered in the context of well-designed clinical trials where patients are not expected to pay $5000 for the cost of the screening.
Finally, Mary Rhee, a sophomore double major in philosophy and biological sciences and public relations director for BSA, discussed the ethics of facial transplantation. Rhee argued that in most of the severe cases, the transplant is not simply cosmetic, but life altering, and that patients ought to have the freedom to consent to the surgery -- even if the immunosuppressant drugs required to prevent rejection will shorten their lives-- because it so dramatically improves their quality of life.
Andrea Kalfoglou, BSA faculty sponsor and assistant professor in the Health Administration and Policy Program said, “I was so proud of our UMBC students. Their presentations were thought provoking and professional. I think bioethics has really captured the imagination of UMBC students from many different disciplines.”