Italian Jesuit Brings Background as Doctor and Moral Theolgian to the Study of Bioethics at Boston College
With this background, School of Theology and Ministry Associate Professor, Jesuit Father Andrea Vicini, is uniquely equipped to study the complex, and often controversial, ethical issues that have emerged in the wake of technological and scientific advances in health and medicine.
“Fr. Vicini is one of the few specialists in medical ethics who is both a physician and a theologian. His broad international background gives him keen insight into the importance of the social and cultural contexts of medical practice,” said Jesuit Father David Hollenbach, the University Chair in Human Rights and International Justice. “BC and its students will benefit greatly through his presence.”
“Part of the task and responsibility of reflecting theologically on [ethical] issues,” said Fr. Vicini, who joined the STM faculty last fall, “is that you need to combine different elements that are relevant for theological thinking. First is the tradition — theological insight from other theologians in the past and the present. Second is the magisterial, or official, teaching. The other is the experience of the people. This way the universal and the particular are given consideration.”
When dealing with the end of life, he says, the Christian tradition is to see it as a process and to consider the patient’s consciousness, identity and network of relationships. Ethical challenges, however, arise from the interaction of new technologies and end-of-life issues, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which can be used to determine if brain-injured patients previously thought to be in a vegetative state may, in fact, be reclassified as being in a minimally conscious state.
The technology is still very primitive, but the concept raises issues such as possibility of recovery, access to quality rehabilitative care and family support, according to Fr. Vicini, whose article on this topic will be published later this year in The Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics.
Another emerging field of interest for Fr. Vicini is oncofertility, which looks at preserving the fertility of cancer patients. “Advances in cancer treatment for children and young adults have the positive result of recovery but also the negative result of infertility. Technology is available now that can be used to preserve fertility and restore, not only the patients’ health, but their wholeness.” He wrote on the topic of ovarian tissue transplantation for the journal Theological Studies.
A native of Italy who earned his medical degree from the University of Bologna, Fr. Vicini was born with a physical deformity affecting his left hand. He wanted to become a doctor “to help people, to heal and cure. The experience of disability in my life has helped me feel close to people in need.” He was drawn to pediatric practice in particular, he said, because of its holistic nature and opportunity to build relationships with patients and their families. “You get to witness the healing power of medicine in a special way.”
Discernment led Fr. Vicini to join the Society of Jesus in 1987. “I was attracted to the Jesuit commitment to help people in need in various frontiers around the world through education, social justice work and interactions between scientists and other religions and cultures.” He was ordained a priest in 1996.
To read the full story about Fr. Vicini at Boston College, please click here: [Boston College's New Bioethics Professor]