200 people attended con­ference. Hannah Hayes | Courtesy

More than twice the amount of expected attendees came to a two-day con­ference on human per­sonhood Friday and Sat­urday when 200 people lis­tened in on lec­tures and par­tic­i­pated in dis­cus­sions.

The conference’s orga­nizers senior Lillian Quinones and sopho­mores Sarah Becker, Dietrich Bals­baugh, and Caitlin Weighner part­nered with the World Youth Alliance to hold The Modern Identity Crisis: Emerging Leaders Con­ference. The con­ference explored modern bioethics and per­sonhood and further developed the meaning of what it is to be human in four inter­dis­ci­plinary breakout ses­sions.

“Wit­nessing the intel­lectual earnestness and the good-spirit­edness of speakers, pro­fessors, and stu­dents was truly amazing,” Weighner said. “It took so many months to plan this and, to be honest, there were many times that I won­dered if it was worth it. But if the con­ference helped a single person towards a fuller and more authentic life, even in some small way, we have to believe it was worth it.”

The con­ference began with a lecture by Ashley Fer­nandes, the asso­ciate director of the center for bioethics and medical human­ities at Ohio State Uni­versity College of Med­icine and an asso­ciate pro­fessor of pedi­atrics at Nationwide Children’s Hos­pital in Columbus, Ohio. Fer­nandes unfolded the morality behind physician-assisted suicide, refuting the idea that a patient’s choice, a doctor’s com­passion, or the dignity of death should allow a doctor to enable a patient in ending his own life.

Later that evening, Uni­versity of South Car­olina Phi­losophy Pro­fessor Christopher Tollefsen delivered the conference’s first keynote address, speaking on “The Ethics of Med­icine and its Coun­ter­feits.” Tollefsen dis­tin­guished between two phases of medical history: old med­icine and new med­icine. Old med­icine, Tollefsen said, makes a goal of human flour­ishing, addressing bio­medical and spir­itual goods. New med­icine, however, follows only the require­ments of law, the limits of tech­nology, and the autonomous desire of the patient.

“Med­icine has lost its way with no clarity as to the way it should lead,” Tollefsen said.

“The norms are so fuzzy that they won’t protect the patient or the doctor.”

When Fer­nandes gave his keynote speech Sat­urday afternoon, he implored the audience to “remember the person.” He begged the stu­dents in the audience to always respect the human being as they enter any career, and he empha­sized the need for Christian doctors and nurses.

Alumna Naomi Vir­nelson ‘16 traveled from Case Western Reserve Uni­versity in Cleveland, Ohio, where she is pur­suing her masters degree in nursing. She came to the con­ference to learn about the ethics that could apply to her future career.

“Through my graduate school career, I’ve learned that I have to seek these ideas out on my own, rather than rely the school i’m attending to give them to me,” Vir­nelson said. “I want to take the philo­sophical and meta­physical foun­dation seri­ously so I can practice med­icine the right way in an increas­ingly secular and hostile envi­ronment.”

While Vir­nelson attended the con­ference pri­marily for its medical impli­ca­tions, she also enjoyed the inter­dis­ci­plinary breakout ses­sions on Sat­urday morning and afternoon.

Phi­losophy Pro­fessor Blake McAl­lister and Religion Pro­fessor Jordan Wales part­nered to speak on culture wars and arti­ficial intel­li­gence while Phi­losophy Pro­fessor Nathan Schlueter and his wife, Eliz­abeth Schlueter, spoke on trans­gen­derism.

Later in the day, History Pro­fessor Matthew Gaetano spoke on per­sonhood in history while Phi­losophy Pro­fessor Ian Church led a dis­cussion. As Pol­itics Pro­fessor Adam Car­rington examined the right to life in the U.S. Supreme Court, phi­losophy Pro­fessor Lee Cole spoke on the person and the trinity.

“I wanted to select an issue that I could address from within my own dis­ci­pline, and I wanted to draw upon my par­ticular area of expertise within phi­losophy, while also forcing myself to extend and deepen my own reflec­tions in the writing process,” Cole said. “I’ve thought a fair bit about what it means to be human, but, more recently, I’ve been trying to artic­ulate what the des­ig­nation ‘per­sonhood’ adds to a con­ception of the human.”

Senior Maria Grinis is a Spanish major on the pre-medical track. She said she attended the con­ference to be able to better answer ques­tions on ethics as she com­pletes her inter­views for medical school.

“Overall, I found that the con­ference pro­vided me with a foun­da­tional under­standing of the roots of many of the heavy-hitting issues in the medical field: the right of con­science for the physician, the intrinsic nature of human dignity, the goal of med­icine to restore the patient’s full health,” she said.

Junior phi­losophy major Katarina Bradford said the con­ference delighted her.

“I have never been to a con­ference specif­i­cally ded­i­cated to the rig­orous philo­sophical defense of the human person and dignity,” Bradford said. “Hearing such defenses from world-renowned speakers, including our faculty, was nothing short of inspiring.”

After the over­whelming atten­dance at the con­ference and its clear impact on the audience, Weighner said she’s tempted to organize another one.

“If there’s a next time, we hope to get even more stu­dents and faculty involved,” Weighner said. “I think it’s a very fruitful thing for pro­fessors and stu­dents to have shared intel­lectual expe­ri­ences — I loved seeing pro­fessors and stu­dents attending for the entire weekend. Having those expe­ri­ences in a con­ference context hope­fully allows the con­ver­sation to be sus­tained and to go a bit deeper.”