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A Unique Perspective

Fr. Vicini brings his background as a doctor and moral theolgian to the study of bioethics

02/02/12
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Andrea Vicini, SJ (Photo by Caitlin Cunningham)

By Kathleen Sullivan | Chronicle Staff

Published: Feb. 2, 2012

He is a doctor, priest and moral theologian whose medical training and practice have enriched his understanding and study of bioethics.
   
With this background, School of Theology and Ministry Associate Professor Andrea Vicini, SJ, 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.
   
His research interests include fundamental moral theology, theological bioethics, biotechnologies, reproductive technologies, end-of-life issues, medical ethics, genetics and environmental issues. He has taught in Italy, Albania, Mexico, Chad and France, and authored the book Human Genetics and the Common Good.
   
“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 University Chair in Human Rights and International Justice David Hollenbach, SJ. “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.
   
Fr. Vicini first came to Boston College to pursue doctoral studies in theological ethics. “I looked around and the best program I found around the world was here and, I must say, I was right! It was a wonderful experience with a great group of colleagues and a great group of students. Boston College, in theological ethics, has the largest and most internationally known group of faculty. We had gatherings every other Friday where faculty and students would present papers and continue on with the conversation from the classroom. The quality and the passion of the faculty and their interest in helping students flourish are wonderful.” He earned his PhD in theological studies in 2000.
   
Fr. Vicini also has a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Faculty of Theology of Southern Italy in Naples, where he taught before coming to BC. He earned a licentiate in sacred theology from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology.
   
He returned to BC in 2009 to serve a term as Gasson Professor, then stayed on as a visiting professor in the Theology Department and joined STM this academic year.
  
“Andrea helps us at BC understand the present and appreciate the future of bioethics,” said Founders Professor in Theology James F. Keenan, SJ. “His insights and opinions are so rich in part because he is so connected globally. His expertise on various issues related to genetics, new technologies and research, as well as visions for the future depends on his many contacts throughout Europe. Likewise his studies in public health, access to healthcare, and notions of justice and equity for health care are based not only on research here and in Europe, but also from Africa, Asia and Latin America as well.”
  
Fr. Vicini has worked closely with Fr. Keenan on his Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church project, which organized a gathering of 600 theological ethicists from 72 countries together in Trent, Italy, in 2010. Fr. Vicini is on the CTEWC planning and development committees. He spearheaded a successful fundraising effort to outfit eight African female doctoral students with laptop computers to support their studies in theological ethics.
  
He will be part of an international group of ethicists who will gather on campus in March to plan the CTEWC’s regional conference in Kenya in August.
  
He is in the early stages of co-editing, with Christina Peppard, a volume called Just Sustainability: Technology, Ecology, and Resource Extraction for the CTEWC Book Series that will cull that latest thinking on sustainability from more than 30 scholars from around the world.
  
At STM, Fr. Vicini teaches Fundamental Moral Theology, Theological Bioethics and Human Sexuality. He is already looking ahead to other courses he would like to teach on topics such as global and public health, human genetics and biotechnologies, Catholic health care and sustainability. He expressed interest in working with faculty in BC’s Psychology and Physics departments in related fields such as neuroscience and nanotechnology, respectively.
  
“I love being here and working with my former mentors, now my colleagues,” added Fr. Vicini. “I enjoy seeing the students grow and find their place in the world.”