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Blog: Presenting on the Issue of Conscience in Hong Kong

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Programme Director of the MA Catholic School Leadership programme at St Mary’s University, Twickenham Dr John Lydon, recently visited Hong Kong to deliver a Masterclass on the subject of Conscience. Dr Lydon has written this blog about his experience in Hong Kong and explains more about his lecture. I recently visited Hong Kong with the aim of building on the success of a visit by Academic Director Dr Lorna Goodwin and myself in October 2014. During this visit we presented to head teachers and representatives of key educational organisations in Hong Kong about St Mary’s and its prominence as the largest Catholic University in the UK. At the end of the presentation Brother Steve Hogan F.S.C., the Principal of La Salle College Kowloon, suggested that I present a Masterclass to a group of Sixth Form students from the many Catholic colleges in Hong Kong. It was great to see representatives from the Catholic Education Office, key leaders in Catholic education and more than 200 students from a range of Catholic colleges, throughout Hong Kong, attending my lecture. I found that the whole presentation was very well received by students and adult guests. The students were fascinated by the way in which the concept of conscience has developed from its biblical roots, through historical, to contemporary perspectives. I spoke about a number of key issues including conscience in the Bible; conscience and early authorities; modern scholarship and conscience; conscience and character and the ethical theories of Aquinas, Butler and Newman. I endeavoured to apply theory to practice, analysing some current issues. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) was discussed at some length, supported by various YouTube clips. Several opinions retrieved from critical scholarship were discussed, positing arguments for and against PGD. For example Prof David Jones, from the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, University of Oxford, suggests that the decision to opt for PGD is beyond individual conscience because PGD is not in the common good. He cites prejudice against born disabled people as critical in this context. Professor Robert Winston, on the other hand, supports PGD using utilitarian arguments focusing on issues around the cost of caring for disabled children. 30+ students stayed behind for hours afterwards and articulated some very intuitive arguments for and against PGD, arguing from both Natural Law and utilitarian perspectives. At the end of the lecture there was an extensive question and answer session followed by a further group discussion talking about the challenges in applying the issues of conscience in the context of bio-ethics. The questions focused mainly on sanctity of life issues with several students wondering about the legitimacy of the destruction of embryos, particularly in the context of screening disability. Other students, however, were convinced that the elimination of future suffering, made possible by scientific advances, was indeed beneficial both for the individual and the common good. Following the presentation, I am still in email contact with several students and with the representatives from the Salesian network of schools who will, hopefully, become a catalyst in encouraging students from Hong Kong to embark upon a programme at St Mary’s. We will stay in touch with this important body which, like the Catholic Education Service in England and Wales, has a significant influence on schools in Hong Kong. If you are an international student interested in studying at St Mary’s please contact the International Office at International@stmarys.ac.uk or call +44 (0)20 8240 2314.
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