2020 Conference Speakers

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Our conference plenary speakers are well respected in their fields and present during conference plenary sessions. They are joined by dozens of workshop and parallel paper presenters from a wide spectrum of professional backgrounds and topical expertise.

Fr. Nicanor P. G. Austriaco, PhD, STD currently serves as a professor of biology and theology and as Director of Thomistic Evolution at Providence College. He is also a research fellow of the Center for Religious Studies and Ethics at the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines. Fr. Austriaco received his PhD in biology from MIT and his Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) in moral theology from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. His NIH-funded laboratory at Providence College is investigating the genetics of programmed cell death using the yeasts Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Candida albicans as model organisms. His first book, Biomedicine and Beatitude: An Introduction to Catholic Bioethics, was published by the Catholic University of America Press. It was recognized as a 2012 Choice outstanding academic title by the Association of College and Research Libraries.

Jeffrey P. Bishop, MD, PhD is currently a physician and teaches medical ethics and philosophy at Saint Louis University. He holds the Tenet Endowed Chair in Health Care Ethics and is the Director of the Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics. His scholarly work is focused on the historical, political, and philosophical conditions that underpin contemporary medical and scientific practices and theories and he has been published in medical journals, philosophical journals, theological journals, and medical humanities journals. Dr. Bishop also serves on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy and Christian Bioethics, and is an assistant editor of the Philosophy and Medicine Series, published by Springer. Lately, his scholarship has focused on the body, exploring how medical and scientific conceptions of the body shape the kinds of moral claims made by medicine, science, and bioethics.

Joni Eareckson Tada is one of the world’s leading international advocates for people affected by disability. A diving accident in 1967 left her, then 17, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. After two years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a fresh determination to help others in similar situations. She founded Joni and Friends in 1979, which quickly grew to provide Christ-centered programs to special needs families, churches, and communities. Joni survived stage III breast cancer in 2010, and still keeps a very active ministry schedule. Joni has written over 50 books, including her best-selling autobiography, Joni, which was made into a feature film. Her new award-winning daily devotional, A Spectacle of Glory, contains fresh biblical insights from her battle with cancer and chronic pain. Joni also served as general editor of the Beyond Suffering Bible, a special edition published by Tyndale for people who suffer chronic conditions and their caregivers. She and her husband, Ken, were married in 1982 and reside in California.

Matthew Eppinette, MBA, PhD is Director of The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity (CBHD). He holds a PhD in Theology with concentrations in Christian Ethics and Theology & Culture from the Center for Advanced Theological Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he also earned an MA in Theology. He is a 2004 graduate of the MA Bioethics program at Trinity International University, and he has an MBA with concentrations in Quantitative Analysis and Information Systems from Louisiana Tech University. In his first tenure at CBHD between 2002-2007, he served in a variety of capacities including Director of Research & Analysis and Assistant Director. From CBHD, he joined Americans United for Life as Director of Communications. When he moved to California to attend Fuller, Matthew joined the Center for Bioethics and Culture (CBC) where he served as New Media Manager and Executive Director from 2009-2018. Dr. Eppinette’s current research interests include transhumanism, Alasdair MacIntyre’s ethics and epistemology, and the intersection of fiction, film, and other areas of culture, particularly popular culture, that raise or address bioethics issues. Matthew and his wife Ginger currently reside in suburban Chicago.

Beth Felker Jones, PhD is a professor of theology at Wheaton College. She holds a PhD from Duke University and her research interests include the theology of the body, conversion, and the interconnectedness of doctrine. She is the author of several books, including Practicing Christian Doctrine: An Introduction to Thinking and Living Theologically and Faithful: A Theology of Sex. Dr. Jones lives in Wheaton, IL with her husband, four children, and two dogs.

Donna J. Harrison, MD is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist since 1990. She is currently serving as Executive Director of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG), which is the largest non-sectarian pro-life physician organization in the world. She also works alongside CBHD as an adjunct bioethics professor at Trinity International University. Dr. Harrison’s research interests include selective progesterone receptor modulators, endometrial contraception, maternal mortality, abortion long-term morbidity, and medical abortion. She has lectured extensively as a continuing medical education speaker in the United States and internationally on topics of medical abortion with Mifepristone and Misoprostol, adverse events associated with Mifepristone and Misoprostol, emergency contraception with Ulipristal, maternal mortality, and abortion short- and long-term complications. Dr. Harrison is married to Dr. Mark Harrison and is the mother of 5 children and 5 grandchildren.

Kimbell Kornu, MD, PhD is assistant professor of medicine and health care ethics at Saint Louis University and is a practicing palliative care physician. His teaching commitments include palliative medicine to house staff, health care ethics to undergraduates and medical students, and theology and bioethics to graduate students. Dr. Kornu’s research focuses on the historical, social, philosophical, and theological determinants that shape the metaphysics and practices of modern medicine. He has published widely in the philosophy and theology of medicine. Dr. Kornu is currently working on a book that traces the philosophical history of medical knowing back to the origins of Western medicine through the lens of anatomical dissection.

Karla A. Polaschek, MD received her medical degree at Southern Illinois University in Springfield, IL in 1993, followed by the completion of an obstetrics/gynecology residency program at Columbus-Cabrini Hospital in Chicago in 1997. She is currently in private practice with Medical Arts Associates, Ltd. in Moline, IL, with her OB/GYN practice in full concordance with the moral teachings of the Catholic church. She is also serving as the medical director for UnityPoint Obstetrical Services. Dr. Polaschek has always been an active advocate of natural family planning and serves as the medical director at the Women’s Choice Center (WCC) in Bettendorf, IA. The WCC is the first center in Iowa to offer the abortion pill reversal. It also provides free pregnancy testing, ultrasound imaging, and crisis pregnancy counseling. Additionally, Dr. Polaschek has been a member of Catholic Medical Association since 1997 and is a tireless supporter of and a volunteer in both national and international pro-life organizations.

D. Christopher Ralston, PhD currently serves in the Publishing & Ministry Resources department at Joni and Friends International Disability Center, where he has been on staff since 2013. He was formerly the Manager of the Public Policy Center at JAF and the senior editor of the Journal of the Christian Institute on Disability. He is the co-editor of two edited book volumes—Philosophical Reflections on Disability (2009) and The Development of Bioethics in the United States (2013)—and serves as a fellow of The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity’s Academy of Fellows. He is a graduate of Biola University (BA, Communications; MA, Philosophy of Religion and Ethics), Trinity International University (MA, Bioethics), and Rice University (PhD, Philosophy). His research and writing draws on his own experience as a person with a physical disability, and centers around issues at the intersection of disability, theology, and ethics.


Peter J. Smith, MD, MA is involved in clinical service, advocacy, and scholarship. His clinical work includes service to children with intellectual disabilities (including Down syndrome), autism, complex medical conditions, ADHD & LD, and children with significant behavioral difficulties. He serves as the medical director at Almost Home Kids as well as at the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School and Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education. Advocacy is a second area of service: Dr. Smith has given testimony and worked on multiple projects on the state level. Nationally, he has lead a project to increase the advocacy of pediatric subspecialists as well as serving on the Board of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD). Dr. Smith’s scholarly work covers the areas of intersection between ethics and disabilities. Most important to Dr. Smith is his service as a husband to a wonderful woman, and father to four wonderful children.

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