Science, Environment and Bioethics Committee

Convenors: Dr Mary McHugh and Patricia Stoat

The formal committee membership is small, but there is frequent and wide-ranging contact with individuals and organisations with expertise in specific areas. This allows us to stay up to date with developments, to make informed comment and to keep NBCW members informed.

Health has been a particular focus since March 2020, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have written to the Department of Health and Social Care expressing concern on behalf of residents in care homes. We have also urged support for the John Snow Memorandum which makes the case against opening up society too rapidly, relying on 'natural herd immunity', rather than a science-based approach.

We have liaised with various bodies on the issue of the care of persons in the critical and terminal phases of life and sought to raise awareness, both among NBCW members and the general public, on sources of information on those areas of interest to concerned Catholics. We have issued a guide on decision-making about the care you may need in the coronavirus pandemic (see Publications), and have highlighted videos and publications which may be of interest on this subject.

With regard to Ethics Artificial Intelligence has been a focus. In Rome, in Feb 2020 at a meeting of the Pontifical Academy for Life on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, a number of industry and government organisations (Microsoft, IBM, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, and representatives of the Italian Government ) signed a Charter, a Call for AI Ethics. It calls for ethical principles and guidelines to be used in the field of artificial intelligence so that products that are developed, sold and used actually promote the good of all humanity.

In October, the Committee Convenor Mary McHugh attended a follow-up webinar. The goals of this event were to present concrete solutions to the agri-food business taking into account ethical use of AI. The Holy See emphasised the need to factor in the benefits of AI for small farmers and the poor, rather than just focussing on big agribusinesses. Brad Smith (Microsoft) said they had been alerted to think more widely and to expand the ethics of AI to include sustainability.

Environmental concerns are ongoing. The 2020 November meeting of COP26 (UN Climate Change Conference) was rescheduled for Glasgow in November 2021. We are keen to hear from any one who has a particular interest in this area or for ideas on how NBCW can mark this important conference.