2020 Academy Program

Why? The Ethics of Cancer and Its Treatment


What causes cancer? 

What are the biological mechanisms that cause cancer cells to grow uncontrollably at a great cost to the body as a whole? How does a person's immune system protect against a disease that originates from one's own cells?
In recent decades, researchers have made great strides in understanding both the progression of cancer in the human individual and the ways the individual’s immune system responds to it. Their findings have led to the development of cancer therapies that can strategically target cancer cells, with the result that persons undergoing the treatments experience fewer side effects than they would with traditional chemotherapy. Many of these innovative and highly effective treatments are based on antibodies and other complex biologically-derived molecules, rather than chemically synthesized drugs. The complexity of these biological drugs allows for their specificity and greater effectiveness, but also makes them very expensive to develop, produce and administer. Advances in treatment also increase the number of individuals living with cancer raising questions about how to most effectively support patients in the long-term following diagnosis.

Why do bad things happen to good people? 

Why do some get cancer and others do not? Why is access to life-saving care so difficult to obtain? Where is God in suffering? 
These are not only ethical questions but theological questions-- questions about God's work within us and our world. Big life events, such as a cancer diagnosis, lead us to ask big questions of our God. Often our response to God's role in suffering is to picture God as a distant controller, sparing some while cursing others as part of some larger plan. But, we can also see God as intimately experiencing our hurts alongside us, ever present in suffering, providing healing in the form of caring support systems.

2020 Academy Fellows will explore these topics and the ethical questions that arise from them at this year's Summer Intensive and Nobel Conference.

The 2020 Academy Program includes:
June 20-26, 2020 - Summer Intensive, online program (required)
October 6-7, 2020 - Nobel Conference 56: Cancer in the Age of Biotechnology (optional)

2020 Summer Intensive Speakers

Theologian-in-residence: Dr. Deanna Thompson

Dr. Thompson is the Martin E. Marty Regents Chair in Religion and the Academy, and the Director of the Lutheran Center for Faith, Values, and Community at St. Olaf College. Since the publication of her theo-memoir, Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace (Cascade, 2012), Thompson speaks and publishes widely on thinking theologically about living with cancer. Her book, The Virtual Body of Christ in a Suffering World (Abingdon, 2016) focuses on the current digital revolution and its potential for helping us better care for one another in the worst times of our lives. Her latest book, Glimpsing Resurrection: Cancer, Trauma, and Ministry (WJK 2018) draws on emerging research on illness-related trauma and offers ways to make space in our religious stories and communities for those undoneby illness in ways that foster hope. Thompson also is active in the American Academy of Religion, where she served for eight years on the Board of Directors, six years as Director of the Upper Midwest Region, and six years as co-chair of
the Martin Luther and Global Lutheran Traditions Program Unit.
Scientist-in-residence: Dr. Scott Bur
Dr. Bur grew up in Gaylord, Michigan, a small town in the northern part of Michigan's lower peninsula. In high school, he was on the debate and forensics teams, wrestled, and played football. He received his B.S. from the University of Michigan and worked as an extern with Parke-Davis pharmaceuticals (now a part of Pfizer) in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
After college, Bur earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and worked on new ways to make molecules, specifically molecules containing nitrogen atoms.
Upon completion of my PhD, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia where he worked under an NIH postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratories of Professor Albert Padwa at Emory University. It was during this experience that he decided to pursue an academic career. Dr. Bur joined the faculty at Gustavus Adolphus College in 2003. He primarily teaches organic chemistry, but has also taught a medicinal chemistry course and a course based on fermentation.


Nobel Conference 56:

October 6-7, 2020
"Cancer in the Age of Biotechnology"