Dr. Benjamin Rybicki, a member of the Society of Catholic Scientists, is Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Public Health Services at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. He received his PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Michigan. His research focuses on the epidemiology, demographics and genetics of sarcoidosis, Parkinson’s disease, and prostate cancer.
There is a strong humanistic theme in biology, and it does entail a deep concern about human beings, but Dr. Rybicki said his experience suggests the humanistic impulse is separated from religious faith in many cases. His particular interest in epidemiology grew partly from an interest in the application of statistics to medicine. At the Henry Ford Hospital, there is a large population of African American patients, among whom there is a heightened risk from prostate cancer and sarcoidosis.
Berylliosis, which occurs more rarely from beryllium exposure, has a similar genetic susceptibility pattern to sarcoidosis.
background can increase the risk of, and the behavior of, certain diseases as experienced by people, although it’s not directly related to race. African Americans tend to have a different inflammatory response to pathogens than people of European descent.
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disorder, most commonly in the lungs. It varies in how it progresses and presents itself. The treatment of choice is steroids, and they also have particularly important side effects.
One’s Catholic faith is an important element in the practice of medicine. An understanding of the human person made in the image of God will influence one’s decisions, including the choice of treatments and the balance of risks and benefits, Dr. Rybicki said. This shows itself, for example, in considering quantity and quality of life and what medicine can provide. We must be mindful of how we’re respecting the dignity of the human person through medical interventions. We must think about how to improve the human condition without getting carried away with ideas of manipulating other factors—extending to intelligence and physical prowess. “I can definitely see that coming down the pike.” Doctors may enhance aspects of life that have nothing to do with the disease condition they’re treating. For example, choosing to change a gene might lower your heart disease but also increase your risk of cancer. We have to be careful. Consider where are we going in the direction of creating a highly medicated society, treating everything with drugs without considering alternatives such as behavioral changes. Tinkering with the human body can have unintended effects. Dr. Rybicki shares this insight with young Catholic doctors: Make your Catholic faith a strong part, a driving force, in the work you do. (Editor’s note: By the way, listeners may be interested in the mission of the Catholic Medical Association.)
Dr. Rybicki devoted part of his talk to Jerome Lejeune, a pioneer in genetics and in the understanding of Down Syndrome who took his Catholic faith very seriously. Now declared a Servant of God on the pathway toward possible canonized sainthood, Lejeune made sacrifices in his medical career as he maintained his principles about the dignity of every human life while medical science took a different course regarding Down Syndrome.
The 2019 Society of Catholic Scientists conference was very well done, Dr. Rybicki said. He said he enjoys learning about subjects with which he is not familiar, and conference attendees seemed to share that experience. Videos from the conference are available on You Tube.