Rome, Italy June 7, 2013 

The 6th International Colloquium of the International Association of Catholic Bioethicists (IACB), organized with the support of the Order of Malta, will address the topic: “Supporting and caring for persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD): Ethical Reflections and Practical Considerations” at Villa Palazzola near Rome, Italy, from June 9-14, 2013.

Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) (Learning Disabilities in the U.K.) refer to a range of conditions in which lifelong limitations in intellectual functioning and conceptual, social and practical skills are noticeable before age 18 years. According to Dr. Hélène Ouellette-Kuntz, an epidemiologist and Associate Professor at Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, “between 1-3% of any country’s population have IDD, such as Down syndrome, Autistic Spectrum Disorders or Fetal Alcohol syndrome.”

Dr. William F. Sullivan, director the IACB and Associate Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital and Surrey Place Centre of the University of Toronto, Canada, notes that ‘this colloquium is the first of its kind to focus on ethical issues in the care of persons with IDD from an interdisciplinary Christian perspective. It brings together 67 internationally renowned experts in the field, with more joining through the Internet.’ Dr. Sullivan, who works extensively with persons with IDD, challenges us to consider the question, ‘What would it be like if we welcomed persons with IDD into our lives and communities with genuine respect for their freedom, insisting that they belong and are to be loved?’

Medical advances that make possible the detection of genetic disorders associated with IDD are routinely used to end the life of these human persons prior to birth. Broader issues of valuing and respecting people with IDD as free human beings and full members of the human family also need to be addressed. Dr. Brian Hennen, Professor of Family Medicine at Dalhousie University and former president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, and a participant in the IACB colloquium, remarks that, ‘in our society, which emphasizes intelligence and productivity, too often people with IDD are ridiculed, regarded as merely burdens on society, excluded from full participation in their communities and from decision-making about their own lives, health care and supports. They are likely to receive inadequate and/or inappropriate health care.’ Another participant in the IACB colloquium, Professor John Heng of King’s University College at Western University, London, Canada adds that ‘too often, the spiritual desires and capacities of persons with IDD are not recognized or nurtured.’

As Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche, an international federation of communities for people with IDD and those who assist them, states in a video address to participants: ‘What seems to me to be absolutely clear is the importance of seeing every person with a disability as an important person capable of freedom and of love.’

This 6th International Colloquium of the IACB will culminate in a consensus statement that is intended to advance thinking within and beyond the Christian tradition on emerging ethical, theological and pastoral questions relating to the support and care of persons living with IDD; provide helpful guidance to families and care providers; and propose recommendations to inform health care, pastoral practices, policies and laws, and future research.

The consensus statement will be published along with background papers and presentations, all of which will be made freely available on the IACB’s website .        Follow on Twitter: @MoiraMcQueen, hashtag #IACB

The International Association of Catholic Bioethicists (IACB)

In 2005, the IACB was founded by a group of bioethicists from around the world with the support of various national associations of the Order of Malta. The IACB brings together bioethicists and health care professionals to address emerging ethical issues in health care research and practice to better serve those in need. The IACB convenes bi-annual international colloquia that have engaged some 350 participants from over 40 countries. Their purpose is to promote and foster cooperation among Catholic bioethicists, with a concern especially for those who are marginalized or vulnerable. In 2009, the IACB was recognized as the Order of Malta’s tool to promote bioethics. This 6th colloquium, held on the occasion of the Order of Malta’s 900th anniversary, is organized under the patronage of Frà Matthew Festing, Grand Master of the Order of Malta.