ND Alum Talks to Law Students about Bioethics

With any technology, there are limits to what’s possible and limits to what’s moral.

Nikolas T. Nikas, the co-founder, president, and general counsel of the Bioethics Defense Fund, told students last week at Notre Dame Law School that they will be called on during their careers to consider those moral limits.

Nikas, ’79 B.A., ’81 M.A., said technologies such as human cloning and stem-cell research were only science fiction when he was a Notre Dame student. Today, they are reality.

“For the rest of your career, people are going to look to you, as lawyers, and will want to know what you think,” he said. “Push back on the idea that morality has no place in the law. It does have a place.”

The Bioethics Defense Fund is a pro-life, public-interest legal and educational organization. Nikas described it as existing at the intersection of law, science/medicine, and morality/ethics.

Nikas, who earned his juris doctor at Arizona State University College of Law, has litigated issues such as state limits on late-term abortion and ballot initiatives about human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research. He has participated in preparing attorneys for oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on “partial birth” abortion in Stenberg v. Carhart in 2000 and free speech for peaceful sidewalk counselors in McCullen v. Coakley in 2014. He has also testified to the U.S. Senate on abortion and First Amendment rights.

On Thursday, he talked about the natural-law tradition, which is rooted in moral principles, and legal positivism, which holds that the law doesn’t necessarily need to be connected with morals. He then urged students to think about how the law should treat modern scientific capabilities, such as human cloning and stem-cell research.

“The great thing about the Catholic intellectual tradition, which you are a part of at Notre Dame, is that it puts faith and reason together,” he said.

Jus Vitae of Notre Dame and the Federalist Society sponsored the event.