How to Attend Fr. Matthew’s Doctoral Defense on July 5 Virtually

Over the past three years, although I have been posting some things online, my primary assignment has been writing a doctoral thesis in moral theology. I started on genetic privacy, but ended with, “A Catholic Theological Analysis of the Right to Informational Privacy.” It is on the long side – almost 500 pages. For the pontifical Roman universities, you write the thesis then must defend it publicly. As my doctorate is through the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, that is the format we follow. Usually, this is physically in a room at the university in Rome, but given my director is now in Manilla, the second reader is the US, and I am in the US in a different city from the second reader, my defense will be virtual.

The defense will be on July 5th at 2:30pm Rome Time / 8:30am Eastern US time. If you want to attend, you can join via this Microsoft Teams link. The defense will be about 2-2.5 hours. It consists of my presentation for 30 minutes, followed by my director and second reader each having 30 minutes to question me about it, and then a bit more time for other questions or discussion.

A few lines from my doctoral defense

As the first half hour of will be my presentation, I have uploaded a PDF of my presentation as it stands now. This is not the official final version but will be close as I do not expect to find anything significant to change.

Here is some of the text:

Graduation hat on laptop for virtual graduation
Graduation hat on laptop for virtual graduation (CC BY 2.0 delegateconnectimages on Wikimedia)

Back in 2017, I saw that Canada passed a bill prohibiting employers or insurance companies from forcing you to do a genetic test or punishing you if you refuse. At the same time, an amendment was presented to the Obamacare repeal and replace bill that would allow companies to spike your insurance 30% if you refuse a genetic test. As someone who regularly commented on ethical issues in the public sphere from a Catholic perspective, I wondered about these issues. I wrote a brief piece at the time arguing that requiring genetic tests is contrary to human dignity. But, even as I wrote it, I realized the dearth of information from a Catholic perspective on the topic.

About this same time, I was coming to the end of my licentiate studies and looking at the possibility of doing a doctoral degree after. Looking at topics, genetic privacy was interesting, so possible as topic for a doctoral thesis. […]

This chapter [defining privacy] concludes with the following definition: “A secondary natural right of individuals, groups or organizations to a rational degree of control over the spread of private information to other individuals, groups or organizations such that human flourishing is not inhibited.” […]

In the final chapter, I provided something that would fit… in a social encyclical or the Compendium of Social Doctrine:

Informational privacy is a secondary natural right of individuals, groups or organizations to a rational degree of control over the spread of private information to other individuals, groups or organizations such that human flourishing is not inhibited. The right to privacy stems from our human dignity. It helps people achieve the good of solitude and other goods. Principles for when it can or cannot be broken parallel the rules moral theology has developed regarding keeping various kinds of secrets, and to a lesser extent rules around private property as well. As privacy is unidirectional in that it cannot be regained once lost, privacy law should generally default to more privacy to protect the more vulnerable, while allowing those who want less privacy to express themselves. Information from the interior of our soul, our conscience, is absolutely private: as one gets further from that, the degree of privacy offered rationally decreases. The family as the basic unit of society should also generally be the basic unit of privacy.

Law and custom need to protect informational privacy with particular import in the modern world where privacy is under attack. Medical and genetic privacy are one key concern as they have information about who we are in our body. In this regard, those more interior aspects of our body like our DNA need greater protection. The areas of electronic surveillance and big data processing also provide an important area for privacy. Society needs better protections to allow people to make conscious choices about what surveillance is happening or if any is happening. The right of one – like a government or corporation – to collect data does not necessarily imply the right to analyze or distribute that same data.

You can watch my doctoral defense if you want. It will be on the academic side so I know it might be too much for some of my regular readers here.

Here is the link to join on July 5th. Here is the PDF of my presentation.

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