Sin and Suffering in a Catholic Understanding of Medical Ethics
Christian Bioethics 2006 August; 12(2): 165-186
Drawing chiefly on recent sources, in Part One I sketch an untraditional way of articulating what I claim to be central elements of traditional Catholic morality, treating it as based in virtues, focused on the recipients ("patients") of our attention and concern, and centered in certain person-to-person role-relationships. I show the limited and derivative places of "natural law," and therefore of sin, within that framework. I also sketch out some possible implications for medical ethics of this approach to moral theory, and briefly contrast these with the influential alternative offered by the "principlism" of Beauchamp and Childress. In Part Two, I turn to a Catholic understanding of the nature and meaning of human suffering, drawing especially on writings and addresses of the late Pope John Paul II. He reminds us that physical and mental suffering can provide an opportunity to share in Christ's salvific sacrifice, better to see the nature of our earthly vocation, and to reflect on the dependence that inheres in human existence. At various places, and especially in my conclusion, I suggest a few ways in which this can inform bioethical reflection on morally appropriate responses to those afflicted by physical or mental pain, disability, mental impairment, disease, illness, and poor health prospects. My general point is that mercy must be informed by appreciation of the person's dignity and status. Throughout, my approach is philosophical rather than theological.
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