In the face of an ever-emerging “culture of death,” the ancient truth that death is a mystery and not a “problem” is needed more than ever. To designate death as a problem implicitly suggests a need for a remedy, which underlines the modern assumption of possession of the resources necessary to exercise technical mastery over the “problem”—in this case, death. The predominance of the technical solution over the respectful awe rightly due in the face of something greater than us puts mankind in quite a predicament.
The Church, as Pope John Paul II attentively reminded us in Redemptor Hominis, is the guardian of transcendence. This image of the Church is particular fitting in dealing with complex ethical questions of life and death. In recent times, the very mystery of death—real death—has been debated extensively as it relates to the theory of “brain death,” which is effectively interrelated to ethical questions regarding organ donation.
Catholics see death in the light of divine revelation. Death, the fruit of original sin, now exists as the means by which we participate in the Passover of Our Lord, passing from death into new life. Death is not the end of our human existence; to say otherwise would be an embrace of the fallacious pagan trap of modern philosophical thought overflowing with agnostic existential anxiety over this very unsettling question.
Modern technology has profound moral implications, both for good and for evil. This is manifestly clear in the ongoing scientific and public debate concerning human stem cell research. To say the least, stem cells have revolutionized the field of regenerative medicine and the course of its future. Stem cells have the remarkable potential to provide therapies to treat Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, as well as spinal cord injuries, damaged heart tissue, cancers and a host of other illnesses. Continue reading
Health care reform has been at the forefront of the American political discourse in the past few months. One of the most difficult tasks in this debate is to discern an authentically Catholic approach to reform efforts. The Catholic Church takes no official position as to how a health care system ought to be structured, but rather presents enduring moral principles that must be present in public policy.
Adhering to the richness of Catholic social teaching, the ultimate goal for Catholics must be to establish a system that is capable of universal access and coverage for all American citizens, one way or another. Any number of schemes might achieve universal health insurance and preferences will differ based on political philosophy, but the end result seems to be a Catholic moral obligation. In this sense, no Catholic ought to oppose universal health care, if it means achieving coverage for all Americans citizens either through market schemes, government assistance, “third sector” non-profit organizations, co-operatives efforts (co-ops), or some combination of these depending on the social need, the ethical principles at stake, and the resources each solution offers.
Catholic social teaching treats health care as a profound social interest and essential for the common good. Health care, because of this, ought not to be viewed as a mere commodity. The poor and vulnerable, by default, are immediately disadvantaged as health care costs increase. The United States, we are told, has the most technologically advanced and best quality medical care. But, one must inquire: at what cost? Other consumer “goods” are not essential safeguards to the indispensable good of human life in the same way as medical care.
Health care markets that are laissez-faire, an inherently utilitarian mechanism, do not necessarily yield nor are they ordered toward natural justice. Natural law theory is alien to such a mechanism— it is not intrinsic to it, neither is solidarity or preferential option for the poor, though these things are not necessarily excluded by it.
It is self-evident that different spheres of society appropriately employ different standards of distribution. College professors assign grades based on merits of achievement; athletic competition employs the same principle. Parents might distribute slices of cake at a birthday party to strict equality. In the same way, numerical equality governs votes in a democratic society. Food, clothing, shelter, electronic goods, clothing, automobiles, jewelry, etc, receive unequal distribution by market mechanisms—sometimes justly, sometimes not.
Need is one of those principles of distribution (and one of those things often argued about) recognized in some spheres, but not others. Need is terrible for distributing grades, but the proper principle for distributing emergency food supplies. Need, arguably, is a proper principle for the distribution of health care. Health is necessary for a community’s proper functioning. Justice, in terms of health care, will require a redeveloped way of distributing health care based on personal responsibility, collective interest, and legitimate need—the weakest and most vulnerable among us first and foremost.
Many important areas of life must resist “commodification,” at least in the same sense as dispensable goods. This could not be more evident than by the fact that people are becoming commodities to other people. Children are the prime example of this, from abortion to assisted reproduction. Fundamentally, justice demands that we re-examine our consumerism for it is the heart of the issue and I believe, the life-source of the “Culture of Death.” Continue reading
After disbanding the [President Bush's] Council on Bioethics, what kind of advisory body will Obama put together? — Elenor K. Schoen considers the question for the Catholic World Report.:
Part I. A Catholic Vision of Health Care
by Eric Brown & DarwinCatholic
The rich body of Catholic social teaching provides the faithful with moral principles to guide their thoughts and actions in political life. All too often, however, discussion of the Church’s social teaching is hijacked by a partisan political agenda — with the elements that seem to agree with one’s own party emphasized and all else ignored in order to give the stamp of Church approval to one’s party of choice. This deprives American Catholics of a meaningful analysis and reflection over the wisdom of the Church. This could not be more true on any subject than on health care.
The American bishops in Faithful Citizenship remind Catholics that “affordable and accessible health care is an essential safeguard of human life and a fundamental human right. With an estimated 47 million Americans lacking health care coverage, it is also an urgent national priority. Reform of the nation’s health care system needs to be rooted in values that respect human dignity, protect human life, and meet the needs of the poor and uninsured, especially born and unborn children, pregnant women, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations.” The Bishops also state that “religious groups should be able to provide health care without compromising their religious convictions.”
Today the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a new Instruction entitled Dignitas Personae, On Certain Bioethical Questions. You can find it along with a Vatican summary as well as a Q&A and press release from the USCCB here.