Catholicism and the Future of Medicine

April 12, 2013

Keane Auditorium, McGivney Hall, The Catholic University of America

The fate of Catholic medicine, for obvious reasons, is a matter of growing concern. Rising health care costs, the emergence of giant for-profit health care systems, the decline in religious vocations, controversy over reproductive medicine, end of life care and other bioethical issues, and new government regulations limiting religious liberty are all conspiring to reduce or perhaps even eliminate the institutionalized presence of Catholicism in American healthcare over the course of the next generation. This naturally raises the question of what place there may be for Catholicism in health care in the coming years.

This is not the only question; however, nor even, perhaps, the most important. Western medicine is a highly advanced science, but it is also an art nurtured from its very beginning within the bosom of the Church. The Church’s understanding of the human person, its distinctive notions of health and of care, and the discipline of religious life all helped give birth to hospital and to medical care in the West and have profoundly shaped the self-understanding and institutions of modern medicine, its view of the patient, and the meaning of the medical calling up till now. Perhaps a still more urgent question, then, is not, what is the fate of Catholicism in modern medicine, but what is the fate of modern medicine once its religious roots are forgotten?

This symposium will address various facets of this question, and will explore the assumption that the soul of modern medicine is Catholic. The symposium will consist of five roundtable discussions, each an hour and a half in length. Each discussion will be introduced by two brief, 15 minute interventions on the relevant theme from selected panelists. Presentations will be followed by one hour long discussion among all the invited participants. Since conversation is a crucial element of this symposium all symposium attendees are asked to the stay and contribute to all of the roundtable discussions.

For speaker biographies, click here.

Friday, April 12

7:00-8:30 pm The Catholic Roots and Changing Anthropology of Western Medicine

  • Glenn Olsen, Ph.D.
  • Michael Hanby, Ph.D.

Historically speaking, Catholicism profoundly shaped the soul of Western medicine in several ways. In many instances, Western medicine was the direct outworking of a religious vocation. Monastic foundations created institutions devoted to charity that would become the modern hospital, and generations of women religious saw nursing as an integral dimension of their vocation. Such factors deeply informed medicine’s self-understanding in terms analogous to a religious vocation and its spiritual disciplines, as seen, e.g., in the adoption of the Hippocratic oath. Implicit within this self-understanding is a corresponding understanding of the patient as a person, a person, a per se unum of body and soul, whose health is not merely physical. The radical changes brought by scientific and bureaucratic medicine portend changes both to medicine’s self-understanding and to its underlying medical anthropology. What are these changes in medicine’s underlying anthropology, and how will they affect medicine’s self-understanding and the formation of its practitioners? Are professional and quality control standards an adequate replacement for a vocational sense of medicine and its corresponding disciplines?

Saturday, April 13

9:00-10:30 The Fate of the Patient: Who is the Patient? What is Health?

  • Sara Deola, M.D.
  • Andrew Miles, Ph.D.

How will the patient and his health be viewed in medicine increasingly (and exclusively?) understood as a technical science. What, in other words, is the anthropology of technological medicine and how will this be brought to bear on medical care?

10:30-11:00 Break

11:00-12:30 The Fate of Institutions

  • Sr. Mary Diana Dreger, O.P., M.D.
  • Allen Aksamit, M.D.

Cultural, governmental, and economic forces are combining to erase the last vestiges of the Catholic character of once-Catholic medical institutions. What might the futute hold for these and other medical institutions without the witness that Catholic healthcare once provided?

LUNCH 12:30-2:00

2:00-3:30 Opportunities for Catholic Medicine

  • John I. Lane, M.D.
  • Robin Pierucci, M.D.

Are there any opportunities for “creative minorities” to practice medicine in a Catholic way in the emerging cultural, legal, economic and technological context? Apart from the usual bioethical considerations, how might Catholic medicine look different from and improve upon medicine as it is currently developing?

Break 3:30-4:00

4:00-5:30 Meeting Suffering

  • Ruth Ashfield
  • Mary Hamm

Medicine’s fascination with its scientific prowess and own power to cure, rising costs, scarce resources, and the need for greater efficiency all call into question our ability to abide patiently with those who cannot be cured. How is suffering understood within the anthropology of contemporary medicine? Is it intelligible? What are the expectations for how a thoroughly secular medicine will cope with ‘hopeless cases’?

Download the event's brochure here.

Registration forms: General Public

John Paul II Institute Alumni

Clergy, Religious, and Students from Other Institutions

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