Catholicism and the Future of Medicine

The Center for Cultural and Pastoral Research sponsored a symposium on “Catholicism and the Future of Medicine” on April 12-13.  The panelists included Institute faculty and a variety of medical practitioners from around the world.

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 addressed various facets of this question and explored the assumption that the soul of modern medicine is Catholic. The symposium consisted of five roundtable discussions, each an hour and a half in length. Each discussion was introduced by two brief, 15 minute interventions on the relevant theme from selected panelists. Presentations were followed by one hour long discussion among all the invited participants.

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