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Subjectivism, Vitalism? Catholic Teaching Avoids Extremes
Rev. Gerald D. Colemen, S.S., Ph.D., S.T.L.

Caring for people who are seriously ill and dying often means steering a course between two different approaches at odds with Catholic moral principles. One is subjectivism, the belief that one's primary responsibility is to oneself and one's particular values, an attitude that gives justification to physician-assisted suicide. The other inimical approach is vitalism, the belief that human life is absolute and must be preserved, at all cost.

Two key ethical principles in medical ethics are critical in assessing subjectivism and vitalism. The first is beneficence (from benefacere, to do a kindness, provide a benefit). This principle has been valued from its early Hippocratic origins. It is the second part of the dictum, "first, do no harm, benefit only." Professionalism requires health care practitioners to put the patient's interests first.1 Beneficence obliges a physician to treat a patient when there is hope of recovery, medical improvement and a stabilization of quality of life. In this light, a major task of medicine is to care while it attempts to cure.

Some of the specific norms that arise from this principle in the Catholic tradition are to never deliberately intend harm, seek the patient's good, use wisdom and prudence in all things. The second key principle is nonmaleficence, commonly translated as "first, do no harm."  READ FULL ARTICLE HERE.

Permission granted from Health Progress, January-February 2014
Copyright © 2014 by The Catholic Health Association of the United States


We Must - and We Can - Do Better
Ira Byock, MD

Despite more than three decades of earnest efforts to improve end-of-life care, a crisis persists in the way we die.1 It is a man-made crisis, although no one is to blame. Perhaps, in a sense, we are all at fault for wanting to bring every ounce of science and technology and every dime to bear to protect and preserve life.

Surely we can be forgiven for that. Still, we must craft a better way forward. We live in unprecedented times and face social and ethical predicaments that no other nation or society has encountered. 

  • For the first time in the history of humankind, there soon will be more people older than 60 on our planet than there are people who are 20 or younger.
  • Thanks to advances in medicine, millions of people now survive many cancers, heart damage, kidney failure and other conditions that would have rapidly ended their lives even a few decades ago.
  • People are now sicker before they die than at any time in human history.

We are fortunate to have ever-more effective treatments available for late-stage diseases — from biological cancer agents and stem cell therapies to left-ventricular assistance devices to kidney, heart and liver transplants. Yet these life-prolonging therapies often make it difficult to know when it is time to let life go.

A better way forward is possible. In effect, we have been approaching serious illness and dying from the wrong direction. As a result, all of our good intentions and substantial investments of time, energy and money inadvertently have perpetuated patterns of excessive treatments and inattention to people's personal needs. READ FULL ARTICLE HERE.

Permission granted from Health Progress, January-February 2014
Copyright © 2014 by The Catholic Health Association of the United States