Health Care and Catholic Morality




This course will examine the history of Christian ethical reflection on medicine and health care, with particular attention to common ethical dilemmas concerning the end of life.  The development of the Catholic moral tradition of health care and bioethics will be studied both from an historical perspective and through careful study of official Catholic teaching documents.  The rich diversity of cultural insights represented by the student body will facilitate reflection on the many different approaches to suffering, health care, death, autonomy, and fertility found in the geographical regions in which students minister.


The student will be able to identify important persons, issues, and schools of thought that influenced the development of Catholic teaching concerning health care. The student will learn to make use of relevant primary and secondary sources available in both printed and electronic formats, and will become familiar with appropriate reference works in Catholic bioethics.



1) This course will combine lecture and class discussion. In order to maximize the effectiveness of lectures in our culturally diverse student population, representing a wide range of different linguistic experience and ability, all audio-visual materials presented in lectures will be available through the course website or on CD-ROM in the library. The weekly discussion will be based on assigned readings from primary sources.  Brief, introductory selections will be found in the assigned text; longer texts for discussion should be downloaded from the course website and read in advance. Active participation in discussions is essential, and will figure into the final evaluation.

2)  Students are free to choose one of two different methods of assessment: (1) active participation in all Moodle discussion forums; or (2) a midterm and final examination.

3)  The midterm and final examination will take the form of a set of  “take-home” essay questions.  Students are expected to turn in their essays at the beginning of class the following week: these must be typed and double-spaced.

4)  An “extra credit” research project may be undertaken, based on the primary sources studied in class or cited in the bibliography below.  It should be between seven and ten pages in length, double-spaced, including appropriate references: it will be due Friday, April 25, 2012.
 In lieu of a written research project, students who prefer the medium of verbal presentation may offer the results of their research as a 15-20 minute presentation to the class on May 16
th, 2012
. The presentation must be of the same academic quality as a graduate-level paper (including references Topics for the research project include: any ethical issue or author discussed in class; or a comparison of the approaches taken by two different authors. The goal of the research project is to demonstrate familiarity with official Church teaching and current ethical thought in the area of Catholic bioethics. 

5)  Students must clearly distinguish between: (a) their own work; and (b) ideas or text they have taken from other sources, including the Internet, published texts or audio-visual materials.  The requirement to distinguish clearly between one’s own work and the research of others applies equally to written and oral presentations.  Failure to give credit to cited sources constitutes plagiarism and will result in a grade of “F” for both the material presented and the course.

6)  The final course grade will be computed as follows:

Class participation


Written work



1) Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life, William May, (Our Sunday Visitor, 2000) ISBN: 0879736836

2) Dax’s Case, Essays in Medical Ethics and Medical Meaning, ed. L. D. Kliever (Southern Methodist Univ. Pr., 1989) ISBN: 0870742787

[Optional Text: An Introduction to Bioethics, by Thomas A. Shannon (Paulist Press, 1997) ISBN: 0809136945


John Paul II: Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life); Salvifici Doloris (On The Christian Meaning Of Human Suffering); On Life-Sustaining Treatment and the Vegetative State; On Palliative Care

National Conference Of Catholic Bishops: Nutrition and Hydration; Moral and Pastoral Reflections

Sacred Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith: Declaration On Procured Abortion; Jura et Bona (Declaration on Euthanasia);Donum Vitae (On Respect for Human Life in its Origin); Persona Humana (Declaration on Sexual Ethics); “Uterine Isolation”and Related Matters.


The Foundations of Bioethics, Second Edition by  H. Tristram Engelhardt, (Oxford University Press, 1996) ISBN : 0195057368. 


     Classes will meet Wednesday afternoons from 2:00 to 3:50 am in Room 5.

1) Introduction: Dax’ Case and The Problem Of “Extraordinary (disproportionate) Means”

               A) Dax’ Dilemma:

Reading: Kliever, pp. 169-186; SCDF: Jura et Bona (Declaration on Euthanasia), selections

               B) A Catholic Response to Dax’ Dilemma:

Reading: Kliever, pp. 187-211; [Shannon, pp. 3-40]. John Paul II: Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life); Salvifici Doloris (On The Christian Meaning Of Human Suffering)


2) The History and Development of Catholic Teaching concerning the End of Life

Reading: May, pp. 235-273 [Shannon, pp. 77-100]. Atkinson, Development of Church Teaching on Prolonging Life.


3) “Informed Consent” and The Development of Secular Medical Codes

Reading: May, pp. 199-206 [Shannon, pp. 166-179]. Thomas Percival; AMA First Code of Medical Ethics; The Nürnburg Code; The Patient’s Bill of Rights.


4) Modern Catholic Teaching concerning the End of Life

Reading: May, pp. 235-273 [Shannon, pp. 101-126]. SCDF: Jura et Bona (Declaration on Euthanasia); LACMA-LABA Guidelines for Withdrawing/Withholding Life-Sustaining Treatment; California Probate Code on Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.


5) Brain Death, Coma, Diminished Consciousness, and the Persistent Vegetative State.

Neurological dilemmas: Distinguishing between death, inevitable death and severe disability. Allen Shewman's critique of brain-death; the Vatican's response.  The theological, legal, and social controversy over Nancy Cruzan and Teri Schiavo.  A video on Nancy Cruzan will be viewed.


6) Christ at the End of Life: Medical and Pastoral Care of the Dying Patient

Palliative care.  Treatment of pain and the obligation to sustain life.  Withholding and Withdrawing life-sustaining treatment. Theologically- and pastorally-relevant texts and videos will be reviewed and discussed from American Medical Association EPEC (Education for Physicians on End-of-life Care) program.


7) New Technologies and Ethical Dilemmas: Organ Transplantation and Scarce Resources.

Ethical dilemmas concerning the right to donate organs.  Organ donation after brain death and ater cardiac death. .  Readings: May, pp. 283-310 [Shannon, pp. 127-190] .


8) Modern Catholic Teaching concerning the Beginning of Life: Fertility, Conception, and Pre-Natal Life.

Readings: May pp. 65-186 [Shannon pp. 41-76] SCDF: Declaration On Procured Abortion; Donum Vitae (On Respect for Human Life in its Origin); Persona Humana (Declaration on Sexual Ethics); “Uterine Isolation”and Related Matters.



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