Reclaiming Our Moral Tradition: Catholic Teaching Calls Us to Accept the Limits of Medical Technology
Author(s)Nairn, Thomas A.
KeywordsAllowing to Die
Prolongation of Life
Risks and Benefits
Roman Catholic Ethics
Value of Life
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AbstractThe success of science and medical technology has led to medical brinkmanship, pushing aggressive treatment as far as it can go. But medicine lacks the precision necessary for such brinkmanship to succeed, and the resulting cycle of expectation and disappointment in technology has, in part, led to an increasing acceptance of euthanasia and assisted suicide, linked closely with advocacy for patient autonomy. At the opposite extreme lies medical vitalism, which refers to attempts to preserve the patient's life in and of itself without any significant hope for recovery. The Catholic moral tradition offers a middle ground, well expressed in the 1994 Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. The tradition does not deny the good of technology or state that some lives are not worth living. Rather, it calls us to accept the fact that medical technology has limits. In reclaiming this tradition, we reclaim the naturalness of death. Reclaiming the tradition has practical consequences for the use of life-prolonging technology at the end of life and for end-of-life decision making. These can be placed in three broad categories: the Christian understanding of care, the ambiguity inherent in end-of-life decision making, and the task of Christian formation.
Health Progress. 1997 Nov-Dec; 78(6): 36-39, 42.