Catholic Bioethics and Social Justice

The Praxis of US Health Care in a Globalized World

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M. Therese Lysaught, Michael McCarthy
  • Collegeville, MN: 
    Liturgical Press
    , December
     458 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


M. Therese Lysaught and Michael McCarthy’s edited volume on the intersection of bioethics with the Roman Catholic social tradition is a much-needed resource to the fields of theology, ethics, and medical training in the U.S. As faculty at the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics & Healthcare at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, the editors have solicited the work of moral theologians, bioethicists, medical school faculty, and other professionals in the health care industry to contribute to the development of an undertreated area of Catholic teaching: moving from an individual, act-based approach to a historically-conscious, social one. In doing so, ethicists seek not just to evaluate the morality of an act but pursue the least inadequate way of caring for whole person before us.

To this end, the chapters in Catholic Bioethics & Social Justice: The Praxis of U.S. Health Care in a Globalized World bring together the encyclicals and principles of Catholic social tradition and thought with liberation theology’s commitment to poor and marginalized communities. By helping to reframe the way those doing bioethics in a Catholic vein respond to the needs of vulnerable populations, the chapters effectively bring the standard bioethical fare of patient-provider relationships, beginning of life, end of life, and partnerships into conversation with realities less commonly considered in Catholic bioethical discussions such as race, gender, ecology, and socioeconomic and citizenship statuses. One way that the volume successfully accomplishes this goal throughout is by highlighting the social embeddedness of an often overlooked resource: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs). Each edition of the ERDs places “The Social Responsibility of Catholic Health Care Services” at the center of its work, signaling the integral nature of social issues and communities to Catholic bioethics and health care, while at the same time suggesting that the social tradition is a lens through which future issues in Catholic health care should be interpreted (6).

One place for further conversation is the volume’s regular use of a particular phrase used even in its title. The notion of “Catholic bioethics” as a field in itself is not an uncomplicated one, and some scholars take issue with an uncritical usage of the term, preferring to stipulate that it is more accurate to understand it to refer to the reality of “Catholics doing bioethics” or “bioethics in a Catholic setting.” While the title might mislead inexperienced scholars into thinking that such a field as Catholic bioethics exists as a world hermetically sealed unto itself, and would be more appropriately titled another way, the anthology is nonetheless an invaluable collection of insightful essays that speaks to the needs of US Catholics in health care settings as well as to those of non-Catholic medical practitioners, staff, and patients in Catholic health care institutions. Fortunately, although the volume makes regular use of the phrase, “Catholic bioethics,” the content of the essays speaks more to the multivalent realities that are practice of health care and Catholic social praxis than does the title.

This volume will prove to be a required one for any bioethics or moral theology classroom on the undergraduate or graduate level. Some essays, such as Michael McCarthy’s chapter, “Bewildering Accompaniment: The Ethics of Caring for Gender Non-Conforming Children and Adolescents,” are even ripe for fruitful conversation in upper-level high school ethics courses. Medical and nursing schools whose students may go on to work in Catholic health care institutions, as well as anyone currently employed in Catholic health care systems, will especially benefit from the practical professional discernment that these essays elicit. More than this, any reader interested in the implications of current conversations on US health care policy may well find Catholic Bioethics & Social Justice a welcome and instructive starting point.


About the Reviewer(s): 

Christine E. McCarthy, PhD, is an independent scholar in Boston, Massachusetts.

Date of Review: 
October 3, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

M. Therese Lysaught is Professor at Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics & Health Care Leadership at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and Loyola's Institute of Pastoral Studies.

Michael McCarthy is Assistant Professor at the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics & Health Care Leadership at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.


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