As the largest non-profit provider of health care in the United States, the Catholic health care system often finds itself in conflict with a broader culture that does not appreciate the perennial values that gave birth to the idea of the hospital. These essays discuss the current challenges to Catholic identity and some of the moral questions that are at the root cause of that conflict. Edmund Pellegrino, M.D., addresses of the secularization of the health care profession and the gradual abandonment of the religious principles that once informed bioethics. John Haas reviews recent developments in reproductive technologies and how the Church has responded to some of the gross injustices inflicted on the embryo. Edward Furton and Rev. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., engage in a debate over the morality of human embryo adoption, a presently unsettled question within the Church. Thomas Pitre, M.D., reviews the Church’s stance on the provision of nutrition and hydration, especially in light of John Paul II’s 2004 statement on “Life-Sustaining Treatments and the Vegetative State.” In an excellent presentation on the determination of death, Eugene Diamond, M.D. defends the brain-based or neurological criteria. Dan O’Brien and Christine Gorka take a technical and in-depth look at the controversies surrounding the use of vaccines that have a distant connection with abortion. T. Murphy Goodwin, M.D., examines the moral questions surrounding early induction of labor, especially in more difficult pregnancies. The problem of state mandates, which compel Catholic institutions to carry out practices forbidden by the faith, is discussed by Marie T. Hilliard, R.N. Helen M. Alvare looks at the personal and political consequences of pregnancy prevention after sexual assault. Three lectures are presented in Spanish on the topics of cloning, organ transplantation, and emergency contraception. Finally, an important closing address on the role of the magisterium in bioethics is offered by William Cardinal Levada, Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Edward J. Furton, Ph.D., is an ethicist and Director of Publications at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.