Tag: religion

Blog Posts (18)

April 28, 2016

Expanding The Moral Community: Why is it so hard?

Much of American history can be described as the struggle to expand the moral community in which an increasing number of human beings are seen as having basic rights under the constitution. We forget sometimes that though the inclusion of all people was perhaps implied in our early documents, as in “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” from the Declaration of Independence, it has taken historical time and struggle to come closer to realizing that ideal. This struggle has been the quest for recognition of more and more individuals not assumed initially to have the right to vote and exercise control over their lives, which included African Americans, women, minorities, and more recently the LGBT community. The growing recognition of more and more individuals as being full fledged citizens has been a slow, often painful, birthing process of freedom, in the sense of unleashing human potential and possibilities, within the democratic process.


The recent uproar over the Anti-LGBT law passed in North Carolina is a reminder of how difficult it is for many states and communities to accept and accommodate historically marginalized people into the mainstream of society. This law was a quick reaction by the right wing North Carolina legislature and governor to an ordinance passed in Charlotte, similar to what other cities around the country are doing, allowing transgender people to use restrooms according to their gender identity. Perhaps this law also should be seen as a reaction to the Supreme Court ruling in 2015 legalizing same-sex marriage, which has been propelling society toward greater openness and acceptance of LGBT life styles, integrating them into the mainstream. Many who favor the Anti-LGBT law claim that individuals born as male, but are now identifying as female, could pose a risk to women and girls in public bathrooms, though there seems to be no substantial evidence whatsoever of such a risk. My sense is that the individuals who support this law in fact are using risk as a smokescreen in attempting to preserve what they perceive as waning values and norms in society: In the name of conservatism they hang on to an exclusionary vision of society that no longer fits the conditions of expanding freedom and opportunity.


So what some see as waning values and norms, others see as moral progress toward more robust democratic ideals and values. This inherent, historical struggle of opposing social and political forces has resulted with unexpected rapidity in the social and legal acceptance of gays and lesbians in the past 20 years in the United States. Most young people today especially those living in metropolitan areas, like Charlotte, where cultural diversity is a daily reality, readily accept that people naturally have different sexual orientations and gender identities, which people should be free to express in their lives. This liberal openness to diversity likely stems from the fact that they live in the midst of, and have normal interactions and friendships with, people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, which prompts them to look upon them as neighbors and as normal people. On the other hand, my guess is that many of the advocates of the Anti-LGBT Bill in North Carolina have little or no contact (of which they are aware) and no or limited relationships with LGBT individuals. Also, part of the resistance to greater inclusion of the LGBT community could be stem from the anxiety of having to recognize one’s own uncomfortable feelings and inclinations about sexuality and gender.


An additional factor to explain the reluctance of many self-identified conservatives to accept alternative sexual and gender orientations may be related to religion. Particularly, in the “bible belt” regions, regardless of whether or not they are followed by church leaders and members, clear notions of basic moral norms of right and wrong are assumed. Sadly, religious morality has been historically integrated with and used to justify a range of regional cultural values and norms—even heinous ones such as the use of Christianity to justify the institution of slavery. But in fairness even many Christians outside the bible belt follow Catholic natural law theory based on certain features about human nature from which basic norms are predicated about what is “normal” as well as “right” and “wrong” in a content rich, objective sense. In short, the point is if one believes that members of the LGBT community are engaging in a personal life style that is assumed to be inherently immoral, a barrier to inclusion is created.


So we in America today are in the midst of a culture war between conservative communities in rural and smaller towns on the one side espousing religious assumptions about human nature (which affects how they perceive risks) and liberals celebrated diversity in more progressive, metropolitan areas on the other. Advocates on either side of this divide bring to bear ideas and theories in an effort to convince others of their position. However, my sense is that articulating arguments to defend the root moral assumptions of either side is unlikely to change the minds of individuals on the other side. The result seems to be communities of individuals living in parallel universes with alternate moral vocabularies who “talk at” each other. Though I am for a liberal, moral vocabulary to account for moral progress within the democratic process, the real change that many of us liberals seek really is at the emotional, and even spiritual, level relating to how human beings are able to show empathy and respect for their fellow human beings in their communities.


We know human identity is based largely on social identity within a particular group or groups related to broad social categories such as religion, race, ethnicity, social class, etc. and to more specific ones such as professions, sports teams, political parties, etc. One of the inherent features of social identity is that individuals have a sense of self-identity by virtue of their group affiliations, which is also defined in terms of groups with which they are not affiliated and to which they stand in opposition. When group identities become rigid, to the point of engendering animus toward other groups, barriers are created which can marginalize the rights of individuals in those groups. But through exposure to, and openness to personal relationships with, individuals outside one’s own group, group identity becomes more flexible and open to change—this is an inner change of heart and disposition toward others.


Perhaps many of those who self-identify as conservatives in North Carolina who favor the Anti-LGBT law, and who also are predominantly Christian, should remember the ministry of the central character of their faith tradition. The thrust of Jesus’ ministry as defined by scholars like John Dominic Crossan is one of radical inclusion and hospitality. Jesus spent his time interacting with, eating with, and drinking wine with those on the margins of society who were outcasts and viewed as unclean and dangerous according the prevailing hygiene laws. His message to these people was that they too can be included in the moral community and be loved like all others. This is a robust message of compassion and love.


Ultimately, struggle for expanding inclusion can only succeed when opponents of bills like the Anti-LGBT Bill are able to show members of the LGBT community the kind of compassion and love Jesus showed to those on the margins of society in his day. The struggle of inclusion really is the struggle to expand what one thinks of as the moral community, or more simply, the neighborhood.




The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 5, 2015

Elective or Life-Saving? Catholic Hospitals and the Ban on Tubal Ligation

<p style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;"><span style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;">A Catholic hospital </span><a style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;" href="https://www.rt.com/usa/315359-catholic-hospital-denies-sterilization-request/">came under fire recently</a><span style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;"> for stating that it would not permit doctors to perform a tubal ligation during a c-section scheduled for October.  According to news reports (including an</span><a style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;" href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/23/a-catholic-hospital-says-it-s-evil-for-me-to-get-my-tubes-tied.html">article written by the patient herself</a><span style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;">), the pregnant patient has a brain tumor, and her doctor have advised her that another pregnancy could be life-threatening.  Her doctor has recommended that she have a tubal ligation at the time of her c-section.  While my knowledge about this hospital, this case, and the participants is limited to what has been reported in the media, it raises an interesting question: in our pluralistic society, where conscientious objection is respected while maintaining a patient’s right to a certain standard of care, is it ethical to allow a religiously-affiliated health care institution to refuse to provide certain treatments it finds morally objectionable?</span></p> <p style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;"><span style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;">As background, the Catholic Church has historically been outspoken on bioethical issues and has a strong and robust bioethical teaching.  Catholic hospitals are governed by the </span><a style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;" href="http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/health-care/upload/Ethical-Religious-Directives-Catholic-Health-Care-Services-fifth-edition-2009.pdf">Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services</a><span style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;"> (ERDs), a document promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that clearly articulates the bioethical policies that must be followed in a health care institution based on the Church’s moral teachings.  It explains the Church’s teaching against direct sterilization as a method of birth control based on the </span><a style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;" href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/double-effect/">principle of double effect</a><span style="font-size: 11.2px; line-height: 19.04px;">.  “Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution.  Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.” (Directive 53).  In other words, if the sterilization procedure directly treats a pathology, it is licit; if it is used as a form of birth control to prevent a pregnancy, even if that pregnancy would be life-threatening, it is not licit.</span></p> <p><span style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 19.04px;"><strong>The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a</strong> </span><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 19.04px;">Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our <a style="color: #000099; text-decoration: underline;" href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong></p>
April 9, 2015

Ideological Struggles Old and New in America: The Inappropriate Use of Coercive State Authority

<p><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">The history of America from the beginning was a struggle of opposing ideological perspectives over the role of the state’s power vis-à-vis the consciences of individual citizens. The 17</span><sup style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">th</sup><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"> century Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony basically transported to America the same kind of religious, state intrusion into the lives of individuals they were trying to escape in England by requiring citizens to subscribe to the official state religion. Fortunately, there were courageous individuals there at the time, like Roger Williams (1603-1683), who strongly resisted such requirements. Williams, prior to coming to America, had been educated at Cambridge and worked for Lord Chief Justice </span><a style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Coke">Edward Coke</a><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">. (1552-1634)</span><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">  </span><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">Coke was the famous English jurist whose work provided much of the foundations of the Anglo-American legal system, and who famously “declared the king to be subject to the law, and the laws of Parliament to be void if in violation of "common right and reason”.</span><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">  </span><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">No doubt Williams’ prior education and influences from Coke, and from others like Francis Bacon (1561-1626) who taught him the way of learning through experiment and observation, helped temper his strong theological commitments in relation to his views about the proper relationship between the authority of the state and religion, and the extent to which the state could have control over the consciences of free individuals, what Williams called “soul liberty”. Williams himself did not have theological quarrels with the Puritans; however, he did not believe religious conviction could be coerced. It was on this moral and political basis, that Williams founded Rhode Island, the first state ever to have a constitution guaranteeing expansive freedom of conscience to individual citizens. Fortunately, the thinking of Williams became the mindset of the key founders, particularly Jefferson (1743-1826) and Madison (1751-1836), of the American constitutional system. (For a full account of Roger Williams’ life and influence, see the wonderful book, </span><em style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty</em><span style="font-size: 11.1999998092651px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"> by John M. Barry)</span></p> <p><strong style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px; color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;">The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our <a style="text-decoration: underline; color: #000099;" href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a>.</strong><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px; color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;"> </span></p>
October 13, 2014

Belief In Ultimate Truth: Does it make for peaceful living?

<p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">As I have been saying in recent blogs, most of what we do in clinical ethics, but also in most areas of bioethics, is procedural ethics. That is when we are faced with an ethical dilemma, our approach, whether consciously or unconsciously is usually to try to reach a reasonable compromise or consensus among the key participants that are in conflict consistent with well-established values and principles. This tendency reflects an obvious reality about the nature of contemporary ethics that we often ignore: in the current Western moral setting, our only viable methodology for resolving value laden disputes, whether at the micro level in clinical ethics or macro level in healthcare policy, is to attempt to craft an agreement or consensus among those with a say. Whether we are dealing with patients and families at odds with their physician on how to define the goals of care in the hospital setting or trying to build a consensus of opinion among voters in the political arena, we assume there are no final, authoritative moral answers that avail themselves to us. Whether we like it or not, we humans must figure out ethical dilemmas for ourselves and learn to get along.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">Yet the idea of procedural ethics remains very worrisome for many people, including such bioethicists and Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. He believes that procedural ethics, such much of what we do in clinical ethics, is not really ethics in because it is based on convention and legalistic type standards. For him ethics worthy of the name must flow from a content-rich, canonical moral tradition that provides moral authority to our everyday ethical and moral judgments. The prototype ethical tradition was the medieval Christian Natural Law perspective grounded in Aristotelian philosophy. Aristotle assumed the inherent order and intelligibility of the cosmos, which also permeated his understanding of ethics. Humans, like all natural things, had a natural function, which was to be rational. But rational did not mean to that ethics was about finding intellectual or theoretical basis for right action according to rational rules in order to know and perform one’s duty—this was Kant’s (1724-1804) ethics during the 18</span><sup style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">th</sup><span style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"> century following the rise of modern science. For Aristotle, the question was, how can one live and embody the good life; so rationality in this sense meant internal harmony between emotions and decision-making that resulted in well-established habits or states of character. This means finding in all of one’s activities the balance between excess and deficiency, or what he called the “mean”. Over time, forming the right habits according to the mean in all areas of life lead to excellence and happiness or what he called the good life. This was the natural fulfillment of the human function in practical terms consistent with the ancient Aristotelian.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="line-height: 19.0400009155273px;"><strong style="color: #34405b; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 19.0400009155273px;">The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our <a style="color: #000099; text-decoration: underline;" href="/Academic/bioethics/index.cfm">website</a></strong></p>
May 20, 2014

What we are forgetting in the case of Jahi McMath: Culture and its impact on medical decision-making

by Keisha Ray, Ph.D.

Like many others, I followed the very unfortunate case of Jahi McMath. McMath is a 13 year-old black child who went into cardiac arrest and suffered irreparable brain damage after undergoing a tonsillectomy to relieve sleep apnea.…

February 18, 2014

Freedom for the corporation, religious servitude for the individual

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Many women in this country gained insurance coverage for their contraceptive costs under the controversial Affordable Care Act (ACA).…

July 19, 2013

Dangerous Catholic Attack on POLST

Thaddeus Mason Pope, JD PhD

The Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) program is proving to be a highly effective mechanism for assuring that the life-sustaining treatment seriously ill patients want is the same treatment those patients get. …

April 27, 2012

BS claims by Chopra, nothing new, but I’m compelled to reply

Deepak Chopra has moved into the domain of the brain… and it should come as no surprise that what he claims is not only laughably erroneous, but also deeply misleading and ignoring the vast amounts of data for the view he so eagerly wants to discard. Why do I even bother? Because I care! I […]
April 3, 2012

In Memoriam: Fr. Kevin O'Rourke

From the Loyola University Chicago Neiswanger website:

Kevin O’Rourke, O.P., J.C.D., S.T.M., Dominican priest, canon lawyer, and health care ethicist died on Wednesday.  …

March 25, 2011

Religious Belief Makes You Fat?

According to a story in the L.A. Times Booster Shots blog, it would appear that religious belief is strongly correlated with packing on the pounds.…

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Published Articles (10)

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 10 Issue 3 - Mar 2010

The Secret of Caring for Mr. Golubchuk

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 10 Issue 3 - Mar 2010

The Case of Samuel Golubchuk and the Right to Live

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 9 Issue 11 - Nov 2009

A Jewish Response to the Vatican's New Bioethical Guidelines

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 9 Issue 11 - Nov 2009

Assessing Social Risks Prior to the Commencement of a Clinical Trial

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 8 Issue 10 - Oct 2008

The Ethical Elephant in the Death Penalty Room

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 8 Issue 11 - Nov 2008

Review of David Novak, The Sanctity of Human Life

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 8 Issue 10 - Oct 2008

Review of Ronald Cole-Turner, ed., Design and Destiny: Jewish and Christian Perspectives on Human Germline Modification

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 8 Issue 10 - Oct 2008

Response to Open Peer Commentaries on The Ethical Elephant in the Death Penalty Room

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 8 Issue 7 - Jul 2008

Review of Daniel P. Sulmasy, The Rebirth of the Clinic: An Introduction to Spirituality in Healthcare.

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 7 Issue 12 - Dec 2007

Clash of Definitions: Controversies About Conscience in Medicine

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News (4)

September 20, 2012 8:38 pm

Can Female Genital Mutilation Be Surgically Undone? (Time)

As a young child Aïssa could not understand how she could conjure up such horrific images. No one had ever explained to Aïssa what her parents had allowed to take place. “All I could remember was being in a bath full of blood,” she says grimacing. “I thought I had made it all up in my head”. Like millions of women all over the world, Aïssa was a victim of female genital mutilation (FGM) – her clitoris was cut off, and her labia sewn up, all before she could even talk.

August 14, 2012 7:47 pm

End-of-Life Care for Kids Raises Ethics Issues (MedPage Today)

Healthcare providers should have rapid access to legal remedies for end-of-life disputes involving children whose parents resist withdrawal of aggressive therapy on the basis of religious beliefs, authors of a review concluded.  Over a 3-year period, 17 of 203 cases could not be resolved after lengthy discussions with parents. Subsequently, most of the cases were resolved, but five remained undecided, each because of the parents’ belief in a miracle for their children, according to an article published online in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

August 14, 2012 7:45 pm

Deeply Religious Parents Often Reluctant to Cease Medical Care (ABC News)

Arthur Caplan, the head of the division of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, recalls a case of a man who had beaten his six-month-old child to death. It was a horror the mother simply could not accept.  A deeply religious woman, she pushed the doctors to do more, telling them that God would intervene and allow her daughter to make a miraculous recovery. For several hours there was a tense standoff between caregivers and parent.

July 26, 2012 4:20 pm

Circumcision for Non-Medical Reasons Is Wrong (Spiegel Online)

As the debate over the medical ethics of circumcision rages in Germany, some have argued that the practice provides health benefits. But many in the medical community disagree. Circumcision is not in the best interest of boys who undergo the procedure.