A New Directive: An Ethical Analysis of the Ethical and Religious Directives and Catholic Healthcare Mission to Promote and Sustain Catholic Healthcare
Noah Dimas, PhD (c), Duquesne University
The present state of Catholic healthcare ethics is in something of a state of limbo. Catholic healthcare has always been strong in its moral fervor and a presented itself as an alternative to secular healthcare, focusing on the spiritual-physical wholeness of humanity. However, as modern healthcare becomes ever more advanced and expansive, the ways in which Catholic healthcare must engage with these complex issues becomes ever more complex. At the time of writing, American Catholic healthcare, in particular, has only had one authoritative source of ethical discussion, the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Services. This document, originally published under a different name in 1981, has served as a very robust guide to answer common ethical conflicts within Catholic healthcare. However, as medical science continues to grow, healthcare as a whole becomes more secular, and the lived experiences of Catholic become ever more complex as a result, the ERDs become less authoritative due to their static, directorial nature. This is not to say the ERDs are currently without value or obsolete. These directives can be useful when quick, direct guidance is needed. However, it fails at aiding healthcare professionals, ethicists, and practicing Catholics in understanding and further applying Catholic teachings onto Catholic healthcare and Catholic healthcare mission. All these concerns, then, are the cornerstones of this essay. First, this essay aims to provide discussion regarding the history and purpose of mission within Catholic healthcare. Second, this essay will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the current edition of the ERDs. Doing this will then give rise to the third and final point this essay aims to explicate, how a new ERD edition can and should be written to align both Catholic healthcare ethics and the current understandings of Catholic healthcare mission with modern understandings of healthcare ethics to provide a more content-full ethical-moral framework for Catholic healthcare as well as improve the spiritual-physical care provided by Catholic healthcare institutions.