- Catholic Bioethics & Social Justice: The Praxis of US Health Care in a Globalized World by M. Therese Lysaught, Michael McCarthy
Two key thoughts frame this interesting and helpful collection of essays, which brings Catholic Social Teaching (CST) and Catholic Bioethics together. Early in their introduction, the editors of this text note, first, “Injustices taking place within the communities in which Catholic health care intuitions operate affect the health of individuals who become patients,” and, second, “Catholic bioethics remains a critical discipline for assisting mission leaders, health care practitioners, institutions, and patients in navigating the knotty and dynamic realities of contemporary health care delivery” (3). Both thoughts illustrate the expansiveness of the conception of Catholic bioethics held by the editors of and contributors to this volume. On this account, Catholic bioethics is not restricted to careful analytical analysis of specific ethical topics within healthcare, rooted in clinical encounters. Rather, Catholic [End Page 82] bioethics should understand persons in their complexity, as human beings with dignity embedded within different social contexts, whose health and well-being are affected by a variety of factors—many of which are external to the clinic. Taking this understanding seriously requires engagement with a broader set of issues than what the volume argues is usually taken up within Catholic bioethics; e.g., the fourth chapter takes up questions of health disparities rooted in non-clinical issues: food insecurity, diminished educational opportunities, and the need for meaningful work. Another dimension of the expansiveness of this understanding of Catholic bioethics is that it takes up questions proper to a variety of domains—practitioners and patients, surely, but also healthcare executives, hospital boards, and mission integration workers. This practically oriented volume engages all those working in Catholic healthcare and does not restrict itself to practitioners and patients.
This text does not, of course, exhaust the list of topics to be addressed within this space—a feat that no single collection could accomplish—but it does address an impressive number of subjects. Six parts comprise the collection, including “Accompanying Vulnerable Communities,” “Countering Injustice in the Patient-Physician Encounter,” “Incarnating a Just Workplace,” “Leading for Social Responsibility,” “Embodying Global Solidarity,” and “Reimagining Frontiers,” with chapters addressing topics, such as for-profit healthcare, genetics, research, palliative care, global health systems, health implications of national borders, population health, outsourcing, environmental bioethics, mission, gender, diversity, unions, racial disparities, reproductive justice, equity, mental illness, human trafficking, and gun violence.
In addition to the breadth of topics covered, another virtue of the text is the straightforward manner in which the editors frame the relevant issues and the authors take them up. In seeking to raze barriers and eliminate silos, the volume adopts a perspective “grounded in the insights of liberation theology, the preferential option for the poor, and a praxis-based approach” as well as human dignity (16). Acknowledging what informs the CST lens through which the volume seeks to “illuminate new issues for bioethics” (8–9) is a welcome change from some more common approaches to bioethics which operate as if there exists a neutral starting point—often some version of personal autonomy—from which all persons come to ethical questions associated with healthcare.
As distinguished from a standard bioethics approach of principlism with a heavy weighting on autonomy, the text is a success. That said, there are schools of thought within bioethics which take up many of the [End Page 83] topics addressed in this volume, raise similar concerns, and move toward the interprofessional obliteration of siloes, focusing on the perspective of vulnerable patients, social determinants of health, and racial and gender disparities in treatment and health outcomes. With this in mind, the major contribution of this volume is not that social justice concerns are taken up or that principlism is eschewed (or engaged with a careful and very critical eye), but rather that this is done under the label of Catholic bioethics and with resources of CST within the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. This contribution, then, invites critical questions about taking...