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On the Reference to Catholic Ethical Theology in Contemporary Health Policy

By Saplacan, Calin | Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

On the Reference to Catholic Ethical Theology in Contemporary Health Policy


Saplacan, Calin, Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies


Abstract: Reference to theology, and in particular to theological ethics, in health policy in contemporary Romania may seem outdated. Some positions have been defended that tend to marginalize the contribution of theology to health policy ethics or ever to rule out any contribution of theology to the implementation of health policies. The questions I aim to answer in this paper are the following: (1) Why has the role of theology (theological ethics) decreased in establishing health policies? (2) Which are the major problems for health policy from the perspective of theological ethics? (3) What is the original contribution that Catholic theological ethics can bring to health policy? In the concluding section of this paper I will present a case study that highlights the analogy (in terms of both usefulness and limitations) between the concept of "therapeutic alliance" and the theological concept of "alliance" (covenant).

Key Words: theological ethics, health policy, alliance, covenant, health/illness, sin.

Reference to theology, and in particular to theological ethics, in health policy in contemporary Romania may seem outdated. Some positions have been defended that tend to marginalize the contribution of theology to health policy ethics or ever to rule out any contribution of theology to the implementation of health policies. The questions I aim to answer in this paper1 are the following: (1) Why has the role of theology (theological ethics) decreased in establishing health policies? (2) Which are the major problems for health policy from the perspective of theological ethics? (3) What is the original contribution that Catholic theological ethics can bring to health policy? In the concluding section of this paper I will present a case study that highlights the analogy (in terms of both usefulness and limitations) between the therapeutic concept of "alliance" and the theological concept of "alliance" (covenant).

Why has the role of theology (theological ethics) decreased in establishing health policies?

a. The first cause is political in nature: given the fact that decisions had to be taken for the entire population, leading to the current legislation in the field, the judicial aspects have taken precedence. The consequences of this situation can be felt at the level of the three key components of medical ethics2:

- the relationship between doctor and patient, which used to be based on trust, has now become mostly contractual

- the focus of research has shifted from caring for a person to gaining mastery over the object of research

- at the level of public health policies, the concern for the person is increasingly conditioned by bureaucratic aspects.

The judicial jargon itself confirms this state of affairs, as it claims to regulate "the right to health" primarily understood as a right of the patient.

b. The second cause derives from the expectation of "scientificity" for medical ethics. The regulations which govern medical ethics need to meet the criteria of scientificity at three levels: health, risk and intervention. One must admit, on the other hand, that the ideological aspect of the theological discourse in Romania often predominates, which makes difficult any constructive dialogue3. This is not, however, the case of Western Catholicism, which in spite of its former position of authority makes every effort to engage in an effective dialogue with medical science.

c. Recent philosophical trends have also contributed to a decrease in the role of theology. The concept of "autonomy", initially defined by philosophers, is now central to bioethics whether we refer to the autonomy of the individual or to the autonomy of ethics from religion4.

However, Adrian-Paul Iliescu's argument that "the idea that any authoritative ethics needs the absolute authority of God can thus be shown to be unjustified"5 is theologically outdated. Already in 1965 the Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes, the pastoral Constitution concerning the role of the Church in the modern world) stated:

"Now many of our contemporaries seem to fear that a closer bond between human activity and religion will work against the independence of men, of societies, or of the sciences.

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