The Catholic Moral Tradition
CHARLES E. CURRAN
As a Roman Catholic moral theologian I work out of a tradition that understands itself to be a living tradition that changes and develops. This essay will proceed in three stages—the prehistory of bioethics with special attention to medical ethics in the Roman Catholic perspective; my approach to bioethics in the early 1970s; and a reflection looking back on what has developed in Catholic bioethics since that time and looking forward to what might transpire in the future.
André Hellegers, the esteemed founder of the Kennedy Institute in 1971 and a good friend, invited me to spend the 1972 calendar year as a senior research scholar at the Institute. That year I wrote a monograph— Politics, Medicine, and Christian Ethics: A Dialogue with Paul Ramsey (1973). My colleagues that year at the Kennedy Institute, in addition to André Hellegers, the founder, and LcRoy Walters, the director of the Institute, were Francesc Abel, John Connery, Richard McCormick, Gene Outka, and Warren Reich. These were all scholars with a background in Christian ethics, and five of the seven come out of the tradition of Catholic moral theology. Many might expect a predominance of Catholic scholars in a Catholic university in 1972, but the fact that Georgetown is a Catholic university does not adequately explain the strong Catholic presence and interest in medical ethics in 1972.
By 1960, medical ethics was a well-developed subdiscipline of moral theology in the Roman Catholic tradition. Books on medical ethics existed in the major European languages (Bonnar 1939; Healy 1956; Kelly 1958; Kenny 1952; Niedermeyer 1935; O'Donnell 1956; Paquin 1957; Payen 1935; Pujiula 1953; Scremin 1953). Periodicals devoted to medical ethics