Pope Francis' emphasis on the poor challenges us to move beyond our current ethical preoccupations and turn our attention — or at least increase our attention — to a host of other issues related to justice and those who are vulnerable and on the margins.
By Ron Hamel, Ph.D. - Catholic Health Association of the United States
From the moment he set foot on the balcony of St. Peter's on the evening of his election, Pope Francis has been something of a "disruptor" — that's a buzzword these days in technology, business and even health care. In the most general sense, it refers to game-changing innovations, companies and individuals. Now, maybe it even applies to religion.
In so many areas and in so many ways, Pope Francis has upended the status quo in the Vatican, in the church and beyond. In his words and especially in his actions, he has a knack for communicating and demonstrating the unexpected and even the improbable and the startling.
It is fair to ask if anything in his vision affects ethics or might suggest new priorities or different approaches for what we, as ethicists, do and how we do it. Perhaps the pope's vision might even be disruptive.
In Catholic health care, so much of our attention and energy are focused on reproductive issues and on the principle of cooperation as a result of those reproductive issues. This often seems disproportionate to other concerns, i.e., the poor, the vulnerable, the disenfranchised.
There is no doubt that we need to pay attention to reproductive issues, as well as other ethical matters that arise in the clinical setting. Nevertheless, how much time do we spend reflecting ethically on disparities, on health care for immigrants, on the care of those with Alzheimer's and their families, on the homeless, the mentally ill and addicts, just to name a few?
Pope Francis' emphasis on the poor challenges us to move beyond our current ethical preoccupations and turn our attention — or at least increase our attention — to a host of other issues related to justice and those who are vulnerable and on the margins. This challenge is echoed by Lisa Sowle Cahill, PhD, in her book, Theological Bioethics:
I propose that Christian theological bioethics should make justice in access to health care resources its first priority. This priority includes justice in global access to the goods essential to health. While justice for the poor and the reform of health care systems to make them more inclusive might be associated with progressive or even liberal politics, I am convinced that these goals are mandated by the New Testament depiction of Jesus' healing ministry to society's outcasts, a portrayal to which all Christians subscribe. According to Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, "On the basis of Jesus' message, parables, and his praxis of the reign of God, we see how the biblical concept of God is essentially bound up with a praxis of persons who liberate their fellow human beings, just as Jesus did before us." This work of liberation is not just a secondary pastoral application of revealed doctrine. "No, the option for the poor is a datum of revelation." The incarnation is "an identification of God in Jesus with the poor, oppressed, and finally executed innocent individual, for whom Jesus stands as a model."
Pope Francis has employed images which bring to the fore the centrality of an option for the poor, which in turn has a bearing on ethics in Catholic health care. One image is the church as a field hospital; what the pope says is, at very least, thought-provoking. READ MORE