What is Catholic Bioethics?

Strictly speaking, there is no such science as “Catholic Bioethics” just as there is no such thing as “Catholic Baseball,” “Catholic Dentistry,” “Catholic Garbage Collection,” or “Catholic Plumbing.” Catholics do these activities, but they are not based upon divine revelation. Bioethics is a species of the science of ethics concerned especially about the beginning and ending of bodily life as well as the morality of certain medical procedures during a person’s life. It uses reason to understand what kinds of activity done by doctors are in accord with human dignity and flourishing, and what kinds are only apparently so and actually undermine, mutilate or destroy the goods of human beings.

Now there are many issues which human reason unaided by divine revelation cannot know that should be part of the underlying principles of bioethics. Pure reason does not know that the human person’s soul is immediately created by God nor does it know that human beings are meant to become completely fulfilled in a next life by the beatific vision. Again, reason does not understand why human beings do not achieve happiness in this life and why it is next to impossible to grow and develop in a life of virtue. Reason would seem to prefer as its prime principle that virtue has its own punishment and feelings should often trump what is reasonable and proportionate, notwithstanding the objections of Aristotean or Thomistic philosophers.

The field of bioethics of the Catholic philosopher is really medical moral theology, a science that includes the medical aspects of the human body, analyzed by the philosopher and the scientists, but also seen in the light of revelation. It is from revelation that the moral theologian learns that the human soul is immediately created by God; that man is created in the image and likeness of the Triune God; and, that some principles guiding his science are not knowable by the light of reason alone unaided by faith. Revelation also implies that a Spirit-led teacher of human action, called the sacred Magisterium of the Catholic Church, needs to intervene and correct erroneous opinions from the time to time lest theologians come to erroneous conclusions and mislead ordinary faithful. For the Catholic, good human action is in some way a profession of faith.

Source: Fr. Basil Cole, O.P. on Feb 15, 2011 in Cloning, Embryo Research & Genetics, Contraception & Abortion, Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide, Reproductive Technology


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