Speaking of the National Catholic Bioethics Center …

The new (Summer 2011) issue of their National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly arrived in my mailbox the other day. A few things of note from the contents:

  • The “Colloquy” section includes an exchange of letters regarding an article in a previous NCBQ critical of philospher Fr. Martin Rhonheimer’s recent Vital Conflicts in Medical Ethics: A Virtue Approach to Craniotomy and Tubal Pregnancies. Fr. Rhonheimer objects to a number of elements of the criticism, and the article’s authors respond. (One of Fr. Rhonheimer’s collaborators has spoken at a past UFL conference on the topic of this book. For my part – for what it’s worth – I’m familiar with much of Fr. Rhonheimer’s work, and I think he’s made some helpful contributions to moral theory, but I don’t agree with all of his theory, nor with all of the ways in which he applies what I think are the valid elements. In Vital Conflicts, I think he’s right about the importance of justice, but wrong about its practical meaning, and hence about the moral liceity of some of the practices he addresses.)
  • Questions regarding the moral permissibility of various forms of ‘cooperation in evil’ come up frequently in the lives of people and institutions involved in health care, including, but not only, when there are government mandates regarding practices like abortion and contraception. The new NCBQ issue includes NCBC ethicist Dr. Stephen Napier’s essay “Catholic Hospitals, Institutional Review Boards, and Cooperation.” Abstract: “This paper addresses a certain lacuna in moral theological reflection. An institutional review board (IRB) reviews research on human subjects and so represents the institution’s ethical review mechanism for research. The author argues that if an IRB approves a research project that is immoral, it thereby implicates the institution in formal cooperation. The author also argues that numerous ethical concerns are created by current research enterprises – concerns that extend beyond the ‘usual suspects’ of embryonic stem cell research and research using cell lines of illicit origin. The author describes these more subtle issues and shows how IRBs at Catholic hospitals can navigate them.”
  • Finally, the new issue includes NCBC president Dr. John Haas’s article “Catholic Teaching regarding the Legitimacy of Neurological Criteria for the Determination of Death.” Abstract: “In The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II encouraged organ donation as a genuine act of charity. Some Catholics reject the notion of vital organ transplantation and the use of neurological criteria to determine a donor’s death before organs are extracted. This article reviews Church teaching on the use of neurological criteria for determining death – including statements by three popes, a number of pontifical academies and councils, and the U.S. bishops – to show that Catholics may in good conscience offer the gift of life through the donation of their organs after death as determined by those criteria, and may in good conscience receive such organs. This article is not a defense of the legitimacy of neurological criteria for determining death but rather a presentation of the moral guidance currently offered by the Church on the legitimacy of organ donation after death has been determined by their use.” (This topic, too, has come up at past UFL conferences. One of these years, I may write and present a paper that I’ve thought about titling something like “What a Difference a Brain Makes,” defending in principle the “brain-death” approach from what strike me as philosophical problems with the critiques.)
Kevin Miller

Kevin E. Miller is Assistant Professor of Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. His BS (biochemistry and molecular biology), MA (political philosophy), and PhD (theology; dissertation: "Mercy, Justice, and Politics: John Paul II on Capital Punishment") are all from Marquette University. Besides several UFL conference papers over the years, he has contributed chapters to books on sexual morality and Catholic social thought, and published short essays, papers, and book reviews in Linacre Quarterly, National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, and Communio, among other journals. In fundamental moral theology, he is especially interested in natural-law theory, virtue ethics, and the distinctively Christian contribution to moral thought. In applied moral theology, he works especially in the areas of sexual, social, and medical/health-care morality. With regard to texts/authors, he studies especially Scripture, Aquinas, Henri de Lubac, and John Paul II. His website: http://www.franciscan.edu/faculty/MillerK/