Bioethics Blogs

Does religion deserve a place in secular medicine?

By Brian D. Earp

The latest issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics is out, and in it, Professor Nigel Biggar—an Oxford theologian—argues that “religion” should have a place in secular medicine (click here for a link to the article).

Some people will feel a shiver go down their spines—and not only the non-religious. After all, different religions require different things, and sometimes they come to opposite conclusions. So whose religion, exactly, does Professor Biggar have in mind, and what kind of “place” is he trying to make a case for?

When one thinks of stories like the 2012 death of a woman in Ireland due to septicemia after being denied an abortion (“This is a Catholic country,” she was reportedly told by medical staff), one is reminded of the ways in which some people’s religious beliefs can have profound (even fatal) consequences for others who may not share those same beliefs. As Mother Jones reported in 2013:

A growing number of patients are finding their health care options governed by [religious] guidelines as Catholic hospitals, long major players in the health care market, have been on a merger streak, acquiring everything from local hospital systems to medical practices, nursing homes, and health insurance plans.

In the U.S. context, at least, Catholic hospitals are required to follow health care directives handed down by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops—a group described as “celibate older men who have become increasingly conservative over the past few decades” by the author of the Mother Jones piece.

What are the implications?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.