An Ethical Look at Medicine
Author Interview with Fr. Richard Devine, C.M.,
Good Care, Painful Choices: Medical Ethics for Ordinary People, Third Edition
by Lisa M. Hendey
I recently conducted a
Google search for the term “medical ethics” and garnered over 15 million
hits. In today’s world, complex beginning and end of life issues,
advances in medical technology, and heightened media coverage abound. It
may be difficult to know where to turn to determine the Church’s teachings
on medical ethics issues. Along with reading Papal Encyclicals and
staying abreast of statements by our Bishops and the Vatican, another
helpful resource for Catholics is
Good Care, Painful Choices: Medical Ethics for Ordinary People, Third Edition by Richard J. Devine, CM
(Paulist Press, September 2004, paperback, 272 pages.)
Written in non-technical wording,
Good Care, Painful Choices provides an accessible overview of many of the
most common issues facing us today. Father Devine, who recently
celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination, has spent
the bulk of his career in higher education and currently teaches Medical
Ethics full time at St. John’s University.
Fr. Devine shared the following comments on this
newly published third edition of
Good Care, Painful Choices:
Q: Fr. Devine, I
greatly enjoyed the clear, comprehensive and not overly technical
presentation of the medical ethics topics presented in this book. Who is
your intended audience for
Good Care, Painful Choices?
A: When I began teaching medical ethics, I searched
in vain for a good textbook (to my way of thinking) but was never
satisfied. I then began developing class notes and distributing them to
the students (and overspending the dept. budget). Someone suggested I try
to get these notes published – they were book-size by now. I chuckled but
sent them off to Paulist Press and the rest is history. Even though the
book is intended primarily as a textbook at the University level, it could
also serve well for discussion groups or even individuals who are
interested in the subject.
Q: Medical technology advances at an incredibly quick pace, and as such,
medical ethics issues grow ever more complex. How does this third edition
of your book differ from the previous editions?
A: Well, it’s thicker! There are additions in almost
every chapter (except the first 3) – partial birth abortion in that
chapter, court decisions in connection with handicapped newborns, the
advances in genetics and stem cell technology are a few examples. Then
statistics from 1995 were no longer very relevant and so everything had to
Q: As the title conveys, your book offers up each
topic considered from five varying (and sometimes conflicting)
perspectives. How do you counsel Catholics who feel conflicted when faced
with issues which are legally acceptable and generally accepted by our
society's norms, but are contrary to Church teaching?
A: Only about 1/3 of my students are Roman
Catholics. The rest are Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Orthodox,
non-believers. I present the moral values involved in each issue (along
with the Church’s teaching) and challenge them to come up with a better
answer. Obviously, not all agree with me – not even the Catholics – but at
least they have to think about the issues. They understand that legality
and social acceptance do not make something morally correct.
Q: The discussion questions which follow each
chapter of the book provide a wonderful opportunity to consolidate and
digest the information provided on each of the topics. What is the
benefit of taking the time to discuss or contemplate these questions? Do
you find a great variance in the response of students vs. "maturing"
adults with greater longevity and life experience?
A: I don’t have many “maturing adults” in my
classes. The ones I do have, in many cases have experienced the issues
personally, while my college-age students have not. Death, for example.
The questions at the end of each chapter are meant to indicate the
critical issues in the chapter.
Q: If an individual has a family member who is a
practicing Catholic and that family member has chosen to disregard the
Church's teaching with respect to a particular medical decision, how
should that individual respond while attempting to remain supportive?
A: People come first. If the individual is acting in
good faith, always support the person while being free to disagree with
his decision. Caring and compassion are always more powerful than
accusation and guilt.
For more information on
Good Care, Painful Choices
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