University of Chicago professor speaks on bioethics

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William Stigall
Contributing Writer

Dr. Farr Curlin gave a lecture titled “Professional Commitments or Personal Impositions? Conscience and Conscientious Refusals in the Practice of Medicine” last Friday in Lynch Auditorium. A response was delivered by Msgr. Michael Olson.

Curlin and Olson were invited as the inaugural speakers for a new annual lecture series exploring the impact of religious, theological and philosophical issues on the practice of medicine.

During his talk, Curlin linked conscience to conscientious practice. He said the practice of medicine requires physicians to be conscientious in order to provide good medical care. Conscientious practice requires that the physician’s conscience be involved in his or her practice. Were regulations to require that physicians violate their conscience, then the conscientious practice of medicine would suffer.

Paradoxically, the effort to improve medical care by increasing deference to patient choice would actually damage medical care.

Curlin then pointed out that the real issue is not refusal on the ground of conscience, but rather what is actually being refused. But this is a different question from refusals in general – this is a question about the essence of medicine. Which acts are medical acts that doctors are obliged to provide when necessary, and which are not?  This is a question for medicine that must be answered with the aid of philosophy.

Olson responded by linking the current debate over the relation of personal values and professional duties to questions of the nature of the intellect and will that have been ongoing since the age of Scholasticism.  For instance, the role of rules and order in free will can be taken to mean that rules and order limit choice, or that rules and order help one to choose rightly.

Curlin is a nationally renowned author in the area and his work is widely published, including an article regarding the role of religious conviction in the practice of medicine in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007.

Dr. William Brownsberger of the theology department and Dr. Jarett Berry of the cardiology department of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School hosted the event.  UD students and faculty, UTSW faculty, community physicians and others attended the lecture. It is the organizers’ hope that  events like this will continue and grow into a tradition of engagement between UD’s liberal arts tradition and the community of Dallas’ practical sciences.

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