New Programs Offer Training in Catholic Clinical Ethics

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(March 29,2018) — “Every day, one in six patients in the U.S. is cared for in a Catholic hospital,” according to the Catholic Health Association of the United States. Therefore, it’s important for the next generation of health care providers and administrators to understand the ethics and moral theology that guide Catholic health systems. Two new programs at Georgetown draw on the institution’s expertise in medicine and bioethics to teach current and future health care professionals about that unique perspective.

Working with Catholic University of America, as well as with the support of the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), Georgetown University Medical Center is launching Master of Arts and certificate programs in Catholic Clinical Ethics. The Georgetown board of directors approved the new programs February 15.

Individuals trained in ethical reasoning have long provided leadership and guidance at Catholic hospitals, but more is needed in today’s quickly changing world of medicine, says G. Kevin Donovan, MD, MA, director of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center.

“Fundamental questions are being raised by rapid technological breakthroughs, limited resources, and shifting social trends,” he says. “These include questions that range from provision of high quality health care for everyone, especially for those who are poor and vulnerable, to how clinical advances in genetics and neuroscience change what it is to be a human person. Clinicians deal with these issues.”

As the pre-eminent Catholic and Jesuit university with a medical research and education campus, Georgetown is uniquely positioned to provide programs that can educate and train individuals to meet this specific need.

“There are plenty of master’s programs in bioethics at universities around the country, but they are not strongly oriented to a clinical perspective, and few are rooted in Catholic moral theology,” says Donovan.“That makes these programs, both the certificate and master’s degree, unique. They are designed to guide the provision of medical care that has social, pastoral and spiritual responsibility.”

Offered entirely online

The two new programs will begin in the fall 2018 semester and will be offered entirely online so that a national pool of candidates can apply. It is expected that many candidates will come initially from Catholic Health Association institutions.

“This new partnership provides a truly unique opportunity to benefit from the clinical experience coupled with an in-depth study of the riches of Catholic theology and its tradition of reflection on health, medicine and the human person,” says Very Rev. Mark M. Morozowich, SEOD, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University of America.

For medical practitioners, the course framework will provide both the ethical reasoning skills and the knowledge of medical moral terrain necessary to fully engage the complexities of current health care challenges and propose solutions that will address multiple needs, such as for health system policy or an individual ethics case, says Paul Scherz, PhD, assistant professor of moral theology and ethics at Catholic University of America.

The teaching faculty includes physicians and researchers, ethicists and clergy from Georgetown and Catholic University. Subject matter ranges from medical care vs. health care; end of life ethics; research ethics; pain/palliative care; sexual, reproductive, and gender ethics; health care reform; justice and health, clinical ethics and the law; and neuroethics.

Discussing the big issues

“This innovative program will enhance Catholic health care’s leadership in advancing the health and well-being of our country with highly skilled professionals who can address the complex clinical and moral dimensions of today’s transformed health environment,” says Sister Carol Keehan, DC, president and CEO at the Catholic Health Association of the United States.

“We are considering big issues — the nature of life itself, human dignity, health equity, the common good, and high-quality care for everyone,” says Donovan. “Our goal is to provide the kind of health care that everyone would want.”

Renee Twombly
GUMC Communications