New Program in Catholic Clinical Ethics

Issues in Bioethics

photo of a hallway in a Catholic Hospital

An online master’s degree designed to help the next generation of health care providers and administrators understand the ethics and moral theology that guide Catholic health systems will be offered beginning this fall.

Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) partnered with the Catholic University of America with support from the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) to create a Master of Arts as well as certificate programs in Catholic Clinical Ethics.

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, director of GUMC’s Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics.

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

The new programs will draw on the institution’s expertise in medicine and bioethics to teach current and future health care professionals about that unique perspective. CHA notes that one in six patients in America is treated in a Catholic hospital.

As a pre-eminent Catholic and Jesuit university with a medical research and education campus, Georgetown is well-positioned to offer the programs, Donovan says.

“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,” Donovan explains. “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.”

The programs are being offered entirely online so that a national pool of candidates can apply, with many candidates expected initially to come from Catholic Health Association institutions.

The teaching faculty for the programs will include physicians, researchers, ethicists, and clergy from Georgetown and Catholic University.

The curriculum covers a wide range of subjects, including 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.

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