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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Vatican Condemns "Religion of Health"

A February statement from the Vatican sharply criticized what it called the "religion of health," seeking to point out inequities in basic healthcare between poor and affluent countries, and holding up the ailing Pope John Paul II as an example of stoic acceptance of the human body's limits.

Said Vatican theologian and morality expert Rev. Maurizio Faggioni:

"While millions of people in the world struggle to survive hunger and disease, lacking even minimal health care, in rich countries the concept of health as well-being figures in creating unrealistic expectations about the possibility of medicine to respond to all needs and desires... The medicine of desires, egged on by the health care market, increases the request for pharmaceutical and medical-surgical services, soaks up public resources beyond all reasonableness."

While the Vatican was likely trying to express a sense of well-meaning social justice here, the problem comes when trying to define such terms as "reasonableness." One can certainly argue that cosmetic surgery is not necessary... but is it "unreasonable" and therefore bad? Is it "unreasonable" to want to be healthy, happy and illness-free, and thus a more productive member of society? Does "unreasonable" care include keeping a vegetative but living person with no hope of recovery on expensive life support? At what point do we draw the line between "basic" and excessive medical care?

When asked the latter question, Rev. Faggioni said, "[I]t is difficult to establish what a decent minimum is" -- suggesting that the top Catholic thinkers don't have any better answers than the rest of us.

One can take Rev. Faggioni's statements or leave them; after all, these are the folks who condemned Copernicus and Galileo. But these are the kinds of tough questions that will be asked increasingly as healthcare technology increases and we inch ever further into the realm of transhumanism. Indeed, any responsible and ethical society needs to ask them. At what extent do we pursue a brave new world of genetic and stem cell treatments and post-human capabilities while leaving behind those who have no healthcare at all?

Source: San Diego Union-Tribune