Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that an enormous proportion of medical care worldwide is provided under the auspices of religious organizations, there has been a sustained and systematic campaign to drive out those with religious worldviews from the field of bioethics and indeed, from medicine itself. Obviously, this constitutes blatant discrimination against patients, the unborn, the elderly and the otherwise vulnerable and their families and faith-oriented medical providers and religiously-oriented bioethicists. But more importantly, the loss of a theological sensibility among scholars and providers and the consequent diminishment of fellow feeling for patients whose lives are suffused with religiosity is stripping away the foundations of compassion that religion has provided medicine since both entered the human scene.
That is the thrust of the 2021 book, Losing Our Dignity: How Secularized Medicine is Undermining Fundamental Human Equality (New City Press, 2021) by the bioethicist and theologian Charles C. Camosy.
The book sounds several alarms. Camosy shows in the book that the increased secularization of the field of bioethics has led it, ironically enough, to become less humane and less protective of the dignity of the least among us. And he tells us something that will be hard for many of us to hear—most of us may face years of life with dementia or caring for someone with it. Camosy argues, therefore, that now is not the time for bioethics to exclude from its deliberations and scholarship and impact on public policy religious people for whom the equality of all human beings is both sacred and a part of everyday life. We do so at our peril, for all of us will experience some sort of illness or disability and will need the protection of laws and policies crafted by those with a commitment to the idea of the worth of all human beings, even those seemingly brain dead as well as the unborn.
Indeed, one of the greatest strengths of the book is the way Camosy explains with reader-friendly clarity the differences between brain death and what was once called, chillingly, persistent vegetative state (PVS). He also examines the difference in matters of bioethics of the terms “human being” and “person” and why drawing a distinction between the two can lead to gross injustice and inhumanity, no matter how meretriciously clever notable members of the “person” school of philosophers are—think Peter Singer, one of the thinkers discussed in the book.
The book brings all of these arcane matters home by examining in-depth the heartrending stories of Jahi McMath, Terri Schiavo, and Alfie Evans and the legal battles that often rendered the parents of all of them powerless in the face of a secularized or racially-biased medicolegal system that was at times openly and brutally anti-religious.
This book is even more important to read as the current pandemic has highlighted the substandard care that has existed for decades in long-term care facilities and the unnecessary deaths among nursing home patients in many states during the pandemic era.
We can do better and be better people than this, says Camosy. Let’s hear how he says that can be.
Give a listen.
Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher.
Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher in the biomedical sciences. She is particularly interested in the subjects of natural law, religious liberty and history generally.