There are moral absolutes when it comes to the practice of ETHICAL medicine. But are medical students taught any of these things? Fr. Tad tackles the question of ethics and relativism.
Full column here.
I once asked a young physician whether he had received any training in medical ethics during medical school. I wondered whether he had been taught how to handle some of the complex moral questions that can arise when practicing medicine. It turned out that he had taken only one ethics class during his four years of medical school, and it was a rather loose-knit affair. For the first part of each class, he told me, students were presented with medical cases that raised ethical questions. For the second part, they were asked to discuss and share their feelings about what the ethical thing to do in each case might be. This course was largely an airing of different opinions, with students never receiving any definitive ethical guidance or principles.
His experience reminded me how ready we are today to discuss ethical problems, but how quickly we shy away from talking about ethical truths. We raise ethical questions but avoid ethical answers. We encourage the discussion of options and opinions, but leave students in the lerch to “make up their own minds” about what might or might not be ethical.
This relativism corrodes clear ethical thinking. Making up our own morality as we go along has a certain appeal, of course, because it allows us to circumnavigate some of the hard ethical answers that might require us to change our own behavior or outlook. As one bioethicist put it a few years ago: “People want to know what it would be wise and right to do; but they don’t want to grasp a truth so lucid that they might feel actually required to walk in its light.”
This “tyranny of relativism” influences many contemporary ethical debates. Those who advocate for abortion, for example, will often declare: “If you think abortion is wrong, then don’t have one!” The message behind the soundbite is that abortion can be fine for me even if it is a problem for you; it can be right for me and wrong for you; and we can all just get along. This type of ethical schizophrenia is obviously inadequate, however. Imagine someone saying, “If you think slavery is wrong, then don’t own a slave!” Real human goods are at stake when we make moral judgments and ethical decisions — in slavery, a human life is oppressed; in abortion a human life is ended.
Read the rest of Fr. Tad’s column here.