Ethics as good news: How healthcare ethics serves life

Pia Matthews, Senior Lecturer in Healthcare Chaplaincy at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, explores how Christian ethics with the dignity of all human being at its heart enables ­healthcare practitioners to be ministers of life

Ask many healthcare workers what motivates them to work in health and social care, and the reply may well be that they are ‘passionate about making a difference’. Clearly this motivation is not simply about helping people. Rather, being passionate about making a difference recognises that working in healthcare is to care for people during some of our most fundamental human events and indeed crises, from a person’s earliest moments before birth, to their dying moments; in health as well as sickness, suffering, grief and bereavement. How that care is delivered does indeed make a real difference. This is in part why in 1994 the Catholic Church issued its first Charter for Health Care Workers on the initiative of Pope St John Paul II. In the light of many new moral questions and legislation the Charter has been updated and revised, and the New Charter for Health Care Workers, published in 2016 by the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, has recently been translated into English. Echoing the conviction that good care makes a profound difference, these Charters explain that health and social care cannot be considered just a ‘technical activity’, a reference to simply attending to the small details of rules. As both Charters proclaim, health and social care are acts of ‘dedication and love’:1 good care makes a difference.

Both Charters are united in their concern to help guide the ongoing formation of people working in healthcare, and, as the New Charter points out, this includes all those involved in health and social care, from doctors and nurses to pharmacists, biologists, administrators, chaplains and volunteers. According to both Charters a significant aspect of this formation involves serious reflection on ethics.

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