Sacred Heart professor talks 'Beginning and End of Life' ethics at Theology on Tap
Feb 11, 2020
ROYAL OAK — As science and medicine make great strides, more and more questions are posed on what constitutes “ethical care.”
While an increasingly secular society debates abortion, euthanasia, stem-cell research and In virto fertilization, along with the state’s proper role in making healthcare decisions for individuals, questions about what constitutes “ethical care” are being asked.
With so much noise coming in from so many different directions, Dr. Mark Latkovic, a professor of Moral and Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, provided some answers to what constitutes ethical care during the Theology on Tap event, “The Beginning and End of Life,” sponsored by the Archdiocese of Detroit Office of Young Adult Ministry and Sacred Heart Major Seminary, at the Royal Oak Taphouse on Monday, Feb. 10.
“Twenty-five years ago, St. John Paull II wrote in his encyclical ‘Gospel of Life,’ speaking of a clash between the ‘Culture of Life,’ the Christian understanding and view of life, treating every human life with respect, and the ‘Culture of Death,’ where human persons don’t intrinsically have human dignity,” Dr. Latkovic said.
Dr. Latkovic discussed how these cultures are clashing more and more in an increasingly secular world where the advance of human rights – which St. John Paul II considered an overall good, Dr. Latkovic said – have been put into conflict with the common good.
“In bioethics, there is so much contradiction in terms of human rights,” Dr. Latkovic said. “Going after life in the womb, looking at the elderly as burdens, using unscrupulous practices to find cures, goes against these human rights, John Paul II said, because rights must be rooted in our Christian view of what is good.”
Dr. Latkovic laid down three distinct principles to consider regarding healthcare: the sanctity of human life, the unity of body and soul and the belief in free will.
Dr. Latkovic said these principles were critical when discussing medial ethics, particularly as a guard again utilitarianism – where the ends always justify the means – and dualism – where one can split the person’s mind from their body and not care for the person’s soul.
Dr. Latkovic further explained the concepts of “double effect” and “cooperation with evil,” linking ethical healthcare decisions with a person’s intentions.
“With the principle of ‘double effect,’ we make sure we are doing the right thing with the right intentions,” Dr. Latkovic said. “So can we remove a cancerous uterus with an unborn child. Can we do the good with the evil? With this principle, we make sure we are not trying to justify an evil, but examining why we’re doing the good.
“With material cooperation with evil, we look at everyday living, and see in order for good to be accomplished, we have to deal with evil,” Dr. Latkovic said. “If you are a mail carrier, you know you could be delivering immoral stuff. If you work at a drug store, you may have to sell contraception, if you use the internet, you are supporting organizations that promote unsavory stuff.”
Dr. Latkovic said in such an interconnected society, cooperation with evil is inevitable, particularly in healthcare with large medical programs and pharmaceutical companies that make medicine that saves lives, but also medicine that harms human life.
When navigating complicated situations, Dr. Latkovic said sticking to the principles of the sanctity of human life and dignity of the body and soul are important when making decisions.
“When we find ourselves with the sick and dying, we as Catholics are asked to be judges by applying principles to make prudent decisions,” Dr. Latkovic said. “As Catholics, we hope to make sound, moral decisions with these foundations. We’re called to be activists, to have strength in our principles, to not give up the faith, but have the courage to pray when in these difficult situations.”
Dr. Latkovic said practicing moral ethics also means examining the healthcare system, looking at who receives healthcare, what are the obligations of those who provide healthcare and what constitutes just and ethical treatment.
“We need to think about the justice of healthcare and its treatment, and the issue of justice and discussing in our society about who has a right to healthcare, but also who has a corresponding duty of providing healthcare,” Dr. Latkovic. “From there, we need to ask who is making the decisions, and are the people making those decisions doing so with a sense of compassion and benevolence.”
Dr. Latkovic said through the course of making these ethical, and often tricky, decisions regarding healthcare it is crucial to have the mindset that no person, regardless of age, stage of development, size, sickness or socio-economic circumstances is to be regarded as expendable or useless.
“When we examine cases at the beginning and end of life, looking at what constitutes ordinary care versus extraordinary care, we must look to our principles of cause and effect,” Dr. Latkovic said. “We know the Church doesn’t want people to suffer, that pain killers are used, and there is a point when we stop the treatment and put it in God's hands.
“But we should never confuse the practice of dying with using any means necessary to keep a person alive,” Dr. Latkovic continued. “When we make these decisions, we must look at who are we making them for, and why. But when we make these decisions with the first principle of healthcare, do no harm. Realizing that while treatments may be a burden, the patient is never a burden.”