April 06, 2018

Health care professionals will have a new opportunity to gain expertise in Catholic Clinical Ethics, thanks to the launch of a new academic program based on the teachings of the Church. The new program, launching in fall 2018, is a joint effort between Catholic University’s School of Theology and Religious Studies and Georgetown University Medical Center’s Edmund D. Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, with support from the Catholic Health Association of the United States.

Interested students will have the option to enroll in either a 30-credit master’s program or a 14-credit certificate program conferred by both Catholic University and Georgetown’s School of Medicine.

Paul Scherz, assistant professor of moral theology and ethics at Catholic University, said the new program is targeted toward medical professionals, chaplains, and administrators seeking a strong clinical foundation, with a deep understanding of Catholic bioethical thought.

“There’s not really a training program out there that helps people transition into the deep knowledge of both the theological and clinical side of Catholic bioethics,” he said.

As part of the program, students will receive training in the clinical side of ethics from Georgetown medical school professors, coupled with theological training from Catholic University theologians. While the majority of the coursework will take place online, students pursuing master’s degrees will be required to attend an in-person summer session.

Core classes in the program will provide an overview of the theological background surrounding health care as a ministry, as well as philosophical writings, and discussions of modern ethical issues like gene-editing and assisted suicide.

“This innovative program will enhance Catholic health care’s leadership in advancing the health and well-being of our country with highly skilled professionals who can address the complex clinical and moral dimensions of today’s transformed health environment,” said Sister Carol Keehan, DC, president and CEO at the Catholic Health Association.

Bioethicist and pediatrician G. Kevin Donovan, director of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, said he believes this program will provide something unique for the healthcare field: “a program that is recognizably Catholic and strong in clinical bioethics.”

“There are already programs in medical ethics or bioethics that have some clinical orientation and others that have some Catholic connections, but there really wasn’t anything that was strong in both areas,” Donovan said. “Ethical issues in healthcare in general and Catholic health care in particular are not diminishing. People working in Catholic health care must be ready to address these in individual hospitals.”

Scherz said he hopes the program will help students better understand the beauty and wisdom at the core of Catholic bioethical teaching.

“If a person isn't given the theological background, the Catholic bioethical tradition can seem like a lot of rules about how you shouldn’t do this or you aren’t allowed to do that,” he said. “In reality you have to see bioethics as founded in the dignity of the human person and aimed at a form of human flourishing. Once you understand that vision of life, you can start to really grasp why the bioethics are so important and why this program is so valuable.”

For more information about the Catholic Clinical Ethics program or to apply, email CatholicClinicalEthics@georgetown.edu.