Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 73(3) August 2023

Medicine : Restorative or Transformative - selected highlights from a talk by Dr Bernard Ars, president of the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC)

Summerised by Dr Caroline Zdziarska

As we look towards our National Symposium in April -"Ethical Questions on AI in Healthcare", I think the above talk offers some valuable thoughts and principles on the theme of what we as Catholic doctors should do and .. not do. Dr Bernard Ars gave an introductory talk prior to the World Congress, Rome 2022 - Medicine: 'Restorative or Transformative. The mission of the Christian physician'. FIAMC comprises 80 medical associations worldwide including CMA UK, and is the only medical institution recognised by the Holy See.

There is no “Catholic” speciality of medicine, as with paediatrics, ophthalmology etc, but there are Catholics who practise medicine. These see their patients as a fruit of a Love that comes from God. With this perspective they discover in each person - and especially in the most fragile - that “foot­print” of God: the image and likeness of God. This is their foundation for an unconditional respect for the dignity of the person. From this perspective we sometimes observe that sadly Medicine is becoming dehumanised! Let’s now take a closer look at that word ‘dehumanised’.

In the concept of “human” there are two notions: first, that of being proper to Man - that view which places the human person above ALL other values: this is Christian humanism. And second, that of being full of empathy, identifying with the other in what he or she feels, being full of compassion, sensitive, understanding, benevolent: this is “humanitarianism”.

Both these notions are necessary in medicine. To repair in medicine means, according to this Christian humanism, to put back in good condition what has been deteriorated by a pathology or a trauma, respecting the life, the integrity and the dignity of the person. Repairing in medicine means repairing the whole body on a physical, psychological, relational and spiritual level, while conserving and respecting human nature, remaining at the service of the human being.

To transform in medicine, however, according to anti-humanism, means in this case trans-humanism, to transgress human nature, in all autonomy, for pleasure or adventure. It means, for example, to include the perception of infrasound in auditory implants, the perception of infrared in ocular implants; the re-programming of our normal ageing cells. This is no longer medicine at the service of the human being, to prevent or heal an illness or to heal it, to repair a trauma. Rather it is an instrumental way to satisfy one’s fantasies, to satisfy one’s desire to the fullest. Many acts of transformation of our body are technically possible, and it is today the absolute reign of autonomy, that says : “I do what I want, because I like it and I can do it”. Yet in reality the human being is a limited, finite being. This makes our humanity!

To accept our status of being limited, imperfect, incomplete, requires the presence of the other, and sometimes, of the very Other. And here lies the place of accompaniment and particularly for us, doctors, Catholic doctors, accompaniment through care. - spoken in French with English subtitles.