M. Therese LYSAUGHT and Michael McCarthy, eds. Catholic Bioethics & Social Justice: The Praxis of US Health Care in a Globalized World. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 2018. pp. 439. 39.95 pb. ISBN: 978-0-8146-8455-9. Reviewed by Walter N. SISTO, D’Youville College, Buffalo, NY 14201.


Catholic Bioethics & Social Justice: The Praxis of US Health Care in a Globalized World is a collection of articles that engenders a conversation on how Catholic Social Teaching (CST) will enrich and provides tools for the bioethicist and Catholic heath employee/er to better addresses bioethical issues today. The authors argue that the scholastic framework for Catholic bioethics that examines bioethics in the context of pastor and laity is inadequate today because it fails to consider the clinical setting as well as the complexity of contemporary bioethical dilemmas.

To help broaden the bioethical discussion, this text is divided into six parts that address the injustices and related bioethical dilemmas present in different clinical contexts. Each part consists of four chapters written by theologians, ethicists, and clinicians.  While part one examines the injustices related to healthcare “at the door of the emergency department,”part two examines the injustices related to the physician-patient relationship within the clinical setting.  Part three turns to the clinical setting and evaluates how Catholic healthcare organizations treat its employees considering CST. Part four turns to the executive leadership of Catholic health care and their responsibility to create a “socially responsible culture.”  (231) Part five looks more broadly at global heath, stressing that Catholic health care is a ministry of the Church, and it is therefore responsible for the global poor and marginalized. Part six offers insight on how Catholic Bioethics can more intimately participate in secular bioethics conversations. This chapter brings insights from CST for bioethicists to use as fodder to analyze and challenge a variety of problematic practices in health care including why healthcare research disproportionately addresses the healthcare concerns of the wealthy. (371)

Two chapters highlight the goal and importance of this book. Chapter two examined the problem of human trafficking and how this injustice is bleeding into the clinical setting. The authors, Alan Sanders, Kelly R. Herron, and Carly Mesnick argue that it is not enough to simply provide health care because once healed the victim will return to the trafficker. If Catholic health care does not attempt to redress this abuse it is simply ignoring and participating in this structure of sin. In order to address this problem, we must examine healthcare holistically. This is where CST offers the Catholic bioethicist insight. The authors argue that a multifaceted approach to caring for the survivor of human trafficking is needed. In addition to treating the physical injuries of the trafficked person, the hospital needs to fight the injustice of human trafficking. The authors offer a variety of suggestions to accomplish this, including developping a community task force that could provide resources to train the hospital staff and provide a structure whereby the patient being trafficked could leave their “victimizer under the protection of law enforcement.” (60)

Chapter six offers a fascinating study of caring for gender non-conforming (GNC) children and adolescents. The author, Michael McCarthy, demonstrates that GNC “individuals lack broad access to patient-centered care that is non-discriminatory.” (116) McCarthy argues that while the general trajectory of Catholic Magisterial teachings has rejected gender transitioning as immoral because it does harm to the person as well as rejects human biology, serious reconsideration of this topic is needed that engages the data on GNC suicide rates. The high rates of suicide that are related to a lack of acceptance and safe spaces to explore one’s gender, particularly with healthcare providers, leads McCarthy to question what really constitutes “harm.”(121)  Focusing on the ethics of sexuality and gender neither helps GNC children nor does justice to the complexity of being a GNC child.  This is where the lens of CST is of value to reframe the entire discussion on GNC children and adolescents by examining them as vulnerable and marginalized persons, a marginalization that is intensified by the lack of socially constructive spaces. The dynamics of the conversation transforms into how can the Catholic heath community help GNC persons as opposed to the ethics of GNC person’s reproductive biology. Because of CST, Catholic healthcare is uniquely positioned to offer GNC persons a safe space “in which the children can experience God’s love.” (128) This will require Catholic healthcare to welcome this vulnerable population by embodying gender-affirming care that includes respecting a patient’s pronouns and developing strategies to help this population navigate the healthcare setting. This is will be controversial for many readers, particularly since the author leaves unresolved Catholic teaching on reproductive biology and the unequivocal rejection of sex-transitioning surgeries. However, McCarthy rightly illustrates that Catholic health care is called to live out “Christ’s healing ministry” that is exemplified in Pope Francis’s interactions with GNC persons which created a non-judgmental space to minister to these persons.

This text accomplishes what it sets out to do, to begin the conversation between the Catholic Bioethical and Catholic Social Teaching traditions by demonstrating how both traditions work in concert and could provide a strong, compassionate response to contemporary bioethical dilemmas.The wide variety of authors that include clinicians as well as theologians and ethicists should appeal to a broad audience. It is appropriate as a textbook for a graduate course on bioethics, particularly a bioethics course for healthcare students.