Dying a Christian Death in the 21st Century: Moral Controversies in Care at the End of Life

Conference 1: What is the Place of Sedation in the Care at the End of Life?

October 14, 2016, Friday, 8:00 am - 4:30 pm
University of Chicago Divinity School, 3rd Floor Lecture Hall

As death draws near, patients may experience intense suffering. Christian belief affirms a duty to relieve unnecessary suffering yet proscribes euthanasia. This conference concerns one aspect of medical care at the end of life: whether it is ever morally permissible to render such patients unconscious in order to relieve their suffering and, if so, under what conditions? Is this practice morally distinguishable from euthanasia? Can one ever aim directly at making a dying person unconscious, or is it only permissible to tolerate unconsciousness as an unintended side effect of treating a particular symptom? What role does the rule of double effect play in making such decisions? Does spiritual or psychological suffering ever justify sedation to unconsciousness? What are the theological and spiritual aspects of such care?

An outstanding group of Christian ethicists and theologians will address these questions in a one-day conference at the University of Chicago Divinity School. The conference is the first of a four-part annual series on care at the end-of-life to be held 2016-2019. The conference series is sponsored by the McDonald-Agape Foundation and co-hosted by the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion and the Program on Medicine and Religion at the University of Chicago.

Videos from Conference


7:30am Light breakfast available, 1st floor common room
8:00am Introduction: Daniel Sulmasy, MD, PhD
8:05am Douglas Farrow, PhD -- Reckoning with the Last Enemy: “Thereupon he advanced even as far as death itself”
8:55am Farr Curlin, MD -- Palliative Sedation: Clinical Facts and Ethical Questions
9:45am Thomas Cavanaugh, PhD -- Double Duty: Ethical Considerations Concerning Palliative Sedation 
10:35am Coffee Break
10:50am Daniel Sulmasy, MD, PhD -- The Last Sweet Murmurs of the Dead: Should a Physician Aim at Relieving Suffering by Rendering a Patient Unconscious Until Death?
11:40am Gilbert Meilaender, PhD -- The Ethics of Palliative Sedation
12:30pm Lunch provided, 1st floor common room
1:45pm Henk ten Have, MD, PhD -- Palliative Sedation: European Perspectives
2:35pm John Hardt, PhD -- “Chastened by an Outsized Landscape”: In Search of a Pastoral Response to the Question of Palliative Sedation
3:25pm Break
3:40pm General Discussion
4:20pm Summary
4:30pm Adjourn


Thomas A. Cavanaugh, PhD, is a professor of philosophy at the University of San Francisco where he has taught since 1994. His areas of research concern double effect, moral psychology (action theory), Aquinas’ ethics, the thought of G. E. M. Anscombe, and medical ethics. His larger current project is a book devoted to the medical ethic of the Hippocratic Oath. In 2015, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded him an Enduring Questions Grant to teach a course entitled, “What is Wisdom?” In 2013, USF awarded him The Dean’s Scholar Award for outstanding scholarship. In 2006, Clarendon Press of Oxford University published his book entitled, Double-effect Reasoning: Doing Good and Avoiding Evil (2006). 

Farr A. Curlin, MD, is Josiah C. Trent Professor of Medical Humanities in the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities and History of Medicine, and Co-Director of the Theology, Medicine and Culture Initiative at Duke Divinity School. Before moving to Duke in 2014, he founded and was Co-Director of the Program on Medicine and Religion at the University of Chicago. At Duke, Dr. Curlin practices palliative medicine and works with colleagues in the Trent Center and the Divinity School to develop opportunities for education and scholarship at the intersection of theology, medicine and culture. He has authored more than one hundred articles and book chapters dealing with the moral and spiritual dimensions of medical practice. Dr. Curlin’s work focuses on the relevance of religious ideas and practices for the doctor-patient relationship, the moral and professional formation of clinicians, and care for patients at the end of life.

Douglas Farrow, PhD, is Professor of Christian Thought and holder of the Kennedy Smith Chair in Catholic Studies at McGill University in Montreal. He taught formerly at King’s College London. Among his recent books are Ascension Theology and Desiring a Better Country. Prof. Farrow is a member of the Academy of Catholic Theology and of the advisory council for the Institute on Religion and Public Life. He is a frequent contributor to First Things and other journals. He also serves on the advisory board of Nova et Vetera and is co-editor of Ashgate’s Great Theologians series. Besides teaching theology and ethics at McGill, he works with the Newman Institute and the “Pluralism, Religion and Public Policy” project. He received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for his contributions to public discourse on significant social issues. 

John Hardt, PhD, works in mission and ethics as a vice president at Loyola University Health System and as an associate professor in medical education at Loyola University Chicago, Stritch School of Medicine. In 2012, Prof. Hardt was selected as a Faculty Scholar at the University of Chicago’s Program on Medicine and Religion, an appointment that made possible the launch of the Physician’s Vocation Program at the Stritch School of Medicine. The Physician’s Vocation Program is a four-year curriculum for medical students interested in integrating their faith as Christians into their vocation to medicine in the context of prayer, study, community, and service during their medical school studies. His current work and interests consider issues of physician resiliency, moral character, and Catholic bioethics. 

Gilbert Meilaender is Senior Research Professor at Valparaiso University and the Ramsey Fellow at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. He taught at the University of Virginia (1975-78), at Oberlin College (1978-96), and at Valparaiso University (1996-2014), where he held the Duesenberg Chair in Christian Ethics. He holds the M.Div. (1972) from Concordia Seminary (St. Louis) and the Ph.D. (1976) from Princeton University. Prof. Meilaender is the author of many books and articles in the field of Christian ethics. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Society of Christian Ethics, as an Associate Editor of Religious Studies Review, as a Consultant Editor of Studies in Christian Ethics, and as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Religious Ethics. He is a Fellow of the Hastings Center and was a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, 2002-2009.

Daniel P. Sulmasy, MD, PhD, is the Kilbride-Clinton Professor of Medicine and Ethics in the Department of Medicine and Divinity School at the University of Chicago, where he is Associate Director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics and Director of the Program on Medicine and Religion. He has previously held faculty positions at New York Medical College and Georgetown University. He has served on numerous governmental advisory committees, and was appointed to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues by President Obama in 2010. His research interests encompass both theoretical and empirical investigations of the ethics of end-of-life decision-making, ethics education, and spirituality in medicine. He is the author of over two hundred journal articles and book chapters, and the author or editor of six books. He also serves as editor-in-chief of the journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

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Henk ten Have, MD, PhD, is Director of the Center for Healthcare Ethics at Duquesne University in Pittsburg, and serves as an Adjunct Professor at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Heath Sciences, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He was previously Professor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Limburg, Maastricht (1982-1991), and Professor of Medical Ethics and the Director of the Department of Ethics, Philosophy and History of Medicine in the University Medical Centre Nijmegen, the Netherlands (1991-2003). In September 2003, he joined UNESCO as the Director of the Division of Ethics of Science and Technology. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Medicine, Philosophy and Healthcare. His recent publications include: The SAGE Handbook of Healthcare Ethics: Core and Emerging Issues with co-editors Ruth Chadwick and Eric Meslin; Contemporary Catholic Healthcare Ethics with David Kelly and Gerard Magill; and Handbook of Global Bioethics with co-editor Bert Gordijn.