Doing What’s Right in God’s Eyes: Health & Human Flourishing

Photo contributed by Glory Diaz

In the current health care arena, it has become common for medical professionals to view patients as commodities with problems to be fixed rather than whole persons. Through their 20th annual summer conference “Health and Human Flourishing,” the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity (CBHD) at Trinity International University sought to discuss and promote a more holistic view of people and health care.

From July 18–20, over 220 individuals gathered to hear several keynote speakers discuss various definitions of “health” and “human flourishing,” including Archdiocese of Chicago Francis Cardinal George, Dr. Bart Cusveller, Dr. Allen Verhey, and Dr. William Hurlbut.

Cardinal George gave the talk “Conditions for Human Flourishing” on Thursday, July 18, to a large audience in the A. T. O. Chapel (which can be viewed at stream.tiu.edu > “On Demand”). He urged conference attendees to consider the responsibility of the church to create community, and within community consider bioethical issues. He also shared his views on human dignity, specifically the dignity of the human embryo.

“What is genetically human is always a personal subject,” George said. “He’s [an embryo] not a what, but a who.”

Cardinal George also stressed how medical professionals can often lose the mentality of “caring for the patient” they often begin with and instead adopt the view of patients as problems to be fixed.

Dr. Bart Cusveller similarly stressed the idea of considering and caring for the whole person, with his concept of “shalomic nursing.” Cusveller is currently a professor of nursing ethics at the Christian University for Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, where he trained as a nurse. Humans were meant to live in shalom, according to Cusveller, and they should be striving after this in every aspect of life.

“Health in this sense is broader than vitality and autonomy,” Cusveller said. “One can be fit and independent but not flourishing.”

Dr. Allen Verhey of Duke Divinity School spoke on Saturday about “Human Flourishing—in Sickness and in Health,” distinguishing between health and human flourishing. He gave a theological account of human flourishing, specifically saying that human flourishing is enacted in appropriate responses to the triune God, who relates to humans through doxological gratitude, joyous hopefulness, and affective affirmation.

Finally, Dr. William B. Hurlbut from Stanford University Medical Center spoke on “Advancing Science while Respecting Life: The Future of the Stem Cell Debates.” He focused on the issue of aborted embryos and the negative consequences of embryonic stem cell research.

Conference attendees represented a wide demographic, made up of medical professionals, undergraduate students, divinity students, professors, and members of the public interested in bioethics. The CBHD conference provided the opportunity for everyone—no matter their background—to engage in discussion with speakers, paper presenters, Institute and Seminar professors, and those practicing medicine about a wide variety of ethical topics.

Trinity Bioethics Dual Degree student Storm Dorrough attended the conference and institutes for a dual degree course and enjoyed the opportunity to be immersed in an ethical education and community.

“Thinking about moral issues is often neglected in our culture and educational system. Medical decisions are often ‘whatever’s right for you.’ I would argue that it’s good for everybody to have more ethical education than we do,” Dorrough said. “I enjoyed learning that human health and flourishing is more than just physical health. More than, ‘I don’t have an illness or disease so I am physically well,’ but a more holistic view, which looks at the social, psychological, emotional, relational, spiritual wellness of a person.”

CBHD’s next summer conference will take place June 19–21, 2014.

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