BY: DAVID WARREN, PhD
Next month, Paul Farmer â€” the dual-doctorate-holding, relatively young Harvard professor of medical anthropology and cofounder of Boston-based Partners In Health, who 15 years ago received a MacArthur "genius" grant and who has already published several books â€” will deliver the keynote address at the 91st Catholic Health Assembly.
"The Gospel message is really a pretty bracing call for action on behalf of the destitute and the sick," Farmer explained in an interview earlier this year, insisting that health care is a right and not a commodity. Farmer acts upon this principle, which he finds in his faith, through his personal solidarity with the weak, the sick, and the vulnerable outside of the United States.
Professor Maura Ryan's "Justice and Genetics: Whose Holy Grail?" â€” this issue's installment in Health Progress's series on social justice teaching and Catholic health care â€” at one point describes the Catholic teaching that lies behind Farmer's position:
When social institutions or policies fail to guarantee equitable access to the means for a dignified human life, justice will demand preferential treatment for those whose basic needs are not being met. Indeed, for Catholic social thought, the state of the least well-off stands as a challenge to and an indictment of all proposals for social organization. A preferential option for the poor entails a responsibility to examine social, economic, political, and cultural institutions and practices in the light of the general requirements of human flourishing and to evaluate social policy from the perspective of those who are variously marginalized within the present order.
Ryan makes clear that "[t]he importance of ensuring the capacity for humane participation in society for all members calls for an active solidarity." We don't have to be as smart as either the doctor or the professor to understand that â€” and live it.
Copyright Â© 2006 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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