Statement from the Speaker
Statement (January 9, 2007) by
Margaret E. Mohrmann, MD, PhD
I describe myself as working at the intersection of ethics, religion/spirituality, and medicine, a crossroads position I have staked out not only because it satisfies my intellectual interests and personal inclinations but also because it is where my patients and students have led me. My experience as a pediatrician and teacher of pediatrics, in both critical care and primary care settings, taught me three lessons that turned out to be determinative of my future work:
First, there is far more to clinical practice—to the care of the sick—than is, or perhaps can be, covered in the curricula of medical and nursing schools. Illnesses and injuries serious enough to require medical attention invariably bring with them spiritual and moral questions concerning, at the least, vulnerability, power, responsibility, belief, and the nature of physical, intellectual, and psychological integrity. One does not need to posit (or deny) direct connections between these issues and healing to recognize the fundamental moral significance of acknowledging, honoring, caring about the struggles the questions identify.
Second, those whose lifework is the attentive care of sick, injured, disabled, or dying persons wrestle with the same questions, raised inescapably by what they see and know and have to do in their work, and perhaps as well as by what happens in their non-professional lives.
Third, medical education, when it tries at all, struggles to find ways of helping its students be fully present, and if possible helpful, in regard to the first issue, and somewhat less often also wonders how to help them live fruitfully with the second, for the sake of their own well-being and that of their patients. It is my general impression that nursing education is further along on this score, although there is more ground to cover.
My dual education and experience in medicine and in religious ethics have provided me an unusual perspective from which to view these issues. Thus, my vocational task and passion, in my writing, teaching and speaking, is to bring the realities of clinical medicine—the experiences of patients and of those who care for them—into conversation with traditions of spiritual and moral thought, religious and philosophical. It is my intention that such a conjunction have at least two salutary aims: on the one hand, to enhance the care of patients and the well-being of practitioners while, on the other hand, to stimulate and inform further study by these intellectual traditions in direct response to the actual needs of those whom religions and philosophies wish to understand, support, and teach.
It is a signal honor for me to have been invited to give the inaugural Thelma Shobe lecture, and it gives me a welcome opportunity to gather together the many strands of thought and observation that have informed my work over the past years into a statement that, I hope, will truly inaugurate a rich and fruitful discussion in the years to come about the essential and challenging partnership of spirituality, ethics, and health care.
Margaret E. Mohrmann, MD, PhD
January 9, 2007