Modern medicine needs an evolving ethical dialogue

It’s vital for Catholic medical professionals to reflect on contemporary issues, writes Dr Luke Macnamara

Dr Luke Macnamara

Medical care in Ireland is evolving rapidly with new treatments becoming available all the time. Medical professionals have organised structures for continuous medical education and audit to ensure excellence in care. 

While these structures are valued, many Catholic practitioners in Ireland have begun to ask how their faith might guide their approach to practice and to question the ethical implications of new developments in medical care. 

It was in this context that the Irish Catholic Doctors’ Learning Network (ICDLN) took shape some three years ago, as an educational resource and support for doctors. 

The aims of the organisation are clear: to provide a much-needed forum for inputs and reflection on current and emerging medical practice and mutual support. 

There are quarterly meetings in Dublin during the year with contributions from practitioners and theologians to assist in the reflection process, and the network has a chaplain, Fr Paul Francis CP. 

Medical professionals lead increasingly busy lives and few have the leisure to read and inform themselves of the ethical responses to evolving medical practice. 

The meetings provide the time and space for discussion with colleagues who face the same or similar issues. The presentations and networking enable doctors to become aware of the major emerging issues in an efficient and effective manner.


The first national meeting took place in June 2015 and was well attended by a wide number of practitioners from diverse specialties. There was discussion on a broad range of faith and ethical issues from a number of vantage points, including the doctor-patient relationship, economic challenges, caritas (compassion) in medical care and the impact of public and institutional policies on personal practice. 

Two speakers from Britain, Francis Campbell, former British Ambassador to the Holy See, and Sr Martin Joseph CP, consultant surgeon (retired), with wide experience in London, Africa and Papua New Guinea gave valuable inputs on the challenges facing Catholic doctors in a variety of settings. 

They also indicated some helpful resources available to assist doctors’ reflection upon the interface between faith and medical practice. Issues around resource availability within the Irish context were made evident in the presentations of Dr Keith Holmes, child psychiatrist and President of the ICDLN, Dr Ross Murphy, cardiologist and Mr Michael Moran, ENT registrar.

The ICDLN is one of many Catholic medical associations in Europe and the world. Indeed the majority of these associations have existed for many decades and have much experience in effective and constructive reflection on medical care in their respective countries. 

It is hoped to tap into some of this accumulated wisdom, through Dr Robert Hardie, a past president of the Catholic Medical Association in Britain, who will address this year’s national meeting. 

There will also be a mix of presentations by Irish medical professionals (Dr Orla Halpenny GP and Dr Keith Holmes) and theologians (Dr Padraig Corkery, Department of Moral Theology, Maynooth and myself from the Department of Sacred Scripture, Maynooth) with time for discussion and debate.

The national meeting will take place at the Emmaus retreat centre, Swords, Co. Dublin on Saturday, May 28. 


Further details available on the webpage of the Irish Catholic Doctors’ Learning Network: