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Bridging Medicine and Theology
Barbara Beckwith
Source: St. Anthony Messenger magazine
Published: Saturday, May 22, 2010
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He's a medical doctor, a Ph.D. in ethics and a Franciscan brother.

He's Daniel P. Sulmasy, an articulate bridge between medicine and theology. He's often consulted by other doctors and the media as an expert on controversial biomedical decisions, such as end-of-life care and stem-cell research.

Last November, Dr. Sulmasy, long associated with St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan, took up a new position at the University of Chicago: Kilbride-Clinton Professor of Medicine and Ethics in the Department of Medicine and Divinity School. He's also associate director of the MacLean Center for Medical Ethics.

He's a native of Queens, New York, and a member of the Holy Name Province of Franciscan Friars based in New York. He now lives at St. Joseph Friary in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Previously, he served as director of the Center for Clinical Bioethics, as senior research scholar of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and as an associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University.

At a ceremony formally welcoming him to his new position in Chicago, Dr. Sulmasy commented: "In bridging theology and medicine, this newly created endowed chair links two of the three traditional medieval professions, invoking the spirit of the university that prevailed in the days when friars such as Bonaventure, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and Roger Bacon first taught at the universities of Paris and Oxford."

He will be launching the University of Chicago's combined degree program in ethics, offering medical students both a medical degree and a doctorate in ethics, along with a one- to two-year fellowship in ethics after medical training. "Our programs will be for doctors who have an abiding interest in ethics, or for medical students who were philosophy or theology majors," he says. "Through experience and training, people often become interested in the myriad of questions that face doctors, such as when to discontinue a ventilator and what to do about embryonic stem-cell research."

Dr. Sulmasy is editor-in-chief of the prestigious journal Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics. He has written or co-edited four books: The Healer's Calling, Methods in Medical Ethics, The Rebirth of the Clinic and A Balm for Gilead: Meditations on Spirituality and the Healing Arts.

He has also contributed to this magazine and been a medical ethics expert for American Catholic Radio, produced by St. Anthony Messenger Press for the U.S. bishops' Catholic Communications Campaign. In March he was a speaker at the Franciscan University of Steubenville's Institute of Bioethics conference for health-care professionals, speaking on "Appropriate Responses to Different Types of Suffering at the End of Life."

As a doctor and a teacher of doctors, Dr. Sulmasy is well-positioned to affect the future of health care. The fact that he's also a Franciscan gives him a unique perspective. He was interviewed by St. Anthony Messenger last December via telephone.

Click here for the text of the interview.

Click on the links below for audio clips from Barbarba Beckwith's interview with Daniel Sulmasy, O.F.M., M.D., Ph.D.

• Dr. Sulmasy talks about the potential conflicts between being a friar and a physician

• How being a friar benefits Dr. Sulmasy's work as a physician

• The best teaching model in medicine

• Coping with the stresses of the medical profession

Barbara Beckwith is the managing editor of St. Anthony Messenger magazine.

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