Applied Bioethics Magazine

Issue No. 01: The Human Person


I grew up in a military family. My dad, an active-duty fighter pilot, followed an aggressive career trajectory. When he was in a pilot job, the operations tempo was extreme. Ninety-day deployments often came with little rest back at home.

His potential became apparent as a standout student at the Air Force Academy. That quality led to many career-broadening postings. At most frequent, we'd move yearly, and we never stayed in one place for more than two years. As a child, it made no difference to me. It was life as I knew it. I continue to see my upbringing in a military family as a net positive on my life. I lived in six states, within the city limits of the District of Columbia, and in Seoul, South Korea. My life was in motion with few stable things outside of family, faith, school, and scouting.

Family traditions are important markers in life. They serve as waypoints that we pass through, changing and growing as we walk down the path of life. A standard family tradition is to return year after year to a regular vacation spot. For my family, we traveled around the world. Our vacations took us to different places every year. We rented lake houses and pontoon boats on lakes near the bases where we lived. We met with my grandparents on a quiet beach in Hawaii and traveled to the Badlands to see Mount Rushmore. We stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon and observed its natural beauty. We drove down to the Florida Keys and stayed in a Coast Guard bungalow on one vacation. We spent Christmas Day in Singapore, relaxed on the beaches of Okinawa, and climbed the Great Wall of China. Every holiday brought a new corner of the globe to explore.

Cape May is on an island at the southern tip of New Jersey. On one coast is the Atlantic Ocean, and on the other is the Chesapeake Bay. It's a historic town where presidents and Members of Congress spent days in the early 1800s. It's funny that planning for the future and prosperity of our Nation happened in this beach town. After my dad retired from the Air Force, we moved to the East Coast. My dad discovered Cape May when searching for a quiet place to celebrate an anniversary. Now, more than a decade since our family's first trip to the island, it's become my family's default vacation spot.

My parents visit Cape May annually. Every Thanksgiving, my siblings and I bring our families to town. We spend the entire week on family, fun, and gratitude. Those November days are cold and windy, with only the locals left in town. The beaches are quiet, and the pace of life is slow. It's a high mark of my year, a cherished event on my calendar.

Many of those November mornings, I like to be out on the beach at sunrise. I watch the vivid reds, oranges, yellows, and pinks paint the sky as the sun appears on the horizon in solitude. It's a cathartic experience. Wrapped in my winter clothes, I am alone in creation. The only sound is the roaring ocean crashing against the sandy beach. The experience is a natural invitation to explore life's big questions. A picture of one of those sunrises serves as the cover art for this Magazine.

I studied Philosophy in college. There are many practical degrees, but Philosophy isn't one of them. A liberal arts education didn't equip me with particular skills for the workforce. I gained no technical knowledge, no business acumen, and no defined career path. Instead, through study, I learned to think for myself. My mind, now open, gained the ability to analyze the world. Ancient Greek philosophy was the most substantial influence on the curriculum in my program. I asked questions, engaged, and gained an understanding of the implications of the best of human thought.

I love Ancient Greek philosophy, but Logic has a special place in my heart. Logic influenced my intellectual and personal development the most. The study of Logic and its systems unlocked something in my brain. It allowed me to process almost everything in my life through a logical framework. It's like bringing order to chaos as I move throughout my day. When I read a news story, the lines of argument rise above the fluff. When I hear arguments in a debate, I can understand the nuance of language. As I listen to a music album, the themes unpack. Whatever the subject, the logical process leads me to deeper understanding.

A well-rounded education in Philosophy goes beyond the great secular philosophers. Catholic thinkers throughout the ages have developed themes and applied principles to new disciplines. Few schools of thought have proven as durable and lasting as the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. Comprised of all contributions of Catholic thinkers throughout time, they influence theology, philosophy, politics, and science.

It might seem strange to start a new publication based on a school of thought created by organized religion. Organized religion is no longer the cornerstone of our communal life. Young people are leaving churches in droves. Baby boomers continue to express their tepid faith. As the silent generation passes on, the outlook for religion is bleak. By turning away from religion, we miss out on the fulfillment that it offers.

Spirituality is as much a part of the person as the physical body and the human intellect. Religion is about more than theology and liturgies. It's about helping us to live more balanced and fulfilling lives. There's a built-in community. Like-minded individuals from diverse backgrounds and careers coalesce around a singular mission. This unity grants a sense of belonging.

Religion takes the world's chaos and organizes it around a moral code. The events of our lives, good and bad, are a logical progression throughout life. We make better decisions when we have clear concepts of right and wrong. There's a plumb line against which we can judge our conduct, decisions, and outcomes.

Practicing religion also grants us a greater sense of self-awareness. You can't live a healthy life by only thinking healthy thoughts. You have to eat well, sleep, and exercise. That's because we are multi-dimensional. Neglecting our physical, emotional, relational, intellectual, or spiritual health is a prescription for misery.

Religion provides structure to our lives. Some free spirits may protest, but structure is inherent in the human condition. We thrive on it, and we need it. If you doubt that statement, I direct your attention to the pandemic shut-downs of 2020. Without connection, many felt the glue holding our society together coming undone. Without our natural routine and structures, we felt lost. Workers at home worked more than they ever had before. We yearned to get out of the house and go on our vacations. Mental health took a huge hit. The result was less charity shown towards our neighbors and fellow man.

Any goal that we pursue in life requires structure. The odds of our success improve the more accountability is in the process. The routine of the religious calendar and liturgies provides that structure.

Participation rates in weekly religious services are declining. Many churches are closing, but this isn't the measure of success. Religion is missionary and redemptive. It always seeks the lost. Religion reaches out to those who once knew the truth but let life get in the way. It's always there, waiting to help, support, and encourage people on the path of life.

We recently ended a long run of intellectual growth. Our current intellectual impoverishment reminds me of the Middle Ages. Back then, the elite viewed the education of the masses as a threat to their status and power. So, they jealously kept knowledge to themselves. As a result, humanity endured decades of lethargic intellectual progress.

Legions of Catholic monks worked with tireless determination to save Western Civilization. They preserved the works that underpin Western thought. Thanks to them, we benefit from the wisdom of the Ancients. It's going to take more than a generation of "spiritual, not religious" people to take religion down.

Active participation in Catholicism is lower than in previous decades. Despite this, its moral teachings and reputation remain consistent and clear. Even the most anti-religious in society must recognize that the Church is consistent. She has an unimpeachable record of respect for human life. The Church's doctrine has consistently promoted the dignity of the human person to the greatest possible degree.

This Magazine isn't an academic work. The intent is to help you understand context and complexity. Bioethics has an impact on your life and the lives of those that you love. The best help is the help that's available and accessible. These articles have a conversational tone, which makes intricate and complex topics understandable. While not academic, the material is challenging. Reading each issue will take considered thought and reflection.

2020 was a crash course for us on the intersection of medicine, public health, and public policy. Amid the chaos, the importance of bioethics was evident. As a global community, we faced the threat of a new and poorly understood virus. In that fog of war, science became a tool to coerce democratic societies to abandon core principles of liberty. Authorities demanded that we submit to arbitrary dictates. The initial goal of preventing an overwhelming of hospital resources was noble and likely correct. But, as time went on and COVID-19 was better understood, the self-serving intentions of policymakers became clear.

We learned in 2020 that we must take responsibility for ourselves. We can no longer blindly trust experts to act in our best interest. If we want to pursue morally correct bioethical decisions, we must take charge. We must be active in the medical decision-making process for ourselves and our loved ones.

Biomedical technology is improving daily. New pharmaceutical drugs and therapies make it to market at a rapid pace. Along with them are options for treating dysfunctions that were previously untreatable. This growth is the natural consequence of scientific inquiry, and it's a positive sign. Using our knowledge to improve people's lives is the perfect use of the human intellect.

The problem with science is that it's amoral. It has no moral code. It can do evil, or it can do good. This moral hazard is why we need bioethics. We need to process scientific research and advancement through an ethical framework. We must ensure that scientific work focuses on serving the universal human good.

We're living longer and thus encountering new questions in healthcare. Birth control and abortion are available everywhere. More invasive surgeries are possible later in life, and indefinite preservation of life is theoretically possible. New vaccine technologies are passing clinical trials, and some jurisdictions permit licensed medical providers to prescribe fatal doses of medications to those who ask for them.

The question is no longer, "Can we do it?" The question must be, "It is ethical to do it?" Will this decision promote the health and wellbeing of the human person? Does it intend to support the natural lifecycle? Is it done in a manner that doesn't come at the expense of another human life?

The good news is that these technologies and treatment advances give patients options. Time is our most precious commodity, and we can keep more of it. But, along with choice comes the responsibility to engage in the ethical decision-making process.

Bioethics is no longer the prerogative of physicians. Patients and providers must both seek out answers to these complex and consequential questions. These answers deal with more than just life and death. They deal with the protection of the fundamental dignity of every human person. We must make moral decisions, even when the medical community suggests otherwise.

As a Catholic publication, this Magazine will work in the service of the human person. We'll put together a basic understanding of the human person in this issue. We'll also understand their unique place in the created order. We'll have a framework to process bioethical questions by the end of this issue.