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Health Care Anal. 2003 Sep;11(3):181-97.

Bioethics and religions: religious traditions and understandings of morality, health, and illness.

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  • 1Biomedical Ethics Unit, Department of Social Studies of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


For many individuals, religious traditions provide important resources for moral deliberation. While contemporary philosophical approaches in bioethics draw upon secular presumptions, religion continues to play an important role in both personal moral reasoning and public debate. In this analysis, I consider the connections between religious traditions and understandings of morality, medicine, illness, suffering, and the body. The discussion is not intended to provide a theological analysis within the intellectual constraints of a particular religious tradition. Rather, I offer an interpretive analysis of how religious norms often play a role in shaping understandings of morality. While many late 19th and early 20th century social scientists predicted the demise of religion, religious traditions continue to play important roles in the lives of many individuals. Whether bioethicists are sympathetic or skeptical toward the normative claims of particular religious traditions, it is important that bioethicists have an understanding of how religious models of morality, illness, and healing influence deliberations within the health care arena.

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