Biomedicine and Beatitude: Encountering bioethical dilemmas with confidence

by Joshua Gow | Religion Teacher at Shanley High School


“Father Austriaco’s intense formation and study shine brilliantly through this work as a light to all looking for a definitive demonstration of the Church’s teaching to difficult bioethical issues.” – Joshua Gow

The current cultural milieu of secularism and questionable ethical frameworks does not lend itself to much clarity in the realm of bioethics. Many people, physicians and patients alike, make important fundamental decisions based upon an enlarged respect for autonomy, or a vague understanding of the human person and the dignity reserved to him. With the rapid influx of bioethical issues the average Catholic faces, having a resource that is precise and true to Magisterial teaching would offer an ideal foundation to prepare oneself to encounter these bioethical dilemmas with confidence.

Enter the book Biomedicine and Beatitude by Father Nicanor Austriaco. Father Austriaco is an ideal candidate for the field of bioethics, bringing a wealth of experience and formation. Before entering the Dominican order, Father Austriaco earned a Ph.D. in microbiology from MIT, an advanced degree he continues to use to this day by studying and lecturing on biology. Additionally, Father Austriaco was formed as a Dominican at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. and earned a license to teach sacred theology from the Dominican House of Studies as well as the University of Fribourg. In short, Father Austriaco has been through the academic gauntlet as both a biologist and a theologian and understands rigorous scholarship in both disciplines.

Why is Father Austriaco’s formation significant to his written work? His devotion to proper scholarship in both disciplines plays a vital role in the field of bioethics, a field which is rapidly engulfing both the fields of biology, theology, and philosophy. Father Austriaco’s intense formation and study shine brilliantly through this work as a light to all looking for a definitive demonstration of the Church’s teaching to difficult bioethical issues.

In this work, Father Austriaco covers a wide variety of bioethical topics. He engages beginning of life issues on abortion, contraception, and reproductive assistance as well as proper patient care, ethics of physicians, and end of life issues. In all these areas, Father Austriaco gives Church teaching, but dives deeper into the issues. For example, in discussing abortion, Father Austriaco gives the definitive teaching, but also addresses common arguments for abortion and offers responses, as well as ethical resolution of ectopic pregnancies (pregnancies where the embryo implants in the fallopian tube).

One valuable feature of this work is the depth that Father Austriaco provides to these bioethical issues. The work covers a wide array of bioethical issues, but each issue receives its due explanation and precision of Church teaching. While this depth of content would easily lend itself to a reference text, Father Austriaco’s book is a very easy read, as he utilizes his preaching charism and makes the issues approachable to the reader.

Another distinctive feature that sets this work apart from others, even Catholic sources, is the care Father Austriaco gives to setting all the issues within the framework of beatitude. Beatitude, happiness, is the source and goal of the Christian moral life, and provides a foundation for Catholic moral theology. Father Austriaco notes this at the beginning of his work and is intentional to reiterate this point throughout. Every topic, after being covered from a doctrinal perspective, is given an examination in the light of Beatitude. How can one live virtuously when facing an end of life decision? Where does virtue lie in the decision to carry a child to term? How does Christ challenge you to grow in carrying the cross of infertility? This deliberate piece after every issue is a beautiful touch from Father Austriaco, and it solidifies the teaching of the Church by allowing the teaching to be incarnated, to meet the practicality of life.

In short, Father Austriaco’s work covers a profound look at the basic issues in bioethics. The clarity with which he explains the complex issues facing humanity today is appreciated, and his pastoral care is genuine. This work will prove invaluable not only to those looking for answers to a familial issue facing them now, but to all of us who are very likely going to be faced with an issue in the future.