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The Code of Ethical Standards

The Code of Ethical Standards for Catholic Health and Aged Care Services in Australia

As health care develops, it confronts us with new and sometimes bewildering ethical quandaries. These are discussed and debated within the Catholic community just as they are discussed and debated within the wider community. In the Catholic Church, this discussion includes pastoral inquiries by a Catholic individual or family to their priest or spiritual advisor, clinical ethics committees in Catholic hospitals seeking to develop ethical guidelines about new treatments, scholarly articles in Catholic journals, and sometimes international symposia about disputed questions. Once the Catholic position is discerned, it is articulated in official Catholic teaching. Thus, for example, in a speech on 24 November 1958, Pope Pius XII confirmed that while there is an obligation to make use of the ordinary means of preserving life, extraordinary means which are either futile or too burdensome may be refused. Or again, Pope John Paul II accepted the concept of brain death in a speech on 29 August 2000. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, one of the Vatican congregations which assists the pope, has also issued two Instructions on bioethics – Donum Vitae in 1987 and Dignitas Personae in 2008. There are indeed many such documents which set out the Catholic position on many different bioethical questions.

Around the world, there are also a number of Catholic codes which draw on this teaching to present a comprehensive account of Catholic bioethics. The Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers issued its Charter for Health Care Workers in 1994. The United States has its Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (Fifth Edition, 2009). The Catholic Church in Canada has its Health Ethics Guide (Third edition, 2012). In the same way, the Australian Catholic Church has our Code of Ethical Standards for Catholic Health and Aged Care Services in Australia (2001). When this Code was launched, it was noted that the Code is “a public statement of what the Catholic health and aged care ministry stands for and what the wider community can expect of Catholic health and aged care services.”

The Australian Code is in two parts. The first part presents seven broad general principles. These range from ‘Respect for persons within a culture of life’ to ‘Solidarity and the mystery of suffering and death.’ The second part of the Code then develops these general principles into more specific guidelines. Here, there are eight chapters on different topics. For example, Chapter 2 is on ‘Human sexuality, procreation and the beginning of life,’ while Chapter 5 is on ‘The End of Life.’ This two-part framework is most appropriate: just as businesses must have both overarching policies and more specific procedures, or corporate culture requires both guiding beliefs and daily practices, ethics involves both general principles and more specific guidelines.

Catholic health, community and aged care services in Australia are committed to following the ethical standards set out in our Code. They are also committed to educating and forming their staff in these standards. We believe that these standards contribute to the culture of respect and compassionate care which we strive to develop and maintain in all our services.