Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Patrick Smith, Palliative Care, and Religious Pluralism

Dr. John Jefferson Davis, PhD
Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics

Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with one of our new faculty members, Prof. Patrick Smith, who was in town to teach his weekend course in Cultural Apologetics at our Boston campus. Patrick, who is completing his dissertation at Wayne State University on religious epistemology in the context of religious pluralism, will be on campus on a full-time basis next fall teaching courses in apologetics, philosophy of religion, and systematic theology. Our conversation ranged over a wide range of topics, including natural law theory, the challenge of naturalism to Christian belief, the philosophical implications of the “multiverse” hypothesis, and much more.
I would like to bring to your attention two of Patrick’s recent articles that we discussed, one on medical ethics, and the other on religious pluralism. In the article “Puling the Sheet Back Down: a Response to Battin on the Practice of Terminal Sedation,” to be submitted to the Hastings Center Report, a leading journal of medical ethics, Prof. Smith and his co-author make a crucial clarification of terminology between “palliative sedation” and “terminal sedation”, arguing cogently that “
palliative” (pain relieving) sedation is crucially different in intent than a “terminal” sedation that could be intended to cause the patient’s death, and so constitute an act of physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. Prof. Smith serves as a medical ethics consultant to the Angela Hospice Care Center in the Detroit area, and will bring to our school additional expertise in the areas of end-of-life treatment and medical ethics.
Patrick’s other article, “The Plurality of Religious Pluralism: Clarifying the Terms,” written for a forthcoming issue of Modern Reformation, makes some very helpful distinctions between three different senses of “religious pluralism”: the sociological fact of religious diversity; the legal sense of freedom of religious belief and practice; and the philosophical and theological belief that “all religions lead to the same God or salvation,” or the like. Smith points out that senses one and two pose no principial threat to Christian faith, but that the third sense must be challenged on the basis of the clear biblical witness to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the one way of salvation. The article demonstrates the usefulness of the tools of analytical philosophy in clarifying language in the service of Christian faith.
If you are interested in either of these articles, you could email Prof. Smith at psmith@gcts.edu, and ask for a copy. Be sure to welcome Prof. Smith to our campus when you see him in the months ahead.

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