From the Terri Schiavo controversy to the stem-cell debate to the conflict over intelligent design, 2005 was rife with contentious issues that portrayed religion and science as wholly separate and competing realms of thought and experience.
Two stories challenge that characterization. In each, religious belief has prompted empirical research, and empirical research has informed religious belief. More important, the creative interplay between religion and science helped to shape consensus among partisans on opposite sides of the debate.
The first story concerns Oregon’s physician-assisted suicide law, which is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Catholic Church fought the 1994 ballot measure that put the law on the books, and once it took effect, the church prohibited its hospitals from providing lethal medication to terminally ill patients. But it did more than oppose the law. Catholic hospitals, including Providence Health System, the largest provider in Oregon, led the way in a movement for better end-of-life care, including more effective pain and symptom management, spiritual counseling, family support, and patient involvement in care decisions. (Subsequently, a national survey of nearly four thousand hospitals reported that Catholic hospitals were far ahead of other religious, for-profit, and publicly owned hospitals in providing advanced therapies for the terminally ill.)