Understanding Medical Decision Making

Understanding Medical Decision Making in the light of Theological Ethical Theory

This project is concerned with the question: How can the act of establishing a medical indication be understood in the light of hermeneutic ethical processes, as they are reflected in theological ethics? Medical indication is used to ethically justify and legally legitimize actions of the physician. Establishing an indication is part of a procedure that gathers medical data as well as social-communicative factors, cultural and spiritual needs of the patient and aspects of quality of life (K. Gahl). “Indication” is thus not a purely medical concept and is not only interdisciplinary by referring to the medical-technical options of the time, but can also be understood as a value concept.

Therefore this project will interpret medical indication by applying elements of theological ethical theories of decision making to it. In the light of these theories, medical indication shows itself as a multidimensional process of preparing an ethical decision. In this way, some aspects of medical indication can be understood more clearly: (1) its interdisciplinary character because of its need to link medical-technical knowledge and ethical value options to one judgment about treatment; (2) its inter-personal character because of the necessity to melt two personal views of life and acting options into a common goal of treatment; (3) its ethical character because value criteria that orient towards respecting the dignity and integrity of the human being, as well as possible concrete ideas of a “good life” of the patient appear as an integrative and orienting element of medical indication.

This project joins medical-ethical approaches in the field of medical indication (F. Anschütz, K. Gahl, a.o.) and hermeneutical-ethical approaches developed by the theologians K. Demmer and D. Mieth. In addition, H. Bouillard’s theory of how to find common grounds between human beings with differing views of life and values will be used to interpret the interdisciplinary parts of medical indication.
This project not only builds a bridge between ethical theory and medical practice, but is able to continuously check its outcomes in the medical context: It will be carried out as a joint venture between a theological ethicist (Prof. Dr. Sigrid Müller) and a practicing physician (Dr. theol. Dr. med. Dr. Phil. Karl Hunstorfer).

In an interdisciplinary dialogue between theology and medicine, this project means to contribute to a discussion on medicine with a human face, interpreting medical indication as ethical decision making, as well as to the efforts of a theological ethic to find its rightful place in the struggle for meaning and value orientation in difficult situations of life.