An Interview with Dr. Lauris Kaldjian, Instructor of the Medical Ethics and Pastoral Care Class

Lauris C. Kaldjian, MD, MDiv, PhD, served as a part time instructor for Calvin Seminary this spring. In this interview, Dr. Kaldjian discusses his Medical Ethics and Pastoral Care class, which was offered as a distance learning course.

Dr. Kaldjian is Director of the Program in Bioethics and Humanities and a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Iowa Carver College of Medicine. In addition to teaching and practicing medicine, he researches and writes on a variety of topics, including “end of life decision making, goals of care, disclosure of medical errors, ethics education, the role of philosophical and religious beliefs in clinical decision making, and the integration of personal beliefs and professional ethics in clinical practice.”

Why did you decide to teach Medical Ethics and Pastoral Care?

I decided to teach this course because I believe there is a great need for Christian practical wisdom in medicine.  I believe pastors and chaplains should try to include in pastoral care a “co-discernment” that accompanies those who are struggling under the burden of decision making in healthcare, whether at the beginning of life, the end of life, or anywhere in between.  As a Christian who practices medicine and teaches medical ethics, I am reminded every day that medicine brings both benefits and challenges.  We have so much to be grateful for when it comes to healthcare and medical technology, yet we also have reasons to be discerning and vigilant so that we are not mislead by false goals, mistaken assumptions, or fears that can drive decisions in a culture that is quick to use technology and view health professionals as technicians.  In short, being a patient (or a health professional) requires practical wisdom, which for a Christian arises from our identity and freedom in Christ and a child-like trust in God’s abiding care.  

What questions does this course seek to answer?

The course provides a framework for Christian medical ethics within the Reformed theological tradition, drawing motivation and guidance from Scripture for an understanding of Christian principles, virtues, and goals.  It encourages integration of faith and reason to understand health, illness, suffering, disability, and death, so that what we believe guides what we choose.  The course seeks answers to questions that sit at the foundations of our understanding of human nature and destiny, and it uses those answers to address very practical concerns.  For instance:  How should the belief that we are “embodied souls” bearing the image of God guide our care for persons with dementia?  How does our understanding of death (as a “conquered enemy”), suffering (as within God’s providence), and hope (in eternal life with Christ) guide our decisions about palliative care and our rejection of assisted suicide?  What is the Christian basis of inalienable human dignity, and how does it guide a caring response to every human being, regardless of stage of development, level of ability, or citizenship status?  In what ways does a truly holistic concept of health (as the integration of the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual) invite Christians to harmonize the concerns of the body with concerns of the soul?  

What relevance does this course have for students after seminary?

It is my sincere hope that students will take from this course a biblically-based, conceptually framed understanding of Christian practical wisdom in medicine.  I hope they will remember that decision making in healthcare is burdensome, and that co-discernment is an inherent part of pastoral care and one of the ways we bear one another’s burdens.  When offered in a spirit of humility, such counsel shows a readiness to walk alongside those who are struggling and be “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (Rom. 12:12).”  If I had to choose one passage of Scripture that best captures my hopes for this course, it would come from Paul’s prayer for the Philippians, which reminds us that love needs to be wise:  “And this is my prayer:  that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God (Phil 1:9-11).”