Date of Award

Fall 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Religious Studies

First Advisor

Hamel, Ronald P.

Second Advisor

Wood, Susan K.

Third Advisor

Massingale, Bryan N.


Medical history identifies Dame Cicely Saunders as the founder of modern hospice and palliative care for the unique care she gave to the incurably and terminally ill. Less known is how her Christian faith, combined with her knowledge of medicine, influenced her vision. This work retrieves the Christian roots of palliative care and asserts that the practice of faith preserves the practice of medicine from succumbing to medicalized dying--a phenomenon that excessively relies on technology with the implied hope that it will ultimately conquer illnesses and even death. Efficiency and effectiveness ground modern medicine's epistemology. These concepts follow the philosophical ideals of the essence of technology asserting that it can and ought to use and control nature to ameliorate problems, including the progression of human illness, frailty, and death. Scholars observe how this forms a medical environment that almost exclusively views death as failure. Christianity, however, forms believers in the paschal mystery of Christ Jesus whose resurrection redeems death. I argue that the sacramental-liturgical practices of the Christian faith enable healthcare practitioners and patients to renegotiate an understanding of health, death, and life. The celebrations of baptism and Eucharist give the gifts of faith, hope, and love. These rituals form the believer in the pattern of the paschal mystery--the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the believer is sent forth to live this in the world. This means that Christians ought to engage medicine differently, in ways that stymie medicalized dying. The practice of faith remains evermore important especially for Catholic healthcare as it increasingly relies less on the women religious who founded these ministries and more on lay professionals whose commitments to living the paschal mystery are less certain. By encountering God's gratuitous love in the sacraments, one learns to lovingly bear the burdens of illness and also how to create healthcare systems that benefit the common good. The result of this vision of care necessitates the cooperation of both local parishes and large healthcare systems to fully enact the gospel call to lovingly care for the vulnerably ill and dying.