Document Type


Publication Date

April 2009


A theological bioethics needs, first, a theological politics. The thesis of this essay rests on the claim that the contours of a theological politics are found in the nature of sacramental practices. More specifically, a theological politics of medicine is found in the sacramental practice of anointing of the sick. Anointing provides a radically theological hermeneutic—a theologically robust vision for interpreting medicine that, if enacted, can powerfully make real God's work in the world. Such a vision is embodied in one particular twentieth-century exemplar—the organization called Partners In Health (PIH) and its cofounder, Paul Farmer. Farmer and PIH, I argue, live the théologie and theological politics of medicine embodied in the practice of anointing. What is more, they show—against those who would accuse such an approach of being naively idealistic—that such a theological politics is possible, powerful, and can even change the world.


Published version. Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Spring/Summer 2009): 171-92. Permalink: ©2009 Georgetown University Press. Used with permission.