Book Review

Jesus the Divine Physician

by Fr James McTavish, FMVD
Published 17 Nov 2023.  ISBN-13: 979-8389469280.
Available on Amazon

 A review by Dr William F. Sullivan, Ordinary Member, Pontifical Academy for Life

About the author Fr James McTavish is a Catholic missionary priest of the Verbum Dei Missionaries. He studied Medicine at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and pursued a career in surgery. He gained his Fellowship with the Royal College of Surgeons (Edinburgh) and began his specialization in Plastic and Reconstructive surgery. The Lord called him to “Reconstruct my people” and he entered into the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity in 1999. He pursued his theology studies in the Philippines before finishing them in Italy and doing a Licentiate in Moral theology (Alphonsianum University, Rome) and a Masters in Bioethics (Regina Apostolorum University, Rome). He was ordained to the Priesthood in London in 2008, and thereafter taught courses on moral theology, bioethics and sexual ethics in various theological and medical schools. He has published over 75 articles in international journals and written various books on morality and spirituality. His new book, title “Jesus the Divine Physician” is especially suited for those interested in the intersection of healthcare, ethics and spirituality. It contains a series of award-winning essays on contemporary issues in healthcare such as the mission of healthcare workers, the spirituality of healthcare, the identity of a “Catholic” healthcare worker, Church teachings on subjects such as In Vitro Fertilization and Euthanasia, and other contemporary topics such as the dangers of internet pornography and the devastating health consequences of human trafficking.

Jesus Divine PhysicianIn Jesus the Divine Physician, Fr. James McTavish has compiled 14 outstanding award-winning essays in medical ethics from a faith-based perspective. They address a broad range of urgent and ethically challenging questions arising in health care that Catholic and other faith-based healthcare professionals need to address in an ethically sound way to continue and advance the healing and saving mission of Christ in health care today.

Half of the essays focus on the need among health care professionals to develop and sustain a faith-based ethos and how such an ethos ought to pervade the person’s whole attitude (joyful) and approach to those one serves and to one’s co-servants (compassion and concern). The other essays address the full range of the human experience of being mortal. They range from the individual and social dimensions of applying this ethos at the beginning of life to people who are sick, suffering, and dying at the end of life. In all cases, Fr. James shows how faith needs to be informed by sound ethical reasoning and informed by Catholic social teaching.

For each of these often medically and socially complex realities, Fr. James communicates clearly and simply his solid grasp of the medical realities that he often illustrates using memorable and humorous examples from his own experience. This aspect of his essays manifests his impressive medical credentials and prior life as a surgeon. He also highlights and clarifies with remarkable nuance the ethical dimensions of faith-based responses to such realities. This aspect of his essays manifests an impressive depth and breadth of understanding and respect for core teachings of the Catholic moral tradition and of old and new thinkers from other traditions (Aristotle). Most fundamentally, in these essays, Fr. James manifests his life-changing commitment to implementing and advancing Jesus’ healing and saving mission in health care today by inviting his readers to join him and many others on this world-changing journey.

William F. Sullivan, MD, CCFP, PhD (Philosophy), Professor of Family Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine / Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. Chair in Bioethics, Kennedy Institute of Ethics / Senior Scholar, Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University / Member, Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC, USA / Ordinary Member, Pontifical Academy for Life


Other recommendations

“An engaging series of essays on topics of great contemporary interest. His discussions addressing the way that the life of faith impacts the ministry of health care workers and the paramount importance of an intense spiritual life and solid spiritual formation for physicians and nurses are eminently helpful.”

Father Tad Pacholczyk, Ph.D., The National Catholic Bioethics Center, Philadelphia, USA

‘Jesus, the Divine Physician’ is a thoughtful, provocative and impassioned examination of Catholic teaching on medicine and medical ethics. Fr McTavish draws on his personal experience as a doctor and as a missionary, sharing anecdotes that are sometimes amusing, and self-deprecating, other times deeply moving and powerful. He challenges the reader to consider their conscience, their faith and their attitudes to sickness, mortality and brotherly love. He is not afraid to tell unwelcome truths and to give his reader or listener ‘indigestion’ at times! Readers who are interested in Catholic medical ethics will find much practical wisdom here.

Professor Dominic Wilkinson, Professor of Medical Ethics, University of Oxford

“Fr. James McTavish brings his extensive experience as a physician, a theologian, and a pastor working for many years in the Philippines and other countries to reflect upon the vocational call of health care workers and pressing moral issues in health care. Attentive readers will find this book equally inspiring, challenging, and thought-provoking.”

Jason T. Eberl, Ph.D., Professor of Health Care Ethics and Philosophy & Director, Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics, Saint Louis University, Missouri, USA

Should my practice of medicine be different because of my Catholic faith?  Well, at least let it be prayerful, professional, and pro-poor! Fr McTavish brings the light of faith to his medical training and clinical encounters. His habit of thoughtful reflection on his experiences makes these essays worthy of careful reading. They are fruits of a Catholic faith and professional commitment in different clinical settings - an emergency room or an intensive care ward in an affluent country, the tenement home of a poor family in a low-income setting. Fr McTavish’s experience as both physician and surgeon, together with his mastery of theology and ethics, enables him to speak - to teach! -  in an authoritative and inspiring way of the challenges that healthcare practitioners encounter when, collaborating with patients living in affluence or in poverty, they strive to live up to the highest goal of their profession: making and keeping the patient well.

Dr Bernadette Tobin, Director, Plunkett Centre for Ethics, Australian Catholic University

Father James McTavish was a doctor prior to being ordained to the priesthood. He has a wealth of experience in both the medical and priestly fields as shown in this splendid book. It is an excellent spiritual guide for Catholics in healthcare.

Dr Pravin Thevathasan, Consultant Psychiatrist, Editor, Catholic Medical Quarterly, UK 

“I thank Fr. McTavish for making this precious work, which blends solid research with pastoral sensitivity, available to a wide audience. May the Lord continue to bless his ministry.”

Cardinal Luis Antonio “Chito” Tagle, DD, Pro-Prefect for the Section of Evangelization, Dicastery for Evangelization