Cardinal Raymond L. Burke praises Catholic physicians' "noble mission" to uphold their faith in the service of medicine in Sept. 25 speech at the Catholic Medical Association's 83rd annual educational conference in Orlando, Fla. (CNS photo/Jacque Brund)
600 Catholic medical professionals, priests, and bishops gathered in Orlando,
Florida for the Catholic Medical Association’s 83rd educational conference,
September 25-27. This year’s theme, “Courage in Medicine: Defending and
Proclaiming the Faith in the New Evangelization,” asked doctors to “examine the
grave threats posed by radical and progressive secularization of our society
and its impact on the practice of medicine.”
chosen from medicine, law, journalism, and theology were invited to “highlight
the ways in which healthcare professionals are on the front lines of a battle
between good and evila battle that has raged throughout all of salvation
history and that is still waged daily in the choices made by Catholic
physicians.” Doctors, nurses, and counselors see first-hand the dehumanizing
ravages of modern medical ethics where even euthanasia and “gender
reassignment” surgery are approved medical services.
Morrow, MD, president-elect of CMA and chair of the conference, reminded
members that Catholic professionals “bear public moral witness to the critical
medical issues of our time.” Members, drawn from 86 regional guilds, accepted the
challenge as an urgent call to evangelization within their disciplines.
Burke opened the conference with a spirited call to faith under fire, titled “Physicians
as Standard Bearers in the New Evangelization.” The cardinal urged medical
professionals to live their convictions, a “noble mission,” in the front-line
battle against the redefinition of marriage, eugenics, gender theory,
euthanasia, and research that destroys human embryos. He quoted Pope Emeritus
Benedict XVI on the phenomenon in Western civilization in which man lives as if
God did not exist. Where God is absent, man himself loses dignity and sanctity,
according to Burke; it is a “fatal misunderstanding of freedom” when society
turns from God. When “God is dead,” man is in search of ever-more comfort and pleasure,
but at an increasingly higher cost.
solutions to addiction, suicide, broken families, and despair narrow toward a
“perversion of ethos” in which the moral norm is inverted, Cardinal Burke said.
There are aggressive attempts to banish religion from the public square. Society
is told that nothing is evil in itself, thus a moral relativism dominates
public opinion. The result is “morality replaced by a calculus of consequences,”
according to Burke.
stirred the crowd with an evangelical challenge to make the moral foundations
of life “audible and intelligible” to their patients and peers. The reversal of
societal woes will require “public discourse,” and the “implication for
medicine is evident,” he said. Additionally, a “proclamation of the truth of
conjugal life” is critical to the recovery of the culture. Burke urged a close
study of Veritatis Splendor to better
equip medical professionals. Catholics should not be manipulated by ideology,
but stand as unique guardians, servants of human life: “Do not be timid about
the great gift you have to offer,” he said.
talks, physicians congregated on a sunny patio to share experiences. Rather
than “talk shop,” they traded ethical dilemmas, sought advice, and advised
others who had been stigmatized by partners or university faculties due to
their belief in the sanctity of life. “It’s a shock to see how medicine is
changingit’s all about enabling lifestyles rather than about healing,” said a
West Virginia doctor. Another agreed that a “soft persecution” had begun
against doctors and nurses of conscience.
doctors at the CMA worried about the implications of terminology such as “brain
death” or “death thresholds,” expressing concern over numerous recent attempts
to redefine death for the purpose of harvesting organs, including by the World
Catholic author Mike Aquilina spoke to members about “Challenges Before Us in
Historical Perspective.” The Greco-Roman world of the first Christian centuries
was also a culture of death until the disciples of Jesus rode to the rescue,
Aquilina said. Following the Resurrection of Christ, Roman culture was
prosperous but hedonistic. Anti-marriage and low-fertility trends (marked by
female infanticide) resulted in a precipitous population declinea tad
frightening when barbarians are on the other side of the wall. With his empire
hanging by a thread, even Caesar could not boost the population. Aquilina
pointed out that it was into this disorder that the early disciples brought the
Gospel, along with ideas of human dignity and human rights. Today we have
better communication tools and faster travel.
address on St. Thomas More by attorney Charles LiMandri made real and present
the martyrdom that may come from following one’s conscience. LiMandri leads the
Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, a religious freedom organization. In an age
in which secular authorities are demanding fealty, St. Thomas’ famous line, “I
am the King’s good servantbut God’s first,” rings prophetic. His message was
echoed by both Cardinal Burke and the CMA’s episcopal advisor, Bishop James D.
Conley of the Diocese Lincoln, who had warned of the personal cost of standing
firm for human dignity.
J. Landry delivered his address, “Bifurcation of Faith and Reason: Unleashing
Radical Secularism and Its Impact on Medicine,” to professionals eager to
connect the dots between secularism and the contemporary loss of medical ethics.
Father Landry framed his remarks with the intellectual works of Saint Pope John
Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. “Pope
Francis is asking for a missionary metamorphosis of everything we do in the
Church” including medicine, he said. The source of present-day secular
philosophy which attempts to sever man from God is a “practical atheism, a
living etsi Deus non dareturas if
God were not a given.” Rather than an anti-God sentiment, this practical
atheism reduces God to irrelevance, a medieval crust to be scraped from modern
Moving toward the ominous change in medical
ethics, Father Landry quoted from a famous speech by Pope Benedict that touched
on new technologies:
Less visible, but no less
disquieting, are the possibilities of self manipulation that man has acquired.
He has plumbed the depths of being, has deciphered the components of the human
being, and is now capable, so to speak, of constructing man himself, who thus
no longer comes into the world as a gift of the Creator, but as a product of
our action, a product that, therefore, can also be selected according to the
exigencies established by ourselves.
I also addressed the group on the topic “International Law and
Public Policy Threats to Catholic Medical Practice,” surveying international
attacks on conscience protection in treaties, laws, and public opinion. Many in the media and public services, such
as Planned Parenthood, have recast conscience clauses as “refusal clauses,” and
advise doctors to leave their professions if they refuse to deliver any legal service.
As a stark illustration of the conflict
between secular society and Catholic medical ethics, I highlighted a
June 2014 piece at the Huffington Post that questioned “the compatibility
between being a Catholic and being a good citizen.”
Another headline illustrating this conflict came
from the United Kingdom, where the chairman of the UK Catholic Medical
“To be a sound Catholic, it is not possible to train as a consultant
obstetrician and gynaecologist, but this is not because of discrimination
against Catholics. There is a total conflict of culture…a dichotomy of belief
between what we as Christians believe is good overall for the individual and
what secular society believes.” His advice to doctors was to emigrate.
Despite the sober topics, evenings were
convivial. A concert by pianist Eric Genius on Friday evening lightened the
atmosphere. Many of the medical professionals agreed that the company of
committed Catholic doctors was as important as the educational sessions. Some
shared a sense of isolation in their practices, or on faculties, where too few
peers understood their pro-life ethics. The conference, said one physician, had
refocused her former feelings of not fitting innow those awkward moments serve
as opportunities to evangelize her hospital peers.
Strong spiritual support balanced the gravity
of the presentations. Throughout the conference participants had daily Mass, Eucharistic
adoration, confessions, and Ignatian Spiritual exercises given by Father Robert
McTeigue, SJ, professor of philosophy at Ave Maria University. Father McTeigue also
delivered an electrifying speech, “Moral Courage in Medicine,’ that brought 600
doctors and nurses to their feet in cheers.
Diana Dreger, OP, MD, is assistant clinical professor of
medicine at Vanderbilt University. Her presentation, “The Catholic
Physician: A Sign of (Non) Contradiction,” warned her fellow professionals to
reject the practice of medicine as merely medical science, a mechanistic view
of the human person. Rather, science is a tool for healing, not a tool to serve
business or economics or ideology. “Medical profession and profession of faith
are not in conflict,” she encouraged CMA members.
Fernandes, MD, PhD, associate
director of the Center for Bioethics and Medical
Humanities at the Ohio State University College of Medicine,
entertained his audience with energy notwithstanding a serious topic,
“Reclaiming Surrendered Ground in Bioethics.” As the speakers before him did,
Dr. Fernandes explained that the “New Evangelization” is woven into ethical
care for patients. A doctor of conscience is a witness to life placed in the
midst of a culture of death.
One of the
more moving moments of the conference featured the video presentation given by
“just a country doctor,” Joseph Dutkowsky, MD, associate medical director
of the Weinberg Family Cerebral Palsy Center at Columbia
University. In his speech, “The Face of Modern Eugenics,” Dr. Dutkowski said,
“A young woman emailed me with this question: ‘I am expecting: I have discovered
that my baby has Down’s syndrome. I’m
scared. What kind of life will he have?’”
Dutkowsky responded to the mother’s distress call with a heartwarming video of Down’s children, happily engaged in life, all speaking to the
camera with excitement, “He will be happy, like me!”
The issue of
“Fertility and Infertility Within a Catholic Moral Vision” was addressed by
Patrick Yeung, Jr., MD. An apostle of “cooperative and restorative” medicine,
Dr. Yeung pointed out that contemporary perception of the Catholic approach to
fertility is framed by what “you can’t do, rather than what we can do to restore fertility.” The
statistics of success with various natural fertility systems is far greater
than with in vitro fertilization (IVF). However, this truth is unknown by the
general public because IVF is a multi-billion dollar industry.
of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute energized his luncheon audience
with a bracing ride through a bright future if Catholics (and other people of
faith) work together to create a new culture. “No Finer Time to Be a Faithful
Catholic” found a receptive crowd.
banquet’s keynote address was given by author George Weigel, who spoke on “Evangelical
Catholicism in the Healing Profession.” Weigel deftly knit together theology
and medicine as a remedy for an ailing culture and sent the medical
professionals out as missionaries.
2014 conference was the CMA’s largest gathering yet. Next year Catholic medical
professionals will gather in Philadelphia, October 1-3 for “Healing the Wounded
Culture: Bringing the Wholeness of Christ to Humanity.”