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Colorado medical practice to offer specialized care to adults with Down syndrome

December 21, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

Denver, Colo., Dec 21, 2020 / 07:15 am (CNA).- In a first-of-its-kind initiative, a Catholic-run healthcare practice in Colorado will partner with a major foundation based in Paris to bring specialized medical care to adults with Down syndrome.

Bella Health & Wellness, a practice based in the Denver suburb of Englewood, Colorado, announced at a Dec. 3 fundraiser that they will partner with the Jerome Lejeune Foundation, a French organization named for the pro-life doctor who discovered the genetic cause of Down syndrome in the 1950s.

Dede Chism, Bella’s co-founder and executive director, told CNA that the Lejeune Foundation was looking to partner with a medical practice in the United States that shared their ethos.

“The biggest thing is really believing in one another’s mission. We really believe in the mission of Lejeune and the mission of life…to be able to augment one another’s capacity to care by joining forces in any way that we can,” Chism told CNA.

Named for Servant of God Jérôme Lejeune, a French pediatrician and geneticist, the Lejeune Foundation aims to provide research, care, and advocacy for people with genetic intellectual disabilities. The foundation currently operates the largest medical center for people with Down syndrome in the world, located in Paris.

Bella opened in December 2014 as a non-profit medical practice, founded by Chism and her daughter Abby Sinnett, both of whom are nurse practitioners, with the goal of taking a holistic approach to caring for women in mind, body, and spirit.

The practice is run in full alignment with Church teaching, although it attracts non-Catholics as well, particularly those drawn to the clinic’s natural and scientific approach. Some areas of focus for the clinic include obstetrics, annual exams, gynecology, infertility treatment, menopause care, and abortion pill reversal.

Over the years, the practice has expanded its scope to offer care for men and children as well as for women, with services such as well child check ups, management of chronic illness, and COVID-19 testing.

One of the important facets of Bella’s work is care for pregnant mothers, and Chism said they are already adept at meeting the medical needs of mothers who are carrying babies with Down syndrome.

The new partnership will enable Bella to care for adult patients who have Down syndrome, she said. Bella will help Lejeune learn more about how medicine in the United States works, while the Foundation’s knowledge of how to care for people with Down syndrome, passed on to Bella’s staff through mentorships, will greatly benefit Bella’s medical practice.

“We know that there is an identified need, and we are going to be there to fill it,” she said.

Chism said they expect to begin serving their first patients with Down syndrome on March 21, 2021. March 21 has been marked as World Down Syndrome Day by the United Nations since 2012.

Dr. Lejeune, a devout Catholic, discovered the genetic cause for Down syndrome— an extra copy of chromosome 21— in 1958.

He spent the rest of his life researching treatments and cures for the condition— also known as trisomy 21— advocating strongly against the use of prenatal testing and the abortion of unborn children who were found to have Down syndrome.

Chism commented that before Lejeune’s discovery, people generally thought there was  something “missing” from people with Down syndrome, but Lejeune found that there was “nothing missing at all.” Rather, “God chose to write a second sentence in the DNA of Down syndrome people.”

Kieth Mason, executive director of the Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA, told CNA that the foundation chose Bella as their first medical practice partner in the United States because of a shared reverence for the dignity of the human person.

Denver is already home to the Anna and John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Colorado, as well as the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, a major advocacy organization.

Currently however, Mason said, there is no freestanding medical center in the United States for people with Down syndrome older than 21. Most specialized clinics— of which there are about a dozen throughout the country— are pediatric. The partnership with Bella will aim to change that, he said.

The Lejeune Foundation operates the largest DNA database in the world, Mason said, and they base their specialized care for people with Down syndrome on many years of research. Research by the foundation is likely to yield positive results not only for people with Down syndrome, but for all people, he noted.

For example, it is very common for people with Down syndrome to get Alzheimers, so the foundation is doing a lot of research into how to lessen the impact of the disease. On the other hand, women with Down syndrome appear to be protected from contracting breast cancer, so research into this area could benefit all humanity, he said.

Mason said he fully expects Bella to attract interest from patients across the country, just as their clinic in Paris attracts patients from across Europe and the world.

Mason’s daughter Maria, who has Down syndrome, will be one of the first people to receive specialized medical care at the Denver clinic, he said.

“As we care for people with Down syndrome, they care for us. They minister to our hearts and show us what true joy is,” he commented.

Lejeune was a personal friend of Pope St. John Paul II. In 1994, the pope named him the first president of the then brand-new Pontifical Academy for Life.

Lejeune died of lung cancer on Easter Saturday 1994. His canonization cause was opened in 2007.

Madame Berthe Lejeune, Dr. Lejeune’s widow, has said her husband was heartbroken that many doctors and governments used his discovery to “screen out” babies with Down syndrome, targeting them for abortion.

“He thought that all doctors would be happy to find research to cure them,” Madame Lejeune told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly in 2017.

“But sadly, all government[s], not only in France, said: oh, it’s a wonderful discovery. You can detect these little sick children before they are born, and so take them away with an abortion.”

Madame Lejeune died in May 2020, also of lung cancer.

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has consistently criticized countries which provide for abortion on the basis of disability. In some countries, such as Denmark and Iceland, the abortion rate for babies found to have Down syndrome is close to 100%.

In the United States, there have been numerous attempts at the state level to ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Missouri lawmakers passed a law during 2019 that, in addition to banning all abortions after eight weeks, prohibits “selective” abortions following a medical diagnosis or disability such as Down syndrome, or on the basis of the race or sex of the baby. The law is currently blocked in the courts amid a legal challenge.

Ohio lawmakers attempted in 2017 to pass a ban on Down syndrome abortions, but a federal judge in 2019 blocked the legislation from taking effect.

Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, North Dakota, and Utah have all considered or passed similar bans.

At the federal level, the Down Syndrome Discrimination by Abortion Prohibition Act has been introduced in Congress, but has not yet been debated. The proposed law would ban doctors from “knowingly perform[ing] an abortion being sought because the baby has or may have Down syndrome.”


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News Briefs

Bishop Daly: Catholic schools should embrace faith, never compromise

November 18, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Denver Newsroom, Nov 18, 2020 / 03:07 am (CNA).- The U.S. bishops’ new chairman for Catholic education says he hopes to bring his experience as a Catholic school teacher and president, as well as pastor of two parishes, into his new position.

In an increasingly secular society, when people’s lives seem more and more to lack meaning, “our schools remind us of Christ’s love…a dignity of the human person that is beyond the mindset of the present moment, or the latest educational trend,” Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington told CNA Nov. 17.

Daly’s fellow bishops on Nov. 16 elected him to serve as Chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education for the U.S. bishops’ conference, which provides guidance for the educational mission of the Church to Catholic elementary and secondary schools, Catholic colleges and universities, and college campus ministry.

The bishops’ conference has 18 standing committees that each focus on a specific topic related to the bishops’ mission. Each committee is made up of both bishops and lay consultants, with one bishop serving as chairman.

Daly worked in Catholic schools for 19 years before his appointment as bishop, including serving for a time as a teacher and later as president at Marin Catholic High School near San Francisco. He succeeds Bishop Michael Barber, SJ of Oakland as chairman.

The “first mission” of any Catholic school should be the salvation of souls, he noted, but too often Catholic schools focus almost exclusively on academics, to the detriment of their Catholic mission.

A Catholic school ought to be academically excellent, while always keeping in mind why Catholic schools exist— to strengthen the faith foundation, he said.

Instead of being merely a private prep school with “a little bit of religious flavoring,” a Catholic school should encourage and guide its students to “seek the Lord with a sincere heart,” Daly said.

“We don’t need more ‘private schools.’ We need schools that are Catholic, that teach and proclaim the Gospel with the realization of academic rigor,” he said.

The USCCB’s Catholic education committee exists to support Catholic schools in their mission, Daly said, and one of the ways this is done is by supporting the priest who serves the school. This may involve training or inspiration for the priest to help him better shepherd the school, he said, and to motivate the parish community to support the school.

One of the most important factors in a school’s character is the academic leadership, which for elementary schools is most often the principal, he said.

Daly said he saw the school he previously worked for turn from a more secular attitude to a direction of faithfulness thanks in large part to its principal, who “never forgot the example of his education growing up as a Catholic.”

The principal was at once a very good administrator, and also a humble man of faith, Daly noted. Thanks to his strong leadership, that school is now producing religious vocations, which Daly said is a strong indicator of a Catholic school fulfilling its mission.

One of the biggest current challenges to Catholic schools, to no one’s surprise, is the fallout from COVID-19 and ongoing lockdowns, Daly said.

At least 140 Catholic schools— mostly elementary schools— have closed in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, he said, and elementary schools remain the most vulnerable to closure.

“I think we have to re-examine why we have our schools, and why they’re so important to families,” he said.

Making Catholic schools accessible for students with disabilities is also a priority, he said, and he hopes his committee will be able to assist and encourage schools to expand their special education programs.

Daly said historically, Catholic schools arose in the United States during a time when many public schools were de facto Protestant, and often presented a somewhat hostile environment to Catholic families.

“The need for Catholic education today is as important as it has been since the 1800s, when the Church and our mission were [often] attacked,” he said.

Part of the reason for this, Daly said, is that laws in many states make public school curricula nonconducive to an education in Catholic values.

For example, during the Nov. 2020 election, voters in Washington state approved a ballot measure that will require “comprehensive sex education” in public schools, which Daly noted “undermines core beliefs of our faith” by failing to address complex moral issues tied to human sexuality, and failing to discuss sex in the context of marriage.

He said serving as a priest and educator in San Francisco— today a very secular and liberal city overall— allowed him to observe indifference and later hostility to the Church’s message firsthand.

Daly said within Catholic education, there ought not be a dichotomy between “social justice” and “piety.” He pointed to the life of St. Teresa of Calcutta as an example of strong faith and morals manifesting in a life of service.

Catholic schools ought to be places of learning, he said, which involves allowing students to encounter differing viewpoints and ideas. Catholic schools should respect students’ freedom, not forcing them to accept the faith, but also not compromising on the Church’s beliefs.

While realizing that not every student who enters a school or university is or will be Catholic, there ought to be at least an exposure to Catholic theology, morals, and intellectual tradition at the university, he said.

Today, many students graduate from Catholic universities having never taken a Catholic theology class. Some Catholic universities may do this because they fear that students of other faiths will be less likely to attend, or because a more Catholic curriculum may be viewed as “narrow-minded.”

“Too many institutions of higher learning and Catholic education have compromised their mission, and that to me is not going to be effective,” Daly commented.

“Education with humility leads to wisdom; without humility, it leads to arrogance.”

During February 2020, Gonzaga University, a Jesuit school located in the Spokane diocese, announced the creation of a law clinic focused primarily on LGBT advocacy.

“While the Catholic tradition does uphold the dignity of every human being, the LGBT Rights law clinic’s scope of practice could bring the GU Law School into conflict with the religious freedom of Christian individuals and organizations,” Daly told CNA at the time.

“There is also a concern that Gonzaga Law School will be actively promoting, in the legal arena and on campus, values that are contrary to the Catholic faith and natural law.”

Daly said he wrote to the university president in February, requesting that the president speak to him about the clinic, but never received a reply— likely because the situation unfolded right before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.


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