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Bioethics Seminar Sees… Pressure Increases For War Against Medical Conscience

May 16, 2017 Frontpage No Comments

By JAMES ASHER and DEXTER DUGGAN

PHOENIX — St. Thomas More, who was executed in 16th-century England for his fidelity to religious conscience, was cited at a two-day seminar here for health-care professionals, presented by the Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC).
More, a Catholic who had risen to become Lord High Chancellor of England, later was beheaded for treason, in 1535, after he refused to acknowledge King Henry VIII as supreme head of the Church in England and the king’s invalid attempt to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
The bioethics center’s website says its seminars “are intended to benefit health-care workers, clergy, those involved in research in the life sciences, members of ethics committees, and others who provide spiritual support and counsel to patients and their families.
“Those interested in understanding and advancing the Church’s moral tradition in health care will also find them accessible and informative,” the center says. Two more such seminars are planned later this year, in North Dakota and Pennsylvania.
John Haas, Ph.D., NCBC president, started the April 28-29 seminar activities at Phoenix diocesan headquarters with an overview, “Ethical and religious directives for Catholic health-care services.”
Speaking on threats to conscience in current health care, John Brehany, Ph.D., quoted from early 20th-century English philosopher and writer G.K. Chesterton.
Chesterton wrote in 1929 that “Thomas More is more important at this moment in history (than at any other time), but will be even more important about 100 years from now,” said Brehany, an ethicist for the bioethics center.
In increasingly secularized societies in the 21st century, traditional religious conscience can be viewed as a defiant distraction or impediment to ideologies on various fronts, from massive abortion to utilitarian medical care to sexual disorientation.
Brehany noted efforts to redefine how conscience is allowed to act in a medical setting, or to deny health-care providers’ conscience rights.
He cited Julie Cantor, a Californian who holds degrees in both medicine and law and is prominent in the effort to control conscience.
Patients “should not have to shoulder” bearing health workers’ conscience rights, Cantor said, according to Brehany, adding that she also said, “Patients rely on health-care professionals for their expertise; they should be able to expect those professionals to be neutral arbiters of medical care.”
Cantor also stated: “Federal laws may make room for the rights of conscience, but health-care providers . . . should cast off the cloak of conscience when patients’ needs demand it,” Brehany said.
However, Brehany quoted the late civil-rights leader and minister Martin Luther King Jr. on the primacy of conscience: “Cowardice asks the question — is it safe? Expediency asks the question — is it politic? Vanity asks the question — is it popular? But conscience asks the question — is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.”
The NCBC (ncbcenter.org) plans to present two more two-day seminars this year, on August 11-12 in Bismarck, N.D., and September 8-9 in Philadelphia.
The center’s website says it has speakers available, and it “considers authentic Catholic education to be at the very heart of its mission. Speakers from the center are available on a variety of today’s major medical and ethical issues to both parish, professional groups, colleges and universities.”
Its mission is to conduct “research, consultation, publishing and education to promote human dignity in health care and the life sciences, and derives its message directly from the teachings of the Catholic Church,” the website says.
Topics on the program for the Phoenix seminar included “The gift of children and ‘reproductive technologies’,” “Ethical approaches to complications before and after birth,” “Stem-cell research: The ethical dividing lines,” “Transgender and gender dysphoria,” “Moral issues in end-of-life decision-making,” “Determination of death and organ donation,” and “Reaching and respecting conscientious judgments in health care.”
The gathering began with a morning Mass celebrated in the diocesan center’s chapel on April 28 by Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted.
Another ethicist with the bioethics center, Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, told seminar participants of bioethicist Leon Kass, MD, arguing for “The Wisdom of Repugnance.”
Although Kass’ repugnance theory may not be an entirely reliable guide of what science should do with increasing technological capability, it can be a guide of what we should not do — that is, the repugnance you feel may be telling you something valuable, Pacholczyk said.
Pacholczyk earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Yale University, where he focused on cloning genes for neurotransmitter transporters which are expressed in the brain, and also worked for several years as a molecular biologist at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, according to NCBC.
Speaking on stem-cell research, Pacholczyk said human embryonic stem cells first were obtained from the destruction of an embryo in 1998. However, a continuing question is, “Just because we can, should we?”
The Catholic Church is not opposed to stem-cell research, provided there is no destruction of an embryo, he said, adding that in addition to embryonic stem cells, there are nine kinds of stem cells, whose use does not involve embryonic destruction, and the Church approves of their use.
As of now, he said, no embryonic stem cell has ever been found useful for any routine clinical application. Despite the Hollywood and scientific hype, about all that embryonic stem cells have been able to show is the development of tumors. Nor are alternatives lacking for human embryonic stem cells.
Skin cells can be treated to make them function like embryonic stem cells, yet continued use of the embryonic variety persists with the claim that these are the “gold standard,” Pacholczyk said.
Research could continue using animal embryonic stem cells, he said, noting ironically that animal-rights advocates might be offended. On the other hand, many successful uses of adult stem cells have been found, including treatment for several types of cancers, chromosomal abnormalities, and blood problems, the priest-scientist said.

Jewelry From Embryos

Those attending the seminar were able to see what it’s like to be on a hospital ethics committee during staff-tutored breakout sessions where specific cases with medical-moral issues were considered.
The seminar is part of a certificate program offered by the bioethics center — a two-year course of reading and online assignments in Catholic bioethics, useful for anyone seeking a greater understanding of this.
Meanwhile, the California Catholic Daily news site posted a story May 6 about an Australian company, Baby Bee Hummingbirds, turning human embryos into jewelry.
California Catholic Daily said: “A story in the Australian mothers’ website Kidspot portrays the process as a solution to ‘extra’ embryos that are created in the in-vitro fertilization process. It recounts the story of a couple who had conceived three children, including twins, but faced financial strain in paying for the annual storage of the leftover embryos and could not imagine disposing of them or donating them.
“ ‘I don’t believe there is any other business in the world that creates jewelry from human embryos, and I firmly believe that we are pioneering the way in this sacred art, and opening the possibilities to families around the world,’ Amy McGlade, the founder of Baby Bee Hummingbirds, told Kidspot,” according to the Catholic website.

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