Catholic Medical group back conscience protection
Doctors William Turek, Michael Parker and William Buoni
(from left), shown at Columbus St. Patrick Church, are helping
revive the Pope John Paul II (Columbus) guild of the Catholic
Medical Association CT Photo by Jack Kustron
By Tim Puet
Federal regulations allowing health care workers to refuse to perform abortions or other medical procedures because of moral objections should be allowed to stand because they protect supporters of both sides of the abortion issue, said the head of a local Catholic medical group.
“Conscience protection regulations work both ways,” said Dr. Michael Parker of Gahanna. “Most people think of them in terms of allowing doctors and medical workers to say they won’t take part in certain procedures such as abortion, but they also benefit those who feel they can ethically perform those procedures.
“The regulations as they currently exist protect everyone in the medical community, not just those who oppose abortion, from discrimination,” said Parker, president of the Columbus guild of the Catholic Medical Association. “The Obama administration’s proposal to eliminate them would unfairly single out people of faith who have moral objections to abortion and other procedures which violate Catholic teachings.”
The proposal was issued last month in the Federal Register. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department said it wanted to rescind a rule which clarifies and enforces a series of laws passed since 1973 which ban discrimination against health professionals who decline to participate in some medical procedures on religious or moral grounds. The rule took effect two days before President Obama took office.
Interested parties had until April 9 to comment on the proposal. The department will review the comments and issue a decision concerning the rule on an unspecified date.
The proposal has been criticized by a variety of Catholic organizations, including the Catholic Health Association of the United States, which represents more than 2.000 Catholic health care sponsors, systems, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and related organizations.
“Catholics and others with deep respect for the sanctity of life must not be forced to perform procedures – such as the taking of the life of the unborn – that are contrary to their deeply held moral beliefs and principles,” Sister Carol Keehan, DC, president of the association, wrote to the department.
“These legal protections are essential for the continuation of both our own ministry and our nation’s commitment to freedom of religion and of conscience,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the Columbus-based Mount Carmel Health System, Janice Piscitelli, referred to Sister Carol’s letter and said it represented the views of officials of the system.
Mount Carmel is the only Catholic health care system in the Columbus area and includes Mount Carmel East and West hospitals, St. Ann’s and New Albany Surgical hospitals, a college of nursing, a Medicare Advantage health plan known as MediGold, home care and medical equipment services, and hospice and palliative care.
Sister Carol said CHA represents the largest group of not-for-profit providers of health care in the nation. She noted that one in six patients in the United States are cared for in a Catholic hospital each year; all 50 states and the District of Columbia are served by Catholic health care organizations; more than 2,000 CHA sponsors, systems, facilities, and related organizations serve the full continuum of health care, and approximately 725,000 people are employed in Catholic hospitals.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said conscience protection regulations are needed to prevent the government from “moving our country from democracy to despotism. Respect for personal conscience and freedom of religion as such ensures our basic freedom from government oppression.”
“Conscience does count,” said Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington.”We do have a voice. It is so important to carry on in our work in true freedom, so that in the future, we can say we will continue to carry out our ministry … in all that it means to be American citizens.”
Parker said he was concerned that removal of conscience protection regulations could be the first step along a path leading to a more general acceptance of other procedures which are against Catholic teaching, such as euthanasia, infanticide, and use in research of stem cells provided from human embryos.
Obama already has reversed the policy of his predecessor, George W. Bush, who allowed funding of embryonic stem-cell research only when the stem-cell line had been created before Aug. 9, 2001. An executive order Obama signed last month permits federal funding of stem-cell lines created since then, but does not allow funding of the creation of new lines, leaving that decision to Congress.
Parker, who attends Columbus St. Patrick and Gahanna St. Matthew parishes, is a physician with Northeast Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Gahanna and is the only member of that group who is a Natural Family Planning-only practitioner, meaning he does not prescribe any method of artificial birth control.
“Contraceptives are counter to my beliefs regarding the sanctity of life from conception until death, the dignity of women, and the stability of marriage and the children that result from these unions,” he said. “”I am also concerned about the physical, emotional and psychological effects these agents may have on my patients.”
He said between 15 and 20 physicians belong to the Columbus CMA guild, which represents the second attempt to form such an organization in central Ohio.
Parker said Bishop Frederick Campbell had asked him and other Catholic doctors to revive the group in response to the ethical questions facing physicians today. It has conducted one dinner meeting and is planning similar gatherings on a quarterly basis while making plans to become more visible to the public.
“Actions such as the proposed elimination of conscience protection rules are an attack on the civil rights of people in the medical community,” he said. “They’re an attempt to control dissent in that community and must be opposed so physicians can be allowed the freedom to practice in a manner they feel would most benefit their patients.”