Bioethics summit examines clash between secular, Christian worldviews

By Estefania Aguirre

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Doctors from around the world are meeting in Rome to talk about the growing challenges they are facing as practicing Catholics.

The four-day conference at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome is being hosted by the World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations to address ethical and moral standards in Europe.

"As a psychiatrist it's been hard for me to stick to my faith, but I've always tried it," said Doctor Ermanno Pavesi from Altdorf, Switzerland.

"In my clinic we still don't have problems with euthanasia because the majority of the employees are against it,” he explained. “Even in the most serious cases, the nurses always try to cure the sick until the end of their life.”

"But we've many problems involving the future of medicine because the concept of anthropology is becoming secularized. It'll make it more difficult to reconcile the Christian vision of man with current concepts of the sick," Pavesi said.

 The event called “Bioethics and Christian Europe” is also focusing on re-evangelizing European Christians.

"The Church has done a lot because about one in every six patients in the United States is in a Catholic hospital," said American psychiatrist Kevin Morrell.

"But recently there've been new regulations that challenge our freedom of conscience because Catholic institutions now have to provide for contraception," said the former president of the U.S. Catholic Medical Association, referring to the Health and Human Services mandate.

"It's an interesting time for us because we've significant opposition,” with over 40 lawsuits against the government “to defend our freedom," he added. "It'll probably cause people to examine their own conscience in the light of Church teaching."

"Right now there are significant economic challenges, which are the penalties. Another challenge is whether or not a Catholic institution can remain open and continue to provide services to the poorest of the poor and right up the line of the socio-economic field."

The safe harbor period for religious organizations that do not fall under the mandate’s strict exemption ends in August 2013.

But those who own secular businesses and have objections to offering the mandated coverage are currently being required to comply with the regulations. Those who do not implement the required changes will have to pay a fine of $100 per employee, per day.

Morrell also reflected on the growth of secularism and its impact on medicine.
"Secularization of societies and medicine will have to be tempered with faith. And our faith says that the new comes through Christ himself.

"The culture has nothing to be afraid of the presentation of the Gospel, which appreciates the fullness of the human person and therefore is truly new,'' he said.

One conference participant, a third year resident in surgical medicine from Lithuania, offered his take. "When you're learning from older doctors, and they do something against your conscience, you want to find examples of people who stand up for their conscience.”

"Medicine will have more problems in our growing secularized world because ethics and religion is a ground on which you can base your decisions in medicine," he added.

"Medicine didn't evolve by itself so it can't define its limits on its own, so we need philosophical and theological ethics.

The bioethics conference at Sacred Heart will end on Nov. 18.

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