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Photo: Joseph Romagnano
Father Seraphim Michalenko, MIC (left), with Sr. Marie Thomas Fabre; Marie Romagnano, RN, the founder of the Marian Fathers’ healthcare apostolate, Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy; Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre Normand; and Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC.
Love, Mercy and Patients
By Dan Valenti (May 3, 2012)
A miraculous presence graced the eighth annual "Medicine, Bioethics, and Spirituality" conference hosted by Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy and the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception on May 1-2 at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.
The keynote speaker was Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre Normand, RN, the French nun who was instantly healed of Parkinson's disease through the intercession of Pope John Paul II, who himself suffered from the illness.
A Sudden and Total Cure
"I was suddenly and totally cured during the night of June 2 to June 3, 2005, as a result of prayers of my religious family," Sr. Marie told a rapt audience of 250 doctors, nurses, caregivers, and other healthcare pros. Her "family" is her congregation, the Little Sisters of the Catholic Maternities. About five and a half years later, Pope Benedict XVI approved the findings of Aix-en-Provence Archbishop Claude Feidt "that what had happened was unexplainable. We cannot understand why she is the way you see her today."
Sister Marie recounted the sequence of events over the years that led to her miraculous recovery. She began showing symptoms of Parkinson's in the early 90s. In 2001, doctors diagnosed Parkinson's. In 2005, sister's symptoms got so bad she asked to be relieved of her nursing duties. Sister Marie Thomas Fabre, RN, mother general of the Little Sisters, told her "John Paul II has not had his last word." It was June 2, 2005, only a couple months following the death of John Paul II.
That night, Sr. Marie's symptoms vanished.
Sister Marie said the healing went beyond the body: "This healing is physical, but it has touched my inmost being and my whole existence. ... This is like a second birth, a new life, and my spiritual life has been renewed."
Physician-Assisted Suicide: A Thorny Question
Renewal of the spirit is an apt way to phrase the purpose of the speakers at this popular conference, which had as its theme: "If you believe, you will see the glory of God." How do healthcare professionals introduce the spiritual dimension into their practices and keep it alive and flourishing? The question touches every aspect of the healing and caring arts.
Doctor John Howland, MD, executive director of the Worcester Guild of the Catholic Medical Association, addressed the question of suicide, particularly, physician-assisted suicide (PAS). PAS will be on the November ballot in Massachusetts, and the referendum will be binding.
In PAS, a doctor helps another person voluntarily bring about his or her own death. Doctor Howland noted the semantics of the issue, how proponents of PAS avoid referring to the practice as "suicide" in favor of "aid in dying," "death with dignity," or "choice in dying."
"PAS is not euthanasia," Dr. Howland said. "In PAS, a physician assists an individual to voluntarily commit suicide [that is, the doctor writes a prescription]. In euthanasia, a physician actively ends a life or kills another person in order to relieve pain and suffering [for example, injects a lethal drug]."
PAS is currently legal in Oregon and Washington state. Around the world, Columbia, Germany, Luxemburg, Netherlands, and Switzerland have legalized PAS. The Church is opposed to PAS on a moral basis.
PAS, Dr. Howland said, is contrary to natural law, since it "violates the instinct for self-preservation." It is also contrary to society, to the doctor's oath to preserve life, to stewardship, and to love. Doctor Howland pointed to passage 2280 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of."
He shared the website nodoctorprescribedsuicide.com for those looking for more information.
Ethical Issues on the Edges of Life and Death
Father Germain Kopaczynski, OFM Conv., a bioethicist and former director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, echoed the counsel of the Catechism's section 2280, comparing and contrasting the two fundamental approaches to the human condition. They are Pythagoras's statement, "Man is the measure of all things" and "What is man, that thou are mindful of Him," from Psalm 8.
The first, he said, places man at the center of the universe. The second puts God in the center. Those two approaches to life represent our two options in confronting life, Fr. Germain said, pointing to Deuteronomy 30:19: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore, choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice, and cleaving to Him, for that means life to you."
That passage presents our two choices in life, Fr. Germain says, and it is a theme that runs throughout the length of Scripture. It also brings wisdom to bear on the thorny moral and ethical issues that have been raised in healthcare, particularly with the advances in technology and the capability of medical science to both initiate, prolong, and end life.
"When you are not sure what to do," Fr. Germain advised, "choose life." That is the Church's position, and it cuts across disciplinary lines in the healthcare field to include the roles of doctors, nurses, social workers, caregivers, and the others. "In a sense, bioethics deals with absolutely everything."
Bioethics occurs especially with technology's role "at the edges of life," Fr. Germain said, for example, birth control, abortion, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, stem cell research, and cloning. It also becomes prominent in end-of-life issues, for instance, machines and other artificial means that can keep people technically alive.
There are no easy answers, Fr. Germain said, but the will to life, given by God to His creatures, must be the guiding principle.
Conscience and Patient Autonomy, One and the Other
Another highlight of the conference was the panel discussion on "Patient Autonomy and a Well-Formed Conscience," led by the Most Rev. Robert McManus, bishop of Worcester. Panelists included Fr. Germain; Dr. Howland; the Very Rev. Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior of the Marian Fathers in the United States and Argentina; Dr. Ronald Sobecks, MD, from the department of hematology, oncology, and blood disorders, Cleveland Clinic, Taussig Cancer Institute; and Marie Romagnano, RN, founder, Healthcare Professional for Divine Mercy.
The panel took questions from the conferees.
In his opening remarks, Bishop McManus defined the thrust of conscience as the inner and inherent ability of human beings to know the difference between good and evil and to choose between them.
Patient autonomy, the bishop said, "began to emerge in the 1960s and 70s as a reaction to medical paternalism, challenging the accepted wisdom of 'Doctor knows best.'" Doctors have some of the answers, certainly, but the bishop said the Catholic understanding of conscience impels us to act in service to our conscience.
"Humans are created in God's image," the bishop said, "and therefore have intelligence and freedom, which allows us to act in an autonomous way."
The bishop cautioned against "unbridled autonomy" favored by secularism as "not realistic" from a Christian point of view. Nonetheless, "we are created — creatures of God — for autonomy. We must first be accountable to God the Creator." This accountability is "absolutely critical in living a moral life" said Bishop McManus. In this way, "we can face the complex realities of the human condition open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit," and "our consciences can actively engage in the realities we must deal
with" in life.
The conference began and concluded with Holy Mass. Bishop McManus served as main celebrant to open the conference, with Fr. Kaz the main celebrant at the conclusion. The closing Mass included a special blessing and an act of consecration of all medical professionals.
Other speakers included Mother Marie Thomas; Dave Came, executive editor of Marian Helper magazine and Marian Press, the publishing apostolate of the Marian Fathers; Dr. Robert Stackpole, director, John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy; Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC; Dr. Sobecks; Fr. Kaz; Dr. Bryan Thatcher, MD, founder, Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy; Debbie Slavin, RN, emergency room staff nurse, Miriam Hospital, Providence, RI; Ruth Lackie, RN, staff nurse, solid organ transplant unit, Children's Hospital, Boston, Mass.; and Nurse Marie.
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