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Physicians must reach out to their patients with care, concern and focus on the life of each patient, Msgr. Timothy J. Moran said in his homily at the Annual White Mass for Catholic health-care professionals held at St. John’s Seminary.
This year, the Mass was held on Oct. 15, the feast day of St. Theresa de Avila. St. Theresa, a doctor of the Church, deeply understood the humanity of Christ, which is a “gateway” to a “deeper understanding of life itself” and the dignity of every human being, said Msgr. Moran, the chaplain for the Guild of St. Luke, which sponsors the annual Mass.
Over 60 doctors attended this year’s White Mass, held each year near the feast day of St. Luke. The Guild of St. Luke, is an organization of Catholic physicians, which began in 1912. The guild is one of many independent guilds associated with the Catholic Medical Association (CMA), a national organization.
“You serve the human person with respect to their health, and health we know is a human good and as a good, it has morals behind it,” Msgr. Moran said. “Every aspect of your human arms is an intrinsically moral undertaking.”
Doctors are very close to humanity and the reality of physical death, he said.
“Sometimes you may be painfully aware of the limitations of humans,” he added. “You are as close to that mystery of what makes us human beings as anyone in our days.”
Archbishop Seán O’Malley was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict, but Msgr. Moran said the archbishop sent prayers and his spiritual presence.
Following the final blessing the Mass, Dr. Carl Brennan lead doctors and medical students in reciting the Hippocratic Oath. The oath comes from St. Luke’s medical writings. He had a medical background, medical training and knowledge in the application of medicine, Brennan said.
At the dinner following the Mass, Brennan, a retired pediatrician from Georgia, was presented with the guild’s St. Martin de Porres Award. Each year, the award is presented to a physician who has done outstanding work.
Guild president, Dr. Helen Jackson, announced that Brennan received the award. She also thanked Dr. David Kennedy, an organist from Rhode Island, and his choir for their music during the Mass and acknowledged several physician seminarians in attendance.
Addressing the gathering, Dr. Gerald P. Corcoran, who will become president of CMA in 2006, spoke about the organization, which he said doubled in membership last year.
The CMA is against abortion, euthanasia and the “creation of a person for spare parts,” he said.
“It’s okay to be a good Catholic and to be a good doctor. We aren’t imposing principles of our religious faith on people,” he added. “We’re talking about the natural moral law. We’re talking about a sense of dignity.”
Corcoran urged medical students to ask the organization for help if they run into conflicts between their religious faith and medical education. He cited the example of a Canadian student who was told he would not be able to graduate because he had not completed lessons in how to perform abortions. The CMA wrote several letters to the dean, and the student was not required to take the lessons, Corcoran said.
Corcoran said Pope John Paul II wrote in a letter that the CMA is a “leaven of understanding.”
“A tiny amount of yeast thrown into a lot of flour can change the whole nature of that flour from paste to bread,” Corcoran said. “Our voices speaking out in defense of human liberty can change the medical moral climate of the entire city and then the country.”
The featured speaker, Dr. Diane Irving, talked about the human embryo and the rise in unscientific terms used to describe embryology. Those terms, which she called “gobbledy-gooks,” are as factually wrong as saying “two plus two equals thirty-seven” or “Chicago is in Florida.” The new gobbledy-gooks in embryology include “pre-embryo,” “product of conception,” and “pregnancy begins at implantation.”
“They fly in the face of common sense,” said Irving, a biologist and lecturer who has taught at Georgetown University, Catholic University and several seminaries. “One doesn’t have to be religious or pro-life to recognize the correct science.”
Some proponents of human cloning are now calling embryos “pre-embryos” because they have not been implanted, but an embryo is recognized as the organism created at fertilization, which becomes a fetus after eight weeks, she said.
According to Irving, the term pre-embryo has been formally rejected by the international nomenclature for human embryology.
The shifting terminology is destroying good science, she added.
“This is the disappearing act,” Irving said. “Instead of human embryo, human person, human being, human organism, human cloning, genetic engineering and their byproducts, we now have only pre-embryos and their substitutes, cells, infertility treatments, bio-tech inventions and stem-cell research.”
Doctors will face these issues in their daily practice. Therefore, it is imperative they educate themselves on the topic, she said.
Grace Chan, a third-year medical student at Harvard, said Catholic morals and values are often not followed in the medical world. “As a medical student, I get kind of caught up in the daily routine,” she said. “It’s refreshing and motivating for me to come and listen to the sermon and remember all the reasons why I do medicine.”
She began her clinical rotation in surgery last July, and said she has heard that many people see abortions being performed during their obstetrics and gynecology rotation. “I think that’s going to be very difficult,” especially since she will be graded for her performance at the clinic, but “the most important is to go with your values and, in the end, the evaluation doesn’t matter,” she said.