Advancements in medicine that have leapfrogged existing standard care practices, especially in reproductive science, are putting a premium on the view that “just because we could, doesn’t mean we should.”
That was the assessment of Dr. Marie T. Hilliard, director of bioethics and public policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center.
Dr. Hilliard and Father Pacholczyk were the presenters Nov. 16 at a seminar entitled “A Crash Course in Catholic Bioethics” at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City. The seminar was hosted by the Diocese of Knoxville Office of Health Services and the St. Luke Guild of East Tennessee.
Some 110 health care professionals and people in the Diocese of Knoxville interested in the rising issue of ethics in health care attended the conference. Bishop Richard F. Stika celebrated a White Mass for health care professionals attending the conference.
Sponsors of the event were the Paraclete Catholic Bookstore, Alexian Brothers Senior Ministries and Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, and the Knox County Chapter of Tennessee Right to Life.
Sister Mariana Koonce, RSM, a physician who directs the diocesan Office of Health Services, opened the day-long conference. Dr. Hilliard then began the seminar with an overview of Catholic health care and bioethical principals. She was followed by Father Pacholczyk, who spoke on “Beginning of Life Issues: In Vitro Fertilization and Assisted Reproductive Technologies.”
He also led a session on stem cells and cloning called “Understanding the Scientific Issues and the Moral Objections.”
Dr. Hilliard concluded the seminar with a session called “Care and Treatment Decisions for Compromised Patients or Patients at the End of Life.”
Father Pacholczyk said in vitro fertilization is a prime example of what Catholic bioethicists call a slippery slope.
“They (some in reproductive medicine) are strip-mining embryos for desired cells. And it is becoming politically correct to redefine when pregnancy begins. It’s not just a slippery slope. It’s downhill skiing,” he said.
Talking about stem cell science and the controversy surrounding it, Father Pacholczyk said there are many media myths surrounding stem cells, namely that they only come from embryos, that the Catholic Church is against stem cell research, and that embryo stem cells are the most effective in treating people with disease or injuries.
He said there is science involving adult stem cells that proves these stem cells are effective in treating humans and are safe and supported by the Catholic Church.
He noted that it has been an uphill battle for the objections to embryonic stem cell science to be heard, with many in the medical community, in government and high-profile supporters pushing the harvesting of stem cells from embryos and fetuses.
“However, natural law keeps giving us the moral insights we need,” Father Pacholczyk said.
Dr. Hilliard said she is concerned that those in the health care community are increasingly at odds as science makes great strides in curing disease, healing injuries, and increasing quality of life — sometimes at significant cost — while providers look to control costs through rationing of care.
“We have great concerns about the inability of the providers to make the best decisions for the patients and the providers as health care becomes more economically driven,” she said. “Our ethical and religious directives can have a profound impact on directing health care.”