Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 28, 2010
Take a stand for what we do believe
Too often, we seem to focus on what Catholics oppose instead of what we believe and support
ETHICS MADE REAL
In December 2008, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a magisterial teaching entitled "Instruction Dignitas personae on Certain Bioethical Issues." Dignitas personae means "the dignity of a person," and the instruction served as a follow-up to an earlier 1987 statement on the gift of life (Donum vitae).
An often-quoted line from Dignitas personae states: "Behind every 'no' in the difficult task of discerning between good and evil, there shines a great 'yes' to the recognition of the dignity and inalienable value of every single and unique human being called into existence"(n. 37).
What is so powerful about this statement is the challenge to be clear equally about what we do stand for, as much as what we do not. Catholic hospitals need to answer both declarations, and to do so consistently.
In last month's column, I spoke about the defeat of a private member's bill that would have established euthanasia and assisted suicide as a legal right in this country. Thanks to coordinated lobby efforts and personal resolve of those Canadians who contacted their elected officials urging them to say "no" to such proposed legislation, it was also an opportunity to say "yes" to something much more.
BEWARE THE NAY-SAYERS
Without a compelling moral vision as to what we do desire as a just and compassionate society, and offering practical suggestions of how this may be achieved, we may only come acrss as nay-sayers, who have nothing positive to say about anything.
Rather, we need to clearly articulate and advocate for public policy to counter the insidious attitudes in our throwaway society that regard embryos, children, the disabled, the elderly and dying as mere disposable objects. By remaining silent and not using our positive influence, we risk perpetuating the very "culture of death" condemned by Pope John Paul II in Evangelium vitae (The Gospel of Life).
The challenge remains: what is the "great yes" to which we are called?
As a ministry of the Church, Covenant Health voiced opposition to proposed euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation through our own public advocacy efforts.
But we also offered practical support through our Seniors and End of Life strategies of how our organization can help support the elderly to age in place and to flourish, and to support the dying with holistic care of their physical, mental, spiritual, psychological and social needs.
The "great yes' that our organization will uphold, in community with the Church, is the inalienable dignity of every human being to whom we provide care. The healing stories of Jesus show a compassionate and respectful attitude to those in need, often breaking social taboos as to whom to extend healing, in what circumstances and in whose company.
Whether it was restoring a centurion's servant, healing on the Sabbath, or being alone ministering to the woman at the well, Jesus reveals what good ethics calls us to do without fear of what others may think.
Covenant Health must also undertake the difficult task of discerning between good and evil in the programs and services we choose to offer, as well as in how we treat our staff, address patient complaints, support clinical and administrative decision-making, and allocate resources with integrity in light of who we say we are, even when such choices may be counter-cultural.
This represents one response from faith-based health care. It is only one voice. But together with the voice of the bishops, Catholic parishes, schools, religious orders and the other service agencies of the Church we have the opportunity to clarify what we stand for by sending a resounding "yes" to shape public policy debate.
Far from an academic exercise, such collective advocacy efforts make ethics real in our community by treasuring the dignity of our most vulnerable citizens in a practical and lasting way.
DEFEND OUR CHOICES
In my experience, it is easier to say "no" than it is to stand up for what we will do. It is far more demanding morally to commit the resources for justice sake, and to defend our choices, even when not expedient or popular.
Indeed, in every age we need to follow the example of Christ in taking risks to reach out to the vulnerable and act with moral courage. What specific action are you ready to take today or this week as part of saying "yes"?
(Gordon Self is vice president, mission, ethics and spirituality for Covenant Health and can be reached at email@example.com)
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