Archive of December 13, 2008

Medical director receives degree in bioethics from pontifical university

Wichita, Kan., Dec 13, 2008 (CNA) - Dr. Brungardt, medical director of Wichita’s Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice, has received a licentiate degree in bioethics from the Rome-based School of Bioethics at Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University.  After traveling back and forth from Kansas to Rome over the past four years, Brungardt now has the knowledge to offer assistance to clergy regarding difficult bioethical questions.


The intensive courses in Rome, exams and thesis combined for a rigorous program, said Dr. Brungardt.  Though he had to take ten week or two-week-long trips to Rome over the past four years, he said it was worth it because now, he will be able to assist the bishop, his priests, and many others in the difficult bioethical questions that families and individuals face.


“In theory you can do [the program] in two years,” he said, “but given my responsibilities here and my family, I feel very lucky to have gotten it done in four years.”


Dr. Brungardt was struck by the grounding the students received about the human dignity of the person. “The Theology of the Body and the dignity and worth of the human person – we were constantly coming back to that.”


Not only was the course world-class, so were the instructors.


“They get this international, all-star cast of faculty that come in to teach,” he said, naming instructors such as Bishop Anthony Fisher from Australia, a young Dominican who has written volumes on bioethics, lawyers from Europe who sit on international human rights councils, and lawyers and doctors from around the world who are widely published and highly regarded.


“Then to study a week with one of them day-to-day in classes and then to have interaction with then at lunch or dinner at the cafeteria was really good,” he said.


Dr. Brungardt studied beginning of life issues, how you prove physically and philosophically that this is a human person; end of life issues; environmental issues and their moral underpinnings; social justice issues; and the history of bioethics, how that came to be, and how in the 1960s secular bioethics branched away from what had been Christian bioethics with Humanae Vitae as the hinge of the branch.


Medical ethics isn’t new for Dr. Brungardt. He chairs the Via Christi Regional Medical Center Ethics Committee and has been a consultant for the diocese regarding medical ethics issues for a long time.


“I think of the degree as a deepening and broadening” of my ability to assist the bishop, his priests, and the community, he said. “It’s a more formalization of that…I had plenty of gaps and I hope it helped fill in some of those gaps.”


Dr. Brungardt added that he will also use his new knowledge in his role as a physician caring for patients and families at the end of their lives amidst the many ethical concerns and issues that arise at that time. In addition, it will be valuable in teaching medical students and resident physicians in his role as associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center-Wichita.


After all the work, money, and time away from home, Dr. Brungardt said it was well worth it.


“I can’t give you a sound bite,” he said, “it’s basically all of the above. It was an incredible experience.”


Dr. Brungardt said now that he has completed his studies, it is the people and relationships he made during his studies that have become valuable.


“There are bishops and physicians and lawyers all over the world – and I have their emails,” he said. “I email them one day and they send one back the next day. They are people I would never have otherwise had that relationship with.”


The number of people he became involved with while studying for his licentiate in bioethics became clear on the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 14, after he passed his oral exams.


“I sat down and started sending thank you emails,” he said. “I have to confess that I hadn’t realized until that time just how many people I had to say thank you to and how many people helped me in this in one way or another – if for no other reason than putting up with me being gone so much!”


The letters after your name are one thing, Dr. Brungardt, M.D. BeL, said, but even more important are the relationships and the people who became a part of his life “on so many different levels across the world. It was really something.”


Printed with permission from the Catholic Advance, newspaper from the Diocese of Wichita. 

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Cardinal George welcomes new Vatican bioethics document

Washington D.C., Dec 13, 2008 (CNA) - Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has welcomed the new Vatican document on bioethics for considering the “profound ethical implications” related to procreation and the integrity of marriage.

The document, Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of the Person), is an Instruction from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that was published on Friday.

Noting “some anthropological, theological and ethical elements of fundamental importance,” the document praises the creativity of scientific inquiry and technological advances. It also discusses ethical problems in procreation technologies and the new procedures involving the manipulation of embryos and “the human genetic patrimony,” such as cloning.

Dignitas Personae also advocates respect for the human being from the moment of his or her conception and declares that the origin of human life “has its authentic context in marriage and the family.”

“We welcome the Instruction as theologians, medical personnel, researchers and married couples consider new scientific and medical procedures that have profound ethical implications bearing upon the procreation of children and the integrity of marriage,” Cardinal George said in a December 12 statement.

“We applaud developments which advance medical progress with respect for the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception,” the cardinal stated.

On the other hand, the head of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference said, “We oppose discarding or manipulating innocent lives to benefit future generations, or promoting the creation of new human life in depersonalized ways that substitute for the loving union between a husband and wife.”

According to the cardinal, behind every ‘no’ in ethical argument “there shines a great ‘yes’ to the recognition of the dignity and inalienable value of every single and unique human being called into existence.”

He noted both the Vatican document’s approval of fertility treatments which successfully re-establish the “normal function of human procreation” and its praise for “stem cell research and therapies that respect the inherent dignity of the human person.”

Among the topics considered, the instruction addresses the difficulties faced by researchers and families in the proposed use of unethically obtained cells and tissues, such as vaccines which used tissue derived from abortions.

While researchers have a duty to distance themselves and their work from unjust situations, “Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such ‘biological material’,” the document says.

“Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask their healthcare system to make other types of vaccine available.”

The document does not reject embryo adoption outright but warns of its associated medical, psychological and legal problems, and also emphasizes the moral wrong of producing and freezing human embryos.

Dignitas Personae also rules that drugs and devices used to prevent the implantation of the embryo involve the sin of abortion, since the embryo is a human person.

On the matter of gene therapy, the document says “procedures used on somatic cells for strictly therapeutic purposes are in principle morally licit.” It warns against “germ line” gene therapy which would affect all of a person’s cells, including his or her reproductive cells.

In its current state, gene therapy experimentation has massive and unacceptable risks and involves manipulating human embryos in the laboratory, the Vatican document warns.

“It is not morally permissible to act in a way that may cause possible harm to the resulting progeny,” it states, also warning against “designer babies,” seeing in such genetic engineering a “eugenic mentality” that would divide humanity based on arbitrary and questionable criteria of human worth.

The creation of human/animal hybrid embryos was also touched on. The Instruction calls them “an offense against the dignity of human beings on account of the admixture of human and genetic elements capable of disrupting the specific identity of man.”

It also warned against technological ideologies that seek to usurp God’s role in creation.

“In stating the ethical negativity of these kinds of interventions which imply an unjust domination of man over man, the church also recalls the need to return to an attitude of care for people and of education in accepting human life in its concrete historical finite nature,” the document insists.

It closes with an affirmation of modern science and technology, saying that, through them, man “participates in the creative power of God and is called to transform creation” in service to the dignity of all human beings.

Dignitas Personae is intended to build upon Donum Vitae, a 1987 CDF document on reproductive technologies and embryo experimentation.

To read a summary of the document please visit:

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Catholic hospital and bishop at odds over sterilizations

Tyler, Texas, Dec 13, 2008 (CNA) - Controversy over alleged unethical sterilizations performed at a Catholic hospital continues in the Diocese of Tyler as Trinity Mother Francis Hospital and the local bishop dispute whether the hospital has performed tubal ligations and if the procedures violated Catholic medical ethics.

A statement from the hospital insists it does not perform direct sterilizations and reports that the provincial superior of its sponsoring religious order hopes to meet with Bishop of Tyler Alvaro Corrada.

However, an official with the Diocese of Tyler accuses the hospital’s statement of being equivocal and reports that the hospital erroneously does not consider tubal ligations to be direct sterilizations.

The hospital’s December 11 statement states: “Trinity Mother Frances does not perform direct sterilizations.”

The statement claims that “Medically necessary indirect sterilizations” are permitted as provided in “the second sentence of ERD #53.” Medical necessity is determined on a case-by-case basis by OB/GYN physicians in consultation with the hospital’s ethics committee.

Catholic Health Services ERDs, or Ethical and Religious Directives, are guidelines that have been laid out to inform medical institutions and professionals about Catholic medical ethics.

The hospital claims to have had “ongoing communication” since “at least July 2008” with the Diocese of Tyler regarding the alleged ethics violations. It also reports that the Provincial Superior of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, Trinity Mother Frances’ religious sponsor, has requested a personal meeting with the bishop.

Father Gavin Vaverek, Promoter of Justice in the Diocese of Tyler, responded to the hospital’s statement in an e-mail obtained by CNA. He said that Bishop Corrada’s investigation found that the hospital had performed tubal ligations, but had reduced the number of procedures by fifty percent.

“The bishop explicitly noted that most of these [procedures] were tubal ligations which Trinity Mother Frances had been allowing and continued to allow because it was using a ‘serious mis-interpretation’ of Catholic teaching,” he wrote.

The bishop issued a December 1 statement calling on the hospital “publicly to admit its error and pledge to cease the procedures.”

“It does not deny offering tubal ligations,” the priest said about the hospital’s statement.

“Having admitted the procedures, Trinity Mother Frances now wishes to continue them in the face of clear teaching and directive of the bishop by reasserting its discredited opinion that the procedures really are not ‘direct sterilizations.’ Essentially, it is saying the bishop is wrong when he asserts that tubal ligations are direct sterilization.”

Father Vaverek noted that the ERD cited by the hospital’s statement refers to a Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document which “explicitly states that tubal ligations are direct sterilizations that may never be justified and that any procedure to render a patient infertile to avoid dangers from future pregnancies are direct sterilizations.”

It “denies utterly” tubal ligations and other direct sterilizations are therapeutic procedures that can be considered medically necessary. 

“And it states that all contrary opinions are mistaken and may not be used at Catholic hospitals to justify tubal ligations and other direct sterilizations by the evasion of calling them ‘indirect sterilizations.’ The Vatican statement cited in the footnote, in fact, is directed precisely against the sort of claim Trinity Mother Frances is trying to make.”

In a Friday phone interview CNA spoke more about the matter with Father Vaverek.

“Bishop Corrada was very saddened that the hospital chose to release such an equivocal statement without communicating it to the diocese directly,” Father Vaverek said. “The diocese has always released its public statements to the hospital prior to their release.”

Father Vaverek said the bishop was also saddened that the hospital’s statement did not address the issues “in any substantive fashion.”

He also questioned the hospital’s description of its communications with the diocese as “ongoing.” He reported that there had been “some initial contact” between the bishop and the hospital in connection with the initial investigation into the alleged ethics violations, but “there has been limited contact since then.”

“They have not replied to the bishop’s letters asking for a direct reply,” the priest told CNA, before criticizing the hospital’s statement.

“It says less than nothing. At best, it is a very equivocal statement.”

Referring to the statement’s assertion “Trinity Mother Frances does not perform direct sterilizations,” Father Vaverek argued: “Strictly speaking, the only way one can interpret that is that they are no longer doing tubal ligations. But I don’t believe that is the case.” Instead, Father Vaverek believes that the hospital erroneously considers tubal ligations to be a form of indirect sterilization.

“Indirect sterilization has to deal with a present pathology, and that is not the case in tubal ligations,” he continued, referencing several statements made by the Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith.

“The hospitals have never put forward an argument that they do not do tubal ligations,” he stated.

Father Vaverek also disputed the hospital statement’s claim that the Provincial Superior of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth has requested a personal meeting with the bishop.

“The provincial has not requested a meeting with the bishop, as far as the bishop knows.”

CNA contacted Trinity Mother Frances for comment but did not receive a response by press time. CNA also tried to contact the hospital’s vice-president of legal counsel without success.

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