During the Symposium, attended by more than 100 priests, religious, pastoral agents and health care professionals from the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Archbishop Gomez offered some introductory words on issues surrounding the natural end of human life.
The archbishop began by reminding those present that both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict have referred to a preponderance of cultural expressions of sin, these manifestations make up, they have said repeatedly, an anti-life culture or a culture of death.
“Real culture,” Archbishop Gomez said, “should enhance the perfection to which human persons are called by God. In opposition to the culture of death we need to work on the culture of life which promotes and defends the dignity of the human person.
“The corner stone of such a culture of life,” he reemphasized, “is the defense of the human person’s right to life from its very beginning to its natural end. When a society and a nation can defend, protect, and promote such rights and promote human dignity, then we are on the verge of a culture of life.”
The archbishop also noted the origin and purpose of life from which this understanding of human dignity flows. “Human life is a gift of God,” he said, “and the meaning of life is found in giving and receiving love. That is why having society promoting the defense of human life is promoting loving protection of the human person.”
Archbishop Gomez was followed by Dr. John Haas, President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, who spoke on the morally obligatory and morally optional means of prolonging life.
“The task of medicine is to care even when it cannot cure,” Dr. Haas began. As such, he continued, “physicians and their patients must evaluate the use of technology at their disposal.”
Furthermore, patients and doctors must reflect on, “the innate dignity of human life in all its dimensions and on the purpose of medical care as indispensable for formulating a true moral judgment.”
Dr. Haas explained the concept of "dying with dignity" requires all men and woment to consider the fact that "the human person has an innate, God-given dignity. Such dignity of the human person is seen most clearly in moral actions.”
Haas acknowledged that “sometimes there is the temptation to think that human suffering or ills diminish dignity,” but he insisted that in fact “only actions unworthy of a human person diminish one's dignity.”
The medical ethics expert also recalled that the Church does not support the preservation of life of a terminally or gravelly ill person by all circumstances and by all means, as some media tends to portray the Catholic position, but it does defend the inviolability of the human being right to life.
“Once you reach the point in which is ok a physician to directly kill someone, there is no way to draw a line to stop the process,” Haas offered. “The moral line has to be in the objective dignity of the human person, not in the subjective judgment of either the patient or the physician.”
Following Dr. Haas’s talk, Dr. Robert J. Buchanan, Director of Functional and Restorative Neuro-surgery, at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio explained the "Medical and moral aspects of defining death" and Ernest E. Karam, from Catholic Lawyers Guild explored the topic, "What is a Medical Directive - May Catholic have a living will?”
Other speakers at the event included Fr. John A. Leies, Professor of Theology at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, who discussed, "The Catholic Church’s Teaching on Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide;" and Ms. Rosie Perez, Vice-President of Mission Integration at San Antonio's Christus Santa Rosa Hospital who explained “Patient’s Rights and Ethics Committees in a Hospital Setting... What you need to know."
Fr. Leies, commented on the timely need for the archbishop’s book, saying that "it takes up important crucial issues of the day, issues of life and death that affect not only Catholics, but all people of our country.”
The book, he said, “will be useful because the issues are presented simply and in easily understandable language, giving clear answers to crucial moral questions."
"A Will to Live: Clear Answers on End of Life Issues" is the second book in a series of recently launched by Basilica Press entitled "The Shepherd’s Voice," a collection of books written by Bishops in a question and answer format, addressing key controversial issues of pressing interest for today’s Catholic.
The first book of the collection was "Catholics in the Public Square," by Bishop James Olmsted from Phoenix.
Archbishop Gomez said he began considering writing this latest book in the year 2000 when his mother died after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for almost a decade. He said the memories of his mother's passing were awakened when the world "witnessed with horror the death of Terri Schindler-Schiavo. This tragic event aroused a wave of doubt in many Catholics regarding the meaning of life and death, about our final hours, about what dignified death really is and what it is not.”
To learm more about the "Shepherd's Voice" series, visit the Basilica Press website at: www.basilicapress.com
Several leading Catholic medical experts joined the Archbishop of San Antonio, José Gomez, to present a symposium based on his new booklet, “A Will to Live: Clear Answers on End of Life Issues," this Saturday, March 17th. The symposium was sponsored by San Antonio’s Christus Santa Rosa Health Care Center.