Medical director receives degree in bioethics from pontifical university
By Christopher M. Riggs
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.- 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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