The Faithful Scribbler

A Catholic Mother In A Secular World

Medical Ethics and Your Own Care

on April 11, 2010

There is a lot to think about with regards to your own medical care.  I could write NOVELS on the sad state of medical ethics in this country today– where Catholic nurses are taught that a person has the right to end their own life, and that God would approve of this “dignified” choice. 

Where doctors abort babies because they “might” be ectopic, instead of waiting a few days to collect all the data.

Where we encourage people to use contraception so as not to potentially pass along genetic problems to their children.

Where we encourage couples older than a certain age to use birth control, lest they bear a child “who suffers from” or “who is afflicted by” Down’s Syndrome (Trisomy 21).

We teach people that bearing a child is their RIGHT, no matter what it takes to achieve pregnancy.  We teach people that “donating” their genetic material to another couple isn’t REALLY the same as fathering the child in question (IUI).  We’re so accepting of strange family combinations that we downplay the emotional ramifications for a child conceived in such a way!

We have created man made life support machines, capable of keeping a brain dead person alive indefinately.  Consequently, we have created the need for family members to decide to “unplug” each other from these machines, thus deciding the exact moment a loved one will die.

Sometimes I think as a civilization, we don’t have enough forsight to counterbalance our technological capabilities.  I’m not sure God intended things this way.  I’m not sure He intended for us to get so close to controlling our own bodies that we delude ourselves that we have (and are entitled to have) SOLE control over when a person is created, and when a person expires!

I’m not sure if the above rambling makes any sense– it makes perfect sense to me.  I’ve blogged previously about a person’s “right” to have children.  My position is firmly that a CHILD has a RIGHT to be the product of a loving union between married parents– the RIGHT to be conceived and born with dignity and grace befitting a human person.  Not created in a lab, not carried by a surrogate, not conceived from anonymous donor sperm so that one parent must always remain a mystery!

I’ve had a fair few medical issues in my rather short life.  I almost died when I was 2 years old from febrile seizures.  Then again in high school, I contracted meningitis, and again, nearly didnt make it.  I have an autoimmune disorder (Lupus– SLE), which, while currently in full remission, has caused and may continue to cause, organ affection.  I have endured three miscarriages, this last of which nearly took my life. 

On more than one occasion, I have had to contact the church for guidance about my own medical care.  Typically, when I call the parish office to ask what I should do, I have very little time before a decision needs to be made.  Also typically, the priest in the office at the time doesn’t know what to tell me, and has to contact the diocesan office to find out.

What this tells me is that the lines are so gray– what is accepted by society is so well engrained– what is pushed by doctors as the “usual” procedure is so acceptable to so many people– that it’s hard for anybody to be SURE they are following the medical ethics teachings of the church until they do some heavy research! 

You think certain things are no-brainers– abortion? always wrong.  Embryonic stem cell testing?  always wrong.  But what about other things?  What about organ donation?  What about unplugging someone on life support whom doctors have said won’t make it without the machine, so that someone else with a good prognosis can have their organs?

What about ectopic pregnancy?   I’ve been through two of them now– one of which was not life threatening and one of which was.  Strangely enough, the more minor ecoptic pregnancy had far more ethical concerns!

I refused to allow the doctor to give me methotrexate to kill the baby and flush her out of my tube.  He was FURIOUS.  He seemed to think I didnt realize that the tube could rupture and I could die.  I think HE didnt realize that he was asking me to murder my own child on the OFF chance that the tube would rupture (the chances during this pregnancy were very low because of the location of hte baby within the tube).  Finally the child miscarried on her own- My Sarah Faith left the world at the hand of God, NOT at my own hand, nor that of my doctor!  Her placenta, however, kept growing.

The priest I contacted to ask about taking methotrexate for still growing placental tissue had no idea.  Fortunately, he was able to get an answer from the Diocese within the hour.  Later that day the doctor administered methotrexate and saved my fallopian tube.  He was still furious that I had refused the methotrexate up until that point.  He is also no longer my doctor!

I read about a pro-life OBGYN by the name of Dr. Robert Scanlon, in a Catholic magazine.  He is a practicing Catholic, and a champion of natrual family planning, treating medical conditions to enable NATURAL conception of children, and maintaining his practices in line with the teachings of the church.  He is also a super friendly, very sincere man, whom I enjoyed meeting very much!  I cannot recommend him highly enough!

For this last pregnancy, with little Noah John, I wasn’t able to get an appointment with Dr Scanlon, and so I saw someone else in his practice.  In fact, in the last week, I’ve seen EVERYONE else in his practice– three other doctors who are all wonderful, kind, compassionate, and blessedly PRO LIFE!  When the crisis came, and the doctors realized Noah was in my tube and I would need exploratory surgery, I was nervous.  I needed the new doctor to know that I would NOT allow them to do anything that would take the life of my baby, unless it fell under the guidelines of the Pope Paul Institue.

The Pope Paul Institute outlines, in the case of ectopic pregnancy where the mother’s life is threatened, that the surgeon remove the fallopian tube encasing the child– but not act directly upon the child itself.  The surgeon may only act upon the mother’s body, by removing the tube. 

When the surgeon was discussing with me all of the possiblities that could happen once she opened me up, I explained how I felt.  And she agreed!  SHe said it was important that I knew that NO ONE in their practice would ever act outside of hte church’s teachings and end the life of a child.  In the event that she needed to remove the tube, or that the child should already have died, she offered to have the child baptized.

We didnt know until she opened me up that my tube had fully ruptured.  We didnt know taht I was bleeding out internally.  I’d had no symptoms of that– I was walking around, talking, not in any pain.  I even drove myself to the hospital!  Had I waited just a few more hours to get there, I would probably have lost my life.  Even without realizing it at the time, I was in a real true emergency situation.

And I had in my corner a team of physicians whose belief system fell in line with my own.  A doctor and a surgeon who BELIEVE in God! Who subscribe to the tenants of my faith!  Who practice medicine under the guidelines of the Catholic Church!  These people have been an unbelieveable blessing to me this past week!  They saved my life.  They baptized my Noah.

So what is the point of my rambling?  The point is that you have to KNOW what you believe in BEFORE the crisis comes, so that when you’re in a pinch, you can defend your position and insist upon the right procedures/care from your team.  I think we have a responsiblity, especially in this crazy mixed up world of medical technology, so make sure we have thought about these issues.  The last thing you want is to be caught off guard!

I managed to find a medical team, for obstetic issues at least, whom I can trust to act as God commands, not as society commands.  What a blessing!  But I need to do some real thinking about other issues in medical ethics.  I need to know what the right thing to do is BEFORE the crisis arises.  And I encourage you all to do the same!

Start here: www.catholic.org

Check the Ask an Apologist section of the forums with your specific medical ethics questions.  The apologist will provide the church’s position, as well as supporting documentation for any question you have!  We can’t just take the word of medical professionals– we have to discern what God wants first!

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