by BISHOP AUGUSTINE HARRIS, Episcopal Adviser to FIAMC.
On Sunday, May 26, in the Civic Square in Barcelona a local band was playing dance music. The invitation to the dance was open to everyone. Ten or twelve groups of young people joined hands and the dance began—not a modern dance, but the traditional dances of Catalonia.
Nearby in the Cathedral. Catholic doctors from many countries and from all continents were gathering for the opening Mass of a congress. It was the thirteenth congress of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations.
During the first session thc speaker asked "How many doetors joined in the dance?" It was not a facetious question. He developed the point to illustrate the diversity of culture and mentality in which a doctor works while he himself must remain himself.
As the congress developed there appeared a diversity among the doctors themselves. The term "Catholic doctor" is normally used as a restrictive label. Three days in Barcelona with Catholic doctors revealed a variety of skills and interpretation. To begin with, theyeneral title of the conference was: "Freedom," a heading sufficiently vague to leave every topic "open ended" and "in need of further research."
The opening was academic. The first task was to decide what was meant by freedom."At once the conference showed its variety. Five delegates spoke to the notion of freedom and a division of outlook appeared between the west and the east.
On balance, the oriental concept of freedom appeared warm, more human. But when a delegate from the west. commented favourably on the oriental presentation he was asked what he meant by the Orient and so a new range of sub-divisions opened up before the congress.
The day the British delegates flew to the congress the Times gave coverage to a probation officer who claimed professional confidentiality in the courts. In English Law no person. not even a doctor or priest, can -claim a right to silence. In practice demands for information may not be made, but no written law protects confidentiality, even the confidentiality of the confessional.
What the English Law does not allow, the Minister of Health does allow -a doctor need not tell parents of the medical-moral treatment he is offering to a daughter under the age of sixteen. Does this apply to all forms of' treatment?
Does this mean that the doctor is to be the agent who divides the family?.ls the doctor himself being manipulated into becoming the anti-family doctor? Is this yet another threat to the medical ethos—divisive rather than supportive? In other words, is it even good medicine?
The decision to withhold information from the parents of an adolescent may be a test case and it is a pity that this point was not pursued. But the adolescent was used as a catalyst to highlight the doctors' own limitations.
The "self-sufficiency" of the adult can be as frustrating as the "confusion" of the adolescent. The adolescent has just emerged from a concrete, matter-offact world to a world which in eludes abstract, somewhat unreal notions.
The conference in Barcelona appeared to he moving in reverse. From theorising, the debates became _practical and, for some, agonising.
An Asian doctor put it this way: "I try to inform my conscience but moral theoloyy does not ask all the questions I must answer. So I go back to principles. I work them out as conscientiously as I can and come to a decision. But I find that I have reached a conclusion different from those of Catholic: colleagues who are at least as honest and intelligent as I claim to be.
"1 low do I know when my conscience is informed?" Certainly a young doctor in practice in Indonesia appeared to reach conclusions different from a Western academic, a bachelor in his sixties.
And yet sometimes the delegates appeared to agree and were unwilling to admit the fact. The difficulty arose from their very varied points of deporture, one insisting on the principle and the other on the practice, while
both slipped in subordinate clauses to acknowledge the validity of their colleagues' position. Rather like the motorist and the pedestrian agreeing on freedom of the highway, but denouncing one another as a threat to it.
These conferences can be dismissed as a lot of talk. Haven't we all suffered, especially during the past ten years? But sometimes a conference is labelled a "talking shop" by a person who has failed to make the other delegates sit at his own feet.
Underlying this conference there was frustration and urgency. This was nothing to do with the conference as such. It was a mixture which the doctors brought with them and no doubt have brought back with them.
There is, however, a difference. They now know that their unease is not a personal neurosis. After forty-one lectures followed by a final message from Karl Rahner and the Holy See, the doctors will know that their hesitation in medico-moral decisions arises, not from an unworthy attempt to bend rules, but a deep rooted desire to do What is right before
God, his Church and the patients they serve. In our own country the medical mood is open and responsible. The Catholic doctor is disadvantaged, not so much because of the ethical stance of his non-Catholic colleagues, as because of the demands of a society insisting on the best of both worlds. The moral ideals of a Catholic who is a doctor are shared by the majority of his colleagues.
It may well be that the responsible voice of medicine is seving a great deal about the dignity of life and we are disinclined to listen,. still less, believe our ears. Host, very rarely do we turn to doctors as a responsible profession and ask them to tell us what is happening?
The instinctive curiosity we have in medical matters (don't some newspapers sell instant health?) must lead to questions such as: "Is it all right to—?" It would seem to be a retrograde step for the Church to give the exact blueprints of every medical move. It would be equally disturbing if the Church kept aloof, disengaged from the real happenings until morality has stampeded out of control.