Issues concerning health and health care have dominated the news during the past year. So I am very pleased that in this special issue, the Catholic Courier helps us explore some of the enormous questions about which we’ve heard so much, such as end-of-life decision-making, embryonic stem-cell research and access to health care for all.
This also gives me an opportunity to reflect with you on how our Catholic faith helps us make choices in keeping with our traditions and beliefs, and as part of a community of the People of God. For few experiences in life make us more aware of our shared humanity than do issues of health.
We all are familiar with the relief and pure joy that comes when one is confident that an illness — whether our own or that of a loved one — has been successfully treated and health restored. And, who among us is not grateful for the loving care so generously provided by those who chose medicine and health care as careers? In the final days of this earthly life, too, we search for God’s compassion and the help of others as sorrow and grief enter our lives. These shared responses help us to become more fully aware of our interconnection with one another and to realize the need to shape laws, policies and practices that contribute to the common good.
As church, for example, we must continue to address the growing concern that many of our citizens — millions in New York state alone — are not able to access affordable health care. We are told that coverage provided to the poor and elderly through such government programs as Child Health Plus, Medicaid and Medicare might shrink. At the same time, many employers are seeking ways to decrease expenses by shifting health-insurance costs to employees and retirees. Sadly, the escalating costs of health insurance force many families to think twice about whether the family budget allows for insurance or adequate coverage. As Catholics, we must strive to educate ourselves on these issues and work for justice for all.
On another front, we are being asked as residents of New York state to invest tremendous amounts of tax dollars into embryonic stem-cell research. In this experimental research, the lives of human embryos are ended when their cells are extracted for scientific use. As Catholics, we believe that the dignity of the human person flows from creation in God’s image, established at the instant of conception. All of us begin this earthly life at conception; all of us require the nurturance and protection of others to live and thrive. The entire human family suffers when the nascent human life of any individual is disregarded. Our faith, then, calls us to insist that the small and most vulnerable are afforded the same rights as the strong and powerful.
Having said that, I am pleased to announce that the Diocesan Public Policy Committee has identified support of adult stem-cell research in New York state as its public-policy advocacy goal for this year.
The recent breakthroughs in adult stem-cell therapies — which quite ethically use adult stem cells that may be isolated from each of our bodies and from umbilical-cord blood retained during the process of birth — are nothing less than remarkable. At medical centers throughout the world, damaged hearts are being mended, sensation is being restored to paralyzed limbs and cancers are being successfully treated with these adult stem-cell treatments.
However, such is the human condition that, regardless of the advancements of science and medicine, all of us will face our own deaths and the deaths of our loved ones. Our belief in the unity of body and soul until the time of physical death reminds us that we are called always to provide care and comfort to those around us who suffer, no matter how bleak the prognosis. Also, the purposeful hastening of death is never justified. Making known one’s desires for the type of care desired at the end of life is a great gift to oneself and one’s family. This can be accomplished through the completion of advance-care directives and the selection of a health-care proxy.
Please also know that you do not journey through these complicated, emotion-filled health issues alone. The Diocesan Health Care Ministry, under the leadership of Deacon John Brasley, is committed to the mission that no one will suffer or die without the support of the faith community. This innovative ministry is being developed so that –regardless of where care is provided at the end of life — the ill person will experience the love of Jesus Christ in spiritual sustenance and support.
Many thanks to Deacon John and all involved. Let us be grateful for and support through prayer the many dedicated, compassionate Catholics in the field of health care in our diocese — doctors, nurses, home health-care workers, those who work in hospice — and in our Catholic institutions, the St. Ann’s Community, St. James Mercy Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital.
The quality of life in our community is measured by how well we uphold the dignity of each person. Let us be ever more mindful of the spirit of God present in each of our neighbors and in ourselves as we journey towards the fulfillment of unity with God.
Peace to all.