Chac gears up for challenging year

  • December 24, 2008
{mosimage}OTTAWA - The Catholic Health Association of Canada (CHAC) is strengthening its team to address looming ethical and policy challenges.

The CHAC has appointed medical ethics educator Sr. Nuala Kenny as an ethics and policy advisor for 2009.

“There’s a huge challenge to reclaim the importance of the mission of healing,” said Kenny, noting that Catholic health care is being defined by what it does not do, instead of what it does.

Catholic health care is the church’s response to the sick and the poor, a literal working out of Christ’s teachings, she said.

Kenny, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Halifax, is a medical doctor and academic who obtained her degree from Dalhousie University, where she later founded the Department of Bioethics. Her research interests have included professional character formation, ethics in health policy and public health, pediatric ethics and end-of-life care. Kenny has spent most of her professional life in non-religious circles where she has had to explain the ethical principles formed by her Catholic faith without religious terminology.

“I’ve had to find a way to make these fundamental issues meaningful within the public sphere,” she said. She recognizes that, despite her Catholic faith formation and her commitment to social justice, she is looking at Catholic health care as an outsider.

“We believe the knowledge, commitment and enthusiasm Dr. Kenny brings in the areas of ethics, the development of health care leaders, Catholic social teaching and public policy represents a tremendous asset, which will be instrumental in building up and supporting Catholic health care in Canada,” said CHAC president James Roche

In October, the CHAC board appointed Roche as president after Gerard Lewis, who had served three years, stepped down in August. Roche brings his experience as vice president of ethics advocacy and government relations to the post.

Roche is keeping an eye on developments in the United States, where President-elect Barack Obama’s promise to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) has alarmed Catholic leaders. FOCA would remove various conscience protections, consent laws and other state efforts to limit abortion. The U.S. bishops’ conference and the U.S. Catholic Health Care Association are both opposed to the bill, and some Catholic leaders have warned bishops would close Catholic hospitals rather than comply with abortion on demand.

“Clearly there are a number of issues from the States that are at play perhaps to a lesser degree in Canada, but they do represent a challenge to Catholic health care,” he said, noting provincial human rights commission policies are an area where they have to “be attentive.”

Earlier in 2008, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons drafted a new policy to bring it in line with Ontario human rights laws, a policy that would have endangered conscience rights. But it redrafted the policy after a flood of complaints and removed the most contentious parts.

Kenny said she has grave concerns about the ethical formation of doctors, no matter what their faith background. She also warned of the impact on public policy as health care becomes more technological and services become amalgamated. Society is losing its sense of doctors as moral agents, she said, and this is playing out in policies that will force doctors to act against their conscience.

Going to the doctor is not like taking the car to a high tech mechanic, she said, because a sick human being is vulnerable and in need even though hospitals are becoming a “hive of technology.” The huge technological advances are also expensive, demanding “huge amounts” of public funding, she said. That has forced amalgamations of hospitals and health care facilities.  

“The fundamental question is how to bring the healing ministry of Christ to the changing health care landscape,” she said.

Kenny and Roche are also keeping an eye on the possibility another private member’s bill on euthanasia and assisted suicide will be introduced soon in the House of Commons.

“If that is affirmed in law, that would be a challenge,” he said.

Ethics remains a priority for the CHAC, Roche said. The organization is moving forward with a revision of its health ethics guide with the help of Sault Ste. Marie Auxiliary Bishop Noel Simard and retired Rimouski Archbishop Bertrand Blanchet.

The CHAC represents between 90-100 hospitals, homes and long-term care facilities in Canada, including some of Canada’s largest health care providers.

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