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Boston hosts Catholic Medical Assoc. conference

Psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, speaks on “The Crisis in the Church and Adolescent Males” Oct. 27 at the Catholic Medical Association conference. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy

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BOSTON -- Reason can lead all people to understand the natural moral law, according to speakers at this year’s 75th annual conference of the Catholic Medical Association Oct. 26-28 at Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel.

The conference, entitled “The Natural Moral Law: God’s Gift to Humanity,” focused on the universal ethical principles in medical practice.

John M. Haas, a bioethicist and president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Pennsylvania, said the Church teaches that contraceptives are intrinsically evil because of natural law. Contraceptives treat fertility as a defect, and it is unreasonable to treat a good as if it is an evil, he said.

“While we are under no obligation to realize all goods of which we are capable, we are obligated never to act against a good as though it were an evil,” he said.

During his talk, “Contraception and the Marital Contract,” Haas illustrated this point with an example. He said if his son asked him to join in a game of basketball and he could not, he could respond in two ways: Haas could yell and berate the boy for asking -- treating the good of their friendship as if it were an evil -- or he could offer the reasonable response of explaining why he could not play and scheduling the activity for a later time.

Gerald P. Corcoran, the CMA’s president-elect and 2006 conference chair, said he was encouraged by Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Deus Caritas Est.” The letter, published after the conference’s topic had been chosen, puts a renewed emphasis on the natural law, he said.

The first day of the conference featured three speakers from Catholic, Jewish and Islamic backgrounds who spoke about precepts applicable to medical practice in their respective faiths. These talks emphasized the common medical goals that the three monotheistic religions share, he said.

Corcoran added that this year’s conference exceeded his expectations. Nearly 400 physicians, nurses and medical students from more than 30 states participated in the conference. In addition to lectures, the event featured daily Mass, perpetual adoration, CMA board meetings and the annual White Mass for doctors. The CMA conference was last held in Boston 27 years ago.

Hadley Arkes, a professor of political science at Amherst College, spoke on “Abortion, Natural Moral Law and the Ends of Medicine.” In his talk Arkes said that the arguments often used to justify abortion simply do not hold up when applied to real life situations.

For example, he said, pregnancy may add strain on a mother and family finances, but the strains do not justify the taking of life.

“The same strain on the psyche of the mother and the finances of the family could arise with the addition of an aged parent to the household, and when it comes to straining the psyche of a mother, there might be a better case for removing the 13-year-old that is already the terror of the household rather than the offspring that hasn’t had the chance to show any malevolence yet,” Arkes said.

Psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in Pennsylvania, spoke about programs initiated to respond to the clergy abuse crisis in his talk “The Crisis in the Church and Adolescent Males.” The CMA recently published a task force report entitled “To Protect and to Prevent: The Sexual Abuse of Children and its Prevention.”

The task force found problems with many of the programs being implemented in dioceses through the U.S. in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Most , he said, incorrectly focus on the problem of pedophilia -- an attraction to prepubescent children -- while the vast majority of victims of clergy sexual abuse were teenage boys.

Most problematic are the abuse prevention programs used for instructing children, Fitzgibbons said.

“Many university studies of child empowerment programs show them to be ineffective at preventing the sexual abuse of children. These programs are inconsistent with the science of child development and basically with the Church’s teaching in regard to the moral development of children,” he said. “The humble request of the Catholic Medical Association to the bishops at their October meeting is to please rescind these programs as soon as possible.”

Other speakers and topics included Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk on stem-cell research, Joseph E. Murray on “Moral and Ethical Considerations of Organ Transplantation,” Bishop Robert J. McManus on “The Natural Moral Law: Basis for the Search for Unity of Truth” and Mary Lou Ashur on “Domestic Violence: The Elephant in the Exam Room.”

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