Bioethics conference examines fertility, end-of-life care

| Susan Klemond | October 26, 2011 | 0 Comments

The ability to make informed choices about fertility directly challenges the secular culture’s precepts that the body can be manipulated to express any desire and that fertility is a disease to be isolated or removed chemically or mechanically from the body, said Dr. Hanna Klaus, a Medical Mission Sister and OB/GYN doctor with extensive experience in reproductive issues who spoke at a recent biomedical conference.

“You don’t take medicine for something when you’re not sick; fertility is not a disease,” said Klaus, who, based in Bethesda, Md., has worked in the United States and developing countries and serves as executive director of the Natural Family Planning Center and Teen STAR, an international program helping teens understand their fertility pattern to make responsible decisions and postpone sexual involvement.

Klaus gave the keynote talk at a daylong biomedical conference for laypeople Oct. 15 at St. Michael in Stillwater that also featured talks by local doctors and nurses on NFP, reproductive technologies, dignity in the medical field and end-of-life issues. About 85 medical professionals and lay people attended.

Getting informed

Women get pregnant while taking contraceptives for many reasons, but Klaus said teens she’s worked with take birth control pills irregularly because they value their fertility. “This suggests women still resist removing part of themselves from an act meant to signify complete mutual self-giving and complete mutual acceptance,” she said. “It just goes against the grain to cut this out.”

When teens recognize and accept their fertility, it often affects their sexual behavior, Klaus said. “When the kids see that their bodies are an expression of their person, they behave in ways that tell us that they value themselves by making deliberate behavioral choices rather than behaving impulsively,” she said. “And that’s a very countercultural message.”

By placing technology over ethics, reproductive technologies that cause permanent or temporary sterility prevent users from making free choices about their fertility, said Dr. Mark Druffner of Hudson Physicians in Hudson, Wis. “Whether it’s the pill or the [Depo-Provera] shot or the IUD or tying the tubes, it places you in a position of no longer being able to make a moral choice for each sexual act. It removes us from that.”

End-of-life issues

Dr. Don Wessel of the Stillwater Medical Group in Stillwater discussed euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, and why they contradict the Catholic faith. “Appeal to natural law is important in response to the claim often used in our culture that respect for diversity of opinion in a pluralistic society should allow us to tolerate such acts,” he said. “They are intolerable for all people of good will.”

Oncology nurse Janet Rother said she frequently faces end-of-life issues and sometimes feels discouraged in defending life. Fellowship she found with conference attendees and speakers will help at work, said Rother, who works at Rochester Methodist Hospital, Mayo Clinic in Rochester and attends St. John the Baptist in Vermillion.

“It’s very encouraging to know you’re not alone in this fight to defend life and that there are other people who feel the same way on these important matters,” she said.

Peggy Ryan attended the conference to learn about preparing for the end of life. The retiree and parishioner at St. Mary in Stillwater came away with more information than she expected.

“I went for the purpose of finding out what I should do in order to be a good steward of my body as far as filling out these forms which I’ve been feeling almost like I had to do and to find out that I don’t have to do.”

Also a St. Mary parishioner, Timothy Bertrand got an informed overview of medical issues. “I deal with a lot of ignorance of both the Catholic perspective and more involved medical viewpoints among my fellow nurses,” said Bertrand, a nurse at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul.

Medical professionals deal with tough issues that don’t come up in polite conversation, he said.

“This was a daylong looking at the subject intensely and not really backing away from it because the people there generally aren’t interested in doing the easy thing,” Bertrand said. “It’s very refreshing to hear physicians saying that they do hold their Catholic ideals right up there with any of their medical ideals.”

For more on biomedical ethics, visit the web page of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Commission on Biomedical Ethics.

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