From June 17-20 a group of international experts will gather for a seminar on "The Future of Obstetrics and Gynecology: The Fundamental Human Right to Be Trained According to Conscience."
Organizers are the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and Newfoundland-based MaterCare International. The Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care is the sponsor.
ZENIT interviewed Dr. Robert L. Walley, professor of OB-GYN at Memorial University in St. John´s, about the reasons for the conference.
Q: Why are you having a conference on OB-GYNs´ "right to be trained according to conscience"?
Walley: It is clear to us that there is discrimination against Catholic and pro-life doctors in many countries who wish to specialize but who refuse to participate in abortion or birth control. They are coming under a lot of pressure to compromise and this has serious consequences.
In general terms, students are not going into OB-GYN basically for three reasons: The lifestyle and work is quite hard; they are concerned about litigation especially in North America and Europe; and thirdly, doctors really do not want to get involved in abortion -- it is regarded as unpleasant work.
In particular, we intend to discuss the serious decline in Catholic pro-life obstetricians. This should be a grave concern for the Church, for pro-life organizations and most importantly for mothers who want to feel that they can have both life and hope rather than death and despair, which is what the abortion doctor offers.
Q: What are the prospects for a Catholic medical student who wants to enter obstetrics and gynecology today? Can he or she practice the faith and still get the required degrees?
This is what we want to find out and that is why we are organizing the international meeting in Rome. Many of us have had our careers affected by refusing to carry out abortion.
We have a lot of evidence that the prospects for Catholic medical students in many countries who want to practice in obstetrics and gynecology is quite bleak. They are easily manipulated by professors and soon lose whatever knowledge of Catholic morality they had.
The Catholic view is regarded as old-fashioned, conservative and even unethical -- for example, if a doctor refuses to refer a patient for abortion. It is becoming much harder and in some countries impossible to get a specialist degree and then to practice one´s faith and continue in practice.
Q: Medical advances are coming rapidly today. But is the scientifically possible always ethically desirable?
Walley: The current view in medicine is: "If it is feasible and legal, then it must be ethical." At MaterCare, many of us would say that the ethical rule for us is outlined in [the encyclical] "Evangelium Vitae."
We have been founded to carry out the "work of the Gospel of Life" -- I hope that does not sound too pretentious. We are struggling to do just that.
MaterCare is not a talking shop. There is nothing theoretical about having a baby, or dying in the process, as so many mothers do in the developing world. And there is nothing theoretical about having an abortion. MaterCare wants to be there to provide the best of care for mothers and their babies, to which they have a right.
Q: The Pope has warned about democracies falling into "thinly disguised totalitarianism." Is medicine falling into this kind of totalitarianism?
Walley: Doctors these days have control over life from its very beginning until death. They have great power within universities, medical associations and specialist colleges to re-create themselves.
What this leads to is not only unethical practices but also what I call the "sameness of practice": All that can and will be offered to mothers in distress is the termination of pregnancy, and there is no room for an opinion. Those who have a pro-life view are kept out of positions of influence in departments and specialist associations, etc.
That state of affairs would not be tolerated in any other branch of medicine. For example, in cancer treatment, having only one line of management would not be tolerated, but that is what is happening in OB-GYN.
Perhaps the same view is creeping into the promotion of physician-assisted suicide. So rather than excellent pain relief and compassionate palliative care, maybe it will be euthanasia. Then all of us, not just mothers and their unborn children, will have to worry when we have a terminal illness or become old.
Q: Many pro-life women have trouble finding OB-GYNs who support natural family planning. What advice do you have for these women? Can these women do anything to "convert" their own OB-GYNs?
Walley: One of the problems I believe is that NFP has been viewed as nonprofessional alternative medicine. With the so-called convenience of the pill, the idea that couples should be successful in practicing family planning by fertility awareness, or indeed should want to, seems impossible and ridiculous to most doctors these days.
Most doctors have heard little of NFP except through jokes, usually in poor taste. For example, there is no NFP medical journal that medical school libraries have to take because the publications currently available are nonmedical and not included in Index Medicus.
Despite all the advances in the science of NFP, the knowledge is kept from doctors -- in my view because of the vested interest of the large pharmaceutical companies. Since there is nothing in NFP for them, they do not fund academic activities, research, etc., in OB departments.
Yes, we ask women to support MaterCare and we intend to convert our colleagues but we need their support. They could fund academic activities, research and publications. They could join with us to force governments to fund more research that would help.
Q: How is the West helping -- or hurting -- women in the Third World?
Walley: The West is forcing its anti-life philosophy on mothers in developing countries through agencies of the U.N.
MaterCare is offering to provide emergency obstetric services for mothers in East Timor. At the end of June there will be no obstetrician in the country with a population of 700,000 and only 23 local doctors none of whom are trained in obstetrics.
The U.N. officials -- mostly from the West -- have expressed concern that MaterCare will try to impose its ethical values on the country. Meanwhile, the U.N. is promoting reproductive health, which is the euphemism for abortion and contraception to the population. Who is imposing whose values? The U.N. wants one choice to be available: the choice to abort.
Q: RU-486 and the "morning after" pill -- how will they change the landscape of abortion?
Both of these medications in a way trivialize abortion. To make them acceptable, it has been necessary to devalue the early embryo and call it a pre-embryo, and to convince women that these medications are contraceptives rather than what they really are -- abortifacients.
In addition, they are great for hospitals because they save beds, operating room time and staff. The woman is left alone, often in a very emotional vulnerable state, to cope with the pills and the loss of her baby.
Q: In a health-conscious age, how is it possible that so many women´s groups so ardently embrace obviously dangerous abortive drugs?
Simply put, they are not getting the whole truth. There is too much vested interest both for the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry. Women should know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. They should ask more questions.
For registration information about the OB-GYN conference, contact:
Palazzo San Calisto
00120, The Vatican City
Also, see (www.matercare.org).