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  • The Task of the Catholic Medical Professional

    by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

    A number of my friends have children with disabilities. Their problems range from cerebral palsy to Turner’s syndrome to Trisomy 18, which is extremely serious. But I want to focus on one fairly common genetic disability to make my point. I’m referring to Trisomy 21, or Down syndrome.

    You may already know that Down is not a disease. It’s a genetic disorder with a variety of symptoms. Therapy can ease the burden of those symptoms, but Down syndrome is permanent. There’s no cure. People with Down syndrome have mild to moderate developmental delays. They have low to middling cognitive function. They also tend to have a uniquely Down syndrome “look” — a flat facial profile, almond-shaped eyes, a small nose, short neck, thick stature and a small mouth which often causes the tongue to protrude and interferes with clear speech. People with Down syndrome also tend to have low muscle tone. This can affect their posture, breathing and speech.

    Currently about 5,000 children with Down syndrome are born in the United States each year. They join a national Down syndrome population of roughly 400,000 persons. But that population may soon dwindle. And the reason why it may decline illustrates, in a vivid way, a struggle within the American soul. That struggle will shape the character of our society in the decades to come.

    Prenatal testing can now detect up to 95 percent of pregnancies with a strong risk of Down syndrome. The tests aren’t conclusive. They can’t give a firm yes or no. But they’re pretty good. And the results of those tests are brutally practical. Studies show that more than 80 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome now get terminated in the womb. They’re killed because of a flaw in one of their chromosomes — a flaw that’s neither fatal nor contagious, but merely undesirable.

    The older a woman gets, the higher her risk of bearing a child with Down syndrome. And so, in medical offices around the country, pregnant women now hear from doctors or genetic counselors that their baby has “an increased likelihood” of Down syndrome based on one or more prenatal tests. Some doctors deliver this information with sensitivity and great support for the woman. But, as my friends know from experience, too many others seem more concerned about avoiding lawsuits, or managing costs, or even, in a few ugly cases, cleaning up the gene pool.

    We’re witnessing a kind of schizophrenia in our culture’s conscience. In Britain, the Guardian newspaper recently ran an article lamenting the faultiness of some of the prenatal tests that screen for Down syndrome. Women who receive positive results, the article noted, often demand an additional test, amniocentesis, which has a greater risk of miscarriage. Doctors in the story complained about the high number of false positives for Down syndrome. “The result of [these false positives] is that babies are dying completely unnecessarily,” one med school professor said. “It’s scandalous and disgraceful… and causing the death of normal babies.” Those words sound almost humane — until we realize that, at least for the med school professor, killing “abnormal” babies like those with Down syndrome is perfectly acceptable.

    In practice, medical professionals can now steer an expectant mother toward abortion simply by hinting at a list of the child’s possible defects. And the most debased thing about that kind of pressure is that doctors know better than anyone else how vulnerable a woman can be in hearing potentially tragic news about her unborn baby.

    I’m not suggesting that doctors should hold back vital knowledge from parents. Nor should they paint an implausibly upbeat picture of life with a child who has a disability. Facts and resources are crucial in helping adult persons prepare themselves for difficult challenges. But doctors, genetic counselors, and med school professors should have on staff — or at least on speed dial — experts of a different sort.

    Parents of children with special needs, special education teachers and therapists, and pediatricians who have treated children with disabilities often have a hugely life-affirming perspective. Unlike prenatal caregivers, these professionals have direct knowledge of persons with special needs. They know their potential. They’ve seen their accomplishments. They can testify to the benefits — often miraculous — of parental love and faith. Expectant parents deserve to know that a child with Down syndrome can love, laugh, learn, work, feel hope and excitement, make friends, and create joy for others. These things are beautiful precisely because they transcend what we expect. They witness to the truth that every child with special needs has a value that matters eternally.

    Raising a child with Down syndrome can be hard. Parents grow up very fast. None of my friends who has a daughter or son with a serious disability is melodramatic, or self-conscious, or even especially pious about it. They speak about their special child with an unsentimental realism. It’s a realism flowing out of love — real love, the kind that courses its way through fear and suffering to a decision, finally, to surround the child with their heart and trust in the goodness of God. And that decision to trust, of course, demands not just real love, but also real courage.

    The real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is never between some imaginary perfection or imperfection. None of us is perfect. No child is perfect. The real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is between love and unlove; between courage and cowardice; between trust and fear. That’s the choice we face when it happens in our personal experience. And that’s the choice we face as a society in deciding which human lives we will treat as valuable, and which we will not.

    Nearly 50 percent of babies with Down syndrome are born with some sort of heart defect. Most have a lifelong set of health challenges. Some of them are serious. Government help is a mixed bag. Public policy is uneven. Some cities and states, like New York, provide generous aid to the disabled and their families. In many other jurisdictions, though, a bad economy has forced budget cuts. Services for the disabled — who often lack the resources, voting power and lobbyists to defend their interests — have shrunk. In still other places, the law mandates good support and care, but lawmakers neglect their funding obligations, and no one holds them accountable. The vulgar economic fact about the disabled is that, in purely utilitarian terms, they rarely seem worth the investment.

    That’s the bad news. But there’s also good news. Ironically, for those persons with Down syndrome who do make it out of the womb, life is better than at any time in our nation’s history. A baby with Down syndrome born in 1944, the year of my own birth, could expect to live about 25 years. Many spent their entire lives mothballed in public institutions. Today, people with Down syndrome routinely survive into their 50s and 60s. Most can enjoy happy, productive lives. Most live with their families or share group homes with modified supervision and some measure of personal autonomy. Many hold steady jobs in the workplace. Some marry. A few have even attended college. Federal law mandates a free and appropriate education for children with special needs through the age of 21. Social Security provides modest monthly support for persons with Down syndrome and other severe disabilities from age 18 throughout their lives. These are huge blessings.

    And, just as some people resent the imperfection, the inconvenience and the expense of persons with disabilities, others see in them an invitation to be healed of their own sins and failures by learning how to love.

    About 200 families in this country are now waiting to adopt children with Down syndrome. Many of these families already have, or know, a child with special needs. They believe in the spirit of these beautiful children, because they’ve seen it firsthand. A Maryland-based organization, Reece’s Rainbow, helps arrange international adoptions of children with Down syndrome. The late Eunice Shriver spent much of her life working to advance the dignity of children with Down syndrome and other disabilities. Last September, the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation committed $34 million to the University of Colorado to focus on improving the medical conditions faced by those with Down syndrome. And many businesses, all over the country, now welcome workers with Down syndrome. Parents of these special employees say that having a job, however tedious, and earning a pay check, however small, gives their children pride and purpose. These things are more precious than gold.

    The Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer once wrote that, “A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives.” Every child with Down syndrome, every adult with special needs; in fact, every unwanted unborn child, every person who is poor, weak, abandoned or homeless — each one of these persons is an icon of God’s face and a vessel of his love. How we treat these persons — whether we revere them and welcome them, or throw them away in distaste — shows what we really believe about human dignity, both as individuals and as a nation.

    The American Jesuit scholar Father John Courtney Murray once said that “Anyone who really believes in God must set God, and the truth of God, above all other considerations.”

    Here’s what that means. Catholic public officials who take God seriously cannot support laws that attack human dignity without lying to themselves, misleading others and abusing the faith of their fellow Catholics. God will demand an accounting. Catholic doctors who take God seriously cannot do procedures, prescribe drugs or support health policies that attack the sanctity of unborn children or the elderly; or that undermine the dignity of human sexuality and the family. God will demand an accounting. And Catholic citizens who take God seriously cannot claim to love their Church, and then ignore her counsel on vital public issues that shape our nation’s life. God will demand an accounting. As individuals, we can claim to be or believe whatever we want. We can posture, and rationalize our choices, and make alibis with each other all day long — but no excuse for our lack of honesty and zeal will work with the God who made us. God knows our hearts better than we do. If we don’t conform our hearts and actions to the faith we claim to believe, we’re only fooling ourselves.

    We live in a culture where our marketers and entertainment media compulsively mislead us about the sustainability of youth; the indignity of old age; the avoidance of suffering; the denial of death; the meaning of real beauty; the impermanence of every human love; the dysfunctions of children and family; the silliness of virtue; and the cynicism of religious faith. It’s a culture of fantasy, selfishness and illness that we’ve brought upon ourselves. And we’ve done it by misusing the freedom that other — and greater — generations than our own worked for, bled for and bequeathed to our safe-keeping.

    What have we done with that freedom? In whose service do we use it now?

    John Courtney Murray is most often remembered for his work at Vatican II on the issue of religious liberty, and for his great defense of American democracy in his book, We Hold These Truths. Murray believed deeply in the ideas and moral principles of the American experiment. He saw in the roots of the American Revolution the unique conditions for a mature people to exercise their freedom through intelligent public discourse, mutual cooperation and laws inspired by right moral character. He argued that — at its best — American democracy is not only compatible with the Catholic faith, but congenial to it.

    But he had a caveat. It’s the caveat George Washington implied in his Farewell Address, and Charles Carroll — the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence — mentions in his own writings. In order to work, America depends as a nation on a moral people shaped by their religious faith, and in a particular way, by the Christian faith. Without that living faith, animating its people and informing its public life, America becomes something alien and hostile to the very ideals it was founded on.

    This is why the same Father Murray who revered the best ideals of the American experiment could also write that “Our American culture, as it exists, is actually the quintessence of all that is decadent in the culture of the Western Christian world. It would seem to be erected on the triple denial that has corrupted Western culture at its roots: the denial of metaphysical reality, of the primacy of the spiritual over the material, [and] of the social over the individual . . . Its most striking characteristic is its profound materialism . . . It has given citizens everything to live for and nothing to die for. And its achievement may be summed up thus: It has gained a continent and lost its own soul.”

    Those who serve in the medical profession have a sacred vocation. That vocation of healing comes from Jesus Christ himself. I don’t mean just curing people’s aches and pains, although physical healing is so very important. I mean the kind of healing that comes when a suffering person is understood and loved, and knows that she’s understood and loved. That requires a different kind of medicine. The medicine of patience. The medicine of listening. The medicine of respect.

    Over the years, I’ve learned that when God takes something away from a person, he gives back some other gift that’s equally precious. Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, is a friend of mine. Rick has always been Catholic, and always prolife. But it’s one thing to argue in Congress for the sanctity of life. It’s another to prove it by your actions under pressure. Last year Rick’s wife gave birth to a beautiful daughter named Bella. Bella has Trisomy 18. Against the odds, that little girl is still alive and still growing. And she’s surrounded by a family devoted to loving her, 24 hours a day.

    Rick and his wife have no illusions about the prospects for their daughter. No one “recovers” from Trisomy 18. But he said to me once that each day he has with Bella makes him a little bit more of a “whole person.” It’s one of God’s ironies that the suffering imperfection brings, can perfect us in the vocation of love. Rick’s daughter is an education in the dignity of every human life; a tutor in the meaning of love — and not just for themselves, but for me as their friend, and for dozens of other people who encounter the Santorum family every week. Another friend of mine has a son with Down syndrome, and she calls him a “sniffer of souls.” He may have an IQ of 47, and he’ll never read The Brothers Karamazov, but he has a piercingly quick sense of the heart of the people he meets. He knows when he’s loved — and he knows when he’s not. Ultimately, we’re all like her son. We hunger for people to confirm that we have meaning by showing us love. We need that love. And we suffer when that love is withheld.

    The task of the Catholic working in medicine is this: Be the best doctors, nurses and medical professionals you can be. Your skill gives glory to God. But be the best Catholics you can be first. Pour your love for Jesus Christ into the healing you do for every person you serve. By your words and by your actions, be a witness to your colleagues. Speak up for what you believe. Love the Church. Defend her teaching. Trust in God. Believe in the Gospel. And don’t be afraid. Fear is beneath your dignity as sons and daughters of the God of life.

    Changing the course of American culture seems like such a huge task. But St. Paul felt exactly the same way. Redeeming and converting a civilization has already been done once. It can be done again. But we need to understand that God is calling you and me to do it. He chose us. He calls us. He’s waiting, and now we need to answer him.

     

    The views expressed by the authors and editorial staff are not necessarily the views of
    Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

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    • JC

      Wow, your Excellency. Thank you for writing this!!
      Even the first few paragraphs were such a breath of fresh air.

      The “disease”/”disorder” distinction is something my parents adamantly fought for when I was growing up. I also think it has important theological implications:

      1. Disease as something that manifests itself as we develop, based upon a variety of factors, some of them behavioral.
      2. Disorder as a fundamental defect in the genetic code, perhaps due to original sin but also perhaps due to God’s intention all along (how many “disabilities” would matter if we were a perfectly loving, sinless people? Does blindness need to be cured or does the selfishness of those who don’t help the blind?)

      It’s also important to have prenatal knowledge so you can be prepared. Our pro-life OB/Gyn in Virginia, when my wife was pregnant with our eldest, required genetic counseling, not for the possibility of abortion, but he wanted to know if there were any precautions he should take delivering a baby who might have Marfan syndrome.

      As it happened, I knew more about Marfan than the genetic counselor and ended up giving her a lesson. And the genetic counseling was helpful to us, because my mother in law came along (it was the same appointment as the sonogram), and she was able to tell us all sorts of things about Mary’s family history we never knew.

    • Kamilla

      Your Excellency,

      We are so blessed to have you here in Denver. If I may speak for the Catholics in healthcare and Christians working in the Catholic healthcare institutions here, we draw strength from your bold witness. Thank you.

      You are such a great encouragement!

      Kamilla

    • Bill Sr.

      I find it difficult to describe our heartfelt appreciation for the God sent wisdom and discernment of truth which flows from the compassionate thoughts of this great defender of the faith.

      Archbishop Chaput continues to actively inspire all who cherish life as it comes from our benevolent God and who desire to protect it from any and all forces which devalue its gift.

      We are truly blessed by the abundance of his love as a shepherd of the Lord

    • David

      Thank you Archbishop Chaput for your guidance and wisdom. You are a gold mine in the middle of much coal.

      I’m not a doctor, but I am in the sciences, so I appreciate your points. This shiould be distributed far and wide.

    • Bob G

      It brings us face to face with the inconvenient truth. I confess I’d be dismayed if I learned my child had Downs, but I admire the simple faith of those who don’t turn aside.

      Oddly, the best quote in the article is J.C. Murray

    • Suann M.

      Rob G., that wonderful quotation from Murray comes from a February 1940 three-part series of lectures, later edited into one essay, “The Construction of a Christian Culture.” Well worth reading at woodstock.georgetown.edu’s online Murray library.

    • Mother of Two Sons

      When I was pregnant with both of my boys I was required to have an amniocentisis due to my age; I told them that it wouldn’t matter because I was going to bring the babies to full term no matter what….. it was very nerve-wracking and quite frankly I was more concerned about them harming my baby with that long needle! And after the test results were back, imagine, the doctor informed me that everything looks real good, but that it wasn’t conclusive….
      I say unless you are unhealthy or have something that can be remedied in the womb, skip the test…. it just creates more anxiety than peace….. of course if you look to medicine for peace smilies/smiley.gif which I don’t in the long run…. Choicest blessings upon you Archbishop Chaput, for your great work as Shepherd beyond Denver!

    • Ted Seeber

      And were here to actually help, instead of merely profit from, those with disabilities.

    • Suann M.

      Just a PS: One of my children has a genetic disorder. Ted, you’re quite right about some (and perhaps many) insurance executives, but my experience with publicly funded programs for persons with special needs isn’t any sunnier. Parents need to work and fight for nearly everything they get, even when help is mandated. It does not engender any more trust in the government than in private industry.

    • Anne

      God will demand an accounting. Glad to read that from a U.S. bishop.

    • Ted Seeber

      Just a PS: One of my children has a genetic disorder. Ted, you’re quite right about some (and perhaps many) insurance executives, but my experience with publicly funded programs for persons with special needs isn’t any sunnier. Parents need to work and fight for nearly everything they get, even when help is mandated. It does not engender any more trust in the government than in private industry.

      I wish I had a defined genetic disorder for my family…we don’t. But between my autism and my son’s cerebral palsy, private insurance is just something that nobody wants to do business with us on, unless we force the issue by finding group insurance.

      Public may not be any better- in fact, public may be worse. But at least public doesn’t have the basic conflict of interest that always exists in the private sector- between customer service and stockholder profit. For those of us who consider human life to be beyond price, stockholder profit in health care is a conflict of interest as big as telling a poor woman that she has to choose between a $400 abortion and a $6000 birth. And it is essentially the *exact same mortal sin*- valuing money over human life.

    • Ron Durante

      Thank you for your article. It is heartwarming that some members of The Catholic Church respect our children. Our nine year old daughter who has Down Syndrome is thriving in her academics while keeping almost up to grade level in her testing scores. We currently have her enrolled in the local public school after being rejected for admittance into our Catholic schools in the area. I am grounded in Catholic Education after having attended sixteen years and taught full time for six years in Catholic schools. We are practicing Catholics in the Chicago suburbs who have come to realize we will continue in our faith but will not be able to participate in formal Catholic education or activities with our daughter. For those of you with disabled children we pray you keep your faith after the many rejections you will face as you raise your children. Thank you Archbishop Chaput for your enlightenment.

    • Kevin in Texas

      For those of us who consider human life to be beyond price, stockholder profit in health care is a conflict of interest as big as telling a poor woman that she has to choose between a $400 abortion and a $6000 birth. And it is essentially the *exact same mortal sin*- valuing money over human life.

      Hi Ted,

      While I, as I am sure almost all readers here on IC, do have tremendous sympathy with your specific issues with health insurance companies, it’s simply hyperbolic and a twisting of clear Church teaching to equate abortion with profit motives for private health insurers in terms of their levels of sinfulness. The former is an intrinsic evil, while the latter doesn’t even rise close to being one, in and of itself. It’s not acceptable for us to equivocate on such matters, no matter the dire nature of our personal circumstances.

      Please take this suggestion with all of the love and charity with which it is written, Ted, as I have no intention of starting an argument or debating with you: your clear and unequivocal stands on many issues regarding the culture of life, same-sex “marriage”, and the like are admirable, but your specific issues with private health insurers and health care in the US, while a valid option under Catholic social teaching, are not the only viewpoint acceptable within that sphere. The bombardment approach you sometimes take on these and other IC threads is off-putting, to put it mildly. I imagine it would certainly be more beneficial to ask us to pray for you and for your admittedly difficult personal situation, but I don’t believe you’ll change anyone’s mind, and indeed you could end up pushing some people away from many of your excellent and perceptive points.

      May God bless you and your family, my brother in Christ, and I’ll be praying for you and yours.

    • Just Saying

      If only the “pro-life party” would get its priorities straight by supporting children with disabilities over insurance companies. If only the “pro-life party” would spend its time drafting legislation in all 50 states that guarantees children with disabilities generous support they could count on…instead of obstructing critically needed healthcare insurance reform.

      Pro-life isn’t looking so pro-life these days.

    • Stephen Wise

      If Rick Santorum had been more authentically Catholic — like the late Bob Casey Sr. (former Governor of Pennsylvania), he would probably still be a Senator from Pennsylvania.

      Instead, he joined the neo-cons in support of a Bush’s pre-emptive war of choice, torture etc. etc. and the voters of Pennsylvania said — “you’re out of here.”

      As the Archbishop said:

      “If we don’t conform our hearts and actions to the faith we claim to believe, we are only fooling ourselves.

      For the sake of the Church, let’s stop calling the “neo-cons”
      pro-life.

    • Bill Sr.

      Your words of charity and true Christian love for Ted and the many challenges his famaly has to face touch the hearts and feeling of all of us who benefit from IC articles and the posts generated by them.

      We join you in faith and prayer that Ted will be able to receive all the graces our God may send his way through Holy Mother Church and the faithful it continues to nourish through truth in the name of Christ our Lord.

    • Chrissy G

      This article goes beyond the standard pro-life talks and forms a very well-rounded Catholic message on love, dignity, and the healing arts. My college’s Students for Life club has been discussing specific cases from the news, some of which involve doctors denying care to some individual based on “guidelines” or fear of legal repercussions; these doctors need your words more than anyone. Physicians taking this to heart would save lives. Thank you so much for writing this, and for your impassioned support of human dignity and human rights in all aspects of life.

    • Ted Seeber

      I do need help wording this differently. But to me, the intrinsic evil in abortion is the choice of social/economic status over human life. The massive sin of denying coverage, sometimes after years of premiums paid in good health, to the “unprofitable” sick and disabled, is also choosing economic status and profit over human life.

      One is individual, the other is a corporate decision, but can we allow “It’s just business” to become an excuse? What is the difference between the Planned Parenthood doctor, who is providing abortion because “It’s just business” and the insurance adjuster denying coverage for cancer due to the pre-existing condition of acne, and their excuse that “It’s just business”?

      If you can give me a good reason why this isn’t an intrinsic evil, why the profit motive doesn’t rise to that level, I’m willing to listen. I can see a potential argument that it is merely a conflict of interest. But the death still occurs, as a result. And profit motive is behind the abortion industry as well.

    • Ted Seeber

      If only the “pro-life party” would get its priorities straight by supporting children with disabilities over insurance companies. If only the “pro-life party” would spend its time drafting legislation in all 50 states that guarantees children with disabilities generous support they could count on…instead of obstructing critically needed healthcare insurance reform.

      Pro-life isn’t looking so pro-life these days.

      Sad to say, there are pro-life, and pro-seamless-garment of life. The first only seems to care about human life *before* birth- after birth, in fine fashion of the followers of Ayn Rand, it’s up to the parents and the child themselves to support life.

      Thanks to Cardinal Bernadin and Pope John Paul II, we Catholics have a more consistent logical framework to hang our hat on. While it has admittedly been abused in the past by liberals wanting to minimize intrinsic evil, the real CLE (consistent life ethic) in proper understanding actually expands the definition of intrinsic evil to anything that can destroy human life between conception and natural death, through the intentional act of another human. That’s why we’re as opposed to birth control as abortion, to unjust use of the death penalty as unjust war, to euthanasia and other methods of putting social status and economics above human life and human suffering.

      From that standpoint, the patchwork nature of care for the disabled in the United States is not only a disgrace, but a mark of the Culture of Death.

    • Karen Hoppe

      I sympathize with Ron regarding the dim prospects of high school Catholic education for his challenged daughter — we went through the same thing with our son, now 19.

      However, I have real hope to offer.

      There are programs which do integrate intellectually handicapped high school students into Catholic high school, giving them a complete high school experience in the nurturing environment of a caring faculty and student body. My son who has Down Syndrome graduated from Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax VA last May, after 4 amazing years in their Options program. Options is a program for roughly 12 students (out of a student body of 1100) with varying disabilities. Core academics are taught in a self-contained classroom, and Options students are mainstreamed for all other classes. Over 120 peer mentors, drawn from the student body at large, work with Options students in all their classes, acting as tutors, mentors, role models and friends. (And actually, we found that all the gen ed students treated Options kids with dignity and friendship.)

      Options students attend all the school functions — dances, sporting events, service clubs, etc. — and are encouraged to seek out individual pursuits. My son, for example, acted in all the school musicals and even went on the drama field trip to NYC last spring with his buddies. Options students sing in the chorale, play in the computer game club, act as managers for the football and volleyball teams, and have a very active Special Olympics program. And boy, do they learn their faith!

      In their daily routine with the Options students, the entire school really lives the culture of life, helping these kids realize their God-given potential.

      Yes, it takes money, special parent commitment, and above all the courage and compassion of a truly Catholic school administration and faculty. It takes support from the bishop. But it can happen. Options at PVI just celebrated its 10th anniversary, and a second Options program has opened in this diocese (Arlington VA) at our newest Catholic high school, John Paul the Great. Other Options programs are in the works around the country.

      I know I must sound like a commercial here, but this is from the heart. Our experience with Options was just wonderful, and our son really came into his own because of it. (Options has won some national Catholic education awards so it’s not just me saying this.)

      I would encourage Ron and any other interested parents to contact the Director of Options, Paul VI High School, at 10675 Fairfax Blvd, Fairfax VA 22030. They can give you more information on starting an Options program in your diocese — it CAN be done and your child will benefit more than you can imagine. Prayers and best wishes to you —

      Karen Hoppe

    • Dean

      Archbishop Chaput is a great example of what it means to be a catholic priest- a “good Shepherd”. His Excellecy has courageously spoken out for the absolute and inviolable right to life of all unborn babies. He has not cowed to the wicked, has not feared ridicule and harassment from media, politicians, or planned parenthood.

      I recall the words of Our Lord Jesus Himself: “…I am the Good Shepherd…I lay my life down for my sheep..”

      May all faithfull catholics join me in a prayer of thanksgiving to God for Archbishop Chaput and show our support with a call or e-mail to the archdiocese.

    • Charles Miller
      The task of the Catholic working in medicine is this: Be the best doctors, nurses and medical professionals you can be. Your skill gives glory to God. But be the best Catholics you can be first. Pour your love for Jesus Christ into the healing you do for every person you serve. By your words and by your actions, be a witness to your colleagues. Speak up for what you believe. Love the Church. Defend her teaching. Trust in God. Believe in the Gospel. And don’t be afraid. Fear is beneath your dignity as sons and daughters of the God of life.

      This will go up on my desktop, and I may just figure out a way for my BlackBerry to email this to me every morning. As a Catholic neurosurgeon, I am called in on some of the most difficult, tragic, and emotionally challenging personal situations with my patients. It’s something that I love but never gets easier. Except perhaps now. I cannot think of anything I have read outside of Scripture that has lightened my heart in such a profound way. I am deeply moved and thankful to you, Archbishop.

      “…the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Thanks to God for a shepherd such as Archbishop Chaput.

      (Greetings from South Dakota!)

    • JC

      It’s easy to say “the Republican’s aren’t really pro-life.” I don’t agree with the whole “they just care about babies before their born” argument. I don’t think most politicians care about the babies at all. They just care about getting votes (the way few politicians actually cared about ending slavery).

      But the rank and file pro-life voters really do care. And, in my experience, pro-life “laity” (non-politicians) are the most truly compassionate across-the-board people I’ve ever met.

      I believe in a consistent life ethic, but I also agree with the late Fr. Marx that Bernardin’s “seamless garment” was a death-blow to the pro-life cause. I like Fr. Pavone’s house metaphor better.

      In any case, I think Archbishop Chaput’s main point here is that “pro-life begins at home.” If you’re a medical professional, you live it by both obeying the Church’s moral teachings in your practice and upholding the dignity of all patients, no matter how disabled (or poor, etc.)

      _Mater et Magistra_ is a much-maligned document by the Catholic Right, ever since WFB anonymously quoted Gary Wills saying “Mater si, Magistra no.” But Bl. John XXIII’s ultimate point is that Catholicism is an all-or-nothing affair.

      Catholicism only works, and society only works, if everyone is doing their proper role. And it all involves trust in providence. Helping others involves trust in Providence. Accepting help involves trust in Providence.

      My father’s very liberal brother used to call him every day with the latest in the New York Times. One day, my dad said, “You claim to care so much about integration: have you ever had a black man to your home for dinner? You claim to care so much about the poor: have you ever invited a homeless person into your home?”

      That’s what it all boils down to.

    • Charlene Edwards

      Once again your Excellency you are a Sheppard’s voice in the spiritual wilderness. I have the great privilage of working with teenage students with exceptionalies, and would not trade my job for the world.
      Sad to say here in New Hampshire our bishop ordinary is about to allow a final deal between one of our catholic hospitals and a nationally known teaching/research hospital. Many are very upset with this merger, because no amount of guidelines and speeches will stop the culture of death from creeping into this environment. In this present culture in New Hampshire our local diocese is more interested in the corporate structure than in the TRUTH THAT SETS YOU FREE.

      Sincerely,
      Charlene Edwards

    • Linda Kracht

      Archbishop Chaput nailed it in the article about Down Syndrome- our eleven year old has Down Syndrome. When I have recently tried to talk to her about her disability – by the way it is way more ability than dis – she told me No Mom I don’t have that I’m fine!!” and that pretty much sums it up. Anyone with cancer, MS, etc. does not see their entire essence wrapped up in the disease or disablities the disease causes. They are people with this or that but a whole lot more even though others tend to describe them by the lowest denominator (Down Syndrome) than the highest – human being made in the image and likeness of God.
      I think Archbishop Chaput ommitted one small detail: where are the Catholic educators in this arena? Our child “made it through” the second grade before removing her and placing her in a public school setting. She misses her Catholic school roots still and it was painful moving her out of community and friends.
      Catholics need to put their money where their heart is- ina school for all children regardless of ability (use individualized models of education) with the elderly as their tutors. We could call it the Culure of Life Institute. The elderly woud live in that community, and our children would help and be helped by their presence. Anyone interested in helping me get this started in St. Paul,MN? We should get one model going for the rest of the US. Please send me an email at linda@fortifyingfamiliesoffaith.com or contact the Family Life Office in the Archdiocese of Mpls – St Paul.

    • M.Christina Desmarais

      Thank you,Bishop Chaput,for your thoughtful, informative and inspiring writing.

      I must chime in with Karen Hoppe regarding hope for high school aged students with intellectual disabilities whose parents would like to see them attend Catholic school. There are OPTIONS–literally! And the Options program is just one model of inclusion which Catholic high schools around the country embrace. There is more work to be done, but there are enough out there to give hope and witness. Feel free to contact me at the website above or look into National Cathollic Partnership on Disabilities, Network of Inclusive Catholic Educators (of the Institure for Pastoral initiatives – U. of Dayton,), Catholic Coalition for Specil Education, and the NCEA.
      M.Christina Desmarais
      Director – Paul VI Catholic High School Options Program

    • Suann M

      Linda, Christina: Kudos to you both for bringing up the Catholic ed issue. I’ve been teaching in Catholic schools for nearly 30 years. The problem is that most Catholic schools are very resource-limited and tuition-driven. The public educational funds for my son with Down syndrome are — theoretically — portable, but that’s never the way it actually works out. Moreover, the average Catholic parish simply can’t afford to provide the specialized support usually required by children with serious special needs. As an educator and a mom, I agree that the Church should do more to make this happen, but we need to be realistic; a very generous part of the blame goes to public authorities that feel they can’t, or won’t, financially support parental choice.

    • JC

      Anyone with cancer, MS, etc. does not see their entire essence wrapped up in the disease or disablities the disease causes.

      Hi, Linda, I’m not sure that’s true. Maybe “reduced to” is better than “wrapped up”? We are, after all, incarnate beings. In that sense, we’re quite literally “wrapped up” in our disabilities! smilies/smiley.gif

      There isn’t an hour that goes by I don’t think of the fact that I have Marfan syndrome. Constant pain. Getting out of a chair is a huge battle of willpower. The fact that I’m perpetually at risk of sudden death.

      People who turn around, run in fear, or make rude comments hurt me. Potential employers and scholarship committees and admisisons committees who only look at what I haven’t done hurt me. But so do those who say, “You’re just differently abled” or insist on treating me like I”m normal, and then say I’m “depressed” or “bitter” when I talk about the reality of my condition.

      We need to emphasize that human worth is something inherent and that each person’s experiences shape his or her soul to be a unique creation of God.

    • Anne

      Thank you, Archbishop Chaput. What an inspired address!

      With all the debate over the proposed system of government-run health care – which under the present administration is sure to be infected through and through with the culture of death – I’m been thinking that this might be a moment for Catholics to create (or actually, re-create)our own health system: hospitals, medical associations, even insurance. It wouldn’t be easy – we’d have to refuse all government money, which as we all know has played havoc with Catholic higher education – but it would give our country a clear choice between the Culture of Life and the Culture of Death.

      Which would mean that, if “Obamacare” starts to look inevitable, we need to fight hard for freedom of conscience exemptions to enable us to get started.

      We already have some pro-life pharmacies and medical groups, and we need to build on this foundation for a truly pro-life medical system.

    • Dan

      I do need help wording this differently. But to me, the intrinsic evil in abortion is the choice of social/economic status over human life. The massive sin of denying coverage, sometimes after years of premiums paid in good health, to the “unprofitable” sick and disabled, is also choosing economic status and profit over human life.

      One is individual, the other is a corporate decision, but can we allow “It’s just business” to become an excuse? What is the difference between the Planned Parenthood doctor, who is providing abortion because “It’s just business” and the insurance adjuster denying coverage for cancer due to the pre-existing condition of acne, and their excuse that “It’s just business”?

      If you can give me a good reason why this isn’t an intrinsic evil, why the profit motive doesn’t rise to that level, I’m willing to listen. I can see a potential argument that it is merely a conflict of interest. But the death still occurs, as a result. And profit motive is behind the abortion industry as well.

      I must disagree with the idea of the profit motive as an intrinsic evil. If we had truly Catholic businesses, they would define profit according to scripture, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul.” In Genesis, God commands us to “be fruitful and multiply”…which is what a profitable business does…and there is great good that can come from it.

      As for the injustices of which you speak, if we were a morally infused people, we would see the injustices of which you speak and take our business elsewhere…and businesses that practiced such injustices would not survive.

      The Catholic Church once had an integral role in starting hospitals and providing medical care and still owns significant health care resources. Why don’t our bishops get together and offer a Catholic health insurance plan that would adhere to Catholic moral teachings on the sanctity of life and social justice.

      The current morass is akin to a new Tower of Babel…we will devise a healthcare system that covers everyone in all instances. But we proceed without God and we find ourselves divided and in a state of confusion.

    • Ted Seeber
      I do need help wording this differently. snip

      And thank you Dan for rising to the challenge of helping me word this differently. I now see the main thing that I missed before: Charity. A business that is *charitable* doesn’t turn away customers like this.

      I must disagree with the idea of the profit motive as an intrinsic evil. If we had truly Catholic businesses, they would define profit according to scripture, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul.” In Genesis, God commands us to “be fruitful and multiply”…which is what a profitable business does…and there is great good that can come from it.

      Yes there is. But here’s my point- it’s possible to focus on growth to the point of losing sight of charity- gain the entire world while losing sight of the soul of the business. Health care, especially, the patients should be that soul.

      As for the injustices of which you speak, if we were a morally infused people, we would see the injustices of which you speak and take our business elsewhere…and businesses that practiced such injustices would not survive.

      Unfortunately, the main business signal in the free market, price, is not sufficient to show these injustices. In fact, quite the opposite- the health care company that promotes such injustice, will have less cost and be able to undercut it’s competitors, and thus survive *better* than the company that acts with charity and justice in such matters.

      The Catholic Church once had an integral role in starting hospitals and providing medical care and still owns significant health care resources. Why don’t our bishops get together and offer a Catholic health insurance plan that would adhere to Catholic moral teachings on the sanctity of life and social justice.

      That’s one of the things I keep asking about. What is preventing Knights of Columbus, or the diocese themselves, from extending group benefits to all members of a religion or order? It seems to me that it would be a great extra benefit for conversion or for joining an order.

      The current morass is akin to a new Tower of Babel…we will devise a healthcare system that covers everyone in all instances. But we proceed without God and we find ourselves divided and in a state of confusion.

      And, unfortunately, I often conclude that the free market is proceeding without God.

    • Ted Seeber

      My father’s very liberal brother used to call him every day with the latest in the New York Times. One day, my dad said, “You claim to care so much about integration: have you ever had a black man to your home for dinner? You claim to care so much about the poor: have you ever invited a homeless person into your home?”

      I don’t care about either, but I’ve done both. I also enjoy hearing points of view other than my own. I KNOW I have a mental illness- what’s the problem with the so called neurotypical society out there?

    • Barbara

      Both of my grandmothers had children into their late 40′s. My mother and an aunt had their last child in their early 40′s. I had my third child at 43. All of these children were healthy.

      I also know a young couple in their early 20′s whose first child has Downs Syndrome. There are no guarantees.

    • Heather

      Our son was born 8 months ago. Five minutes after his birth our Dr told us that he had Down Syndrome. As I held my son in my arms all I could think was “This? This is Down Syndrome. Can’t be, he’s beautiful and perfect.” I am ashamed to say that I had been jaded by a society that perpetrates the myth that these children are undesirable, disposable and a burden. Our son is a joy and more importantly our son is perfectly pleasing to God.
      Thank you for writing this beautiful article.
      We are expecting our 5th child. There will be no unnecessary or invasive testing. With God we have nothing to fear. We have been truly blessed.

    • Anne

      My daughter has Turner syndrome, another chromosome disorder that can be picked up by ultrasound (sometimes) or amniocentesis (more accurately.) Geneticists and OB/Gyns usually give parents of girls diagnosed in utero the “worst case scenario” — 99% of babies conceived with TS do not make it to term, and those that do make it may have a laundry list of potential health issues, including heart defects, kidney defects, short stature, and premature ovarian failure. To get the best-case scenario, or even medium-case scenario, parents have to seek guidance from outside the medical community. Given the grim statistics, many parents abort rather than face the heartbreak of losing a baby further along in pregnancy.

      For those that do make it to term, the prognosis is quite good given good medical care and other support, such as occupational therapy, etc. This is where I feel we have failed as a society and as Catholics. We expect parents to should too much of the burden. In aligning with the evangelical wing of the protestant churches, we have lost our way as Catholics. We have lost our vision of being part of a larger community that takes care of our own. We are becoming more like the dominant American “you’re on your own” society. Once that baby is born, it’s your problem how you’re going to get time off work for all the necessary doctors and specialist visits, how you’re going to cover the co-pays for growth hormone that help your child reach her full potential, how you’re going to pay for all those things not covered by insurance such as OT, PT, speech, etc. Some of these things are covered by schools, but only to the extent that they help academically.

      And, as much as we justify keeping disabled kids out of Catholic schools out of concern for raising costs for other students, it’s a hurtful practice nonetheless. My daughter has fortunately been able to attend Catholic schools, because has only a mild visual-spatial issue associated with TS, but not all children with genetic disorders and other health concerns are so lucky.

      I really appreciate Fr. Chaput’s examination of this topic, and the thoughtful dialogue that has followed in the comments.

    • Martin W. Howserf

      All Catholics, no all people should read Archbishop Chaput remarks to the doctors in Phonix. He speaks the Truth. We can all learn from his words.

    • Mary C. Ostrowski

      Reguarding another subject.. I was more than surprised when Bishop Chaput said that we THE PEOPLE should be shepards. I thought God put the Bishops and Priests in that position