Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 64(3) August 2014
Conscience and the NHS.
CMA Annual Conference a great success
The Annual Conference of the Catholic Medical Association was well attended and a great success.
We kicked off with an introduction, by Robert Hardie, our President on conscience. Conscience must be related to consciousness but it is not confirmed to one part of the brain and is an organic thing that interacts with the world about us.
Conscience is both binding and fallible. We must protect our consciences, learn and inform our consciences, but also be humble and prayerful so that we reflect and journey towards what is right and good. As Blessed John Henry Newman said, "conscience is the presence of God within us." Conscience is the still small voice of God with us. If we draw upon it, it becomes the ultimate source of energy.
God have given us freely the grace of the word within us (St Athanasius).
The truth does not change, said Fr Dominic Allain, Chaplain of the Southwark Branch of the CMA.
There are many doctors who are Catholic, but fewer Catholic Doctors. Our understanding must correspond to a truth. But there is a view of conscience which states that if I understand some issues then I have full authority to do what I think right. That view is false.
Conscience is the ability of man to know what is right in conformity with the truth. Conscience is based in the truth which was created by God and so conscience really cannot evolve. Thus we live in goodness and truth.
Conscience enables us to know what is right and wrong in conformity with the truth of and the mind of God. So if I disagree with the Church's teaching on contraception, my conscience is not in fact clear. If we use that method, conscience is only really used negatively to reject teaching and truth and to enable the individual to do what they think is all right with a "clear conscience".
Fr Dominic told us, Conscience is a law deep within which Man has not laid himself. That law calls man to do good and to avoid what is evil. It is revealed in what Man does and not just in what he thinks. Man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. The heart is the dwelling place where I am and to which I withdraw. It is our hidden centre , the place of decision, and the place of encounter with God. The heart is a place deeper than our psychic drives. The spiritual priority in man lies in his relationship to God and to others.
Conscience is the ability of man to know what is right in conformity with the truth.
Under all that man freely gives himself to God and man finds himself in a covenant. And you shall have no Gods other than Me (God). So we must rediscover at the heart of conscience the reason why we need laws. The alternative is anarchy. The 10 Commandments as the non-negotiable rules from God would be a good start in discovering this.
While science is concerned with what can be done, conscience is concerned with what ought to be done. Conscience is concerned with whether and action can be squared with the truth.
Conscience is a law deep within, which Man has not laid himself. That law calls man to do good and to avoid what is evil. It is revealed in what Man does and not just in what he thinks. Man has in his heart a law inscribed by God.
Looking at the effects of the Truth and Conscience we heard from Paul Tully of SPUC about the Midwives in Glasgow whose NHS Trust has attempted to force them to participate in abortions, even though the Trust can easily make adjustments to enable their objection to be accommodated. Great work has been, and is being, done by SPUC to defend them.
A lively conference also heard about an initiative to work with and support the victims of abuse. The day closed with Rachel’s Vineyard who do huge work to heal the wounds of abortion.
We discussed ways in which doctors of conscience can act according to their faith. Dr Charlie O’Donnell took us through GMC guidance and then onto the use of letters and notices to inform patients about their options.
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Russell Wilcox also took us through a summary of the law on conscientious objection. Those powerpoint slides are also available.
It was a great day and we hope to follow it up with a student day in the Autumn. We were all strengthened and with so many younger students and doctors, saw the real need to support many more Catholics both in medical school and after qualification.