This article appears in the May 2004 edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly
Book review - by Joanna Bogle
Looking for Answers. A Christian in Medicine and Law.
Dr Tony Cole.
The Memoir Club £17.50p
This is a delightful book by a doctor whose name is familiar to many Catholics in Britain. Dr Tony Cole has been not only a leading paediatrician but also a Master of the Catholic Doctor's Guild, Chairman of the Catholic Union, and spokesman on medical ethics at conferences and in the media - to name just a few of his wide-ranging activities in recent decades.
Here is the behind-the scenes story, and it's a charming one. A wartime seaside childhood (few toys, lots of fun, camping out in the garden and learning to row in the fast tidal streams of the Teign) was followed by teenage years in a Christian Brothers School offering a good education albeit in icy buildings and with inedible food. Then came medical school and the start of his life-work.
One of the most touching chapters in the book deals with Dr Cole's work for children with Down's Syndrome. There is a vivid description of a childhood memory of seeing a group of people with Down's Syndrome being brought for a trip to the beach, walking in a long crocodile holding hands. "Their clothes looked as though they had all been boiled up together and were shapeless and grey. They did not talk together but communicated with gestures and sounds and squealed with pleasure in the sea." Today, following the remarkable work of Dr Jerome Lejeune and others, the prospects for children born with Down's Syndrome have been transformed, and Dr Cole's descriptions of working with families not only in Britain but in South Africa, India and Australia is fascinating and encouraging. Whenever we moan about modern life and some of the ugly and uncivilised things that mark our country and its community life today, we should remember how marvellously things can change.
Dr Cole writes about the Church with common sense and evident affection, and the book lacks any cloying religiosity. There is an interesting summary of the history of the Catholic Union, and there are some trenchant comments on the best and most effective way for Christians to make a real contribution to the common good especially in the political culture. He is realistic, honest, and open about what can be achieved, and it is refreshing to read about some of the debates and campaigns - for example over abortion and euthanasia - which are described without sloganising or clichés. Dr Cole is right to urge greater dialogue between the Bishops and the active Catholic laity, especially those who hold pubic office or work in professions such a medicine and the law. He could perhaps usefully have added that it is precisely with these sorts of Catholics - and not with full-time paid Church bureaucrats or the spokesmen for lobby-groups - that the Bishops can make useful alliances that will really achieve practical results.
The only thing that really irritated me about the book was its cover - the formal portrait in the uniform of a Papal knight does not give us the real Tony Cole, and should have been abandoned in favour of one of the jollier informal snapshots that pepper the text. But the book is a good read, and offers some helpful insights into the life of a dedicated Catholic doctor. We must hope that the next generation of medical students will include men and women who will be inspired by the same faith and able to give witness to it in a lifetime of cheerful service.