Health and Community, January 2011, Boarbank Hall, Cumbria

The sixth in our Health and Salvation series of retreats for healthcare workers took place at Boarbank from 10th-15th January. The theme was 'Ethical Dilemmas', and we explored this through talks and discussions, in the context of shared prayer, meals and social activities. As usual, we celebrated Morning, Evening and Night Prayer and Mass daily, joining the Boarbank community where possible, but celebrating our own Masses together as a group. Fr David Ryder kindly acted as chaplain for the week; we are very grateful to him and all the priests in the group for saying Mass and preaching. It was particularly nice this year to celebrate together a Mass for the sick for which the Community and patients from Marymount joined us.

The group included GPs, nurses, consultants and hospital chaplains, both lay and religious, as well the non-medic speakers, sharing among them an enormous wealth of experience. We even managed to incorporate the other two guests who happened to be staying in the Guest House, as one of them was an expert on palliative care, and her husband a more than willing attender, walker, photographer and wine steward! The atmosphere was very special: old friendships were renewed and new ones developed within a lovely combination of serious conversation, prayer and reflection and ebullient fun.

The talks began with scriptural and philosophical reflection. Fr Dixie Taylor's talk `Making decisions in Scripture' first discussed the relationship between the text of Scripture and the person of Jesus, before exploring the nature of Jesus' authority and the derivative nature of the authority of the community of the Church. Sr Margaret Atkins spoke on 'Practical judgements', setting decisions in the context of practical wisdom and the other virtues and also of prayer. On the next day, Dr Liz Toy, a consultant oncologist, and Professor Luke Gormally, former Director of the Linacre Centre, and the recent winner of the 2010 Paul Ramsey Award for excellence in bioethics, looked at end of life issues from the perspective of a practitioner and a philosophical ethicist respectively. This enabled us to bring together the concrete reality of the types of decisions that healthcare workers are making, exemplified in some thought-provoking case studies, with the principles on which to make them. These principles included the proper purposes of medicine and the point and implications of the prohibition on intentional killing. Dr Terry Billington, a Dominican Sister and experienced GP gave us a lucid and comprehensive survey of the range of ethical issues a GP may face, including the organisation of appointments, disputes between a young patient's parents, and the patients' responsibility for appreciating the cost of their treatments. Finally, Dr Eileen Reilly, a consultant gynaecologist, explained the relatively new and little known successes of natural reproductive technology or `naprotechnology'. She showed how this method aimed to treat the causes not just the symptoms of infertility, and how learning to understand the way their fertility works can empower women, safeguard their general health and improve their relationships.

In addition to the talks and discussions, we also watched the Danny Boyle film 'Millions', in which an innocent little Catholic boy (with his more wordly-wise elder brother) is confronted with the dilemma of how to dispose of a vast sum of money. The weather forecast for our day out was 'light rain', but in fact a big group of us managed a wonderful walk to Alcock Tarn above Grasmere, returning via Rydal lake (a lovely sequence of photos can be seen at: http://gallery.me .com/moffo/100044 - many thanks indeed to John). A smaller group went on a shorter walk from Grasmere and a third on a car tour of the Lakes, going as far as Keswick and Cleator Moor (and arriving back, looking radiant but a little sheepish, just in time for the `confiteor' in the group's Mass!).

The afternoons and evenings provided time to visit Grange and Cartmel, to relax and be quiet, to engage in some highly competitive games of table tennis, to partake of tea and home-made cakes, and to continue the discussions of issues raised in the talks. In the evenings, we had Compline around the fire with the Community, and the staircase packed to the top! On the last evening we invited members of the Boarbank Community to join us for a buffet and continuing conversation. It was a great joy to welcome back so many old friends to this week, and to welcome several new participants. We hope and pray that they will be rested and restored for the difficult and valuable work that they do, and that the friendships fostered here may continue to support them through the year.

A second Health and Salvation week on the same theme, and with some of the same speakers, will be held at Boarbank Hall on 14th-19th November 2011. For more details, please
contact Sr Margaret Atkins (margaret@ boarbankhall.org.uk).

Sr Margaret Atkins, Boarbank Hall, Cumbria