Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 69(4) November 2019

In Haec Tempora

Dr Dermot Kearney Our President Writes 

Group photo with pope

Consecration of Catholic Physicians to the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
St Peter's Basilica, Rome, 21st June 2019

Member meeting PopeIt was a tremendous honour to represent the Catholic Medical Association (UK) at the Consecration of Catholic Physicians throughout the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus that took place during Holy Mass in the Cappella del Coro in St Peter's Basilica. On the following day, Saturday 22nd June, the group had the added privilege of a private audience with Pope Francis in the Sala Regia in the Vatican. Each person had the opportunity to briefly meet the Holy Father. The CMA (UK) was represented by several of our members alongside myself and my wife, Mary (Newcastle branch). The total audience consisted of approximately 280 persons with large numbers of representatives from Poland, Croatia, Italy, France and Puerto Rica. Other countries represented included Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Slovenia, Hungary, Albania, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and the USA. A video and details of the event are on the website of the Federation of International Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC).

Update on 'Abortion Pill Reversal'

We wrote previously to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of General Practitioners and NHS England requesting support for an "abortion pill reversal" programme. Their responses were disappointing, negative and unsurprising. We wrote again to each of these organisations, comprehensively addressing the reasons they had given for not supporting our initial request but we had not received any further replies. The issue was discussed again at our Council meeting in June and it was agreed that we should ask the General Medical Council for clarification on some specific issues and afterwards write again to the Colleges and NHS England expressing our regret that we had not received any responses to our follow-up letters and asking if they had any concerns about the Catholic Medical Association (UK) bringing this issue to public attention.

The GMC has responded to our request for clarification, although predictably the response was non-committal. They state that they cannot give specific advice on specific clinical situations but reiterated the need to provide patients with appropriate information regarding all aspects of care proposed to them, including information on risks, benefits and alternative management options. The advice from the GMC concludes with the statement "clearly it's important that women proposing to undergo a medical abortion are fully aware of what the procedure involves, and what their options and choices may be at different stages". I feel we can use this advice to help support our position on this issue.

World Medical Association and Euthanasia / Physician Assisted Suicide

On a happier note, it is pleasing to report that the issues of Euthanasia and Physician-assisted suicide were discussed at the recent World Medical Association (WMA) Council meeting in Santiago, April 25th-27th and no changes were made to existing WMA policy. There was concern that the WMA might move towards a softening of its longstanding firm opposition to both practices. The German Medical Association had proposed such a softening of language, perhaps to appease the Canadian and Dutch delegations who were upset last year when they were unable to proceed with a plan to encourage the WMA to move to a neutral position on these issues. The CMA (UK) had issued a strong statement to the WMA, through FIAMC, on the necessity of continuing opposition to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Our submission was published in the Catholic Medical Quarterly May 2019 (pp 9-10 and 12) and is also found on the official FIAMC website, having been adopted as the official statement by the International Federation and no changes were made to existing WMA policy.

The official statement released by the WMA Council following the meeting in Santiago states that "it was agreed that policy work should continue on physician assisted suicide". The position of the WMA remains unchanged:
"Physician-assisted suicide, like euthanasia, is unethical and must be condemned by the medical profession. Where the assistance of the physician is intentionally and deliberately directed at enabling an individual to end his or her own life, the physician acts unethically. However the right to decline medical treatment is a basic right of the patient and the physician does not act unethically even if respecting such a wish results in the death of the patient".

I was also interested to note that the issue of gender-selection abortion was discussed in Santiago and "grave concern was expressed that female foeticide and sex selection abortion are being commonly practiced in certain countries, and proposals were debated for dealing with the practice".

You can see our submission to the WMA in this issue

RCP poll on physician-assisted suicide

Most will know that the Royal College of Physicians held a poll among its members earlier this year on the issue of the College's position on physician-assisted suicide. Previous polls among members had shown the majority remain opposed to a change in the law. The latest poll also revealed that when asked if the College should oppose a change in the law, support a change in the law or adopt a position of neutrality, the largest group opposed a change in the law (43.4%). Second place in the poll was achieved by those supporting a change in the law and thus supporting physician-assisted suicide (31.6%). The least popular response came from those supporting a move towards neutrality by the College on this issue (25%)

The College, in its wisdom, however, had decided in advance that unless a super majority of 60% or more was achieved by either those supporting or those opposed to a change in the law, then the College would adopt a position of neutrality — defying all logic. The decision to demand a super majority of 60% is highly undemocratic and was chosen to ensure that neutrality would, with absolute certainty, become the new official RCP position on physician-assisted suicide.

A close equivalent analogy would be for the Premier League to have decided last season that unless Manchester City or Liverpool had achieved at least a 15 or 20 point (arbitrarily chosen) winning points margin then the third placed club (Chelsea as it happened) would be declared champions. As it turned out, Manchester City won the title with 98 points, just pipping Liverpool with 97 points. The third-placed club, Chelsea, finished a distant third (like the neutrality option in the RCP poll) with 72 points. Try telling City fans that actually Chelsea are the true Champions.

The legal challenge to the RCP poll, supported by some CMA (UK) Council members, was most recently being appealed and that appeal process seems to be on-going. The pro-euthanasia groups, such as Dignity in Dying, know that a giant step has been taken towards the eventual legalisation of physician-assisted suicide and subsequently euthanasia in this country. Once medical bodies relax their opposition, it is inevitable that political opposition will eventually follow. I suspect that many difficult challenges lie ahead for those of us who support the dignity of life to its natural end.

Guests at CMA Council meetings

It was a great honour to welcome Dr Lola Abdul as a guest to our CMA Council meeting in Eccleston Square in June. Dr Abdul is a member of the CMA USA and is the Communications Officer for Residents in the Association. She has recently commenced a Residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Michigan, having completed her Internship in the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota. Dr Lola was visiting the UK and Europe on her way to attending the Consecration to the Sacred Heart event in Rome. She gave an inspirational account of some of the activities of the CMA USA, with particular emphasis on the Spiritual

At our next Council meeting in October 2019, our guest will be Anais Symington from the Teen STAR programme, promoting Sexuality Teaching in the Context of Adult Responsibility. She will inform us of the work of the Teen STAR movement and suggest ways in which the CMA (UK) might provide assistance, within our remit.

Abortion in Northern Ireland Dr Adrian Treloar writes

52 years after the introduction of the Abortion act in the UK, abortion is now legal in all parts of the UK. The reality that the Westminster Parliament imposed abortion on Northern Ireland while the Northern Irish Assembly was suspended requires mention in this journal. It is a sad end to the protection that unborn children enjoyed across the whole of the Island of Ireland until recently. That the killing of the unborn was required because the judiciary saw it as a basic human right (of the mother) merely demonstrates the absolute denial of that right to the child.

Speaking at Westminster on the 16th October Democratic Unionist MP Jim Shannon said: "the figures are on record: 100,000 children live today because we do not have the abortion legislation that there is on the mainland." "When I think about what will be imposed on my part of the United Kingdom from Tuesday, I am left utterly speechless. Between 22 October 2019 and 31 March 2020, the only law on this that will be in place in Northern Ireland will be the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945, which is not engaged until the point at which a child is capable of being born alive.

"the figures are on record: 100,000 children live today because we do not have the abortion legislation that there is on the mainland".
Jim Shannon MP

"That effectively means that we would have a legal void in terms of protections for the unborn until at least 21 weeks of gestation, and potentially up to 28 weeks' gestation. It means thatfrom Tuesday some unborn animals subject to research will have more statutory protection in Northern Ireland than some unborn human beings. It is absolutely unbelievable that anyone would do this, and the Members responsible need to look at themselves very seriously. It is deeply troubling."

"I say again that the majority of people in my constituency are very clear that they do not want liberalised abortion in Strang ford or across Northern Ireland. It would be better if the Northern Ireland Assembly made that decision, and I hope that the recall on Monday will be a way forward."

Conservative MP Maria Caulfield went on to describe how the majority of Northern Irish public oppose the Westminster abortion regime. "This is a case not just of dismissing devolution but of pretending to speak on behalf of the women of Northern Ireland. In the Belfast Telegraph just a few days ago, polling showed that across every age group and gender, people in Northern Ireland were against changes in the rules on abortion. Some 54% of18 to 24-year­olds and 51% of women are against the changes proposed."

We must continue to work to gain the hearts and minds of people. We should be outraged by the scale of killing in our country today. Pray that one day the vision of the beautiful unborn and vulnerable child will indeed once again save lives.