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 CNS Story:

CMA-REFORM Oct-12-2004 (1,040 words) xxxn

Catholic Medical Association urges sweeping health care reforms

By Ann Carey
Catholic News Service

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CNS) --The 900-member Catholic Medical Association has called for sweeping reform of health care delivery in the United States and proposed better ways to help the poor and uninsured, restore trust between patient and doctor, respect the conscience of all parties and control costs.

The organization urged the reform in a statement titled "Health Care in America: A Catholic Proposal for Renewal," which was approved and released at the organization's Sept. 23-25 convention in Orlando, Fla.

After examining the present state of health care, the statement makes six main proposals:

-- To reform tax laws to give incentives for people to purchase their own health insurance directly, with refundable tax credits enabling the poor to do so.

-- To remove burdensome and unjust mandates from health care.

-- To allow choice of private insurance policies through creation of voluntary groups that sponsor coverage.

-- To encourage health savings accounts which allow the consumers to control more discretionary and routine health spending.

-- To guarantee comprehensive protection of conscience.

-- To encourage experiments in diocesan self-insurance.

Dr. R. Steven White, president of the Catholic Medical Association and chairman of the task force that produced the statement, said in a telephone interview that most physicians recognize that the nation's health care delivery system is having a harmful effect on the doctor-patient relationship.

Too many third parties with financial interests are making decisions about patient care, he said, and health care is burdened with intrusive mandates -- some that actually prevent doctors from waiving fees for poor patients and others that violate the conscience rights of health care providers.

As the statement notes, "a regime of omniscient rules" is being substituted for the judgment of the physician and the responsibility of the patient.

The 12-member multidisciplinary Catholic Medical Association task force spent 18 months asking and seeking answers to questions such as: What does the church say medicine is? How can Catholic physicians work in harmony with Catholic social principles? Why are so many people uninsured? Why are costs escalating out of control? What is contributing to the degradation of the doctor-patient relationship?

The statement produced by the task force and endorsed by the Catholic Medical Association board and assembly is what White called a "teaching document" that defines the essential nature of medicine and what physicians are called to do. The document draws heavily on Catholic theology and social teaching.

The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" inspired the statement's authors to portray Catholic medicine as a cathedral, with Jesus as the cornerstone. Subsidiarity, solidarity, the sanctity of human life and virtue are the four pillars that support the structure. Justice is the floor, and charity is the light that fills the space and guides the activity therein.

Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker, Ore., episcopal adviser to the Catholic Medical Association and a member of the task force, said the association's statement supports medical care for everyone, but not through socialized medicine.

"We have to find a way, and Catholic medicine is beautifully poised to do this, to make sure that we preserve the beauty and integrity of the patient-physician relation," which is really "a covenant," Bishop Vasa said. "And that means we must insist that physicians are responsible, that they are charitable, that they are looking after the best interests of the people entrusted to their care."

However, in a system that puts a concerned payer between the patient and the doctor, Bishop Vasa added, that covenant is interrupted, allowing an insurance provider or other institution to determine what service is provided for the patient.

White said the Catholic Medical Association statement is not just Christian and Catholic, but rather articulates "basic Hippocratic ethics" which are "tried and true" but are being forgotten and abandoned.

"What no one likes to say but is clearly true," White added, is that the health care system "is being socialized. We believe that will result in the destruction of the profession and its essential nature, and the patient will suffer from that."

The statement is certainly not the last word on health care delivery, White said, but rather is proposed as "the beginning of a new dialogue based on very fundamental principles."

The organization hopes this dialogue will be carried out within the Catholic Church and within the halls of government, he added, with a goal of developing a new health care system that improves the practice of medicine and respects human dignity and the sanctity of every human life.

The association's statement was to be posted in the near future on its Web site at www.cathmed.org.

The Catholic Medical Association convention also included talks by:

-- Dr. Kathleen Foley of the department of palliative care at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

-- Holy Cross Father John H. Miller, founder of Scholars for Social Justice in St. Louis.

-- Father Joseph L. Soria, a Canadian physician, canon lawyer and retreat master.

-- Judith A. Reisman, president of the Institute for Media Education in Sacramento, Calif., and author of "Kinsey: Crimes and Consequences."

-- Dr. Byron C. Calhoun, director of the perinatal assessment unit at Rockford Memorial Medical Center in Rockford, Ill.

Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, a biochemist who is director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston, spoke about 10 myths perpetuated by the media about stem-cell research.

Disputing a claim that embryonic stem-cell research shows more promise than other stem-cell research, Father Pacholczyk cited 98 different diseases that can be treated using umbilical cord blood and adult stem cells.

Currently there is no scientific evidence of embryonic stems cells having been used successfully in animal trials, he said.

"They've actually found in the research that has been done that embryonic stem cells actually end up generating tumors in the animals and do not assimilate into the body," the priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., added. "The embryonic stem cells are so energetic that they are hard to control and manipulate."

Father Pacholczyk also said the reproductive cloning process is very unstable and rarely works. "It took 230 attempts" to create Dolly, the first cloned sheep, he added.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Julie Greene in Orlando.

END


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