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November 12, 2010

The Power of the Catholic Witness

 

Since beginning my third year rotations, I have been striving to be a witness of Christ to my patients and colleagues.  I have also been preparing myself for those moments when I would be asked to do something that I knew was against my faith and my conscience.  nbsp;Little did I realize that I would have my first encounter of that on my surgery rotation.
It was a Friday afternoon of the first week with my surgeon, Dr. B.  I had already rotated with the trauma service and the neurosurgeon at the University Hospital, and now I was assigned to small, community hospital.  The week had gone great, with a variety of general surgery cases and now we were wrapping up the week with a few hours seeing patients in the office.  As I reviewed the list of patients for the afternoon, I saw something that made my heart sink.  The last patient of the day was scheduled to have a vasectomy performed.  I had not anticipated this being a problem on surgery.  In retrospect, I should not be too surprised, since a vasectomy is a surgical procedure.  I suppose that since the male reproductive issues do not come up as often, I simply wasn’t thinking about it.  However, that quickly changed.
After all of this came to my attention, I mentioned to my preceptor that I saw the last patient of the day was a vasectomy.  I started to say “I hope you don’t mind, but-”, then I was interrupted by my preceptor saying “You would like to sit this one out?  Not a problem.”  I said thank you, and we went on to see the next patient.  When we returned to his office, he related to me that since coming to this hospital about 15 years ago he has done the majority of the vasectomies because the urologist in the hospital was a Catholic and would not do vasectomies.  I again gave him my gratitude for understanding, and we left it at that.
This whole episode shocked me.  When I saw that a vasectomy was going to be done, I was preparing myself to defend my position, but that was not needed.  And the reason why it was unnecessary was because another Catholic physician had been faithful to his conscience and the teachings of the Church.  My preceptor knew that the urologist was Catholic and because he was Catholic would not do vasectomies.  This witness created for me an environment where I could in turn be a faithful Catholic physician.  The respect for the Catholic position had been created through the professional relationship of these two physicians and the witness the urologist had given over the years.
Now, I count myself very fortunate that this was my experience in this case.  Sadly, I fear that this is a rare occurrence, and that my Catholic colleagues have more often than not faced more difficult situations.  For too long, individuals within the Church have been willing to compromise on the teachings of the Church, particularly in medicine.  Whether it is abortion or contraception, or assisting in illicit procedures, an atmosphere has arisen where the Catholic position is simply not respected anymore.  However, we can change that.   As students, we have a prime opportunity to take the hard road and fight the good fight.  If we start now, we can have an impact that reaches far beyond ourselves and may affect generations of other Catholics in health care, whether professionals or patients.  One act could plant the seed of respect, or even conversion, that in turn may spread onward and outward.  The first step is up to each individual. We can make the conscious decision to be the difference and to stand up for the teachings of our Faith.  In doing so, we may be able to bring back to medicine some of the integrity that has been lost
Have any of you had a similar experience?
 
-Brian-

 

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