Breathing Life Into Health Care
Dr. Steven White says he's learned a lot about healing.
It comes through a relationship with the patient, including material, emotional and spiritual aspects.
“The inability to give a patient this attention has resulted in the high level of dissatisfaction with the medical profession today,” he said.
Dr. White is a pulmonolo-gist in Ormond Beach, Fla., and president of the Catholic Medical Association, which recently released a statement on health care in the third millennium.
He spoke with Register correspondent Stephen Vincent.
What motivated you to become a doctor?
My interest in medicine arose during my college years and was directly related to my relationship with my (then) future wife, Cris-tina, and her family. Her grandfather, fatherand brother were all physicians. I was inclined to a career which would allow me to serve othersand I realized I had found my niche when I began to study in earnest the premed curriculum. I received my medical degree in 1979 from the University of Louisville and went on to specialize in internal medicine and then sub-specialize in pulmonary medicine. I have been in private practicefor 20 years and my special areas of interest include the rehabilitation of patients with pulmonary disease and the palliative care of the severely chronically ill and dying.
Has the Catholic faith always been important for you?
I grew up in a strong Catholic family and a vibrant parish community, and my early education by the Dominicans was excellent. However, the influence of the secular culture and the changes occurring in the Church during the 1960s and 70s left me somewhat indifferent. I never actually left the Church nor lost my faith, but I did not mature in the knowledge or practiceof my faith during that time. On Jan. 1, 1992, at the age of 40, I began what I now realize was the beginning of a profound conversion of faith, destined to change my life. I came face to facewith significant innocent suffering within my own family and it created a crisis of life and faith for me. My initial reaction was one of utter disbelief and deep sorrow.
I then turned to my faith with the expectation of “miraculous signs.”When none appeared, I began to look for meaning. This spiritual odyssey involved every aspect ofmy life as a husband, father and physician. Through prayer and study and sacrifice, I encounterdMary and developed a beautiful relationship with her, and she led me to her Son. I came to know him first in the Blessed Sacrament. As time went on and my knowledge and experience of the Paschal Mystery deepened, I was drawn more and more to Calvary. It was here that I found the meaning I had been searching for. It was at the foot of the Cross that I first glimpsed the meaning of innocent suffering and I first experienced true compassion, the mercy of God himself. My Catholicfaith is now the essence and the center of my life.
What challenges do you face as a Catholic physician?
One of the most significant challenges today for a physician is to take the timenecessary to see each patient through the process of diagnosis and management of their disease with competence and compassion. I have found that healing comes through the relationship established with the patient. Competent medical or surgical care is essential, but it isn't enough. The whole relationship between the doctor and the patient, including the material, emotional and spiritual aspects, leads to the actual complete healing. This takes time. The inability to give a patient this attention has resulted in the high level of dissatisfaction with the medical profession today.
Does your faith influence the way you practice medicine?
Medicine is a vocation. It is a call from God to serve the “least of the brethren.” The Holy Father stated this specifically in 1989 and it is restated in the Vatican's Charter for Healthcare Workers. My faith enables me to respond to this transcendent call even in the midst of adverse circumstances. If I were precluded by law from practicing medicine inaccord with my moral beliefs, I would have no choice but to oppose this injustice and work to change the system.
What is the mission of the Catholic Medical Association?
The mission of the CMA has been throughout its 73 year history to “uphold the principles of Catholic faith and morality in the science and practice of medicine.” Weare leaven in a secularized profession that has completely lost touch with its Hippocratic and Judeo-Christian tradition. I am deeply saddened to have to say this, but the medical profession has in large part become an instrument of the culture of death. The blood of over 1 million innocent children a year for the last 30 years has been shed by physicians. Chemical abortifacients are prescribed by most practicing ob-gyn's and family physicians, resulting in the deaths of countless more innocent children and contributing to the epidemic of infertility in American women today. Physicians legally assist with euthanasia in Oregon today and many more throughout the U.S. sympathize with the practice. The CMA will continue to bring the message of the Gospel to the profession, even out of season.
The CMA statement, “Health-care in America: A Catholic Proposal for Renewal,” applies Catholic social teaching to the field of medicine. Explain.
Social justice requires the organization of individuals and institutions to work for the common good. Pope Pius XI called for the “reconstruction of the social order” in his encyclical Quadragesimo Anno in 1931. This reconstruction must be based upon the fundamental principles underlying the virtues of social justice: the sanctity of every human life, subsidiarity and solidarity.
The misinterpretation and misapplication of Catholic social doctrine have led some to advocate a universal or socialized system of healthcare delivery. Another important point which must be emphasized is that those who through no fault of their own are unable to work or provide the means to purchase insurance have to be taken care of. The poor will always be with usand we have an obligation in charity to care for them.
What impact can the CMA have on the culture of death?
The CMA statement will provide many opportunities for interaction with other medical associations, Catholic institutions, legislative bodies and federal health policy agencies as we all collaborate in the restructuring of the health care delivery system that is already well under way.
The Catholic Medical Association will not waver from its commitment to spread the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to its profession and those whom they serve. During this very special year dedicated to the Holy Eucharist, we will continue to strive to “restore all things in Christ,” following the example and instruction of our Holy Father who said, “Mission without contemplation of the Crucified One is condemned to frustration. Commitmentto the adoration of the Eucharistic mystery is essential, since it is in the Sacrament of the Altar that the Church contemplates uniquely the mystery of Calvary, from whose sacrifice flows thegrace of evangelization.”
Stephen Vincent writes from Wallingford, Conn.
- November 14-20, 2004