On Saturday, February 4, 2006, a Catholic Bioethics Seminar was held at St. Sharbel’s Church in Peoria, Il. The key note speakers were Father Michael Bliss, Dr. Gerald McShane, and Joe Piccione.
Father Bliss is OSF’s chaplain and a member of the ethics committee at OSF. Dr. McShane is employed at OSF Corporate and is Chair of OSF Ethics Committee. Joe Piccione is the OSF Corporate Ethicist, a lawyer, and philosopher.
Father Bliss gave the first talk. His comments included that “medical ethics is doing good for people in a good way”, “we need to recognize the patient’s dignity and realize the greatest good for the patient”, and that oral contraceptives can, at times, “bring about death”. Father held up a pamphlet describing the ethical and religious directives of the bishops and stated it was very good and easy to read. I happened to have my own copy with me at the seminar.
When Father was done speaking, he asked if there were any questions from the audience. I raised my hand and stated that Haitian Hearts had buried a patient one week prior who had been refused by OSF, and I wanted to know why and how we can avoid this “problem” in the future. Well, Father Bliss would have none of this and cut me off mid question and stated that he would not answer my questions and had no comments. I told him that I thought it was his responsibility to tell the public why OSF had abandoned this young Haitian man (Jackson Jean-Baptiste). He said “no further comment” and that Bishop Jenky had dealt with this problem in the past. That was it. He obviously did not want the crowd to hear my questions or comments and what was he going to say that could possibly defend OSF’s actions and went against the ethical directives of the US bishops. He was in a losing position and knew it.
The next speaker was Dr. McShane. He gave a talk on doctor-patient relationships and said that this relationship is fundamental. He had a nice but very simple handout. Compassion and caring is key. He referred to himself as a good physician. His handout referred to the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of the patient. His handout went on and on. Dr. McShane’s voice was shaky and nervous. He stated half way through his speech that “John Carroll will probably have some questions for me”.
When Dr. McShane was done with his pitch, he asked if there were questions and looked at me. I again raised my hand and told him that his words were beautiful but that OSF had acted the opposite with regards to my dead Haitian patient and I wanted to know why. To my surprise, Dr. McShane stated that he would not answer my question regarding the deceased Haitian that was refused care at OSF. He told the crowd that I was bringing up this topic “every six months”. Dr. McShane is paid a huge salary by OSF Corporate to give these talks and he is very grateful for the generosity of the Sisters.
Their was a panel discussion that followed and a question was asked regarding birth control pills being prescribed by a Catholic medical center. Dr. McShane stated that it would be “sinful” to use the pill as an oral contraceptive. Joe Piccione shook his head yes. I asked, at that point, why Joe Piccione had come to Peoria in 1993 to help establish a protocol so OSF physicians and the OSF Health Plan could offer oral contraceptives and sterilization. I had the newspaper article in my hand that described what Piccione and our previous bishop and the OSF Sisters had developed last decade regarding oral contraceptives and sterilization. Piccione tried to defend his actions and stated that Bishop Meyers agreed with him as does Bishop Jenky and actually Pope Benedict would be in agreement with OSF’s stand on birth control pills and their allocation. Piccione was really reaching when he said that the Pope would be in agreement. I asked Joe if it was about money and he replied “no”, however, I held up the PJS article where he was quoted about the need for oral contraceptives if OSF was to stay competitive in the health care field. Joe seemed to be at conflict with his statements a decade before. At that point the priest who was moderator became quite angry with me and told me that I could not ask any more questions. This poor priest is a parish priest at St. Sharbel’s and probably was worried that OSF would be upset with him if the speakers were made to look too hypocritical.
So that was that. The bioethics seminar was very elementary and misleading to the public and some of the crowd went away confused. I am also sure that most people there would have sided with the ethicists because my questions and comments were pointing out things that the crowd wouldn’t think were possible at OSF with the Bishop and even the Pope supporting, Good people, like the crowd at St. Sharbel’s, want to believe that their Catholic leaders are leading them in the correct moral direction. This is such a shame and emblematic of the horrible situation in which the Catholic Church in the US finds itself today.