Story by S.L. Hansen
OMAHA (SNR) - The Omaha Guild of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) will host its fourth annual ethics conference Saturday, Oct. 25 at Christ the King Church and Parish Center in Omaha.
The conference will be preceded by a White Mass for all medical professionals, clergy and interested laypeople Friday, Oct. 24, also at Christ the King Church, with a dinner and speakers afterward.
Saturday’s conference, “Conserving Life” begins with Mass at 8:15 a.m. Presentations and question-and-answer sessions will last from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., focusing on ethical health care planning, ordinary vs. extraordinary care, and the spiritual and medical aspects of end-of-life care.
“Conserving Life is about respecting human life from the time of conception to natural death,” stated Dr. David Hilger, secretary of the Omaha CMA Guild. (Editor's Note: Dr. Hilger spoke after the White Mass in Lincoln in 2013.)
One need only read the headlines to see how important it is for Catholic medical professionals to prepare for the challenges of end-of-life issues. Just last week, news outlets published the story of a terminally ill woman who recently moved to Portland, Ore., so that she could avail herself to legalized doctor-assisted suicide, a decision that has been marketed by some as noble and ethical.
“The Church teaches us that we are the stewards of our lives, and the lives of others,” countered Dr. Hilger. “This is not only important for medical professionals, but all of us will face these issues for ourselves and loved ones.”
He explained that Catholic medical ethics are based on the teachings of the Magisterium. Catholic physicians and other medical providers can and should follow the basic principles of medical ethics in their daily decisions about patient care.
Among the speakers, Greg Schleppenbach, director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, will address ethical health care planning, including “Living Wills and Health Care Power of Attorney,” in this new age of doctor-assisted suicide and the Affordable Care Act.
“The Affordable Care Act has had a large effect on health care,” that both directly and indirectly “impacts almost every level of health care delivery,” Dr. Hilger said. “It’s important for all of us to consider this, not only for ourselves, but also for our families.”
Another session is titled, “Catholic Ethics and POLST,” which will be presented by Deacon Dan Gannon, J.D, of the Diocese of Lacrosse, Wisc. POLST stands for “Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment.”
“These are being promoted and implemented in many states, however they do have inherent ethical problems and issues,” Dr. Hilger explained.
After Deacon Gannon’s presentation, he will join Schleppenbach and Father Christopher Kubat, M.D. and director of Catholic Social Services for the Diocese of Lincoln, on a panel that will take questions from the audience. Attendees will then gather for lunch before afternoon sessions.
Rita Hejkal, an Omaha homemaker, will share her thoughts about bearing witness to the devastating truths of euthanasia. In 2005, Mrs. Hejka left her young family (at her husband’s urging) to keep vigil outside the Florida nursing home where Terri Schindler Schiavo was euthanized by starvation and dehydration.
Peter J. Murphy, M.D, a pulmonologist who serves patients in the Omaha area, will address the difference between ordinary and extraordinary care.
Father Matthew Gutowski will join Lloyd Pierre, M.D., for a presentation on the spiritual and medical aspects of end-of-life care. Father Gutowski is the Omaha Archdiocese director of the Catholic Faith Formation Office, and Dr. Pierre is a family physician with Sancta Familia Medical Apostolate, a faith-based primary care medical clinic in Omaha. Another question-and-answer session will follow.
Dr. Hilger said that the goal of the conference is to help Catholic medical professionals understand and uphold Catholic ethics on the job.
“By understanding the reasons and truth of Catholic teachings, we can explain our position to others,” he said. “This often results in mutual respect and can help us with our colleagues and in our institutions.”
Before the conference, Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha will celebrate a 5:45 p.m. White Mass at Christ the King Church. The White Mass is traditionally held on or near the feast of St. Luke, patron of physicians and surgeons, on Oct. 18.
A dinner with a special presentation by Dr. Edward and Jeanne Gatz will be held in the Christ the King Parish Center at 7 p.m.
“The Gatzes will tell the story of his cure through the intercession of St. Jeanne Jugan,” said Dr. Hilger.
He encouraged all Catholic health care providers, including physicians, allied health, nurses and administrators in the area to attend the conference.
“The conference also has pertinent and important information for the clergy,” he added, “as well as to faithful Catholics and other Christians who are interested in these topics.”
Conference and dinner tickets may be purchased as a package or as individual events at Eventbrite.com (search for Omaha CMA White Mass and Conference). Special rates are available for clergy and medical students. The White Mass is open to all without cost.
Tickets must be reserved by Oct. 20 for the dinner and by Oct. 24 for the conference. For additional information, visit www.omahacma.com.