By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — The world needs health care professionals dedicating their lives “in imitation of the Divine physician, Jesus Christ.”
“Health care in America is losing sight of the fundamental dignity of the human person,” Lincoln, Neb., Bishop James D. Conley told some 200 physicians, nurses and other health care professionals and their families Feb. 14.
“Today, medicine seems to be driven by a technocratic impulse to pursue scientific possibilities with no concern for their moral, ethical or human consequences,” the bishop said as he joined Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn, Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, St. Benedict’s Abbot James R. Albers, and priests of the two Kansas-Missouri border dioceses in celebrating the annual White Mass at St. Michael Archangel Parish for the Kansas City Guild of the Catholic Medical Association.
Bishop Conley, who grew up in Overland Park, stressed the Gospel reading for the Mass of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth when she proclaimed her Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
Then he told the story of three physicians whose souls did exactly that.
In 1958, Dr. Jerome Lejeune discovered the chromosomal abnormalities that caused Down syndrome, previously blamed on maternal disease or prenatal neglect.
“We know now that those discoveries were groundbreaking, and Dr. Lejeune would have likely been content to continue laboratory research and ordinary patient care,” he said.
“But the Holy Spirit spoke to him, calling him to more. Armed with new knowledge, he opened the first clinic for people with Down syndrome, treating patients from around the world,” the bishop said.
“He helped form thousands of physicians in new ways to treat those with chromosomal abnormalities,” he said.
“The correlation between genetics and intellectual disability initiated a new era of treatment and advocacy for the intellectually disabled led by Dr. Lejeune who in 1994 became the first president of the Pontifical Academy of Life,” Bishop Conley said.
Dr. Giuseppe Moscati was the son of a wealthy Italian attorney when he completed his medical training in 1903 at the age of 23.
“In 1906, the roof of his hospital caved in and he dragged patients to safety, one at a time,” Bishop Conley said.
“In 1911, cholera broke out and, with no regard for his own health, he treated hundreds of patients. Those experiences transformed him,” the bishop said.
“While Dr. Moscati might have been content teaching and practicing medicine, the Holy Spirit spoke to him, calling him to more,” he said.
“In 1912, he took a vow of celibacy,” Bishop Conley said. “He used the financial freedom of his position to open free clinics for the homeless and the working poor. He would often slip money under the patients’ pillows. And when they suffered, he encouraged them to offer their suffering to Christ. He encouraged his patients to go to Confession and to join him at Mass.
“He died at 46 of a sudden illness — and 60 years later, John Paul II declared him a saint,” Bishop Conley said.
Gianna Molla was a family physician outside Milan, who often offered her services to the poor for free.
“In 1961, at 39, she was pregnant with a fourth child. Dr. Molla might have been content to raise her children and practice medicine, but God called her to something more,” Bishop Conley said.
“Two months into her pregnancy, her doctor found a fibroma on her uterus. She was advised to undergo an abortion and hysterectomy,” he said.
“Gianna refused. She knew and understood the risks. She had treated patients with similar conditions,” Bishop Conley said.
“But Gianna loved the child growing within her womb more than she loved her own life,” he said.
“In April of 1962, she went into labor — begging her doctors to spare the child if things went wrong. Her daughter was born healthy, but, seven days later, Dr. Gianna Molla died of septic peritonitis,” the bishop said.
“Lejeune, Moscati and Molla were ordinary physicians in imitation of the Divine Physician — Jesus Christ,” Bishop Conley said.
“Becoming good and holy medical professionals requires becoming good and holy men and women,” he said. “It requires that our lives are fundamentally defined in relationship to Jesus Christ and to his church. And becoming good and holy medical professionals requires openness to the hand of Providence — to the prompting, inspiration and leadership of the Holy Spirit in our lives.”
Echoing the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Bishop Conley warned that the world “has largely surrendered to a ‘dictatorship of relativism.’”
“The consequences of moral and cultural relativism are abundant,” he said.
“Among your peers, this is most borne out in the consequences of the technocratic materialism that dominates our cultural world view,” Bishop Conley said.
“Your peers in medicine prescribe contraception which robs sexuality of its beauty and purpose,” he said.
“Some perform abortions, taking human life under the guise of personal freedom or compassion,” he said.
“As our population ages, more and more physicians will consider seriously the practice of euthanasia and ‘assisted suicide.’ Some of you, like Bishop Finn, come from Missouri where the state legislature is debating an assisted suicide bill even now,” he said.
Bishop Conley was referring to Missouri House Bill 307, the so-called “Death with Dignity Act” that has been opposed by the Missouri Catholic Conference, and — so far this session — has not been assigned to committee or placed on the House calendar for debate. It was proposed by Rep. Kimberly Gardner, D-St. Louis, with no co-sponsors.
But Bishop Conley also warned against “the corporatization of medicine.”
“Patients are increasingly seen as customers, and the humanity of healing is being replaced with the economics of profiteerism,” he said.
Bishop Conley called on health care professionals to lead the “New Evangelization.”
“The world of medicine needs the Gospel. And you are called to be missionary disciples to the medical community,” he said.
“The New Evangelization is the work of ordinary men and women who enter into the lives of their communities with audacity and zeal, with joy and daring — ordinary men and women whose lives proclaim the greatness of the Lord,” he said.
“Do not be afraid to be evangelists for Jesus Christ in your medical practice,” Bishop Conley said.
“Do not be afraid to be modern apostles. Do not be afraid to encounter the broken world for the sake of truth. Do not be afraid to offer all that you have been given, to pour out your lives for the salvation of souls,” Bishop Conley said.
“You should strive to have souls that proclaim God’s greatness because you are made for the love of God,” he said.
“You should strive for holiness in medicine because the world needs the witness of doctors who know the truth about the human person, and respond to it,” he said.
“And you should strive for sanctity in medicine because your patients need the love of God, poured out for them through your lives,” Bishop Conley said.
“The world is longing to see the greatness of the Lord.”