Healthcare workers are ministers of a God who loves life

Health workers are ministers for a God who loves life

By Professor Jim McManus

Catholics have a long history of working in health and social care. From the examples of the saints who have founded orders to the history of hospitals, to the work done today, the evidence is all around us.

Indeed, the Catholic Church worldwide today remains one of the biggest providers of health and social care globally, and is the single biggest provider of HIV and Aids care.

So why are we so interested in health and social care? Simply and solely because we see it as a commitment to human dignity and wholeness, and that in itself stems from the mission of Christ.

The fact is the Catholic Church’s position is and has been consistent for some time. Human beings are precious because they are precious to God. So we should cherish life, however weakened and disabled. It is precious. We should support people to achieve best health. But the Church has always balanced that by saying we should embrace natural death when it comes.

That means participation in this mission of health and healing is important to the Church because of what it sees as its participation in the mission of Christ. And workers who participate in this mission of health and healing – indeed, have a vocation to this – are important because they are doing something – paid or unpaid – that the Church sees as valuable and in many ways is central to its mission.

The Church has produced a range of consistent teaching for many years on this. What it hasn’t done terribly well is codify this or always make it readily accessible for us. St John Paul II created a Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, and in his Apostolic Constitution Dolentium Hominum taught us much about suffering and our understanding of it.

Many would say he taught us even more by his bearing of it personally. In creating the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, he gave us a range of resources including a Charter for Health Care Workers which, sadly, have not received the coverage they should have. The council was recently, after 30 years, subsumed into the new papal organisation for Integral Human Development. Some see this as a retrograde step.

I disagree. Health and health care have to be about integral human development across the whole life course. And this gives us some new opportunities to articulate what being healthy means across our whole life.

Within the last month, a document which I believe needs a much wider audience was produced by the Vatican. Entitled A New Charter for Health Care Workers, this document – as yet, only available in Italian – represents nothing less than a major opportunity for us. I’ve already received invitations to lecture and teach on this. I hope an official English version will be made available soon. For the present, I am on my fourth reading of this document and it is nothing less than inspirational.

So why is this document important? I would like to advance a few reasons. First, it is a document which does joined up thinking. Health is hugely important to us as a human good, and it was important to Christ. That means that the ministry of healing, and the work of health and social care, is an important part of the Church’s ministry. This document rings that message out loud and clear. If you are a carer – paid or unpaid – you live the Church’s mission by encountering people in pain and need.

The document begins with a rather beautiful ‘ministry of health’ introduction and a preface re-iterating the teaching of St John Paul II. It frames the whole discussion of health and healthcare as part of the Church’s mission.

…the health care worker is ‘the minister of that God who in scripture is presented as “a lover of life”’ (Wisdom 11:26). To serve life is to serve God in the person: it is to become ‘a collaborator with God in restoring health to the sick body’ and to give praise and glory to God in the loving acceptance of life, especially if it is weak and ill.

The therapeutic ministry of health care workers is a sharing in the pastoral and evangelising work of the Church. Service to life becomes a ministry of salvation that is a message that implements the redeeming love of Christ. Doctors, nurses, other health care workers and voluntary assistants are called to be the living image of Christ and of his Church in loving the sick and the suffering: witnesses to “the gospel of life”.

Second, the document sets the whole journey of human life, and the issues of health and suffering, within the context of integral human development.

Third, the document links Catholic Social Teaching to issues of health quite explicitly. There is a framing of rights people have to health and healthcare within the duty of justice. The document frames healthcare quality within the context of justice too, and this theme of justice continues throughout. People have a right to the means to health (education, employment, food etc) and to good quality healthcare.

Fourth, the document takes a whole life course approach. The text is divided into sections on procreation, living and dying so there is a bioethical theme running through it (which sometimes dominates) but if you read closely the social justice for all theme is strongly there.

Fifth, and here I think very profoundly, the document attempts to join up an understanding of health, health care and the mystery of suffering. Health is a ‘good’ to enjoy. Suffering in some senses is something to avoid and so healing when we can cure is a participation in Christ’s healing ministry. But suffering is not valueless. It has a redemptive quality. We can offer it to God and unite ourselves with Christ in his suffering. We can learn through our pain – and I say that personally here.

Finally, I personally feel it says something profound about the nature of health. If people who suffer, or are disabled, are precious to God, health cannot be the perfect state of everything being wonderful that the aspirational 1948 World Health Organisation definition suggests. Health needs to be seen as an orientation to be the best we can be, for God, for self and for others, given our physical and psychological limitations. We need not be physically perfect. We must be realistic. But through it all we remain precious to God and the Church’s position on valuing all human life seen in this light is entirely consistent. Those we cannot cure we can support, sustain and learn from.

There is a wonderful section on death and dying which you would think was almost written as a development of some of the recent work on end-of-life care policy nationally. It says: ‘In the last days of life the dignity of the person should be understood as the right to die with greatest possible serenity, and with that human and Christian dignity which is their due.’ There’s a call to mission for Catholics if ever there was one.

It goes on to remind us of the importance of spiritual care at end of life. ‘The spiritual crisis which comes as death approaches, compels the Church to bear the light of hope to the dying person and their loved ones, a light which only faith can shed on the mystery of dying.’

Seen in this light, the Art of Dying Well website www.artofdyingwell.org is a clear attempt to communicate these riches of the Church’s understanding to a society which really needs them.

This document gives us some major opportunities. And it comes at the right time as in all of the four health systems of the UK, we see some significant changes being wrought.

The diocese of Westminster has already spurred a season – Called to Serve the Sick – which is intended to be a practical continuation of the Year of Mercy. This new charter lands right in the middle of that season.

A series of roadshows, championed by Bishop Paul McAleenan, will discuss a Catholic understanding of health and social care, why Catholics should feel a particular vocation to health and social care, and what parishes can do about it. “It is fitting that this season comes as a continuation of the Year of Mercy, giving us the opportunity to practise that most important act of Christian love, care for our neighbour,” says Bishop Paul. “Good health, poor health, disability and ultimately our death, are integral aspects of what it means to be humans precious to God, and so they are of huge importance to us as Catholics.”

To register and for more information and resources go to www.rcdow.org.uk/called-to-serve-the-sick

He added: “The Church has a special place of value for those who are sick, those with disabilities and those who work with and for them. Cardinal Vincent and I very much want priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful to understand that working with the sick is part of their core ministry and mission”.

At the same time, new resources are being published by CTS. A Priest’s Guide to Hospital Ministry and a Catholic Patient’s Guide to Being in Hospital are available from www.ctsbooks.org

Professor Jim McManus is director of public health for Hertfordshire, and a consultant to the Art of Dying Well.
For more, see www.artofdyingwell.org

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Catholic Medical Association UK statement on the Liverpool Care Pathway

Catholic Medical Association (UK)

 

NEWS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: TUES 16 JULY 2013

 

The CMA(UK) notes with huge sadness the deep anxieties about poor care which the Neuberger inquiry  into  the Liverpool  Care Pathway  has identified. Patients who are coming towards the end of their lives require the best possible care and excellent symptom control as well as careful review of their treatments to assure that they are appropriate.

 As Catholic Clinicians and Healthcare Professionals we support the need for high quality, personalised care for people at the end of their life, which enables them to die with dignity, free from pain and thirst.

It is vital for our society to get end of life care right.  We recognise that the Liverpool Care Pathway was well intentioned but as the Neuberger report has identified there have been problems with implementation where poor care has happened, or the pathway has failed. This has unacceptably harmed patients and their relatives at a time when the priority should be to give good quality care.

 Consistent standards and compassion are needed

As work progresses towards phasing out the Liverpool Care Pathway, care towards the end of life in the UK remains too much of a patchwork and we call on Government to ensure that consistent high quality standards driven by best possible evidence, strong clinical practice, motivated by compassion and love for the human person are put at the centre of the care of patients approaching death whether in hospital, hospice or the community.

Tick box and formulaic approaches to the care of the dying are not acceptable. Any Care Pathway which is not underpinned by training, commitment, resourcing and effective clinical practice will be likely to fail. It is vital that support of those who are dying is based more clearly upon individual assessment of need which is regularly repeated and where treatment and care is shaped and adjusted accordingly.

The elements of good care towards the end of life

 Good care towards the end of life is not so much about death, rather it is about how someone lives in their last months, weeks and days.

 Patients who are coming towards the end of their lives require the best possible care and excellent symptom control as well as careful review of their treatments to assure that they are appropriate. The CMA therefore strongly supports the principles and good practice of palliative care.

The true outcome of care is comfort, dignity and living as well  as possible while people die. As well as that, preparation for and acceptance of death  is important for many.

In many ways “End of Life Care” is a misnomer which prompts people to think that the outcome of care is death.  “Palliative Care towards the end of life” is a better term than “End of Life Care” which would focus minds better upon living well until someone dies, with the excellent palliative care that it necessarily entails.

Our clinical experience and practice convinces us that the emphasis in end of life care must be placed upon needs of those who are dying rather than decisions based solely around prognosis.

Deprivation of consciousness (inappropriately sedating people) is a serious issue that is contrary to Catholic teaching and which deprives people of time with their loved ones as they die.

The CMA is committed to delivering best possible care

As work progresses towards a better way  of supporting people who  are coming towards the end of their lives, the CMA wishes to express its deep  commitment towards the best possible care in all clinical situations, from those dealing with the whole of people’s lives to those where patients are possibly approaching death.

We attempt to work with all systems of Health Care to improve the delivery of care using the Catholic Christian model for (the) excellence of care according to the inviolable nature of the dignity of the human person. We feel that Catholic insights on the dignity of the person, providing care from compassion tailored to the individual, and ensuring people can spend their last weeks and months in dignity are insights the healthcare system needs to re-learn.

 

Useful  Questions for Relatives and Families and Carers to ask

Relatives, families and carers of patients should be seen as partners in care at end of life.  While we work to improve care towards the  end of life care, we suggest  the following questions that  patients and their families may  find helpful  as they  discuss their loved ones care with  doctors and nurses to  ensure that  care is appropriate .

·         Are you sure that death is imminent?

·         Can the patient give consent to the treatment proposed?

·         Will the treatment reduce consciousness?

·         What effects will the treatment have, including the combined effects of the drugs proposed, and their effectiveness in reducing severely troublesome symptoms?

·         Will you assure that the patient will not experience thirst and can fluids be given by mouth or another way?

·         Will death be hastened by what is proposed?

Soundbite 1

“The CMA works towards the best possible care in all clinical situations, from those dealing with the whole of people’s lives to those where patients are possibly approaching death. We attempt to work with all systems of Health Care to improve the delivery of care using the Catholic Christian model for the excellence of care according to the inviolable nature of the dignity of the human person.”

 

Note for Editors: About the Catholic Medical  Association

The CMA exists to support Catholic Health Care Professionals and students of those professions in their daily working lives. It does this by mutual  support,  meetings and education as well  as working nationally and internationally with all systems of Health Care to improve the delivery of care using the Catholic Christian model for the excellence of care according to the inviolable nature of the dignity of the human person. We also publish  the Catholic Medical  Quarterly.

www.catholicmedicalassociation.org.uk

Drug trials must not abuse peoples’ rights, European Bishops tell EU

Drugs trials necessary but must respect the vulnerable

Drugs trials are necessary before drugs come to market, but those conducting them have ethical duties to obtain consent and respect the rights of those from developing countries, says a statement on behalf of all Catholic Churches in the European Union.

COMECE, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, issued the statement through its Bioethics committee in response to the EU Proposal for “A Regulation on clinical trials on medicinal products for human use’ which aims at re-launching clinical research within the EU while at the same time ensuring protection to participants as well as the reliability of the acquired data. The European Commission proposed regulation which will be submitted to a vote of the European Parliament next 29 May

The statement on Ethical assessment of clinical trials on medicinal products: Respect and protection of vulnerable persons and populations  was released by COMECE this week in English and French.

Importance of consent

“Many people who are unable to give consent as well as people from less-developed countries often participate in clinical trials.” The COMECE statement asks how we can better protect them and vulnerable populations against abuse in the process.

The COMECE bioethics team conclude that  EU proposal could go further in the protection of the people concerned. A spokesperson said:

“The COMECE Secretariat welcomes this proposal for a Regulation as it goes in the right direction. The COMECE Reflection Group on Bioethics has monitored the issue from the launch of the public consultation by the European Commission and publishes today its Opinion on this proposal for a Regulation. ”

Key ethical concerns and principles

The COMECE team underlined some principles which they feel should be implemented in the proposed EU Regulation :

Volunteering

“The appreciation of the value of voluntary participation in research projects for the good of the community:  granting financial incentives to any person agreeing to take part in some medical research therefore raises ethical issues.”

Protecting those particularly vulnerable

“A key ethical consideration for research carried out on human subjects is that of respecting and protecting particularly vulnerable people and populations who could be unduly used as easily-exploitable objects for experiments.”

Benefits for the population concerned, especially in developing countries

“Clinical research with a disadvantaged or vulnerable population or community is justified only if it responds to its health needs and priorities and if it is likely that such a population or community will benefit from the results of the research.”

Security of the participants to tests

“The subject of research may agree to become involved in a research protocol that does not fully respond to the individual’s own interests but will do so for the good of others, in the “medical interest of the community” and consequently for the “common good”, insofar as the patient’s physical or psychological integrity is not endangered.” This underlines the importance of full and informed consent.

Benefits to the person incapable of consent

“Trial medicinal products should not be given to persons who are not capable of giving their consent except in cases where the same results cannot be obtained by resorting to persons capable of giving their consent and if the foreseeable benefits/predictable risks ratio is to their advantage.”

Ethics of testing in emergency situations

As for clinical trials in emergency situations, “the only acceptable research is specific research on individuals placed in such a situation that one may have good grounds for anticipating a direct benefit with regard to their condition and that would present a minimal risk and only impose a minimal burden. It is also important to give a sufficiently precise definition of the terms “minimal risk” and “minimal burden”. ”

The full statement on Ethical assessment of clinical trials on medicinal products: Respect and protection of vulnerable persons and populations is available in English and French

Vatican supports new direction on health for World Health Organization

This week has seen several interventions by the Vatican delegation to the World Health Organization’s key decision making body.

The Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly , which is the  decision-making body of the World Health Organization , and in turn the  public health body of the United Nations was taking place this week in Geneva.

Catholic support for improving population health

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski,  head of the Holy See’s delegation, in a brief but wide-ranging speech

  • called on WHO to affirm the centrality of spiritual needs to any approach to universal health care
  • supported the WHO’s aims to prevent non-communicable diseases such as Heart Disease and Cancer
  • affirmed the need to control and prevent disease in older people
  • supported WHO intentions to further reduce preventable deaths especially in women and children but differed on emergency contraception from WHO’s suggested stance
  • reminded the WHO of the significance of the Catholic Church’s health care agencies and infrastructure (up to 25% of HIV care worldwide, over 50% of health care in some countries)

Archishop Zimowski’s intervention is covered in more detail on Catholics in Healthcare blog.

Responding to WHO General Secretary on health of women and children

Dr Margaret Chan, Director General, outlined her goals for her time as Director General as including  “the health of women and of the people of Africa.” Archbishop Silvo Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations and part of the Holy See’s delegation at the Assembly expressed his support for these objectives, and went on to explain the Catholic Church’s global and local experience in those areas.

Health of the people of Africa

The Archbishop went on to offer the experience of the Church in support of Dr Chan’s goal for improving the health of the people of Africa. “[M]any nations are still in the grip of famine, war, racial and tribal tensions, political instability and the violation of human rights.” Pope Benedict XVI’s exhortation to the international community is also very appropriate, “we must not forget Africa ….”

Emphasising the care of the whole person

Tomasi finalised his intervention with a vision of health that reminded the WHO of it’s own aspirational definition of health. We should seek a deeper care for every aspect of the human person.

“My delegation urges a perspective on health security that is grounded on an anthropology respectful of the human person in his or her integrity and looks far beyond the absence of disease to the full harmony and sound balance of the physical, emotional, spiritual and social forces within the human person.”

In recent years the Vatican has moved to emphasise not only its stance on reproductive health at WHO events but has taken on a stronger public health focus. This latest WHO Assembly has seen Vatican interventions aimed at sharing the wider health and social justice concerns of the Church.

World Health Organization told spiritual needs “integral” to universal health care

The Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly was told this week that any integral approach to universal health care coverage must include addressing the spiritual needs of populations.

The Assembly is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization , the health and public health body of the United Nations and has universal health care coverage as one of its key strategic aims.

In a wide-ranging intervention which also signalled strong Vatican support for universal health-care measures, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, President of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers and head of the Holy See’s delegation to the World Health Assembly said that any “integral” approach to healthcare need must focus on “the spiritual state of the person” and not just medical interventions or economic growth.

“Health and development ought to be integral if they are to respond fully to the needs of every human person. What we hold important is the human person – each person, each group of people, and humanity as a whole.”

The archbishop said that health care contributes to the development of nations “and benefits from it.” The Holy See “strongly believes” that universal health care coverage as a goal of government policy is a more certain way to achieve “the wide range of health concerns,” including preserving present advances.

The archbishop said that health care contributes to the development of nations “and benefits from it.” The Holy See “strongly believes” that universal health care coverage as a goal of government policy is a more certain way to achieve “the wide range of health concerns,” including preserving present advances.

Archbishop Zimowski then turned to efforts to save the lives of millions of people who die each year “from conditions that can easily be prevented.” He praised a resolution before the assembly to improve the quality, supply and use of 13 “life-saving commodities.”

“The Holy See strongly agrees with the need to achieve further reductions in the loss of life and prevention of illness through increased access to inexpensive interventions that are respectful of the life and dignity of all mothers and children at all stages of life, from conception to natural death,” he said.

However, he voiced “serious concerns” about the assembly’s secretariat report and its executive board-recommended resolution that includes “emergency contraception.” He said some of these drugs have an abortifacient effect.

“For my delegation, it is totally unacceptable to refer to a medical product that constitutes a direct attack on the life of the child in utero as a ‘life-saving commodity’ and, much worse, to encourage ‘increasing use of such substances in all parts of the world’,” he said.

The archbishop welcomed the assembly’s proposed global action plan to control non-communicable diseases. He said his delegation was “especially pleased” that the plan recognizes the “key role” of civil society institutions including faith-based organizations in encouraging the prevention and treatment of these diseases.

“Our delegation is aware that Catholic Church-inspired organizations and institutions throughout the world already have committed themselves to pursue such actions at global, regional, and local community levels,” he said.

Archbishop Zimowski also voiced interest in aspects of preventing and controlling diseases in older age, noting faith-based institutions’ long tradition of care for the aged and the rapid growth of the elderly population. He noted that the Vatican will host an international conference Nov. 21-23 about caring for the elderly with neurodegenerative diseases.

 

National Secular Society takes exception to NHS funded chaplains – again

 

Terry Sanderson, writing in a blog piece It’s the Church’s Christian duty to support the health service, not leech off it for the National Secular Society, takes exception to Archbishop Vincent Nichols and to NHS funding of chaplains. Again.

Archbishop Nichols, says that hospital chaplaincy services   ought never to be seen as a luxury to be discarded when budgets are tight; or chapels as spaces to be sacrificed to other purposes when needs arise. People need spaces where they can come to pray for their sick relatives and friends. Those who are sick need places to pray, to receive the consoling touch of the divine. Healthcare professionals need somewhere to pray as part of their care for their sick brothers and sisters, as well as to receive strength for their ministry.”

Mr Sanderson feels that religious groups in advocating for the Chaplaincy services the NHS provides, ignore the current NHS financial situation. Medics, not chaplains, make you better he says.

Food for the journey, theological resources for healthcare

Food for the Journey, Theological Foundations of the Catholic Healthcare Ministry

The 2013 edition is now available from Catholic Health Association US.

For more than two decades, this formative resource has inspired the women and men who are leading and serving in Catholic health care.

The 2013 edition offers an updated look, but the same original text. In addition to the hardcopy edition, this resource is now available as an audio book in CDs or MP3 files as well as an eBook, which will be available in May. Also, CHA has produced a set of five notecards that includes some of the images from each of the chapters of the book and are blank inside.”