February 10, 2012

Catholic university leader, area doctor raise concerns about HHS regulation

By Sean Gallagher

Catholic doctors and medical students across the country are expressing concern over the recently confirmed U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulation requiring nearly all religious institutions to pay for contraceptives and sterilizations in their health insurance plans for employees.

Sharing those concerns are Dr. Thomas Brown, an obstetrician and gynecologist who is a member of St. Louis Parish in Batesville, and Daniel Elsener, president of Marian University in Indianapolis, which is scheduled to open its College of Osteopathic Medicine next year.

“There seems to be a lot of hubris and probably a lack and depth of understanding and respect for conscience,” Elsener said of the regulation. “The Church imposes no belief on anybody. We offer to form their consciences. Now, the government is [saying], ‘Your conscience isn’t as good as our conscience.’ ”

Elsener said he and other Catholic leaders across the country are ultimately concerned about freedom more than politics.

“We’re interested in the First Amendment,” he said. “We’re interested in human dignity and human rights, conscience development. Let institutions be unique and varied.”

Elsener wants Marian to be able to pass on the Church’s teachings on bioethics and sexual ethics and is concerned that this may become more difficult in the future, when Marian’s medical students begin to work in hospitals, especially secular ones.

“What I want to protect is our ability to teach the truth as we know it,” he said. “I do not control the conscience of every individual or hospital system. We need to vigorously and intelligently teach the Church’s stance. That’s our job. We offer this.”

In his work as an obstetrician and gynecologist in Batesville and Greensburg, Brown has been asked in the past to perform tubal ligations on mothers who delivered their babies through cesarean section surgery. Because he is in conscience opposed to elective sterilization, he has always refused to carry out such a procedure.

“It’s got to the point where they don’t even ask me anymore,” said Brown, who also refuses to write prescriptions for hormonal birth control medicines. “They just know that my answer is going to stand pat.”

With the confirmation of the HHS regulation, Brown can foresee a time when he might no longer have a choice to refuse to participate in procedures that he is opposed to in conscience.

“This is one of those cases where they push you and push you until you have to take a stand,” Brown said. “To me, it’s sort of an easy thing. If they told me that I’d have to do that, I’d say ‘No.’ … Or I could say that I’m going to quit my practice … ”

But he expressed hope that he wouldn’t have to take such a stand alone.

“Maybe this would unite people of faith together,” Brown said. “ … It might wake them up that this is where we’re going. Do we want to be this kind of a country where you don’t even have the religious liberty that we were founded upon?”

Brown recently earned a certificate in Catholic bioethics through the Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center. He hopes in the future to bolster the understanding of Catholic teachings on bioethics and sexual ethics of medical students at Marian or through courses on these topics given to resident doctors at Catholic hospitals.

“Given the correct approach to the teachings,” Brown said, “I think that most faithful Catholics are going to choose to do what the Church says because they’re going to understand the wisdom of it—if it’s presented in the right way.” †


Related--Statement of Bishop Coyne: People of faith must stand together opposed to HHS mandate

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