Catholic physicians in central Alberta are forming a new group to support each other, strengthen their faith, and face ongoing challenges to it, including euthanasia and abortion.
“It’s certainly a very powerful part when health care professionals come together to pray about their role in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ,” said Dr. Martin Owen, a Red Deer family physician who is leading the formation of a Central Alberta Catholic Physicians Guild.
The Guild will host its inaugural meeting at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Innisfail on March 13.
Owen is a vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians Societies. He first saw the need for a new Catholic guild in central Alberta after moving his family medicine practice to Red Deer, which doesn’t have a guild close by. Edmonton and Calgary also have active guilds.
The more Catholic physicians’ guilds in Canada, the better, said Thomas Bouchard, a former president of the Canadian federation.
“They might have more courage to uphold their convictions if they have people to support them,” he said.
Owen said it’s important for physicians to support each other, and it couldn’t come at a more important time as they deal with issues that challenge them as Catholics.
“No physician should be compelled to act against their conscience. They’re saying, ‘Wait a minute, I am Catholic. Maybe this euthanasia, this medical assistance in dying, that doesn’t sit well with me now. Where are my colleagues who also feel that way?’”
Euthanasia, which is considered morally wrong by the Church, was legalized for terminally ill patients in Canada as of June 2016. However, referral policies vary between provinces.
In Alberta, Catholic physicians do not have to provide referrals for euthanasia. But in Ontario, physicians must provide referrals for euthanasia, as well as for abortion, regardless of their personal beliefs.
Owen noted that Catholic physicians have a responsibility to follow the tenets of their faith, as well as their Hippocratic Oath to uphold medical ethics and to do no harm.
“We still are left with a frail human person in front of us who needs to be treated with the utmost respect for their dignity, and we’re right in the heart of those struggles now,” Owen said.
“Canadians deserve to receive care from professionals with a consistent life ethic based in the protection and promotion of human life from conception to natural death.”
As for abortion, the Alberta government has made the drug Mifegymiso available free of charge, although it will not be dispensed at Catholic hospitals run by Covenant Health.
The inaugural Central Alberta Catholic Physicians Guild meeting will include Mass, followed by a dinner prepared by the guild’s chaplain, Father Tom Puslecki, the pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish.
Father Puslecki himself has a PhD in bioethics, which Owen considers a blessing for the new guild.
“It was a wonderful sort of ‘diamond in the rough’ to find him close by, in Innisfail, and eager to support physicians in their spiritual needs and also in their formation from a bioethical perspective.”
– With files from Thandiwe Konguavi, Grandin Media