Sunday, October 30, 2005

Second Run of the One-Day Medical Ethics Course

Last year, thanks to the generosity of Dr. Paul Wright, the Center organized a one-day medical ethics course designed to give undergraduates considering a vocation in health care the opportunity to engage in conversation with physicians, philosophers and theologians familiar with medical ethics. Due to the overwhelming success of the course, we decided to offer the course every semester. This Fall, on Saturday, October 29th, almost 100 undergraduate students met together, using the small-group discussion format of our Medical Ethics Conference, to discuss real case studies that they might encounter in their future medical practices.

The cases focused on three major themes designed to provide a context in which to explore more deeply the idea of medicine as a moral enterprise. In the first session, we reflected on the principles, virtues, and practices that characterize a good doctor. Some of the questions explored included how we should educate doctors with respect to moral character, and in the day of pharmaceutical advertising and market pressures, what sorts of outside interests can influence a doctor’s judgment and practice. In the second session, we reflected on a series of complications that can arise in the doctor-patient relationship, specifically focusing on the limits of patient autonomy and consent. In the final session, we explored the more general problems of social justice in the health care system.

In addition to providing an excellent educational opportunity, the course also provides a forum for students to form an on-going mentoring relationship with practicing alumni physicians. This year, six alumni physicians who regularly attend the Philip and Doris Clarke Family Medical Ethics Conference, along with two other resource people, volunteered their time and expertise to make the course another huge success. The physicians were Dr. Paul Wright of Youngstown, Ohio, who initiated and generously funded the course; Dr. Paul McCauley, who runs a free clinic in Maryland; Dr. Mark Lindenmeyer, who currently
practices law and works in an administrative capacity for three hospitals in the Cincinnati area; Rev. Jim Foster, CSC, MD, who serves as an adviser to pre-med students at Notre Dame; and finally—our first husband and wife physician team—Dr. Tom Murphy, a clinical endocrinologist, and Dr. Laura David, an OB/GYN, both professors at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. In addition to these physicians, John Robinson of Notre Dame’s Law School and Center director David Solomon served as resource people for the course.

Feedback from the student participants has been overwhelmingly positive. One student commented that, “The subject matter that we covered was more contemporary than the usual philosophy classes, and with that came a relevance to my own personal life, [which] heightened my awareness of the issues confronting medicine today, and motivated me to take a stand in these pressing issues that are around me.” He continued, “The discussion leaders were great—they were kind, intelligent, and honest. They had hope and love for their patients (and/or clients), which filled me with optimism for the future, whatever field I may choose.” Perhaps the highest compliment from a college student was this: “I really enjoyed the seminar, and am really glad I convinced myself to give up a Saturday for it!”

We are grateful to all the resource people and physicians who generously gave their time to lead this course, and are especially grateful to Dr. Wright for his generosity in funding the project.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

Joy in the Truth: The Catholic University in the New Millenium

To many of those who identify with the mission of the Center, there is no set of issues closer to the heart than the challenges presently facing Catholic higher education. Thus we deemed it most fitting to devote our sixth annual Fall flagship conference to the theme: “Joy in the Truth: The Catholic University in the New Millennium.” The result was an enormously successful conference which took place September 29- October 1, 2005 in McKenna Hall at the University of Notre Dame.

As a mission statement for the conference we turned to Pope John Paul II’s words from the opening of his 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic universities, Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church): “Without in any way neglecting the acquisition of useful knowledge, a Catholic University is distinguished by its free search for the whole truth about nature, man and God. The present age is in urgent need of this kind of disinterested service, namely of proclaiming the meaning of truth, that fundamental value without which freedom, justice and human dignity are extinguished.” So, our aim with this conference was to bring together scholars representing all the main academic fields to discuss a broad range of issues relating to the way in which the Catholic university can best perform the service of proclaiming to the present age the truth about nature, man and God. We also sought to benefit from the insight and experience of our friends from non-Catholic Christian colleges and universities, as well as from our friends at secular institutions.

The conference keynote address was delivered before a large audience on Thursday evening, September 29, by Philip Gleason, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Notre Dame and author of the seminal Contending with Modernity: Catholic Higher Education in the Twentieth Century. Professor Gleason’s keynote address was entitled, “Through Dangers, Toils and Snares: An Historical Perspective on Catholic Higher Education.” In this lecture, Professor Gleason provided a guided tour of Catholic higher education from the founding of Georgetown University in 1789 to the present day. In regard to this history Professor Gleason distinguished four stages: the initial founding stage (1789-1889); a period of crisis and reorganization (1889-1920); a period of synthesis inspired by the neo-Scholastic revival, a synthesis that served to make Catholic higher education intellectually distinctive (1930-1965); and finally a fourth period, when the synthesis which characterized Catholic higher education throughout most of the 20th century was exploded by what Gleason called “the perfect storm” of academic, social and ecclesial factors that converged in the mid-1960s.

As for the present, Professor Gleason observed that social and academic influences continue to push Catholic colleges and universities in the direction of assimilation to prevailing secular norms. Yet he did not give up the hope that Catholic institutions could still avoid the thoroughgoing process of secularization that characterizes the history of so many of their prestigious Protestant counterparts. The influence upon Catholic institutions of ecclesial authority, Gleason claimed, as exemplified perhaps most of all by Ex Corde Ecclesiae, has done much to stem what might have become an unintended
slide ever deeper into secularization.

After a full day of invited and colloquium sessions on Friday, September 30, the conference participants convened again in plenary session that evening to hear a talk by good Center friend and advisory board member, Helen Alvaré, associate professor of law at the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America. Professor Alvaré’s talk was entitled, “The Catholic University: Mediator of Grace and Truth.” While not denying there is much to take issue with in regard to the inroads that secularization has made in the Catholic academy, Professor Alvaré argued that it is crucial not to lose the trust that we should have in what then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, called “the shape of grace in history.” For even in weak human beings and in weak institutions, grace can find a way to embolden and to renew. And there are many signs that such grace is operative in Catholic academia, Professor Alvaré contended, for example in the rise of a new crop of Catholic colleges and universities, in the impressive confidence of many Catholic intellectuals to speak the truth to our culture, in the abiding presence of the sacraments, in the pride of place still often given to the disciplines of theology and philosophy, and in the presence at many Catholic institutions of devoted clergy and religious.

The topics discussed by the conference participants over the weekend ranged widely—from academic freedom to new curricular initiatives; from spiritual aspects of the intellectual life to what Catholic universities can learn from non-Catholic. Issues involving women, families and the Christian university were discussed along with issues affecting the formation of professionals. But if one had to choose a dominant theme that characterized the entire conference, one would have to say that it was the theme of unity, unity in the truth and unity in the curriculum. Time and again throughout the presentations criticism was made of the fragmentation and compartmentalization of the disciplines in the modern academy. Our hope is that our sixth annual Fall conference helped make manifest the way toward a resolution of this problem, a resolution founded upon what St. Augustine called gaudium de veritate: joy in the truth!

The Center would like especially to thank George Maas of Edina, Minnesota, as well as the entire Maas family, whose Maas Family Endowment for Excellence played such a large part in supporting this conference.