Monday, March 26, 2007

22nd Annual Clarke Family Medical Ethics Conference

March 23rd to 25th, approximately 80 physicians, philosophers, hospital chaplains, and other medical professionals gathered here at Notre Dame for the 22nd Annual Philip and Doris Clarke Medical Ethics Conference. The aim of the conference is to allow for discussion regarding some of the complex issues that plague the practice of medicine, in a setting not only where participants can come to a deeper understanding of Catholic teaching on these issues, but where diverse viewpoints can be shared, heard, and appreciated.

The conference’s traditional format involves several small-group discussions of case studies provided by members of the conference audience and reflecting current issues in medical practice. In one session, participants discussed three cases where various considerations external to the narrowly medical features of a treatment situation (such as finances or religious commitments) raised ethical questions for the physician acting in the case. In the next session, participants discussed a range of cases concerning requests from patients for treatments that are based on what some might regard as medically irrelevant conditions. For example, one case involved the much-publicized “Pillow Angel” case and in another case, a mother sought human growth hormone treatment for her “undersized,” but medically healthy, son to avoid psychological damage. In another session, attendees examined a series of cases involving reproductive health. As always, the conference included a discussion of recent initiatives in health care reform. In our final session, participants chose among three concurrent break-out sessions. In the first, we considered ethical issues concerned with using body parts either in artistic displays or in religious settings. The second engaged the ethical issues surrounding vaccinations and HIV testing, and in the third, we returned to the ethical dilemmas raised by medical treatment at the end of life.

The only formal lecture of this conference is the annual J. Philip Clarke Family Lecture on Medical Ethics. This year, it was delivered by Margaret Monahan Hogan, the McNerny-Hanson Chair of Ethics, professor of philosophy and Executive Director of the Garavanta Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. Professor Hogan has been a leading figure in Catholic medical ethics for many years, and has contributed in diverse ways to contemporary discussions in the field.

In Professor Hogan’s lecture, “Bioethics and its Gordian Knot,” she posited that, abortion as an elective surgical procedure – what has sometimes been designated as abortion on demand – is similar to the legendary Gordian Knot, which only Alexander the Great could untie by his famous solution: cutting through it with his sword. Professor Hogan explained how this Gordian Knot of bioethics had been tied by a set of Supreme Court decisions, rendered as a seeming compromise to protect a rising consciousness of the rights of women to be free to develop their potential. The knot was then woven by bonds fashioned and tightened by a set of claims – liberty claims and equality claims, enunciated by a regent liberal philosophy and sustained by judicial decree. Finally, the knot has been reinforced by practices – practices by many in the medical profession and by many women who chose abortion. Professor Hogan suggested that the sundering of this Gordian Knot has found no easy Alexandrine solution to loosen its hold on the American culture. She concluded her lecture, hailed by many as one of the best Clarke lectures in the history of the series, with the following words: “Part of the task is the essential work of building the culture of life. To build this culture requires our engagement in the intellectual controversies – if we think we hold the truth, we ought to fear no pursuit of knowledge. To build this culture requires our participation in the deliberations of the democracy and in its political processes – Catholics have a right in the public square as citizens and an obligation to be in the public square as Catholics – the former is a guarantee of the first amendment and the latter the command of Christ that we ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.’ To build that culture finally requires that we make abortion unthinkable because it is unnecessary.”

As always, we are grateful to the Notre Dame Alumni Association, and in particular to Mirella Riley, director of the Academic Division, and administrative assistant Janet Miller, for their assistance in coordinating this conference.

Friday, March 9, 2007

An Evening of Angelus at Notre Dame

The state-of-the-art Browning Cinema at Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center…
A screening of the four prize-winning films in the 2006 Angelus Student Film Festival…
A lively Q&A session following the screening with three of the award-winning young directors and one of the winning films’ lead actors….

Such were the elements of An Evening with Angelus at Notre Dame, a groundbreaking new event which brought the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture into collaboration with the Angelus Awards Student Film Festival and the sponsors of that festival, Family Theater Productions, a Catholic film production company located on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California. The Angelus Awards was created by Family Theater Productions in 1996 to showcase and award emerging filmmakers and to encourage them to continue creating visionary projects that honor the fundamental dignity of the human person.

The collaboration between the Center and Family Theater Productions is a natural one, as the national director of Family Theater is a Holy Cross priest, Fr. Willy Raymond, CSC. Fr. Willy first participated in the Center’s activities when he delivered a talk entitled “Young Catholic Hollywood” in the Center’s inaugural Catholic Culture Film Series in the Spring of 2006. At that time, the Center began to talk with Fr. Willy about an event that would bring to Notre Dame the winning filmmakers in the Angelus Awards Student Film Festival. The culmination of those discussions was An Evening with Angelus at Notre Dame, which took place on March 8, 2007.

That evening the Center was happy to host the award-winning filmmakers along with Fr. Willy and three members of the Angelus Awards staff: Monika Moreno, director of the Festival, Kale Zelden, associate director, and Robyn Gibson. The films screened at “An Evening with Angelus at Notre Dame” were the following: The Trojan Cow, written and directed by Barbara Stepansky of the American Film Institute, Los Angeles, winner of the $10,000 Excellence in Filmmaking Award in honor of Servant of God, Father Patrick Peyton, CSC (the founder of Family Theater Productions). The Trojan Cow is the story of two teenagers’ attempt in 1973 to be illegally transported inside a hollow cow across the East German border to freedom.

Queen of Cactus Cove, written and directed by Anna Christopher, also of AFI, is the winner of the $5,000 Priddy Bros. Triumph Award. In this film, teenage chess champ Billie faces the prospect of defeat for the first time when she competes against her best friend at the biggest chess tournament of her career.

Kilroy Was Here, written and directed by Charlie Boyles, North Carolina School of the Arts, Winston-Salem, winner of the $2,500 Fujifilm Audience Impact Award and the $1,500 Act One Screenplay prize. In the film, the characters fought for different causes in the same war. Now together, they will forge a connection that transcends language…and their cause will become one. Kilroy Was Here was represented by its leader actor, Keith Harris.

Silences, written and directed by Octavio Warnock-Graham, City College of New York, winner of the $3,000 Outstanding Documentary Award sponsored by Maryknoll Productions. Silences is an intimate personal journey by the filmmaker to find the one person who can complete his search for answers…his biological father.

After the screening of the films, Monika Moreno moderated a stimulating Q&A with the three winning directors and actor Keith Harris. The Center would like to thank Fr. Willy Raymond, the staff of the Angelus Awards, as well as the Peter Grenville Foundation, for helping make this event possible. A special word of thanks goes out to Jon Vickers, manager of the Browning Cinema at Notre Dame, for his help in organizing this event at the wonderful facilities
of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.