The Tennessee Register, the newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville, recently profiled the new Aquinas College Center for the Study of Human Dignity and Ethics in Health Care. Center Advisory Council member Dr. Marie Hilliard, director of bioethics and public policy for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and Brother Ignatius Perkins, O.P., Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., A.N.E.F., the center’s founder and Dean of the School of Nursing, were both interviewed for the story. Dr. Hilliard’s work with Aquinas was highlighted in the
New Aquinas center seeks to be a ‘moral force’ guiding health care ethics
by Theresa Laurence, Tennessee Register
April 26, 2013
The School of Nursing at Aquinas College has founded the Center for the Study of Human Dignity and Ethics in Health Care to affirm, protect and defend the dignity of the human person through education, consultation, research and service.
“While the need for this center is decades old,” said the School of Nursing’s Dean, Brother Ignatius Perkins, O.P., “the timing of its launch, in relation to the continued draconian changes in health care today and in the future, is providential.”
During this era of fast paced change in health care technology and law, “we don’t want to be passive participants and reactors,” said Brother Ignatius. Instead, he wants Aquinas to be out front, guiding the conversation about health care ethics.
Brother Ignatius sees the center as “an enormous opportunity for evangelization,” a chance to “start conversations to help people resolve the health care challenges they are facing.” To do that, the Center, under the guidance of a 17 member advisory council, will:
• Provide community-wide educational opportunities for health care professionals, civic leaders, legislators and citizens of the community (including seminars, multi disciplinary forums, parish presentations and more) that addresses current issues in health care, education, administration and scholarship.
• Provide consultation, conduct research and disseminate findings.
• Build collaborative partnerships with the health care community locally, nationally and internationally.
• Provide forums for presentations by visiting scholars.
• Develop model learning outcomes for health professions’ students that embrace the purpose and core values of the Center.
• Honor members of the health professions and the community who have distinguished achievements in defending and protecting the dignity and flourishing of the human person.
Marie Hilliard, director of bioethics and public policy for the Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center, is a member of the Aquinas Center’s advisory council, and has extensive experience guiding individuals and clinicians through health care quandaries at critical moments.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center maintains a 24/7 hotline where anyone can reach an ethicist for consultation. People call with questions about everything from fertility treatments to writing advance medical directives for end of life care.
“There are a lot of misunderstandings of dilemmas that families are facing,” especially at the end of life, said Hilliard, a former Army nurse who holds a canon law degree. “It’s not true that as Catholics we want end of life care to go on forever,” she said. When treatment becomes “a disproportionate burden to the patient, then it’s time that we say, let nature take its course,” she said.
For example, a person may judge in good conscience that the pain and difficulty of an aggressive treatment for terminal cancer is too much to bear, and thus decide to forgo that treatment. They should not, however, forgo normal hydration and nutrition to accelerate the natural process of death. The guiding principle of the National Catholic Bioethics Center is “natural, moral law,” Hilliard said.
Like the NCBC, the Aquinas Center is rooted in natural, moral law, and Brother Ignatius hopes it will assist both patients and clinicians alike. He has particular concern about how each group will be affected by some stipulations of the Affordable Care Act. Will physicians be able to refuse to write prescriptions for birth control if they are morally opposed to it? Will the poorest and most vulnerable have access to health care if a new form of government rationing is instituted?
“Who determines who is worthy of care?” Brother Ignatius said. “I’m concerned that those with the least resources will be left out in the cold.”
Right now, “we tend to worship at the altar of technology, and we’re driven by an economic engine, not a moral engine,” Brother Ignatius said. What is needed in today’s health care climate is more personal interaction between doctor, nurse and patient, quality primary care, preventive and follow up services. The Center is an opportunity for Aquinas to be “a moral force in re-shaping the world of health care by supporting all those seeking to be healed as well as members of the health professions,” he said.
The Center will begin hosting semi-annual programs that are open to the public beginning in the fall. Brother Ignatius is also available to speak at parish events and for private health care ethics consultation, and can be reached at (615) 297-7545, ext. 607.
More information about the Center, including a complete list of advisory council members, is available by clicking on the appropriate links at: www.aquinascollege.edu/faith-and-culture/.
There are other centers similar to Aquinas’ Center for the Study of Human Dignity and Ethics in Health Care, but they are often affiliated with nationally known Catholic colleges like Georgetown and St. Louis University. “For a smaller college to embrace a program of this caliber is impressive,” Hilliard said. “I’m proud to be associated with it and I think it will have a great impact.”