TORONTO — In the face of cultural pressure to accept abortion, contraception and euthanasia, Catholic doctors can respond by affirming the inherent human dignity of the person.
They can also appeal to human reason in explaining the "culture of life," Catholic experts said at the third annual conference of the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians' Societies.
This year's gathering, attended by more than 120 doctors and medical students, was organized by the St. Joseph Moscati Catholic Doctors Guild and held at Toronto's University of St. Michael's College April 8-10.
"If we allow abortion, suicide and euthanasia, the 'culture of death' means death is a way to solve problems," said Janet Smith, the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.
Contrary to the popular perception that using a birth control pill is without major consequences, Smith said there are serious health risks for women. "It doesn't make sense to dump hormones in a delicate (internal) environment."
Contraception use can also lead to higher incidences of sexually transmitted diseases because of a potentially promiscuous lifestyle, and abortion if contraception fails, she said.
"The culture of condoms feeds the contraceptive culture leading to sexual chaos."
For Catholic doctors who are uncomfortable prescribing birth control, Smith said they have a great resource in the Catholic Church's teachings on the culture of life, including on natural family planning.
Meanwhile, on euthanasia, Dr. Francois Primeau, a Quebec psychiatrist, shared his experience testifying before Quebec's euthanasia commission last year. He said one of the many disturbing comments he heard included, "Well, yogurt, when it expires you throw it away."
"Holy Spirit help me. I said, 'The person is not a yogurt,'" Primeau said. "I felt we have to witness, we have to say what we believe."
Primeau said the request for euthanasia can result from underlying psychiatric conditions.
"The wish to die is a symptom of a treatable disease," he said.
For Primeau, the push for euthanasia in Quebec is baffling given the high suicide rates in the province. More alarming is the Quebec College of Physicians' endorsement in 2009 for euthanasia "in certain exceptional situations."
"With no assistance, Quebec is third in the world (in suicide deaths). We don't need your help," he said of the euthanasia movement's push for a "right to die."
With the legalization of euthanasia, the right to die means a duty to kill on the part of doctors, he added.
McMaster University medical student Rebecca Lobo, 23, was among those in the audience. She said the conference reaffirmed how Catholic doctors can still retain their faith.
"You can't leave ethics at the door. (The issue) is still within an ethical framework," she said.