This past Friday, two Dominican Student Brothers from the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception (PFIC) in Washington, D.C. completed a new summer program in Health Care and Medical Ethics coordinated by the Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry. The program sets an exciting precedent for the future education of Dominican Student Brothers, and the future of Catholic Healthcare.
Beginning June 30th, Brothers John Devaney, O.P. and Mario Calabrese, O.P. from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. participated in the new Health Care and Medical Ethics Program, a two-part program designed by PFIC President Fr. Steven Boguslawski, O.P. and Fr. Jordan Kelly, O.P. Pastor of Saint Catherine of Siena Church and Director of the Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry. This four-week program in partnership with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and Cornell Medical College (CMC) is the second part of the program and follows four weeks of practically oriented pastoral care with the Hawthorne Dominican Sisters at Rosary Hill Home during the first part. It allowed the brothers to see patients, attend ethics committee board meetings, and meet with hospital staff. Throughout that time the student brothers also met twice weekly with Fr. Jordan Kelly, O.P., and the Associate Director, Joseph Sullivan, to discuss their experiences, and learn the Catholic teaching on matters of medical ethics.
While accompanying physicians and residents on rounds through MSKCC and CMC, the brothers had the unique opportunity to see patients in all of their vulnerability and to witness doctors discuss the various options for care presented to those patients. They saw terminally ill cancer patients and witnessed the difficult decisions that the patients and their loved ones faced as they weighed the options of continuing care to lengthen life for several months, or discontinuing care to improve the quality of their remaining time. They witnessed the behind-the-scene discussions of physicians in the cardiac unit as they considered the moral implications of the treatments that they could recommend. They also participated in consultations with the patients and their families when they made rounds with the palliative care teams.
Seeing patients, the student brothers gained tremendous insights into the clinical dimensions of caring for the sick. But in so doing, they could not help but notice the pastoral dimensions. Experiencing the fear and pain of a person in agony naturally evokes compassion. Simply by being present in the hospitals and wearing the Dominican Habit, the student brothers were able to witness to the Gospels. Without ever intending it, the brothers found themselves praying with the sick, and preaching the faith to doctors.
Throughout this entire second part of this eight-week program, the student brothers had time set aside to meet with the physicians of these different units, and ask questions. They were able to gain a broad understanding of the different medical treatments that were being proposed, the risks and benefits that would ensue, and the practical implications of the many facets of care. This program was a critical opportunity for them to understand the complexity of healthcare issues by direct observation. This practical understanding in turn allowed them to better appreciate the clinical dimensions of medical ethics.
The student brothers also studied the principles of medical ethics in addition to the practical dimensions. They read through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s Ethical and Religious Directives and discussed the ethical dimensions of the cases they had observed. At the end of the program, the work of the student brothers culminated in a five-page case study that described in detail the ethical dimensions of a particular case that they witnessed and how it was resolved.
Through the experience of this summer program, the brothers saw both the practical and the theoretical application of medical ethics in a comprehensive light. This allowed them to have a robust learning experience and a more complete understanding of bioethical issues than they would have had otherwise. This experience will prove invaluable to their work not only as students and preachers, but also as chaplains and spiritual directors in the years to come.
As future Dominican Priests, their summer experience helps to prepare them to witness to the fullness of truth with the utmost charity and compassion; to navigate incredibly trying and personal difficulties with clarity and insight; and to walk among those who are openly hostile to the faith and witness to transcendent joy with their every word and deed. It is our sincere hope that the work that they have done in this short span of time will be one of the myriad ways God completes what only He has begun in them.