“We love our country and hope you will too”
By William G. White, M.D.
William G. White, M.D., a Chicago-area family physician, is a past president of the Catholic Medical Association in the US. He is the father of seven and grandfather of 24.
Welcome to the United States of America. As you get to know us, I hope you will learn that, while we Americans are materially blessed, we also generally have big hearts and a real desire to help the poor. Currently great moral questions and divisions challenge our country. As a Catholic physician, I would like to tell you about how I see some of these issues.
As a family physician for more than 40 years, I have seen how important the Catholic faith and Catholic moral teaching are to good medical practice. I have been safeguarded by these teachings from doing harmful things to my patients, like abortion, sterilization, contraception, in vitro fertilization, and euthanasia. If I had only the standards of the world to guide me, I might easily have fallen into these practices and violated the Hippocratic injunction, “First, do no harm.”
But it is not enough merely to reject patients’ requests on the basis of my own personal beliefs. As a doctor (“teacher”) I must engage them in the truth of their life situation. If they have problems to which destructive procedures are attractive but false solutions, then I must work with them in charity to find true, healing remedies. By following Catholic teaching, then, I am not neglecting my patients’ needs but actually addressing them more completely.
I have found that it is easier to persuade when nature is one’s ally. Often little rhetorical skill is needed to convince a couple that natural child spacing through breastfeeding is the best way to plan a family. Over the years many of my patients, both Catholic and non-Catholic, have had large families, not because they were initially disposed to do so, nor because of my persuasive powers, but simply because the experience of living their marriages open to life brought so much happiness. I never proposed contraception and they never requested it.
As an individual practitioner, I have had the freedom to practice according to my conscience, not under duress to a hospital or large group. This freedom has allowed me not only to avoid harmful practices, but also to modify or waive my fees according to the patient’s ability to pay. In this sense, it is the freedom of “free enterprise” that actually protects my ability to care for the poor.
As I write this letter to you, the United States is celebrating our Independence Day. Our country’s founders recognized that true liberty comes only with virtue. We Americans today sometimes forget that the reverse is also true: that virtue is impossible without liberty. Sadly, many among us seek license, the freedom to do wrong, a freedom unconstrained by the moral law. Such license leads not to liberty but to slavery.
True liberty is being threatened by an increasingly prevalent ideology that only the government, not responsible, ethical individuals, churches and private charities can help the poor. Thus more and more physicians are pressured into employed positions in government or government-controlled corporations where they have limited freedom of conscience and no ability to modify their fees for the sake of someone in need. Their service is no longer to the individual patient, the “one who suffers,” the one whose suffering the physician is called to relieve, but to the collective. As for the poor, they are finding it increasingly difficult to find medical care outside of inferior, government-run systems.
The current administration also explicitly denies freedom of conscience to those with Christian ethical standards, requiring participation in immoral procedures. In what is labeled an “accommodation” to those with Judeo-Christian ethical standards, we are currently allowed to refrain from procedures we consider immoral, but are required to refer our patients to those who will do these procedures. Such formal cooperation with evil not only violates our consciences, but also contradicts our professional obligation to “do no harm” to our patients.
I hope that Your Holiness will address these pressing issues during your time with us. We love our country and hope that you will love her, too, but she is being taken down a dangerous path, and the liberty that has allowed her to be not merely great, but also good, is being threatened.