Ethical dilemmas are a minefield for Catholic healthcare providers

About a year ago, Dr. Peter Bleyer of Longs left family practice and moved into the field of wound care because he did not want to face the minefield of ethical dilemmas that pitted his Catholic faith and values against the whims of a secular, consumerist culture.

“The Catholic model for medicine is not what you have in most cases today,” Bleyer said. “The Catholic model says the best medicine involves a strong doctor-patient relationship, and that emphasis is lost in these days of big corporate medicine. Now, in many cases the patient comes in and tells you what they want, and for the most part you’re expected to comply with that.”

He hears similar concerns from peers in his role as president of the Blessed Clemens von Galen Medical Guild of South Carolina, an organization dedicated to helping Catholic healthcare providers uphold their faith while practicing medicine.

Conflicts between Catholic moral teaching and trends in health care force doctors into constant difficult situations, he said, especially with patients seeking contraception, sterilization or other services the Church considers intrinsically evil.

While most Catholics think the contraception mandate is the biggest problem with the Affordable Care Act, Bleyer said another huge issue is that it adds layers of government regulation that interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.

Dr. Nancy Stroud, an obstetrician/ gynecologist at Seasons OB/GYN in North Charleston, echoes Bleyer’s perspective when it comes to cultural trends. Stroud recently became certified to teach natural family planning through the Creighton model and NaPro Technology, and said those concepts frequently clash with what her patients want.

“Contraception is almost like a universally accepted standard — many people just don’t think about it anymore,” she said. “What I try to do is offer my perspective as another option for people to consider, rather than just going with the general secular worldview.”

If all else fails, she said, Stroud’s fellow physicians at the practice know she won’t prescribe contraception, and patients who insist on asking for it will need to look elsewhere.

Dr. Mark Shaffer, a family medicine specialist in Columbia, said the greatest challenge he faces as a Catholic doctor is one that should concern all physicians, especially in a day and age when bureaucracy and the almighty dollar seem to be taking over the healthcare field.

“How do we ensure we view each patient as the whole sacred person they are, care for them and remember to pray for them?” Shaffer asked. “The medical system tends to push us to spend less time with people, to do more tests and procedures and prescribe more drugs. By the end of a busy day caring for people … one truly needs God’s grace to keep seeing each new patient as the unique person they are, to be ready to address their particular needs and concerns.”