A Doctor Looks at Medical Ethics

Author: Mary Arnold


by Mary Arnold

My father, a New Zealand obstetrician/gynecologist and the father of seven children, was pretty chuffed when Cardinal John J. O'Connor of New York praised his recently published book, "Ethics for Doctors, Nurses and Patients" (Alba House, hardback, 158 pp., $8.95), at a Mass for doctors and nurses at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The cardinal called it "a remarkable and beautiful book."

When I called my father, who is professionally known as H.P. Dunn, M.D., to tell him what the cardinal had said about his book, I could hear the excitement in the paternal voice.

"Cardinal O'Connor said that?" Dad exclaimed. "I can't believe it! I'll take your mom out to dinner to celebrate!"

I guess if the cardinal likes the book, it's OK for me to give it a plug, too. So, here goes . . .

It is probably the only book in which a Catholic obstetrician/gynecologist gives 100 percent support to Church teaching by drawing on his own medical experience.

quotes the popes extensively. And it is peppered with case studies from Dad's practice that presented him with tricky ethical cases; it also describes the action he took in these situations.

My father was a good boxer in his high-school days. In real life, as in a boxing ring, he never pulls his punches. He speaks out on a variety of sexually related topics such as homosexuality, masturbation and contraception.

For example, on contraception, he said: "With contraception being welcomed by millions, with its being a billion-dollar business, with most brides and many unmarried teen-agers religiously taking their pill every day, who would have the nerve to say that all of this is wrong? The Roman Catholic Church does. And so do a few, courageous, smaller churches."

I have never found a Catholic obstetrician who refused to prescribe artificial birth control-they all seem to. But Dad never did. He must have been the only doctor in New Zealand who wouldn't prescribe the pill; yet, patients flocked to him, and many became his friends and greatest fans.

New Fertility Treatments

In his book, my father also opposes abortion, chorionic villus sampling, amniocentesis (he delivered 15,000 babies without ever encouraging a patient to have early amniocentesis) and the new fertility treatments (in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination by donor [AID]) that separate human sex from procreation.

He is against the new fertility treatments on the basis that "the transfer of the germ cells between husband and wife must take place only within the context of the normal, loving, sexual embrace, as designed by the Creator."

Discussing artificial insemination by donor, Dad wrote: "AID aims to remedy the situation where the husband has few or no sperm cells; Mr. Donor has more than he needs, ergo inject some of them into the wife. Because there is considerable overlap between AID and IVF now, the possible permutations and combinations make one dizzy. Sperm from Mr. Husband or Mr. Donor; ova from Mrs. Wife or Ms. Donor or Ms. Surrogate or Ms. Lesbian."

And with each donor fathering large numbers of secret children, the mind boggles at the possible implications- such as intermarriage by children who do not know that they share the same father. Great Britain, for example, allows AID donors to father 10 children, while Australia allows donors to father as many as 30 children.

This is a great book for priests, medical students and young doctors because it provides authoritative medical confirmation that what the Church teaches leads to health and happiness.

My dad considers medicine an apostolate, not a moneymaking career. He is convinced that doctors should take a medical oath such as the famous one written by Hippocrates, whom my father describes as "that noble pagan."

But medical students in America no longer take the Hippocratic Oath because of its strictures against abortion.

Personal Oath

So, I end this article with Dad's personal oath as it appears in his book; it summarizes his philosophy:

"Oh God, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, I pledge that in the practice of medicine I shall, with Your help, adhere to the principles of love and justice. I shall make the service and welfare of my patient my first duty, which will take precedence over the interests of society or the state.

"Anything which the patient tells me in confidence will be respected and will not be revealed during life or after death. I shall not participate in or facilitate artificial contraception, sterilization or abortion. I shall not directly bring about the death of any patient, normal or abnormal, healthy or in a terminal illness.

"I shall accept with gratitude any financial rewards which You grant me but shall not allow the pursuit of wealth to dominate my practice or to influence my clinical decisions.

"I shall regard my teachers with gratitude and respect and I shall foster among my colleagues an atmosphere of friendship and cooperation. In presenting scientific papers, I shall repudiate any dishonesty, knowing that we have a duty to truth in our elucidation of the mysteries of Your creation in the human body.

"In purity and holiness I shall pass my life and practice my profession. My soul will be strengthened by daily prayer, weekly Mass and frequent reception of Your sacraments.

"I ask the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph to bless my family life and I pray that You will give me a share in the wisdom and courage of Our Lord Jesus Christ in undertaking this medical apostolate. Amen."

Mary Arnold is a CATHOLIC TWIN CIRCLE contributing writer.

Taken from the November 6, 1994 issue of "Catholic Twin Circle." For subscriptions contact: Catholic Twin Circle, P.O. Box 260380, Encino, CA 91426-0380, (800) 421-3230.