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Irish Catholic medical professionals reflect together

I learned on the grapevine last year from former colleagues that a meeting of Catholic doctors would take place that May. The very concept of such a meeting was particularly intriguing for me, as a former GP and since 1998 a monk of Glenstal Abbey. While the full title of the organisation, the Irish Catholic Doctors Learning Network (ICDLN), suggested that this might be a forum for education and discussion, I had no clear preconceptions of what might take place.

On arrival I was struck by the diversity of the attendees. All generations were present, and I reconnected with many of my own UCD contemporaries. There was a wide range of specialties represented, from primary to tertiary care levels. Before and between the lectures and presentations, I had several interesting conversations over coffee breaks and lunch. The sharing was drawn from personal experience of practice stretching cumulatively — if one counts the years of practice, well beyond a millennium! The lectures were indeed thought-provoking, as illustrated by the quality of the discussion they generated. I particularly recall the contributions of the former UK ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Campbell, surgeon Sr Martin Joseph CP, with her wide missionary experience, and Dr Ross Murphy’s examination of Hippocrates and the Christian tradition in his talk ‘Seeing Christ in the patient’.

The Christian tradition has promoted and fashioned much of medical practice for the past 2,000 years and provides many resources for reflecting upon the challenges of practice today. At the meeting, two millennial traditions met: that of the church, stretching chronologically back 2,000 years, and that of the collective experiences of many of the present generation of healthcare professionals in Ireland and beyond. The dialogue of the two traditions is hugely beneficial in giving the necessary depth and breadth to reflection on practice.

The Christian tradition has promoted and fashioned much of medical practice for the past 2,000 years and provides many resources for reflecting upon the challenges of practice today

The ICDLN has only come into being in the last three years or so. A group of Catholic doctors mostly based in Dublin became increasingly aware of the need to reflect upon the relationship between their faith and their ever-evolving professional role. Dr Keith Holmes, Consultant Child Psychiatrist, Lucena Clinic, is President and is assisted by a national council comprising Dr Ross Murphy, Consultant Cardiologist, St James’s Hospital, Dublin, and Blackrock Clinic (Treasurer); Dr Niall Breslin, Consultant Gastroenterologist, Tallaght Hospital (Secretary); and Fr Paul Francis CP (Chaplain). The group seeks to provide a forum where they can reflect upon and discuss the relationship of faith and professional practice. The meetings, which occur quarterly in Dublin, typically include a presentation either by a colleague or by an outside specialist in philosophy, theology or the law, etc, who provides information and tools for reflection upon emerging new challenges and issues in healthcare. The focus is on collaborative learning in an open and supportive context.

Following my positive experience of the first national meeting in May 2015, I signed up to attend this year’s meeting, which is centred on mercy and healthcare, in keeping with the Year of Mercy. There will also be a mix of presentations by Irish medical professionals (Dr Orla Halpenny, GP, and Dr Keith Holmes) and theologians (Dr Padraig Corkery, Department of Moral Theology, Maynooth, and myself) with time for discussion and debate. The contributions seek to demonstrate mercy in action and to provide some tools to enable an ethical and rational discussion about this Christian value in healthcare and more specifically in the individual practice of healthcare professionals.

I will examine the doctor-patient relationship through the prism of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The parable, like a prism, resists being reduced to a single colour or correct view but questions and challenges some long-held assumptions.

There are many long-established organisations for Catholic doctors in the world, which have built-up much experience over the years. The ICDLN is very much the younger sibling, but is drawing from the experience of others, through the increasing Irish medical diaspora throughout the world and particularly through the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) of the UK. Dr Robert Hardie, a past President of the CMA, will give an appraisal of its origin, evolution and work.

The national meeting will take place at the Emmaus Centre, Swords, Dublin, on Saturday, 28 May. Details and online registration are available on the web page of the ICDLN:

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