Catholicism and Women's Health - an address by Cardinal George Pell

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
12 Sep 2012

Cardinal Pell - "Is Catholicism Compatible With Women's Health?", RANZCOG Conference, Canberra

Following nearly three days of scientific and medical presentations and discussions, Cardinal George Pell brought a different perspective to an international conference in Canberra today on women's health.

The conference was the  2012 Annual Scientific Meeting of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the scientific program was titled "capital gains in women's health".

Many noted researchers and practitioners presented papers during the conference which was officially opened by Rear Admiral Robyn Walker, Surgeon General of the Australian Defence Forces.

However the last session today was entitled "Wish List". The address was certainly more down to earth.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell presented a paper for this session  titled "Is Catholicism Compatible With Women's Health?"

Cardinal Pell emphasised the Catholic approach to women's health including the dignity of the human person; support of marriage, the union of a man and woman, permanent and exclusive, open to life; the right of couples to the knowledge and understanding of their own fertility so they may determine the number and spacing of their children and non-violence to mother and child.

He also said these key principles included the call to solidarity with the mother; the call to solidarity with the unborn child; health care as a natural human good and fundamental human right and the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable.

Approximately 600 million of the Catholic Church's 1.2 billion members are women. The Catholic Church is the single largest health care provider in the world operating 117,000 health care facilities, which represents 26% of the world's total care of anyone  and everyone in the community.

Cardinal Pell told the conference; "Catholics understand the relationship between doctor and patient according to the Hippocratic idea, rather than the more modern notion of a doctor simply being a service provider to the consumer."

The Cardinal went on to say Catholicism understands respect for patient autonomy in a particular way - that the doctor, on the basis of his or her knowledge, skill and experience, makes recommendations to the patient, who is seeking advice and treatment, who then decides whether or not to accept that recommendation. This approach has significant implications for how obstetricians and gynaecologists think of themselves and their patients.

"We understand the role of the obstetrician as being a doctor to two patients: mother and child. We recognise that although the healthcare needs of these two patients normally run i parallel they can sometimes - although infrequently - come apart, and this can be very difficult and distressing for all concerned. Catholicism has worked out practical principles to support the thinking and choosing of both the doctor and the parents in such circumstances," Cardinal Pell said.

Catholicism critics have often said the Church's pro-life stance damages women's health by contributing to global maternal mortality rates. Cardinal Pell addressed this issue saying numerous studies of maternal mortality rates have demonstrated that the major cause of maternal mortality is not lack of access to abortion, but lack of access to a hospital or skilled midwife. He also said; "The Catholic Church around the world acts to address the critical factors of human, social and economic injustice which cause and contribute to poor maternal health outcomes for women and often generate pressure for abortions. Many women are forced to have abortions by their menfolk. All women who have undergone this procedure should, of course, be treated with compassion and respect."

On the issue of abortion Cardinal Pell mentioned the "missing women of China and India". He highlighted the appalling situation in these countries where female foetuses are sex-selected for abortion and untold baby girls are abandoned or murdered with a smaller number of baby boys.

Cardinal Pell also addressed Catholic health professionals' groundbreaking work in reproductive and maternal health and the role Caritas Internationalis, the international relief, aid and development network of the Catholic Church, is playing in advancing maternal health in some of the world's poorest countries by caring for mothers with HIV and reducing mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

For the full address by Cardinal Pell click here