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The fight for conscientious medicine

Stock image. Credit wp paarz(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Even after the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, the issues of ethics, individual of conscience protections, and religious freedom remain live issues in the healthcare sector.

To talk through the state of play at the national level, and the work being done to ensure conscience protections for medical professionals, Charlie Camosy sat down to talk with Louis Brown Jr.

Brown, a lawyer, serves as the executive director of the Christus Medicus Foundation, a Catholic health ministry working to defending medical conscience rights and religious freedom, and help expand access to Christ-centered medical care, and is a co-founder of the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance.

He previously worked as an associate director of social concerns for a state Catholic conference, on Capitol Hill as a Congressman’s legislative counsel, and was a political appointee at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

For months now there's been talk in Catholic health care circles about a major ruling coming from the Biden administration's HHS, especially as it relates to abortion and care for people with gender dysphoria.

How worried should we be about this?

I think folks should be very concerned about a pending HHS regulation under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act because this regulation could significantly undermine medical conscience and religious freedom rights in health care and coerce unethical and harmful medical procedures.

Specifically, HHS has indicated it intends to use this new regulation to coerce medical professionals and health care entities to perform abortions and to perform unethical and harmful transgender procedures. HHS has also indicated an openness to issue this new regulation without any religious exemption.

Now, if HHS does issue this Section 1557 regulation in this manner it would violate the 1st Amendment of the Constitution and existing federal law and it’s very possible that eventually a court will overturn the regulation but such court action could take years and this regulation could do tremendous damage.

Catholic hospitals and many Catholic medical professionals would not be able to abide by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care that articulate Catholic teaching on bioethics in medicine.  Consequently, this HHS regulation would make Catholic health care virtually unlawful.

The civil rights of conscience and religious freedom safeguard the freedom to love in health care and throughout civil society because it is our moral and religious convictions that compel us to love and care for our neighbor, especially those vulnerable persons that society wants to simply discard.

If we take away our moral and religious convictions from health care, if we end the rights of religious freedom and medical conscience, human dignity will collapse, the profit motive will reign as the primary driver of health care. Persons who are materially poor, persons with special needs, racial minorities and immigrants will suffer unjust discrimination, denial of medical care, and the full force of the growing throwaway culture in the health care system.

This pending HHS Section 1557 regulation could seriously weaken the basic civil rights of religious freedom and conscience which are vital to protecting other civil rights and the life, health, and dignity of patients, families, and medical professionals.

The civil rights of conscience and religious freedom, along with the right to life, are the pillars of all other civil and human rights and should be protected.

It seems particularly important that Christus Medicus, Catholic Benefits, and other organizations have joined together to form a new group called the Catholic Heath Care Leadership Alliance.

Can you say more about what brought you together and what you see on the horizon for the future?

There is a great awakening happening in Catholic health care and this great awakening is returning Catholic health care to more fully follow the Divine Physician, Jesus Christ. It is the healing love of Jesus Christ and the desire to make Catholic health care an even better instrument of His healing love for all people that brought these organizations together.

We are at a watershed moment in American history. The fullness of Catholic health care - which the healing ministry of the Divine Physician who came to heal and restore all people in body, mind, and soul - is needed now more than ever. The Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance is a new voice for Catholic health care in the United States intended to help expand Christ-centered to care to heal the whole person, to mutually support Catholic health care entities in America, and to defend our religious freedom which is nothing less than the religious freedom to share the love of Christ with the sick and suffering.

The response to the public launch of the Catholic Health Care Leadership Alliance has been extraordinary and the need for Christ’s love for our brothers and sisters has never been more needed. The CHCLA is building membership, engaging policymakers and the public debate about the importance of protecting human dignity and religious freedom at the federal level, and educating the Bishops and the laity about what the Holy Spirit is doing in Catholic health care.

One of the first Q&As I did for The Pillar was with Martin Nussbaum of the Catholic Benefits Association.

The Catholic Benefits Association (CBA) is a gift of God to the Church in America especially to Catholic employers seeking to safeguard their religious liberty rights. I know their team personally and count them as dear friends. CBA’s work to defend religious liberty in the Courts and to educate Catholic employers and dioceses about structuring health care plans in accord with Catholic social teaching has been so important the last few years.

The work of CBA along with the work of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a large part of the reason why Catholic employers continue to be able to exercise their God given religious freedom in their health care decisions.

Can you tell us a bit more about Christus Medicus Foundation and how your path to becoming its executive director?

My journey is one of God’s love and mercy. It is a professional calling for me to defend the vulnerable and the discarded from a throwaway culture in health care and God empowering me to be an imperfect instrument despite my own sins, failures, weaknesses, and true unworthiness for this call.

I grew up in suburban Detroit and was raised by an amazing Catholic woman, mother, and high school teacher, Sharon, who is one of God’s greatest gifts to me. My father – her amazing husband – passed away when I was young which was hard on my mother because they had perhaps the most amazing marriage of which I know. But God brought life out of death and through the struggle my mother’s Catholic faith and prayer life became even stronger and that transformed my life and that of my amazing younger sister. My faith in Jesus Christ - my divine inheritance that God gave me largely through my mother - my baptism into spiritual adoption as a son of the living God, is the greatest gift of my life – it is literally everything.

I was blessed with a Catholic K through 12 education, was fascinated by history, especially politics, and was drawn to the Church’s teaching on social justice and the human person as well as to the civil rights movement. My conscience and awareness that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God sparked a righteous outrage in my heart when I was young, about poverty, lack of health care access and housing, and inequality that was so evident, particularly along racial lines at the time, in Southeast Michigan.

In college and in law school, I pursued a path towards public policy and government seeking to “make the world a better place” and to pursue what I understood to be social justice. Unfortunately, I lost much of my fairly strong faith in college and in law school.

Thank God, I had a strong reversion to my faith in the spring of my 3rd year of law school at Howard University in 2007.

After I took the bar exam and began private law practice with a great firm in Michigan, I began to grapple with the professional implications of my newfound freedom as a practicing Catholic that takes faith in Jesus Christ and the sacraments seriously, that recognizes that Church teaching is the pathway to freedom and liberation for all people, and that knows that my soul will undergo final judgment.

Around this time, a friend told me about the Silent Scream video, a video of an ultrasound of abortion, and it changed my life forever.

I had always been pro-life but learning of this video caused me to realize the gravity of abortion and spurred me into pro-life activism. Through a series of providential steps, from practicing labor law that dealt significantly with health care issues to working at a state Catholic conference where I worked on state health care policy to serving as a Congressional staffer where I was responsible for federal health care legislative issues, the Holy Spirit continually placed me on a path of working in the law, policy, and practice of health care. During these years as I grew in my faith, the Holy Spirit also gave me an enormous heart for evangelization and for doing prayer ministry.

Through God’s providence, working through a mentor and friend involved in federal politics and two amazing men, Mike O’Dea and David Wilson, God led me to the Christ Medicus Foundation. Christ Medicus Foundation’s mission is to share the healing love of Christ in health care with all people and to promote the civil rights of medical conscience and religious freedom in health care.

Our team at the Christ Medicus Foundation seeks to depend on God to accomplish its mission through (1) educating the public and policy makers about the vital need of medical conscience rights, (2) advising and expanding Catholic medical care in collaboration with our partners, and (3) through our Christ Medicus CURO health care community where individuals and families share their medical costs and grow in their health and healing through programs that serve their physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Serving at Christ Medicus Foundation has been an incredible blessing as this work has brought together my heart for defending life and religious freedom, for expanding Christ-centered health care that serves all people, and for building a Catholic community that provides greater health and healing for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters.

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