realitycheck(dot)ie

Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Michael Neary is NOT a product of Catholic Medical Ethics

He’s the exact opposite of what Catholicism is all about.
I’ve been thinking about this all week since I read Sarah Carey’s article in the ST and heard Sen Mary Henry on Sunday’s This Week.
Both asserted that Neary’s gross negligence and disgusting disregard for his patients was somehow related to his hospital’s Catholic ethos.
I don’t agree. Neary continued his horrifically improper and wrong practices because the old joke “what’s difference between God and the consultant? – God doesn’t think he’s a consultant” is still unfortunately true for too many consultants in the Irish health service. What they say goes.
Lamenting Catholic influence in Irish hospitals is useless in attempting to ensure that such extraordinary malpractice will never again go unchecked. Irish patients, and Irish doctors would be better served if the Medical Council had better practices with regard to whistleblowers and continual clinical audit for all consultants. A more transparent system of promotion and a greater number of consultant positions would hopefully allow for house officers and registrars to voice their concerns about antiquated or plain wrong medical practice that their firm engages in, based on a single consultant’s opinion.
Ronan Mullen wrote about this in Wednesday’s Examiner and I have to agree with the following passages – The whole article is well worth a read.
First regarding Mary Henry -
There was no mention that the senator and ex-Rotunda Hospital physician had not been a neutral in any of the great debates about healthcare or reproductive issues over the last 20 years. Nor was there any indication that RTÉ had sought to balance the discussion by having a Catholic on the programme to discuss the Catholic ethos in hospitals. Most bizarre of all, of course, was the decision to frame a primetime discussion of the Lourdes Hospital scandal as a story about the influence of the Catholic ethos on healthcare.
And then Neary’s Catholic ethics – or patent lack thereof - The Neary saga, emphatically, is not about Catholic medical ethics. It’s about the exercise of power in the doctor-patient relationship. It’s about the unassailable authority and influence of consultants in hospitals. It’s about the lack of accountability and peer-scrutiny within the medical profession. Most crucially, it’s about abuses that could happen today in any hospital, regardless of whether that hospital has a religious ethos or not. What Neary did - performing hysterectomies on women who neither needed nor wanted them - was in violation, not just of Catholic medical ethics, but of the most elementary principles in health care. Do no harm. Do as much good as possible.

He rightly highlights the nuns unquestioning acquiescence in front of the consultant. This however is not a phenomenon restricted to religious hospitals.
Here, we do actually find a problem with the way the nuns ran things. According to Judge Harding-Clark, they “had created an aura of unquestioning respect around the consultants, who were revered.” But if this is true, it surely has nothing to do with Catholic ethos, and everything to do with the insecurity of the individual managers of that hospital in the face of the consultants. Anybody who thinks that an unquestioning attitude towards hospital consultants is the preserve of Catholic healthcare providers is badly out of touch with the problems that bedevil the Irish healthcare system to this day.

Ronan also says –
All of these contextual arguments are simply spurious when you consider that Neary only informed patients after the event of what he had done. Long after the Catholic ethos had waned in hospitals all over the country, he was still acting in an utterly unaccountable fashion in Drogheda. That some people choose to attack the Catholic Church’s role in healthcare, instead of asking the more serious and obvious questions about the accountability of doctors which this case demands, perhaps illustrates how much they actually care about this tragedy and the people who suffered because of it. It is always tawdry and tasteless when people pursue their own agendas on the back of a worthy cause.

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