One hundred and forty obstetricians and gynecologists, as well as lawyers, ethicists, midwives, theologians and leaders of pro-life groups from 40 countries, met in Rome June 17-20 to discuss “The Future of Obstetrics and Gynecology: The Fundamental Human Right to Practise and be Trained According to Conscience.”

The intensive three-day workshop was organized by the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC) and MaterCare International (MCI). It was co-chaired by the president of the FIAMC, Professor G. L. Gigli of Italy, and Professor R. L. Walley of Canada, who is the founder and medical director of MaterCare International. The organizers were pleasantly surprised at the enthusiastic response to the workshop. Attendance had to be limited due to the inadequate size of the conference hall.

The workshop discussed the pressures placed on Catholics in training as specialists and in practice to provide “reproductive health care services” (such as abortion and contraception) and the consequences of the decline in the number of ob-gyns, arising from the anti-life philosophies and policies currently dominating the practice of obstetrics. The workshop heard many accounts of discrimination from various countries and considered solutions to these problems. Many who attended were reassured to find that they were not alone and felt a sense of hope and encouragement to be part of such a large group.

Conference delegates were granted an audience with the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, who gave them an address of encouragement and support. He challenged them to continue to be “the servants and guardians of life, for the Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus’s message.” The Holy Father reminded them that their profession has become still more important in a culture and social context that has science and the practice of medicine risking the loss of their ethical dimension. He said health care professionals are strongly tempted at times to become manipulators of life and even “agents of death.”

The conference accepted the Holy Father’s fervent hope that all Catholic medical and health care personnel, whether in research or practice, will commit themselves wholeheartedly to the service of human life, and that local churches will give due attention to the medical profession by supporting obstetricians, gynecologists and health workers who respect the right to life.

Keynote addresses were given by the presidents or vice-presidents of the Sacred Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith and for Catholic Education, the Academy for Life and the Pontifical Councils for Pastoral Health Care and of the Family. A wide range of topics was discussed by invited speakers and ample time was given for short interventions from the floor and for general discussion.

A number of suggestions came out of the conference:

  • Active support should be obtained from church leaders, people and pro-life groups around the world.
  • There should be a list of departments of obstetrics and gynecology that will provide training based on ethical teaching.
  • Catholic ob-gyns, who will accept the Holy Father’s fervent hope given at the meeting, should be listed internationally.
  • Natural family planning should be promoted.
  • A task force to consider developing an interntional residency training program, and to develop an outreach program for Catholic medical nursing and allied health professionals, should be established.
  • The number of MaterCare organizations should be increased.
  • Abuses in Catholic hospitals and medical schools should be stopped.
  • Website and e-mail publications, that inform colleagues and the general public of our stand on issues, should be developed.
  • A task force concerning reproductive technologies should be established.
  • Annual meetings should be continued.
  • Good spiritual direction for the group should be cultivated.
  • A website consulting group to provide pro-life opinions for colleagues, priests, counsellors and pro-life groups for difficult clinical problems, should be established.

The general feeling of those attending the workshop was that it was excellent, and everyone went away with positive feelings and encouragement. A second meeting is being planned again in Rome for the fall of 2002.