A long-time pro-life activist and medical advisor, Dr. John Bernard Shea, passed away Feb. 11 at the age of 93.
Shea was born in Gallway, Ireland, and like many in his family became a doctor and scholar. He emigrated to Canada in 1955 and met his wife to-be, Janet Casey, when he interned at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. They would be married for 62 years.
He trained in radiology and became the first chief of radiology at Centenary Health Centre in Scarborough. He also served on the hospital’s Medical Advisory Board and Credentials Committee. He was a pioneer in diagnostic tools such as ultrasound technology and other imaging techniques.
Dr. Shea was active in Catholic and pro-life circles, helping found the Catholic Doctor’s Guild and became its first president, and serving as president of the Marguerite Bourgeoys Society for natural family planning.
He was medical advisor to Campaign Life Coalition, providing both medical and philosophical knowledge for the national pro-life group to strategize. He worked especially closely with them on bioethical issues such as reproductive technologies and organ transplants. Dr. Shea was brought in for a series of conference calls with MPs during the embryonic stem and cloning debate in the early 2000s. Mary Ellen Douglas, former national organizer for Campaign Life Coalition, told The Interimhe was a “shining light” during the debate, and his medical arguments won over several MPs to the pro-life side. Douglas noted that he was so persuasive with former Liberal MP Paul Szabo who became a leading opponent of his own government’s legislation, that he wrote a book on the benefits of somatic stem cells over embryonic stem cells in medical research.
Dr. Shea also wrote about abortion, bioethics, and contraception for The Interimand Catholic Insight, serving on the latter’s editorial board, among other publications, warning that various scientific and medical advances were immoral. In 2002, he published a short book, The Safer Sex Illusion.
In 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s abortion laws, Dr. Shea was part of a Canadian Physicians for Life press conference, representing 2400 physicians nationwide. He stated that abortion violated the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to patients, insisted that abortion was not medicine, and called upon the government to pass legislation to protect both the unborn child and the conscience rights of health care workers.
At the same time, Dr. Shea was instrumental in publishing the Toronto Catholic Doctors’ Guild statement on abortion. It said from conception to death “the human being is at all times a human person.” Age or illness in no way diminishes “the humanity or personal value of the human being.” The statement concluded, “The State must respect the truth in the enactment of laws. The State must also protect the innocent. If it fails so to act, it loses its moral right to respect and obedience, and such laws become a crime against humanity.”
Douglas told The Interimthat Dr. Shea advised on issues from contraception and abortion to stem cell research and organ donation.
Dr. Shea, a pianist, also co-published with Toronto Symphony Orchestra principal bassoonist Christopher Weiat a paper identifying new insights into how the body actually operates when playing a wind instrument.
Dr. Shea leaves his wife Janet and children Peter, Daniel, Gregory, Mary and Pauline, and nineteen grandchildren and great-grandchildren.