The Gerber Institute for Catholic Studies hosted “Faithful Journeys: Living fully in the final chapters of life,” a successful one-day conference, on Nov. 2 at Newman University.
The conference was designed for those in the health care profession and those caring for individuals in the final chapters of life. Speakers discussed how they can address clinical, ethical, spiritual, social and personal dimensions of end-of-life care.
Joshua Papsdorf, director of the Newman graduate theology program and the Gerber Institute, said, “The conference focused on Catholic approaches to end-of-life care. In particular, a major theme was promoting palliative care as a model that fits Catholic teaching. In palliative care, the goal is supporting the whole person through illness and end of life with a focus on pain and symptom management, but also social and spiritual support.”
Speakers throughout the day included Catholic health care professionals, ministerial leaders and experts who covered various topics related to end-of-life care. Some shared personal stories that emotionally connected the audience and all shared their wealth of knowledge on the subject matter.
- Journey to Accompaniment: Whole persons and Holistic care presented by Bishop Emeritus Stephen Blaire
- Guides for the Journey: Ethics Tools and Resources presented by Elliott Bedford, Ascension Health Ethicist
- The role and promise of palliative care for the seriously ill and dying presented by MC Sullivan, Dr. Catherine Powers and Dr. Jerry Brungardt
- Engaging in the Conversation of Accompaniment presented by Reverend Dan Minding
- Advance Care Planning: It’s more than a legal piece of paper presented by John Carney, MEd and John Morris, Ph.D.
Throughout the day, participants took part in discussions following each presentation and enjoyed a panel of professionals to end the day.
This was the first year for the conference; with a goal of 100 attendees and a turnout of 160, it seemed to be a success.
According to Papsdorf, there was a lot of positive feedback from attendees.
Biology student Preston Bui attended the conference for the “Dying Well” course he is taking at Newman. He said, “I loved listening to various stories from all of the speakers whose professions place them all at different areas in the dying process, such as working as a palliative care professional, chaplain or even just a friend helping another in the grieving process.”
The day was somewhat eye-opening Bui said. As a college student, it’s not common to think about the subjects such as death, the final chapters of life or choosing a good decision-maker if you are not able to make decisions. He said, “We need to openly communicate with our friends and family about certain medical decisions that could possibly arise.”
An example he gave was the possibility of a car accident that results in a coma. “Our parents or friends might be the ones having to make the decision of keeping us hooked up to life support for many years when maybe, we prefer only one year max but they didn’t know that because we never had a conversation about death.”
The initial idea for the conference was brought up by Newman Board of Trustees member John Carney who is the director of an ethics center in Kansas City.
Carney led a study funded by the Pew Charitable Trust that focused on Catholic perspectives of end-of-life care.
Papsdorf said, “After three years, his (Carney’s) group put out a report and they wanted to promote dialogue based on the work in the report at various institutions around the country. Given John’s connection with Newman, he approached us and it was an ideal fit for the Gerber Institute, which has the mission of promoting engagement with Catholic thought and tradition across the disciplines, including health care.
“We are hoping to build on the success of the day in a variety of ways. We hope to create follow-up events addressing these issues in other parts of the state. We also hope to have similar events in the future that will promote dialog between the Catholic community and medical practitioners in our region,” added Papsdorf.
Bui commented, “I thought it was a very well put together event with marvelous speakers with amazing stories and experiences.”