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Monday, December 30, 2013

Where in the World is Dr. Haas? -- The Global Reach of the NCBC: Collaboration with Catholic Health Care in Korea

Last month, NCBC President, Dr. John Haas, and his wife Martha had the pleasure to travel to Korea for the marriage of their son Joseph to a Korean woman. Dr. Haas had met participants from Korea in the NCBC National Catholic Certification Program in Bioethics and so contacted them before his departure. He was also aware of the fact that the Korean Catholic Bioethics Institute in Seoul had translated two publications of the NCBC into Korean.
Dr. and Mrs. Haas landed in Seoul toward the end of November and were picked up at their hotel the following day by one of the former certification students, a Korean physician, Dr. Seon-Hee Yim, who goes by the nick-name of Sunny, and taken to St. Mary’s Hospital as well as the medical school and the bioethics center, all on the campus of the Catholic University of Korea. Dr. Sunny is an epidemiologist and is now involved in molecular genetics and genetic counseling. She spent time at Oxford so her English was excellent.

Dr. Haas recounted the details of the rest of his his journey below:

We first had a traditional Korean lunch near the hospital with several administrators, physicians, and other health care professionals. We were joined by Father Jae-Woo Jung (Father Sebastian) who has his doctorate from the Regina Apostolorum in Rome. I had actually encountered him several times in Rome at assemblies of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

From Left: Father Sebastian, director of the bioethics institute at Saint Mary's;
Dr. Sunny, the epidemiologist and genetic counselor; Dr. Lucy, who has her doctorate in Philosphy
from The Catholic University of America and works at the bioethics institute;
and Dr.Young, an oncologist and one of those who oversaw the building of the new
St. Mary’s Facility; Dr. Young is also a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life

The current facilities of Saint Mary's Hospital were completed in 2002 and were built for $1 billon! It is the largest Catholic hospital in the world with 1,325 beds. St. Mary’s Hospital performed the first kidney transplant, did the first bone marrow transplant, had the first hospice in Korea which has become a model for the country, and oversees extensive drug trials. Altogether it would constitute what we would call a health care system with 8 hospitals around the country. We were struck by the fact that a funeral home was part of the hospital complex. I suspect U.S. hospitals would be nervous about incorporating a funeral home into their buildings!

St. Mary’s Hospital was actually started by lay persons rather than religious as is the tradition in this country. It was built in 1936 during the Japanese occupation. I was fascinated to learn that it was also laity who brought the Catholic Church to Korea. In the 18th Century a group of scholars went to China to enhance their scholarship. While there they encountered the Church, converted and brought it back to Korea. The first Korean baptism actually occurred in China in 1784, and their leader, who took the baptism name of Peter, returned their country with zeal for the Faith. They then set about trying to find priests in Europe who would come to minister to them! Priests finally arrived from France in 1836. The first Korean priest, St. Andrew Kim, was ordained in 1845 – and martyred in 1846!

The new Saint Mary's Hospital in Seoul, Korea

One of those giving the tour was Dr. Young-Seon Hong, an oncologist who oversaw the building of the new facility and then went back to his clinical work after its completion. St. Mary’s has the most extensive bone marrow transplant program in the country. Also with us on the tour was a Sister Regina (Dr. Hyen Oh La) from a Korean religious order which has Our Lady of Perpetual Help as their patroness. She has a Ph.D. in pharmacology and oversees the hospital pharmacy and a very robust drug trial program with 1500 protocols underway. They add about 300 new protocols a year.

The Archdiocese of Seoul averages 30 ordinations to the priesthood a year! The Church there is growing robustly. The country is roughly 30% Christian, 10% of whom are Catholic. The current president of Korea is a woman and a Catholic. The Catholic Church apparently has very good reputation in Korea because of the strong leadership of the laity and because the priests are very well educated, humble, and known for their kindness. The Church was also a major force for democracy in the country and has been very involved in social welfare programs, St. Mary’s Hospital being a prime example! The Church has grown 70% in the last ten years and has 15 dioceses.

The hospital has a vast atrium and once a year they have a great gathering of hospital employees from health care professionals to service staff for mass baptisms and confirmations. Friends and relatives are on the balconies overlooking the atrium to take part in the event. It is very moving. This truly is Catholic health care as a powerful force for the evangelization of culture! When Dr. Choi took us to the principal chapel (there are several throughout the buildings), he said it was the “cathedral of the hospital”. There is a large statue of Our Lady of Lourdes with water running down the black wall behind her. I commented that the NCBC was formally consecrated to Our Lady of Lourdes, another spiritual link between the NCBC and the hospital.

There is a children’s hospital within the entire complex where the young patients have their education continued while they are there, with the credits accepted by the school systems. We witnessed a delightful music class with children bald from probable chemotherapy.

The hospital has an executive floor for wealthy individuals, government officials and ambassadors posted in Seoul. There are apartments of several rooms where the family members can stay and private elevators which take patients to their respective suites directly from the garage. There is office equipment so they can continue to run the enterprise (or the government) from their suite. Later, there was a visit to a large board room for the hospital which can also be used for board meetings for businesses or even cabinet meetings for members of the government. Such accommodations are, of course paid, for by the individuals and not from insurance.

In Korea, the national health insurance plan pays 60% of the costs while the patients pay 40% for which they can buy insurance. If it is a “catastrophic” illness, the government pays 95%. Abortion is illegal in Korea except in cases of rape, incest and threat to the life of the mother, but St. Mary’s will not perform those or any so-called therapeutic abortions.

The NCBC considers itself privileged to be able to collaborate with St. Mary’s Hospital and the Catholic Bioethics Institute of Korea and is humbled by such an impressive example of health care professionalism and by such a moving witness to the Catholic Faith.

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