Good afternoon, it’s a pleasure to be here this afternoon and I would like to thank the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations and FEMM for making my participation in this event possible. It is extremely humbling to be on such a panel of speakers and I look forward to hearing their contributions on today’s topic of Affirming the Human Dignity of Rural Women and Girls through Healthcare and Education.
It is exciting to be able to talk about the program that we have undertaken in Michigan.
The story of the work being done by Holy Family Healthcare begins after two decades of my own struggle within what has come to be accepted as contemporary healthcare in America. Trying to change things from the inside, it became apparent that within healthcare in general in America, and even within the huge system of Catholic healthcare in which I have worked, the system had lost its way.
Healthcare has become too bottom-line. As doctors, we are given a 15 minute time frame within which to interview, evaluate, diagnose, and treat a patient before going on to the next and, much like any business, profit became the goal. Regard for human dignity and relationship have been sacrificed for expediency and profit.
For decades, agendized misinformation has been leading women to healthcare options that are deleterious to their physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being and many doctors are abetting rather than opposing such trends.
Far too often, groups of people are “sold out”, misinformed, and intentionally misguided for profit or secondary gain.
Our medical practice, located in a rural area in southwest Michigan is rich in land and water resources. Because of the size and number of farms, in our county, we have the largest Migrant Hispanic Farmworker population in Michigan. Today’s political climate has placed this population under a microscope and allowed these persons to be bandied about as a political game ball.
Our healthcare model at Holy Family was forged by various orders of courageous nuns and is designed on a historic Catholic Healthcare paradigm that includes the emphasis on education and relationship, specifically the dignity and beauty of women created in the “image and likeness of God.” The goal has been to develop a knowledge-based health program for every patient that we meet. This approach seeks to put into living, breathing practice a relationship with patients founded in truth, love, and reverence for their dignity.
Pope John Paul II spoke about the principles we try to take to our work in his Apostolic letter, On the Dignity of Women. Speaking of the inherent richness of the dignity and calling of woman, he said that “this understanding helps to safeguard the truth about the “unity” of the “two”, that truth about the dignity and vocation that result from the specific diversity and personal originality of man and woman.”
Our approach at Holy Family is to affirm the dignity of women and girls through healthcare and education throughout life’s continuum. Oftentimes we see grandmothers raising grandchildren or single mothers with their children. Every once and a while, we see two parent families. Each visit is our opportunity to educate those entrusted to our care.
This education begins with the very first visit. Along with knowledge of health, body, and physical development, we have hired an educator who is working with us to incorporate the Human Dignity Curriculum developed by the World Youth Alliance — designed for children aged 5 to about 14 or 15 years — into our Anticipatory Guidance. At every visit, we are able to talk about parenting, what to expect in the child’s development, and how best to work with the child to develop not only his or her own dignity, but that of the child’s family and peers as well.
By incorporating the Human Dignity Curriculum into these visits with a child, we have a wonderful opportunity to teach the child’s parents and to strengthen their role as the primary educators of their children, and reinforce what may have been missed or forgotten in the parents’ own education about their own inherent dignity.
Within our practice, we have partnered with other agencies to fortify our Natural Family Planning program and have also committed to the education of adolescent men and women as they journey to adulthood. As younger children, they take the Human Dignity Curriculum “together” but as adolescents we separate them so that specific biological and human development education can take place.
Our program has adopted a women’s monthly cycle as the fifth vital sign. It’s a reliable sign of health or illness, similar to a pulse or a blood pressure. This education for women is truly essential in a knowledge based healthcare program.
Our educators are required to receive quarterly updates to reinforce their knowledge of the scientific and personalistic underpinnings of Natural Family Planning. This program helps women to understand how their bodies work at a far deeper level than they would typically get in school and in culture. This knowledge empowers women to identify and address common health problems. It equips them with the tools to achieve fertility based outcomes such as avoiding or achieving pregnancy.
But this education is not simply for women of child bearing age. With this education, women can maintain the highest standards of personal and reproductive health from puberty through menopause.
I firmly believe that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. This approach to education and empowerment allows women to not only understand, but to embrace her “fulfillment” as a person, according to the richness of the femininity which she received on the day her life began.
I must admit, coming here to the United Nations from a small rural town in Michigan, that I was a bit intimidated because I am really best qualified to speak on Healthcare and Education for women in rural America without the experience of what others may be struggling with throughout the world. Then I realized that this isn’t a technology problem, it’s not a supply chain problem, it isn’t a first world problem, it is a human problem. A problem that can only be corrected through relationship, diligence, patience, and reverence for others’ dignity, things that are, and truly ought always to be, cross-cultural.
Thank you very much.