March 10, 2010 // Local

Ethical and religious directives drive hospital mission

Sister Carole Langhauser

By Kay Cozad

FORT WAYNE — Bioethical issues, during the course of choosing appropriate medical care, challenge the desire to respect life from conception to natural death. Healthcare workers and administrators across the globe are diligent in their quest to address these issues.

One local healthcare administrator, Poor Handmaid of Jesus Christ Sister Carole Langhauser, addresses those challenges daily. Sister Langhauser has been in the healthcare business for 30 years, 20 years an oncology nurse and  for the past seven years vice president of missions integration for St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Wayne. She says the hospital continually faces highly sensitive matters involving beginning and end-of-life issues.

In an effort to uphold the mission of the hospital once run by the Poor Handmaids, but in the past 10 years run at times by three different corporations, Sister Langhauser has recently completed a healthcare ethics certification program and feels it has strengthened her focus and resolve.

“I am responsible for Catholic mission … upholding the ethical and religious directives at St. Joseph,” she says, adding, “This ethics course helped me better articulate those directives, though they may not always be the popular decision.”

The national Web-based distance learning bioethics program, hosted by the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC) in Pennsylvania, is a yearlong course of study on the ethical and religious directives of the Catholic Church. According to the NCBC program pamphlet the hope of promoting this program to Church leaders, healthcare workers, biomedical researchers, university faculty, those in life sciences, ethics committee members and others is to better qualify advisors to “apply the Catholic moral tradition to challenging contemporary issues in health care. 

Sister Langhauser’s association with Saint Anne Home as board member and then Bishop John M. D’Arcy’s interest in this specific education sent her to the program, which consisted of initial and culminating intensive one- and two-day seminars in a specifically chosen city, readings, on-line assignments involving practical case studies and conference call discussions. 

“We discussed how ethical principles apply in different situations,” says Sister Langhauser, referring to questions surrounding  such issues as organ donation, conjoined twin separation, artificial conception and euthanasia. A longtime interest of the sister’s, artificial nutrition and hydration in the elderly, became fodder for a research paper that clarified much of the issue for her. She has since been invited to lecture on the topic of her paper to hospital staff, the diocesan deacon class and Saint Anne Home. 

Sister says she is continually interested in practical application and is putting this education to good use. “The challenge is to look at the policy at the hospital,” says Sister Langhauser who reports that she has made changes in the hospital’s policy as well as at Saint Anne Home and at the nursing home of her mother house. She is also aware that not all who are served by these facilities are Catholic. “These are all Catholic institutions, but not all residents and patients are Catholic. I work to help them understand what we stand for,” she says. If the ethics are contrary to the belief of the patient, she arranges for appropriate transfer of care. 

“It’s about helping people understand what the Church teaches,” she adds.

There is a pastoral side to the ethics and religious directives of the Church as well. And Sister Langhauser understand that each case is unique and requires individual attention. “I learned about advanced directives. I am a proponent of a healthcare representative, when you can’t speak for yourself,” she says. “We help people make decisions.” 

The support she receives from the NCBC consultants is invaluable says the sister, who reports that there are no clear directives on some issues healthcare workers face today. And, she says, the directives sometimes change. “I have collegues across the country to ask questions. It’s a great resource,” she says of the NCBC. Coincidentally, Rome recently released a new and definitive directive on hydration she reports.

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