Surgical Incompetence

Every now and then a real life story confronts us with enormously difficult moral dilemmas. After ruining the lives of many women through surgical incompetence and mistakes, a gynaecologist lost his license to practice in the city of Vancouver. Later he was re-employed in a non-clinical role within the Canadian Health Service. Understandably former patients have reacted with incredulity and anger. Women are appalled that he should be allowed back in any capacity.

Meanwhile the former gynaecologist himself says he is full of remorse for what he did. He is ashamed of his horrific incompetency and has apologised publicly and will continue to repeat the apology. He still believes that he has something to give, not in clinical medicine, but elsewhere in the field. Yet to place him completely outside his chosen field is, he believes, to treat him with fewer rights than a convicted prisoner. Is he to be forever condemned?

It is fascinating how words normally associated with religion appear in everyday discourse. In this case words like shame, remorse, apology and the implicit idea of forgiveness are all present. But look at the complexity in it all. There are women whose lives have been ruined. They are real victims who need to be heard and supported in their struggle to be survivors.

On the other hand here is the person responsible for the horrors; now remorseful, ashamed, humiliated, apologetic, feeling that he is not being allowed to make amends. Is forgiveness possible? How much remorse would he need to show and what amends would he need to make, to be forgiven?

It can be very easy to talk about forgiveness and also very easy to speak of condemnation. Both reactions may be ways of avoiding hard choices, tough decisions, inner moral struggles.

The victims/survivors cannot forget. There is a journey to be made deep into their personal anguish, and the emotional loss of self-esteem. Feelings of destructive anger including vengeance need to be named and confronted. For the perpetrator there is denial to overcome, the humiliation of public apology and the paralysis of guilt and worthlessness to be faced.

There is the struggle to make amends, which is appropriate. For both there may even be the pain of a face-to-face encounter.

But how else does everyone avoid being a prisoner of the past? It is a hard-nosed, core Christian insight that there is no forgiveness without justice and no justice without forgiveness. But is that precisely what Christ would expect of us? Is it clearly and unequivocally what He would do?

How difficult is it for us to forgive without reservation, accept the scars we carry, and in God's light, move on?

For some, it's impossible. For others, it's a destination.

Lord God, grant us the insight to feel the suffering of others and the wisdom to understand. We place ourselves before You as your faithful servants, and pray that we may be grateful for the gifts we have received from Your grace. Amen

Posted for Fr Bill

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