Catholic Vancouver Nov. 2, 2017

Guild honours women for health-care contributions

By Agnieszka Ruck

Dr. Romayne Gallagher (centre) receives an award from Doctors Jim Lane and Julia Bright of the Catholic Physicians' Guild Oct. 27. (Photos by Agnieszka Krawczynski / The B.C. Catholic)

VANCOUVER—The Catholic Physicians’ Guild has honoured two women for decades of remarkable efforts to improve health care in B.C.

Doctor Romayne Gallagher and former Catholic Health Association of B.C. head Susan House received high praise at the guild’s 10th annual White Mass and reception Oct. 27.

“She has advanced the standard of palliative care in this country,” doctor Julia Bright said of Gallagher as she presented her with the guild’s St. Gianna Beretta Molla Award. “Her career accomplishments are truly inspirational.” The award is named after the patron saint of expectant mothers and and unborn children.   

Gallagher, who retired in April, is a palliative care expert who has improved the lives of countless patients and given lectures, written in medical journals, and researched palliative care, alleviating suffering and the effects of assisted suicide and euthanasia on health care.

She has been the head of the divisions of palliative care and of residential care for Providence Health Care and received the B.C. Family Physician of the Year award in 2005. Gallagher has been a public, intellectual voice against legalizing assisted death in Canada, but Bright said it’s her compassion that truly made her stand out.

What we’re recognizing is not only her pointing out the negatives of this societal change, but rather her entire career’s focus of presenting a positive alternative.
Julia Bright

“What we’re recognizing is not only her pointing out the negatives of this societal change, but rather her entire career’s focus of presenting a positive alternative,” Bright said.

“She really is a medical expert in alleviating suffering and in communicating with the suffering and their families. She talks about reclaiming the terminally ill, disabled, and dying members of our society as our own, and about normalizing the process of dying as a part of life instead of distancing ourselves from it and making it something medical.”

Gallagher called the appreciation a real blessing. “Jesus Christ attracted people to him not by telling what was wrong about things, but by talking about positive things, his healing of people, and relieving of suffering,” she said.

“We, as physicians in trying to imitate him, need not say we can’t do medical assistance in dying so there’s no point in talking about it. We need to talk about what we can do to help people.”

Susan House is honoured by Lane and Dr. Howie Bright.
Susan House.

The guild also honoured Susan House, executive director for the CHABC from 1994 to 2016 and a strong advocate for spiritual care and St. Mary’s Hospital in New Westminster, a battle she found “particularly painful” when it was closed despite her efforts to keep it running.

She received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Catholic Health Alliance of Canada this year, and the Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice, the highest medal the Pope can give a layperson, in 2016.

“It’s clear that our guild is not the only group that appreciates the many years of faithful service she has given to Catholic health care,” said Dr. Howie Bright, who presented her with the guild’s St. Camillus award, named after the patron saint of the sick, nurses, and hospitals.

“I’m sure that St. Camillus himself would agree that we have chosen a worthy recipient.”

House told several dozen medical professionals at the event: “receiving this award from our Catholic Physicians’ Guild is a most humbling experience.”

Archbishop J. Michael Miller urged all doctors, nurses, and others to be strong advocates for conscience rights and life issues at Mass at St. Augustine's before the award reception.