Archive for the ‘Right’ Category

British Parliament Launches Inquiry on Age Limit

By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, OCT. 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- A long-running debate over age limits for abortions was renewed last week in England. Current law allows abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy, but improvements in survival rates for babies born prematurely have led to pressure for the limit to be lowered.

The Abortion Act of 1967 originally set at 28 weeks the legal limit for abortions. Then, in 1990, Parliament agreed to lower the time limit to 24 weeks.

An inquiry into the age limits commenced Oct. 15 by the House of Commons committee on science and technology. The committee Web page noted that the terms of reference for the inquiry do not include the ethical or moral questions related to the debate, but will concentrate on scientific and medical evidence about fetal viability.

One of those backing a reduction in the age limit is obstetrician Stuart Campbell, reported the Telegraph newspaper on Oct. 15. Campbell pioneered three-dimensional scans of fetuses sucking their thumbs and walking in the womb.

Campbell used to perform abortions at 20 weeks, the Telegraph reported. “I feel pretty appalled at the idea that we abort normal babies and most of them are born alive and most of them are allowed to die,” he said during a BBC radio program.

The committee’s Web site contains several hundred pages of evidence submitted to the inquiry.

A submission from the Department of Health to the committee provided information about abortions in England and Wales. In 2006, there were 193,700 abortions. Of these, 89% were carried out at under 13 weeks of pregnancy.

Out of the total number, 2,948 abortions were performed at 20 weeks and over. Of these, 1,262 were performed at 22 weeks and over, and 136 at 24 weeks and over.

Christian opposition

The Christian Medical Fellowship, an interdenominational Christian organization with more than 4,500 British doctor members, is in favor of a reduction. In its submission to the committee, it outlined a number of concerns related to abortion.

For a start, it argued that maternal mortality after abortion is higher than currently recognized. Moreover, the fellowship noted, strong evidence exists that induced abortion increases risk of premature birth in subsequent pregnancies. Such premature births not only cause neonatal mortality and ongoing disability, but also imply significant economic costs.

There is overwhelming recent evidence that abortion causes significant rates of serious mental health problems, the submission continued. Several studies have demonstrated higher levels of depression, suicidal tendencies, and problems with drug and alcohol use among women who have undergone abortion.

The fellowship also called for Parliament to reconsider the norms for abortions for reasons of fetal abnormality. The upper limit for abortion for disabled babies should not be higher than that for able-bodied babies.

Handicapped

The question of disabled babies being aborted was also raised by the London-based Lejeune Clinic for Children With Down Syndrome. In its submission to the parliamentary committee they said that in 2005 alone, 429 abortions were carried out on babies with Down syndrome. The law sets no time limits for abortions on babies that are held to be disabled.

The clinic also commented that after Down syndrome is detected, some women feel pressured to abort their babies. As well, very few women are offered information on help available to raise a child with the chromosomal disorder.

The submission argued that most children with Down syndrome are happy, sociable and enjoy friendships. Around 80% attend mainstream primary school, either full or part time, and nearly all integrate in a loving fashion into their families. Behavioral problems can occur, but this can be helped, the clinic pointed out.

In its conclusions, the clinic argued: “It is hard to see how the majority of children with Down syndrome fulfill the criteria for abortion on the ground of serious untreatable disability.” In fact, the majority suffer from only moderate learning difficulties and treatable physical health problems.

A written submission to the parliamentary committee was also made by the Pro-life Alliance (PLA). It started by noting its objection to any form of intentional abortion, at whatever age limit of the fetus.

Benefit of the doubt

Nevertheless, within the context of the current debate the PLA observed, “At the very least one would expect consensus in the country against the abortion of a viable baby, with the benefit of the doubt always on the side of the baby.”

Another pro-life group, also opposed to any form of abortion, which made a submission was the nonprofit organization Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE). Opinions over abortion vary widely, it observed, but there is common concern over the rising abortion rates in Britain.

The CORE submission also called for greater transparency about abortions. Currently 97% of all abortions are justified under Ground C of the Abortion Act, which groups together both the medical or psychological health of the mother as a justification. It would be much better, CORE argued, for the two to be separated as they are quite diverse conditions.

It also called for greater transparency for abortions performed on the grounds of fetal abnormality. The submission mentioned the 2001 case of a baby aborted at 7 months for cleft palate, which caused a major public reaction.

After the outcry over this case the government’s statistics became notably less specific in identifying details of the abnormalities for which abortions have been performed.

Defending life

A petition for changes in the abortion law also came from Scotland, in the form of an article published in the Scotsman newspaper July 6 by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh. The Catholic leader called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to review the law and thus ensure greater respect for human life.

The Scotsman reported that the latest data show that 13,081 abortions were carried out in Scotland in 2006, compared with 12,603 the year before — the fourth consecutive annual increase.

“Abortion is neither political nor medical, though clearly it has implications in these spheres,” the cardinal stated. “It is about morality and the destruction of human life.”

Cardinal O’Brien praised Brown for being “a man of principle and deeply held moral convictions,” and noted his efforts to reduce poverty in developing nations. He then called on the prime minister to support human life for those who are unborn.
“What exists in the womb is not ‘a potential human being,’ but rather ‘a human being with potential,'” the cardinal argued.

Not a right

Benedict XVI also had strong words to say recently on protecting unborn life. During his trip to Austria, he addressed the members of government and diplomatic corps Sept. 7.

During his speech, given in the reception hall of Vienna’s Hofburg Palace, the Pontiff recalled that Europe is the place where the notion of human rights was first formulated.

“The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself,” the Pope pointed out. “Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right — it is the very opposite.”

Benedict XVI acknowledged the difficulties women experience in going ahead with difficult pregnancies, but at the same time, expressed his concern for the unborn children who have no voice.

He called upon political leaders to help bring about a society that welcomes children and encourages young married couples to start new families. Doing so, the Pope added, requires creating “a climate of joy and confidence in life, a climate in which children are not seen as a burden, but rather as a gift for all.” A gift unfortunately too often rejected by society today.



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Escaping Poverty: Interview With Archbishop Silvano Tomasi

GENEVA, OCT. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Intelligent use of the economy, market and culture is needed to attain objectives coinciding with our values as Christians and members of the human family, says a Holy See representative.

In this interview with ZENIT, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, apostolic nuncio and permanent observer of the Holy See to the Office of the United Nations and Specialized Institutions in Geneva, spoke of the necessary avenues to help developing nations escape poverty.

Q: What tools does Vatican diplomacy use to evaluate the most underprivileged in the world?

Archbishop Tomasi: The Holy See works within the international sphere, with the United Nations and in the U.N.-related agencies, as an “observer” state; this gives the Holy See the right to intervene and take part in non-voting activities, thus allowing the Holy See to act more freely than other states.

Furthermore, the Holy See endeavors to promote a line of discourse to support and aid the least developed countries, particularly those suffering in conditions of extreme poverty.

Specifically, the Holy See tries to generate a public culture, a world opinion within the international sphere, by declaring that developed countries are not only in a position to choose to support poorer populations, but that they bear the ethical responsibility to do so.

Then, the Holy See tries to offer actual help to these populations, not only in the form of financial support, which sometimes contributes to corruption, but, above all, through technical training, the exchange of information and licenses, all to help facilitate production.

And, with the aid of existing international structures and U.N.-related entities, such as the U.N. Conference for Trade and Development, we try to equip less wealthy countries with the ability to take part in trade, keeping in mind that participation is one of the most important concepts in the Church’s social doctrine.

According to this concept, everyone is entitled to take part in international life, to have access to common goods in a fair, proportionate and justified manner.

Q: What is your position in the debate about debt forgiveness for poor countries?

Archbishop Tomasi: For years, particularly since the Jubilee of the year 2000, several private organizations, the Church, and the Holy Father himself, have issued exhortations on the subject of debt forgiveness for poor countries because even payment of the interest is so burdensome that it obstructs development.

Therefore, I am in favor of debt forgiveness for the poorest countries as soon as possible, so that some of the resources that thus become available can be channeled toward social development, health care, children’s education, drinking water systems, all for a gradual improvement of living standards.

Q: Do you consider the developed world to be adequately informed and involved in the problems of poor countries?

Archbishop Tomasi: Public opinion is often distracted by many things that are not so essential. Occasionally, great tragedies or humanitarian campaigns draw attention for a while.

Some time back, we had the tsunami in Southeast Asia, which brought about people’s very constructive, positive and generous response. But we have other “tsunamis.” We have thousands of people dying of hunger, malaria or AIDS every day while nothing is said about these silent tragedies.

The media sometimes reports on these, issuing information, but it is then lost because the news items are not dramatized, and public attention wanders.

The fact that there are wars going on, people dead as the result of conflicts in Africa, Asia or the Middle East, is viewed with a certain degree of indifference. It is almost as if we have grown accustomed to the normalcy of these tragedies.

In my opinion, for people to see on the news that 100 people have been assassinated in Baghdad, another 20 in Mogadishu, and 50 refugees have died in a tragedy in Africa, is sometimes not very different from watching an entertainment movie after the news bulletin.

Therefore, it is important for Christians to sensitize people through the network of parishes, groups and movements, about the need for solidarity toward the most disenfranchised, to work together toward peace, for a bit of progress and for a better standard of living for these distant people.

Q: What are your thoughts on multilateral diplomacy versus bilateral dialogue in the international community?

Archbishop Tomasi: I would say, above all, that there is still a strong desire to struggle and negotiate in order to continue on a multilateral level, to seek solutions to current problems, particularly in the field of trade.

For example, the director general of the World Trade Organization insists on the fact that we must definitely continue to grow together in the same direction in order to be truly effective in the long term, even in the case of developed countries.

However, at the moment, there is the temptation in Europe and in other states to try to bypass common action through bilateral negotiations. This tendency can have very dangerous consequences because the stronger party tends to impose its terms on the weaker one, so that the negotiation is not really equitable.

In the long term, this can just lead to the maintenance of the status quo, in other words, the coexistence of rich and poor countries, which, in fact, does not succeed in combating poverty.

Q: As permanent observer of the Holy See in Geneva, do you consider international organizations in the field of economics, especially the World Trade Organization, as directing their course of action toward the sustained development of Third World nations?

Archbishop Tomasi: I attended the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference at the end of 2005, when the WTO tried to evaluate the “Doha Development Round” [from November 2001].

On that occasion, it became clear that, despite the extremely tough bargaining, it is possible to reach agreements that are beneficial to all concerned. Therefore, these international structures, which are necessary to achieve the globalization of the economy, the market, and culture, must be used intelligently.

We have to make an intelligent use of these structures in order to attain objectives that are truly in line with our fundamental values as Christians and as members of the human family.



Life Academy Member Offers Critique of Series

ROME, SEPT. 13, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The Fox Broadcasting Company’s series titled “House” reflects the existence of good and evil and the need to choose between the two, says a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Dr. Carlo Valerio Bellieni is director of the Department of Newborn Intensive Therapy of the University Polyclinic Le Scotte in Siena, Italy. He told ZENIT that the series “shows something interesting.”

He explained: “The show seems to be an apology for separation and absence: It tells the story of a misanthrope and harsh doctor, Gregory House, who doesn’t want any contact with patients.

“This separation, however, caused by his existential and physical suffering, is only apparent. While remaining surly and anti-social, each time he insistently tries to understand the depths of the person he is caring for.

“He is able to recognize suffering in others because of his own suffering and it is because of this that he can see things that may escape others.

“It is even more strange, and interesting, that the ‘non-politically correct’ actions and judgments, with some exceptions, come from a character who is in constant struggle with the world.”

A doctor’s role

The series debuted in November 2004 and stars British actor Hugh Laurie.

House “doesn’t follow the crowd when it comes to ethical relativism in medicine — the autonomy of the patient, the doctor as a ‘provider of a service’ that has lost the ability to give moral judgments on the practice of medicine,” Bellieni continued.

The pontifical academy member explained: “He speaks harshly with his patients to persuade them to accept a cure, not to give in to their wishes. He knows that there exists a good medical practice and a mistaken one and he wants his patients to choose the good one. But also because in the patient’s answer he is trying to find an answer for himself.”

Bellieni said this “is much better than those who leave the patient alone in the face of a diagnosis of words and numbers, only ‘free’ to choose to live or die.”

He explained: “To put it another way, the writers of the series paradoxically seem to tell us that often words, and certain sweet and pious expressions that are fashionable, serve to cover up distance between persons.

“This is wonderfully underlined by the soundtrack, full of music with a religious tone or that shows the dissatisfaction of a life without meaning, like ‘Desire’ by Ryan Adams or ‘Hallelujah’ by Jeff Buckley.”

“We observe two clear points by the creators of the series,” continued Bellieni. “First, that the doctor is not a ‘provider of a service’ to whom every request is equal, but he knows how to recognize a good answer from an evil answer and how to find the strength to not give them the latter.

“Second, the doctor-patient relationship is never a one-way street: There is not only the one who gives, the doctor, and one who receives, the patient, but the doctor either finds himself in the position to learn strength from the patient, his way of communicating and his hidden signals … or he gives an ineffective treatment.”

“House,” Bellieni explained, “goes to the depressed manager who is waiting to be placed on the heart transplant list and screams at him saying ‘Do you want to live? Tell me, because I don’t know if I do!’ and he doesn’t do this so he will write a ‘living will,’ but to reawaken in him, and in himself, a love for life.

“House is certainly not a saint and he sometimes makes bad moral choices. But if he were a saint, would it be so surprising to hear him cry out, as sometimes happens, against drugs or incestuous sex or in vitro fertilization?”

Finding humanity

The fourth season of the series is set to begin in the United States on Sept. 25. Laurie was nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a drama series in 2005 and this year.

Bellieni said: “House knows how to astonish: He makes mistakes, grinds his teeth, but he knows how to recognize what is human when he sees it.”

“This is the important point, often overlooked in medical practice: amazement at the mysterious humanity of the patient.”

“House,” Bellieni remarked, “lets the little girl with a tumor hug him, whose life he prolonged by one year, and impressed with the moral strength of the little girl he begins to change his way of life.”

“In the same way,” he continued, “he is amazed by the little hand of the fetus as it comes out of the womb during surgery and grasps his finger. For the rest of the day he continued to look at his finger, asking himself who is that life that no one considers human, maybe not even himself, but that touched him.

“His amazement is the foundation of his curative ability.”

“House never seems to be there for his patients,” concluded Bellieni. “He is not a good doctor, he is full of pain; but he is rich with a meaningful question, which does not lead him to despair.

“For this reason he is impressive, in an age in which nothing seems to have value except one’s own whims, especially in medicine.”



“Sure Guidance for Pastoral Activity in Years to Come”

JULY 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the explanatory note released Saturday by the Vatican with the publication of Benedict XVI’s letter to the Catholics in China.

* * *

EXPLANATORY NOTE

“Letter to Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China”

By his “Letter to Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China”, which bears the date of Pentecost Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI wishes to express his love for and his closeness to the Catholics who live in China. He does so, obviously, as Successor of Peter and Universal Pastor of the Church.

From the text two basic thoughts are clear: on the one hand, the Pope’s deep affection for the entire Catholic community in China and, on the other, his passionate fidelity to the great values of the Catholic tradition in the ecclesiological field; hence, a passion for charity and a passion for the truth. The Pope recalls the great ecclesiological principles of the Second Vatican Council and the Catholic tradition, but at the same time takes into consideration particular aspects of the life of the Church in China, setting them in an ample theological perspective.

A – The Church in China in the last fifty years

The Catholic community in China has lived the past fifty years in an intense way, undertaking a difficult and painful journey, which not only has deeply marked it but has also caused it to take on particular characteristics which continue to mark it today.

The Catholic community suffered an initial persecution in the 1950s, which witnessed the expulsion of foreign Bishops and missionaries, the imprisonment of almost all Chinese clerics and the leaders of the various lay movements, the closing of churches and the isolation of the faithful. Then, at the end of the 1950s, various state bodies were established, such as the Office for Religious Affairs and the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics, with the aim of directing and “controlling” all religious activity. In 1958 the first two episcopal ordinations without papal mandate took place, initiating a long series of actions which deeply damaged ecclesial communion.

In the decade 1966-1976, the Cultural Revolution, which took place throughout the country, violently affected the Catholic community, striking even those Bishops, priests and lay faithful who had shown themselves more amenable to the new orientations imposed by government authorities.

In the 1980s, with the gestures of openness promoted by Deng Xiaoping, there began a period of religious tolerance with some possibility of movement and dialogue, which led to the reopening of churches, seminaries and religious houses, and to a certain revival of community life. The information coming from communities of the Catholic Church in China confirmed that the blood of the martyrs had once again been the seed of new Christians: the faith had remained alive in the communities; the majority of Catholics had given fervent witness of fidelity to Christ and the Church; families had become the key to the transmission of the faith to their members. The new climate, however, provoked different reactions within the Catholic community.

In this regard, the Pope notes that some Pastors, “not wishing to be subjected to undue control exercised over the life of the Church, and eager to maintain total fidelity to the Successor of Peter and to Catholic doctrine, have felt themselves constrained to opt for clandestine consecration” to ensure a pastoral service to their own communities (No. 8). In fact, as the Holy Father makes clear, “the clandestine condition is not a normal feature of the Church’s life, and history shows that Pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid suffering, in the desire to maintain the integrity of their faith and to resist interference from State agencies in matters pertaining intimately to the Church’s life” (ibid.).

Others, who were especially concerned with the good of the faithful and with an eye to the future “have consented to receive episcopal ordination without the pontifical mandate, but have subsequently asked to be received into communion with the Successor of Peter and with their other brothers in the episcopate” (ibid.). The Pope, in consideration of the complexity of the situation and being deeply desirous of promoting the re-establishment of full communion, granted many of them “full and legitimate exercise of episcopal jurisdiction”.

Attentively analyzing the situation of the Church in China, Benedict XVI is aware of the fact that the community is suffering internally from a situation of conflict in which both faithful and Pastors are involved. He emphasizes, however, that this painful situation was not brought about by different doctrinal positions but is the result of the “the significant part played by entities that have been imposed as the principal determinants of the life of the Catholic community” (No. 7). These are entities, whose declared purposes — in particular, the aim of implementing the principles of independence, self-government and self-management of the Church — are not reconcilable with Catholic doctrine. This interference has given rise to seriously troubling situations. What is more, Bishops and priests have been subjected to considerable surveillance and coercion in the exercise of their pastoral office.

In the 1990s, from many quarters and with increasing frequency, Bishops and priests turned to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Secretariat of State in order to obtain from the Holy See precise instructions as to how they should conduct themselves with regard to some problems of ecclesial life in China. Many asked what attitude should be adopted toward the government and toward state agencies in charge of Church life. Other queries concerned strictly sacramental problems, such as the possibility of concelebrating with Bishops who had been ordained without papal mandate or of receiving the sacraments from priests ordained by these Bishops. Finally, the legitimizing of numerous Bishops who had been illicitly consecrated confused some sectors of the Catholic community.

In addition, the law on registering places of worship and the state requirement of a certificate of membership in the Patriotic Association gave rise to fresh tensions and further questions.

During these years, Pope John Paul II on several occasions addressed messages and appeals to the Church in China, calling all Catholics to unity and reconciliation. The interventions of the Holy Father were well received, creating a desire for unity, but sadly the tensions with the authorities and within the Catholic community did not diminish.

For its part, the Holy See has provided directives regarding the various problems, but the passage of time and the rise of new situations of increasing complexity required a reconsideration of the overall question in order to provide the clearest answer possible to the queries and to issue sure guidance for pastoral activity in years to come.

B – The history of the Papal Letter

The various problems which seem to have most seriously affected the life of the Church in China in recent years were amply and carefully analyzed by a special select Commission made up of some experts on China and members of the Roman Curia who follow the situation of that community. When Pope Benedict XVI decided to call a meeting from 19-20 January 2007 during which various ecclesiastics, including some from China, took part, the aforementioned Commission worked to produce a document aimed at ensuring broad discussion on the various points, gathering practical recommendations made by the participants and proposing some possible theological and pastoral guidelines for the Catholic community in China. His Holiness, who graciously took part in the final session of the meeting, decided, among other things, to address a Letter to the Bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful.

C – Content of the Letter

“Without claiming to deal with every detail of the complex matters well known to you”, writes Benedict XVI to the Catholics of China, “I wish through this letter to offer some guidelines concerning the life of the Church and the task of evangelization in China, in order to help you discover what the Lord and Master Jesus Christ wants from you” (No. 2). The Pope reiterates some fundamental principles of Catholic ecclesiology in order to clarify the more important problems, aware that the light shed by these principles will provide assistance in dealing with the various questions and the more concrete aspects of the life of the Catholic community.

While expressing great joy for the fidelity demonstrated by the faithful in China over the past fifty years, Benedict XVI reaffirms the inestimable value of their sufferings and of the persecution endured for the Gospel, and he directs to all an earnest appeal for unity and reconciliation. Since he is aware of the fact that full reconciliation “cannot be accomplished overnight”, he recalls that this path “of reconciliation is supported by the example and the prayer of so many ‘witnesses of faith’ who have suffered and have forgiven, offering their lives for the future of the Catholic Church in China” (No. 6).

In this context, the words of Jesus, “Duc in altum” (Luke 5:4), continue to ring true. This is an expression which invites “us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence”. In China, as indeed in the rest of the world, “the Church is called to be a witness of Christ, to look forward with hope, and — in proclaiming the Gospel — to measure up to the new challenges that the Chinese people must face” (No. 3). “In your country too” the Pope states, “the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen will be possible to the extent that, with fidelity to the Gospel, in communion with the Successor of the Apostle Peter and with the universal Church, you are able to put into practice the signs of love and unity” (ibid.).

In dealing with some of the more urgent problems which emerge from the queries which have reached the Holy See from Bishops and priests, Benedict XVI offers guidance regarding the recognition of ecclesiastics of the clandestine community by the government authorities (cf. No. 7) and he gives much prominence to the subject of the Chinese Episcopate (cf. No. 8), with particular reference to matters surrounding the appointment of Bishops (cf. No. 9). Of special significance are the pastoral directives which the Holy Father gives to the community, which emphasize in the first place the figure and mission of the Bishop in the diocesan community: “nothing without the Bishop”. In addition, he provides guidance for Eucharistic concelebration and he encourages the creation of diocesan bodies laid down by canonical norms. He does not fail to give directions for the training of priests and family life.

As for the relationship of the Catholic community to the State, Benedict XVI in a serene and respectful way recalls Catholic doctrine, formulated anew by the Second Vatican Council. He then expresses the sincere hope that the dialogue between the Holy See and the Chinese government will make progress so as to be able to reach agreement on the appointment of Bishops, obtain the full exercise of the faith by Catholics as a result of respect for genuine religious freedom and arrive at the normalization of relations between the Holy See and the Beijing Government.

Finally, the Pope revokes all the earlier and more recent faculties and directives of a pastoral nature which had been granted by the Holy See to the Church in China. The changed circumstances of the overall situation of the Church in China and the greater possibilities of communication now enable Catholics to follow the general canonical norms and, where necessary, to have recourse to the Apostolic See. In any event, the doctrinal principles which inspired the above-mentioned faculties and directives now find fresh application in the directives contained in the present Letter (cf. No. 18).

D – Tone and outlook of the Letter

With spiritual concern and using an eminently pastoral language, Benedict XVI addresses the entire Church in China. His intention is not to create situations of harsh confrontation with particular persons or groups: even though he expresses judgments on certain critical situations, he does so with great understanding for the contingent aspects and the persons involved, while upholding the theological principles with great clarity. The Pope wishes to invite the Church to a deeper fidelity to Jesus Christ and he reminds all Chinese Catholics of their mission to be evangelizers in the present specific context of their country. The Holy Father views with respect and deep sympathy the ancient and recent history of the great Chinese people and once again declares himself ready to engage in dialogue with the Chinese authorities in the awareness that normalization of the life of the Church in China presupposes frank, open and constructive dialogue with these authorities. Furthermore, Benedict XVI, like his Predecessor John Paul II before him, is firmly convinced that this normalization will make an incomparable contribution to peace in the world, thus adding an irreplaceable piece to the great mosaic of peaceful coexistence among peoples.

Babies Eliminated as New Eugenics Gains Force

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JUNE 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The desire for perfect babies combined with the possibilities of biotechnology is taking an ever-higher toll. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), and other forms of screening enable the detection of genetic defects, leading either to embryos being eliminated before implantation when combined with in vitro fecundation, or to abortion in the case of pregnancies already in progress.

Philosopher Michael J. Sandel considered some of the ethical questions involved in this practice in the book “The Case Against Perfection,” published in May by Belknap Press. A professor of government at Harvard University, Sandel starts his brief book by asking if, even when no harm is involved, there is something troubling about parents “ordering up a child” with certain genetic traits.

Sandel’s approach is nonreligious and does not fully embrace the position of the Church. For example, he defends embryonic stem cell research. Nevertheless, the book provides a useful series of reflections which invite the reader to consider the implications of both eliminating individuals with genetic defects and also efforts to “improve” physical or mental capabilities.

This “drive to mastery,” as Sandel terms it, runs the risk of destroying our appreciation of the gifted character of human powers and achievements. In other words, “that not everything in the world is open to any use we may desire or devise.”

When it comes to parenthood, Sandel comments that unlike our friends, we do not choose our children. “To appreciate children as gifts is to accept them as they come, not as objects of our design, or products of our will, or instruments of our ambition.”

Thus, he continues, the problem with wanting to choose children with or without certain genetic characteristics is in the hubris of the parents. Such a parental disposition, he adverts, “disfigures the relation between parent and child.” As a result the unconditional love that a parent should have toward a child is placed at risk.

Sandel also warns that if we erode the sense of the gifted character of human powers and achievements we will damage three important elements in society: humility, responsibility and solidarity.

A school for humility

Parenthood is a school for humility, according to Sandel, in which we care deeply about our children, and also live with the unexpected. When it comes to responsibility, the more we become involved in determining our genetic qualities, the greater the burden we will bear for the talents we have and how we perform.

For example, once giving birth to a child with Down syndrome was considered a matter of chance. Today parents who of children with Down syndrome or other disabilities feel blamed for not having eliminated the child before birth.

In turn, this growth in responsibility could well damage solidarity, Sandel continues, because there is a very real risk that those who are less fortunate will come to be seen not as disadvantaged, but as simply unfit.

Sandel is not the only one to be worried over what happens to those who are less fortunate in the genetic stakes. A number of press articles over the last few months have taken up the matter of the elimination of embryos detected with Down syndrome.

On May 9 the New York Times published an article reporting that, following a new recommendation by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, doctors have begun to offer a screening procedure to all pregnant women, regardless of age, for Down syndrome. About 90% of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis normally choose to have an abortion, the article reported.

The article then went on to describe the efforts by some parents to educate the medical profession about the fulfilling lives that children suffering from disabilities can lead. Advances in medical treatment and appropriate attention means that, despite not inconsiderable difficulties, Down syndrome children can achieve much in their lives.

Morally wrong

The New York Times returned to the argument on May 13 with another article. Among other testimonies was that of Sarah Lynn Lester, a supporter of abortion rights, who nevertheless continued her pregnancy after learning her child had Down syndrome. “I thought it would be morally wrong to have an abortion for a child that had a genetic disability,” she told the newspaper.

Earlier this year the Canadian Down Syndrome Society launched a public awareness campaign to counter the trend toward genetic testing, reported the National Post newspaper Jan. 10.

The campaign came just as the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada released a recommendation that all expectant mothers undergo screening for Down syndrome.

The article also quoted Dr. Will Johnston, president of the Vancouver-based organization Physicians for Life, who said his members find the move toward more fetal screening to be troubling.

“I think it shows our inability as a culture to be as inclusive and accepting of diversity as we would like to think we are,” he said.

Italy is another country where genetic screening is increasing. According to a March 11 report in the national daily newspaper La Repubblica, by 2005 no less than 79% of Italian women were having three or more ultrasound examinations during pregnancy.

The tests, however, can sometimes have a tragic outcome. On March 7 the Italian news agency ANSA reported on the case of a 22 week-old fetus aborted because of a mistaken diagnosis of a defective esophagus.

After the ultrasound examination, which erroneously seemed to reveal a problem, the mother decided to abort. The baby survived the abortion, but the following day ANSA reported that it had died.

Cosmetic screening

As biotechnology develops, genetic screening seems destined to expand even further, with ominous consequences for babies. On May 6 the London-based Sunday Times reported that the Bridge Center Fertility clinic had received the go ahead from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority to screen a couple’s embryos in order to create a baby without eyes affected with cross-eye, also known as a squint.

The article also noted that screening has now started for some forms of cancer and early-onset Alzheimer’s.

“We will increasingly see the use of embryo screening for severe cosmetic conditions,” Gedis Grudzinskas, medical director of the clinic, told the Sunday Times.

David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, was critical of the decision to allow such screening. “We moved from preventing children who will die young to those who might become ill in middle age,” he noted. “Now we discard those who will live as long as the rest of us but are cosmetically imperfect.”

Concern over such trends was also expressed by Benedict XVI in an address given Feb. 24 to members of the Pontifical Academy for Life. “A new wave of discriminatory eugenics finds consensus in the name of the presumed well-being of the individual, and laws are promoted especially in the economically progressive world for the legalization of euthanasia,” the Pontiff warned.

In today’s increasingly secularized world our consciences face increasing obstacles in distinguishing the correct path to take on these and other issues, the Pope added. This is due both to a growing rejection of the Christian tradition and also to a distrust of the capacity of our reason to perceive the truth, he explained.

“Life is the first good received from God and is fundamental to all others; to guarantee the right to life for all and in an equal manner for all is the duty upon which the future of humanity depends,” the Holy Father concluded. A duty made increasingly urgent in the face of increased pressures to manipulate life.