Category Archives: Bioethics

Contra-ception: Against Life

By guest writer Nellie Edwards.

As most know by now, Ireland just declared open season on unborn lads and lassies, not to mention their mothers, who will suffer the aftermath of great emotional upheaval!

So tragic that there weren’t enough faith-full Catholics to defeat the foes of Life!

Relative to this, a few thoughts on Humanae Vitae (On Human Life), now in its 50th year. Everything that Pope Paul VI warned would happen to society has indeed happened, because of its acceptance of contraception! (contra literally means “against”, ception=conception/life, so literally it means AGAINST LIFE.)

This, the Church teaches, is a grave sin against God, whose most fundamental attribute is Life-giver.

Paul VI warned that by tying the hands of God’s divine prerogative to create life, serious consequences such as promiscuity, infidelity, divorce, abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and other perversions of God’s plan would soon ensue and we see that clearly today. Anything goes!

The Catholic Church alone has, from the beginning, held out to the world, the “hard saying” that we must practice sacrificial love, not selfish pleasure / using others for sexual gratification. God spoke though Paul VI no less than any of the prophets. Too bad so few listened. Too bad the Protestant churches, as well as too many Catholics did not see that contra-ception was the forbidden fruit.

___

Nellie Edwards is a Catholic artist. Her most famous piece is of Our Lady of Guadalupe, kneeling in adoration for her unborn Son.

Image via MEV Pro-Life.

Chastity and Abortion: Interview with Jason Evert

By guest writer Kathy Clubb.

World-renowned speaker, Jason Evert, was in Melbourne last week for a series of talks on the true nature of love. Jason has spoken to more than one million people about the virtue of chastity and has been a keynote speaker at five World Youth Days. He has written several books, including “Theology of the Body for Teens” and “How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul,” and has studied counseling and theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. It was my great pleasure to meet him and ask him a few questions about how a return to chastity can put the brakes on the abortion culture.

Chastity and Abortion: Interview with Jason Evert

Kathy: Jason, can we win the battle against abortion without preaching the chastity message?

Jason: No. In order to be fully pro-life, we have to first teach them to be pro-love. I discovered that when doing sidewalk counselling in front of an abortion clinic for three years and I had an inescapable feeling of being late. “Now, why am I meeting this woman forty-five minutes before her abortion? You know –  why couldn’t I have met her when she was 15? Because maybe if she’d learned about chastity then, she never would have dated this guy to begin with, and wouldn’t be in this difficult situation at the age of 25.

And so I realized that I was kind of throwing sandbags on the banks of a flooded river, instead of swimming upstream to where the dam was actually broken. I figured if we could seal off the dam, then there wouldn’t be any need for stopping the flood damage downstream.

Kathy: Is that why you started this whole ministry? Because of that feeling of being late at the abortion facility? Pro-life got you into this?

Jason: Hmmm, yeah, that was a major reason. The other part was leading high school youth retreats, and the kids would open up about how much they were suffering in this area of life in particular. And I was reading Pope John Paul II’s “Love and Responsibility” and began to see that this was the antidote to both issues: to the chastity issue and the fruit of it, which is the abortion culture. Because you don’t have anyone going to the abortion clinic who hasn’t struggled with chastity.

Kathy: It’s been said that the journey to the abortion facility starts years before the appointment on that fateful day.

Jason: And when a woman is coming in to get an abortion, it might not be her first. It could be her fourth. And if she’s not being evangelized at that moment, perhaps through a crisis pregnancy center: “You know, it doesn’t have to be this way – there are many different choices you can make in life, so you don’t end up in this difficult situation a fourth or fifth time.”

Because it’s so important for a pro-life ministry to be pro-life –  not only before the abortion, and also after the abortion in supporting her – but also years beforehand. We have to see this as a preventative measure.

And some people are doing wonderful work sidewalk counseling. I was working with a nun once, and she saved 19 babies in one day. So you can’t underestimate the importance of the work they’re doing. It’s not one vs the other; they are two wings of the same plane.

I was once standing outside of a clinic, and I befriended one of the security guards out front. And one day he confided in me, and he said, “You know, every day I show up at work, and I just hear voices in my head, telling me to kill. And I don’t know where that’s coming from.” And I said, “Let’s try to connect the dots here.” And he said he struggled with alcoholism, and his marriage was falling apart, and I said, “Let’s pray together “, and he said, “Please.” And so we prayed together right outside the abortion clinic.

And I came back a week later and he had quit. Because I had told him, ‘You’re basically working in the vestibule of hell, here. So it’s probably better to find another place to work – get those voices out of your head.’

But then, they kind of had it out for me at the clinic. One day I was out there praying, and I saw them pointing at me. And my friends told me they were saying that that’s the guy that was with Joe before he quit.  A week later we were out there and a police car pulled up. And they came to me, and they pointed down at me, and the police came to me and they said: “Okay, charges are being pressed against you because apparently, you stalked one of the directors of the clinic, and you tried to offer her a coffee and she turned you down. And you asked her on a date and then you chased her into the abortion clinic and you tried to steal her purse.”

And I said, “Oh really? I missed that. When did this happen again?” And they took me to court, and the judge said guilty. And we went to a retrial before another judge and that judge dismissed the case. And I said I don’t even like coffee. (laughs) They were out to get me – you know what it’s like. Ethics are not their strong suit.

Kathy: Why are the pro-life organizations, in general, failing to talk about chastity?

Jason: Largely because they’re so focused on the immediate triage of trying to save the wounded on the battlefield. They’re just trying to save the life of amputees on the battle-field who’ve only got five minutes to live. They’re doing such an important, last-minute effort to save what they can, that it’s hard sometimes to lift up their eyes to see the horizon. Sometimes they may stop and ask, what could we have done to prevent this carnage sooner?

But there’s no competition in the body of Christ. This is something that we need to do together. Pro-chastity speakers need to have a very pro-life heart to their message. And the pro-life movement needs to realize the importance of saving babies five years before they’re conceived.

Kathy: Can you see a place in every organization for this message?

Jason: Oh, it’s essential. In my chastity talks, I’m holding up an ultrasound of my unborn son and it’s giving the message to the kids when they’re 14 or 15: ‘Hey, this is what ultrasounds are showing.’ You know, they have images of children who appear to be laughing in their mothers’ wombs! And I explain this to the kids. And you know, I’m not beating them over the head with some anti-abortion message. This is just pro-life, this is something that we’re for, not something we’re against. It’s very organically woven into the presentation and it doesn’t feel like I’m trying to indoctrinate them on some pro-life position. It’s just a picture of my kid in my wife’s womb. And how do you argue against that?

Kathy: From what you know, are couples who were chaste before marriage more likely to be open to life during married?

Jason:  I think there’s no doubt about it. Because the Catholic Church’s teaching isn’t so much, okay, good Catholics use NFP, bad Catholics use contraception. Good Catholics realize that children are the supreme gift of marriage. So if we have a serious reason not to have kids, we can fall back on NFP, but the default position is not NFP. The default position is an openness to life. Because children are the supreme gift.

If you were going to get married and you went to the reception, and you saw all these presents laid out, and one said, ‘The Supreme Gift’, you wouldn’t be like, I’ll open that in five years time when we know each other better. You’d think, no, we want to receive that gift as soon as we can. So the disposition to do the will of God with your body is something that naturally flows into wanting the will of God for your family. The Church will never tell you how many kids to have, but God will.

It’s a very dangerous thing to put that part of your life completely under His Lordship, because, you know – what if He’s asking more than we want to give because that’s typically exactly what He does? He stretches us far beyond what we expected, but when we look back when it’s all said and done, it’s like, ‘My goodness, if that had been left in my hands, how differently things would have unfolded.’ If I took control over my own fertility in such a way that was able to completely eliminate [the prospect of children]… it’s almost like we would get addicted to the ease. It’s like, oh wow – this is so easy having them all at school and not worrying about having another little one waking me up at night. This sin brings its own punishment.

Kathy: I was at a retreat one day, and it was Thanksgiving after Communion, and for the first time in my life I thought, ‘Oh, I think I might be done with having my family now.” And I got a very firm feeling from God – that we must never say never – and I had twelve children already! And He still seemed to be showing me that we must never say never. Then I had another child after that.

Jason: Slacker! (laughter) Didn’t Catherine of Siena have 20 or something?

Kathy: 26 or something, I think?

Jason: Good thing her mum wasn’t selfish and only had 25!

Kathy: Do you find this is the same for non-Catholics as well, though? Do you find that it goes together for everyone, or is it more of a Catholic thing because we have a comprehensive teaching?

Jason: No, I think they go hand in hand because it’s the proper use of our human sexuality. And if we know how to use sexuality properly prior to marriage, then it follows very naturally and seamlessly into marriage. And likewise, the abstinence required during natural family planning means that that’s ok – it’s an expression of love.

It’s not about withholding love, it’s about expressing love in different ways. And for someone who doesn’t know chastity prior to marriage, then chastity within marriage is a tough go. A lot of times, marriage will do what it’s supposed to do: it will bring your faults up to the surface. And I know a lot of couples who were not chastity prior to marriage, and then they try to practice NFP chastity in marriage, and it brought up a lot of stuff that it had covered up prior to marriage. Because I think chastity in marriage is more demanding than chastity prior to marriage.

Thanks, Jason for dedicating your time and energy to creating a culture of life and true love.

For more information, visit Jason Evert’s website, Chastity Project, for great articles and resources on the virtue of chastity, talking to children about human sexuality, transgenderism, the porn epidemic and much more. You can follow Jason and his wife, Christalina here on Facebook.

Originally posted at The Freedoms Project.

Why is the world celebrating the #RoyalBaby, but watching #AlfieEvans die?

By guest writer Sarah Coffey.

All day today and for the past few days, I’ve been following the status of little Alfie Evans. He’s a little British boy–just about two years old–who is very sick. In doing what socialized healthcare systems are so good at doing, the NHS has determined that further treatment “isn’t in Alfie’s best interests” and that he should be taken off life support–against his parents wishes.

His parents want to take him to Italy for further, experimental treatment. His father met with Pope Francis personally; the Pope invited them to Bambino Gesu Hospital, and even made it possible for the family to become Italian citizens. But as of writing, Alfie is barred from leaving Alder Hey Hospital in the UK. He’s been taken off a ventilator. His father has asked for oxygen but has been denied this request, and Alfie’s struggling.

Let’s go over that again: the government has determined that he shouldn’t receive further treatment; Alfie’s parents want to take him elsewhere for treatment, but the state and hospital refuse to let him leave.

His parents have appealed the British healthcare system and the European Courts of Human Rights time and time again to try to be able to get Alfie out of Alder Hey and time and again their appeals have been rejected, with doctors and judges claiming that further treatment isn’t “worth it” because he’s too far gone, and the “humane” thing would be to let him die.

I can honestly say I haven’t been enraged by something this much in a very, very long time.

God is the Author of Life

The only thing that makes the whole situation worse is seeing people on Twitter and in the news defend the absolutely indefensible position of the judges and doctors. I’ve seen numerous people claim that the decisions are just because Alfie is “incompatible with life.”

God is the author of life. It is not for me, for you, for any doctor or judge to decide that someone is incompatible with life. How arrogant of these so-called “judges” and how cowardly of these so-called “medical professionals” to think they know what is best for this child before his own parents. God’s hand decides when we close our eyes to this world–not a judge, not a doctor who injects a lethal substance, or denies a father’s request for oxygen for his son.

Maybe experimental treatment won’t help Alfie. Perhaps. I think his parents realize that. But it’s cruel, arrogant, flat out wrong and, dare I say it, diabolical, to deny them that chance. It’s their right as parents to do absolutely everything in their power to give their son a chance at life.

Everyone bends over backwards when someone wants to “die with dignity,” to kill themselves (selfishly, I might add) because of some terminal illness. This is because here in the West we’ve made comfort and ease of life an idol, and we cannot even begin to fathom the redemptive power of suffering, not only for ourselves but for others.

But when parents want to exercise their rights as parents, their son is literally being held hostage as they watch him die. This, indeed, is symptomatic and unsurprising of this culture of death in which we live.

Why is the world celebrating #RoyalBaby but watching #AlfieEvans die?

Today, Kate Middleton had her third baby; the hashtag #RoyalBaby has been trending on Twitter as millions of people send congratulatory messages to the Royal Family. The comments on social media have been euphoric, admiring Kate for her beauty and class as she leaves the hospital perfectly made up in a dress and heels and make up, and swooning over the new baby boy.

Meanwhile, in the same country, Alfie Evans mom has been begging and fighting for her son’s life all day–yet another day in a months long battle just to give her son a chance and save him from his own country’s government.

Is it because the Royal Baby has been born into wealth? Into prestige? Is “perfect” in the world’s eyes? Is it because his life doesn’t entail suffering and struggle and what the world considers “imperfection”?

Why do we celebrate one life, and shrug our shoulders as one is slated to be ended?

I hope the doctors and judges realize that they will have to answer for their actions–whether or not they’re “just following orders” or not. I hope they consider what they would do if it were their child. I hope they put themselves in the shoes of parents waiting with bated breath to see if today is the day their son is forcibly removed from life support. I hope their conscience jolts them to the reality of the situation and the horror of what they’re participating in, so that they can make a sincere and true conversion.

I don’t know how it will play out with Alfie. But I’m so sad for his parents, and enraged for them too. The UK and the European Court of “Human Rights” can never claim to care about human rights EVER AGAIN. Neither can anyone defending this indefensible situation.

I’m convinced that this culture that claims so ardently to care for “human rights” really only cares if you are, in the eyes of the world, perfect and powerful and wealthy and beautiful on the outside. If you’re imperfect, if your life involves self-sacrifice and suffering and struggle, the UK and European Courts and a shocking number of others say you might as well die.

The solution is found in respecting the dignity of EVERY human person, respecting life from conception to natural death. How many more Charlie Gards and Alfie Evans must there be before the world will realize this truth?

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Originally published at Sarah Coffey.

It’s My Body

quote-i-do-not-believe-that-we-have-a-right-to-tell-other-people-women-that-they-can-t-control-joe-biden-113-90-00One of the most common allegations made against pro-lifers, specifically anti-abortion advocates, is that it is an example of a bunch of old white men trying to tell women what they can or can’t do with their bodies. This allegation calls up all the righteous indignation of feminism, autonomy, and moral outrage against those old white men that seem to be responsible for all of the evils in the world.

Of course this allegation is more of a stereotype than an argument. For one thing, it ignores all members of the prolife movement who are:

  1. Young
  2. Non-white
  3. Female

Which is a good portion of the prolife movement, actually.

kqpbolic
If it were, it would be a lot easier not to take this guy seriously.

Secondly, no reasonable person would dream of discounting someone else’s position simply because of age, race or gender. Imagine the outrage if, during a debate, a respondent dismissed his opponent’s remarks by saying, “You are young, black and female. You have nothing worth saying.” The world would explode, and rightly so. By the same token, “You are old, white and male” is not an adequate response to an argument.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the statement hinges upon a misrepresentation of the anti-abortion argument. The anti-abortion argument, as I understand it, rests upon the nature of the fetus. It maintains that because the fetus is a separate organism, its own body, it has a right to life.

The distinction is critical. If it were an issue of telling women what they can or can’t do with their bodies there are tons of other candidates. We could be seeking to outlaw contraception, body piercing, tattoos or plastic surgery. We could extend this to both genders and outlaw alcoholism, obesity, smoking, sedentary lifestyles, unsafe sexual practices etc. All of the above are either arguably or demonstrably unhealthy to varying degrees. They are not illegal, however. They are not illegal because of the principle of autonomy. We in our culture do not believe in legislating what people can do with their own bodies. (Of course we developed from a culture that did believe in doing that, hence the laws against suicide, etc.)

However, let’s take a look at the case of smoking. We do not outlaw smoking because we believe in the individual’s right to autonomy, to do what he likes with his body, even when it is patently and unequivocally bad for him. However, we do outlaw secondhand smoke in many areas, under the (rather specious) argument that secondhand smoke exposure harms other people.

The distinction, again, is important. You have a right to do whatever tomfool things you want to your own body, but you do not have the right to do things that will harm other bodies.

pregnancy-week-10-fingernails_4x3
Human Fetus at 10 weeks gestation.

The abortion question is in the same boat as smoking. You may do as you like with your body under most circumstances. However, in the case of pregnancy, the context changes and there are now two bodies under consideration. The anti-abortion argument is that no one, not even the doctor or the mother, has the right to destroy another body, i.e. the body of the fetus.

This is why the abortion debate, as with all pressing debates in the public arena, cannot be reduced to catchphrases and memes. This discussion cannot be furthered in 140 characters or less without drastically oversimplifying and misunderstanding the other’s position.

Aging and Mortality

Can we reverse aging so that the really old are young again? Image source.

A somewhat recent article in Scientific America caught my eye: this one is about aging, or rather it is about reversing the effects of aging. This particular article describes research conducted at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in which the genes which control aging are tweaked to change older cells into a more embryonic-like state. This process reversed some of the effects of aging and also resulted in a longer lifespan for the mice on which this experiment was conducted.

By tweaking genes that turn adult cells back into embryoniclike ones, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies reversed the aging of mouse and human cells in vitro, extended the life of a mouse with an accelerated-aging condition and successfully promoted recovery from an injury in a middle-aged mouse, according to a study published Thursday [December 15, 2016] in Cell.

Time in a bottle. Image source.

Nor is this the only research into reversing the aging process. A group at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute of the Harvard Medical School has reported that they reversed aging in a group of “severely aged” mice via a process of controlling telormere-shortening. Other groups have investigated the results of blood transfusions from young mice to old mice. Still others have been investigating the effects of NAD and Reservatrol on the aging processes driven by cells’ mitochondria. More still are examining the effects of diet and even of existing drugs.

While these studies have predominantly been conducted on live mice or on cell samples, the results of this research have been promising. In some cases, lifespans have been increased, in others muscles and various organs have been able to function as if younger. Much of this research is aimed at curing or staving off “old-age” ailments ranging from arthritis to dementia to strokes—and to that end we would all be better for these cures.

Belmonte, like some other anti-aging researchers, says his initial goal is to increase the “health span”—the number of years that someone remains healthy. Extending life span, the number of years someone remains alive, will likely take longer to achieve. Most major killers, including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s, are diseases of aging that become far more common past middle age. “This is not just a matter of how many years we can live but how well we can live the rest of our life,” Ocampo says.

However, it is also clear that some of the optimism behind this research as conveyed by these various popular science and news organs is that we may find a sort of fountain of youth, a way to stave off aging (and perhaps age-related death). As Karen Weintraub writes in Scientific America,

The new study suggests the possibility of reversing at least some of these changes, a process researchers think they may eventually get to work in living humans. “Aging is something plastic that we can manipulate,” says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, the study’s senior author and an expert in gene expression at Salk….

Some compounds such as resveratrol, a substance found in red wine that seems to have anti-aging properties in high concentrations, appear to delay epigenetic change and protect against damage from epigenetic deterioration, Sinclair says. These approaches can reverse some aspects of aging, such as muscle degeneration—but aging returns when the treatment stops, he adds. With an approach like the one Belmonte lays out in the new study, theoretically “you could have one treatment and go back 10 or 20 years,” he says. If aging starts to catch up to you again, you simply get another treatment.

This research seems to be in its nascent stages: perhaps it will deliver a means of reversing (or slowing) the aging process, or at the least its effect; and again, perhaps not. To the extent that this research really does enhance our quality of life by seeking to cure certain illnesses like muscle degeneration or dementia, it may be commended and its results celebrated (if successful). However, there are hints that this is not the final goal of the research. Certainly, extending our “health span” is a worthy goal, and so to some extent is extending a lifespan. But to do so indefinitely?

The pursuit of a fountain of youth and of life everlasting in this world can end in nothing save tragedy. We are meant to live forever, it is true: but not bound to this fallen world, nor any other of our own creation or design. This present world is but a shadow of the one we’re ultimately meant to call home, and it is a “vale of tears.”

We need look no further than, for example, the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien to see this illustrated [1]. The fact that men are meant to die and to part from this life for the true everlasting life is a theme in both his Lord of the Rings series and his Silmarillion. Consider, for example, that one effect of the Ring of Power is that it extends the life of its bearer unnaturally: Bilbo lived to a great old age but felt “stretched” and “thin,” while Gollum slowly lost his very self, both visibly and mentally. Or consider the story in the Silmarillion of the fall of the Númenoreans:

Image source

The Númenoreans began to yearn for the undying city that they saw from afar, and the desire of everlasting life, to escape from death and the ending of delight, grew strong upon them; and ever as their power and glory grew greater their unquiet increased. For though the Valar had rewarded the Dúnedain with long life, they could not take away from them the weariness of the world that comes at last, and they died, even their kings of the seed of Earendil; and the span of their lives was brief in the eyes of the Eldar. Thus it was that a shadow fell upon them: in which maybe the will of Morgoth was at work that still moved in the world. And the Númenoreans began to murmur, at first in their heart and then in open words, against the doom of Men, and most of all against the Ban which forbade them to sail into the West….

Manwë was grieved, seeing a cloud gather on the noon-tide of Númenor. And he sent messengers to the Dúnedain, who spoke earnestly to the King, and to all who would listen concerning the fate and fashion of the world [2]….

Atanamir was ill pleased with the counsel of the Messengers and gave little heed to it, and the greater part of his people followed him; for they wished still to escape death in their own day, not waiting upon hope. And Atanamir lived to a great age, clinging to his life beyond the end of all joy; and he was the first of the Númenoreans to do this, refusing to depart until he was witless and unmanned, and denying to his son the kingship at the height of his days. For the Lords of Númenor had been wont to wed late in their long lives and to depart and leave the mastery to their sons when these were come to full stature of body and mind….

Thus it came to as in time that the Númenoreans first made great settlements upon the west shores of the ancient lands; for their own land seemed to them shrunken, and they had no rest or content therein, and they desired now wealth and dominion in Middle-earth, since the West was denied. (From the Tale of Akallabêth, in The Silmarilion)

The rejection of death ultimately proves to be the undoing of the Númenoreans: the Island of Númenor is that world’s Atlantis, and its sinking brings an end to the Second Age. Long before this happens, the greater part of the men of Númenor have lost hope for the next life, and in their despair they lost even what little bliss is afforded in this one. Their “wise men” abandoned true wisdom in search for a means of reversing death: “Yet they achieved only the art of preserving incorrupt the dead flesh of men, and they filled all the land with silent tombs in which the thought of death was enshrined in the darkness.”

This obsession with death and with forestalling it leads these people to cease really living well, as they turn from lives of virtue and daring to lives of “revelry” and pursuing riches and pleasures. They also cease in their offering worship to Eru (God), and turn instead to gaining dominion over all other men.

Real repentance and atonement for this is not made by Númenoreans, and their island is lost. Their descendants on the “mainland” include those who remain loyal to the elves and angels, who are led by Elendil and his sons, whom together found the realms of Arnor and Gondor. Yet even these don’t really repent of the sins of the Númenoreans whole-heartedly: this is evidenced by Elendil’s son and heir Isildur’s refusal to destroy the Ring of Power when he has it in his grasp, preferring to keep it and to use its power for himself. Indeed, it is a distant descendant of Isildur, Aragorn, who finally is show to really repent of this way of life. He does this throughout the Lord of the Rings series by braving the passes of the dead, by refusing to take the Ring when it was in his power to do so, and ultimately by laying down his life before becoming “witless and unmanned.”

In our own world, the methods are different but the aims are much similar. In Tolkien’s imagined world it is magic which is meant to conquer death, whereas in ours it is technology [3]. But the goal remains the same, namely to forestall again and to conquer death. I would venture to add here that some of the “side-effects” of this are the same. It is certainly true that we do, on average, live longer now than in ages past, at least in the wealthy and “modernized” nations of the world. But do we live better than our forefathers?

I do not mean by that question, are we physically healthier and more free from pain or illness. Can we be said to be happier people, or more joyful? Are we more virtuous, more faithful, more grateful for our blessings, and do we make more of ourselves and what lives we are given than our ancestors? I contend that on the whole, the answer is “no.” Indeed, in some ways we appear to make less of ourselves than they did, while at the same time being given greater opportunities than they had. I do not think anyone now living would need to look especially far to find examples to support my claims. We may look from drug addiction and the overburdened prison system, to the young mother ushered to the nearest abortuary; or from the late twenty-somethings who have not the appearance nor the reality of maturing into adulthood, to the simple despondency of many people who are not “making it” in the world.

To all of this, I can but recall the wisdom once taught to every Catholic school child, and now forgotten or even outright discarded:

7. Q: Of Which must we take more care, our soul or our body?

A: We must take more care of our soul than our body.

8. Q: Why must we take more care of our soul than of our body?

A: We must take more care of our soul than of our body, because in losing our soul we lose God and everlasting happiness.

9. Q: What must we do to save our souls?

A: To save our souls we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart.

Footnotes

[1] Fiction in general and fairy tales in particular do more than just stimulate our imaginations and entertain us. They can show to us the world as it really is, in the sense that by changing the setting, a good story allows us to gain insights which we might overlook in “real life.”As Miss Jean Elizabeth Seah has written in the conclusion to one of her columns on this site,

Far from useless trifles or evil explorations, fairytales are necessary in training a child to love the true, the good and the beautiful. They open our eyes to see with a sacramental vision, beholding with wonder the magic and mystery in God’s creation, which should not be reduced to mere scientific facts or cast aside with Puritan coldness. The way of faery is the way of virtue, learning how to love ourselves and others as co-pilgrims on the rocky road to the Heavenly City, where we may one day meet the Prince of peace and be welcomed as co-heirs to His Father’s kingdom.

Tolkien, for his part, excelled at this.

[2] The gist of the message sent by Manwë is that death was a gift bestowed on man by Ilúvatar, that is, by God. The Valar (angels dwelling in the world) could not undo this gift, nor did they fully understand it: but it must be accepted by man as a gift, and thus dying well and with hope in one’s heart for the next life is the proper attitude towards death:

You and your people are not of the Firstborn, but are mortal Men as Ilúvatar made you. Yet it seems that you desire now to have the good of both kindreds, to sail to Valinor when you will, and to return when you please to your homes. That cannot be. Nor can the Valar take away the gift of Ilúvatar. The Eldar, you say, are unpunished, and even those who rebelled do not die. Yet that it to them neither reward nor punishment, but the fulfillment of their being. They cannot escape, and are bound to this world, never to leave it so long as it lasts, for its life is theirs. And you are punished for the rebellion of Men, you say, in which you had small part, and so it is that you die. But that was not at first appointed for a punishment. Thus you escape, and leave the world, and are not bound to it, in hope or in weariness. Which of us therefore should envy the other?’

And the Númenoreans answered: ‘Why should we not envy the Valar, or even the least of the Deathless? For of us is required a blind trust, and a hope without assurance. knowing not what lies before us in a little while. And yet we also love the earth and would not lose it.’

Then the Messengers said, ‘Indeed the mind of Ilúvatar concerning you is not known the the Valar, and he has not revealed all things that are to come. But this we hold to be true, that your home is not here, neither in the Land of Aman nor anywhere within the Circles of the World. And the doom of Men, that they should depart, was at first a gift of Ilúvatar. It became a grief to them only because coming under the shadow of Morgoth it seemed to them that they were surrounded by a great darkness, of which they were afraid; and some became willful and proud and would not yield, until life was reft from them. We who bear the ever-mounting burden of the years do not clearly understand this; but if that grief has returned to trouble you, as you say, then we fear that the Shadow arises once more and grows in your hearts. Therefore, though you be Dúnedain, fairest of Men, who escaped from the Shadow of old and fought against it, we say to you: Beware! The will of Eru may not be gainsaid; and the Valar bid you earnestly not to withhold the trust to which you are called, lest soon it become again a bond by which you are constrained. Hope rather that in the end even the least of your desires shall have fruit. The love of Arda was set in your hearts by Ilúvatar, and he does not plant to no purpose Nonetheless, many ages of Men unborn may pass ere that purpose is made known; and to you it will be revealed and not to the Valar.’

[3] I am here making a deliberate division between science and technology. Science is ultimately about searching for knowledge, specifically (when we refer to modern science) it is searching for knowledge about nature. Technology is one possible application of science: the tools and techniques we use to work with or even to control nature.

Why Defund Planned Parenthood

With the transition of both houses and the presidency to GOP control, one of the promises that President Trump made seems to be coming to fruition, namely, to defund Planned Parenthood. Let us hope it does because if not it does not bode well for the future of our deal-with-the-devil that we, as pro-life advocates, contracted when we elected President-elect Trump. (I say we even though I did not personally vote for him, because it was the so-called “religious right” which was instrumental in getting him elected.)

The question that is not being asked is what is to replace PP. This is a more pressing concern than most conservatives seem to think. I do not personally know anyone who has used PP for an abortion. I do personally know several women first hand and many more second hand who have used PP for low-cost pap smears, mammogram referrals, and contraceptive services. (I am not addressing contraception in this post. I hold to the Church’s teaching on the immorality of artificial contraception, but I think the social application of that doctrine is nuanced enough to require its own post.) Like it or not, PP does provide services other than abortion, and those services are both valuable and licit. Something must fill the vacuum if it is defunded.

The second problem is the money. Defunding PP will dump that money back into the government budget and I, for one, would like to know where it is going. Perhaps we should consider sending it back into the healthcare system, to subsidize community health centers, rural clinics, or even primary care providers willing to live in out-of-the-way places. If the concern is PP’s provision of abortion, but we can all agree that women’s health services are a priority for everyone, then defunding of PP should not occur without a direct replacement by some provision for providing women’s health services. Whether this should take the form of subsidies of existing clinics, incentivization or insurance subsidies is beyond my competence to say.

When discussing this with PP supporters, unfortunately there is a certain level at which our position is, and must be, intractable. However, their concerns about women’s health are valid, and we ought to do our best to support and respond to those concerns.

I say that at some point our positions are intractable because despite the validity of concern about women’s health, that is not a valid argument for supporting PP or even allowing it to continue. I do not know what percentage of PP’s services are abortions. I have read figures ranging from 90+% to 3% and the truth is probably in the middle somewhere. The Washington Post article linked sheds some light on the slippery statistics both sides use. The number that concerns me is the hard number, 300,000. 327,653, according to the WP. That is the number of abortions performed by PP in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

If you start with the position (as I do) that an unborn fetus is a human being, then this is a staggering number. It means that more than 300,000 human beings are killed legally every year by this organization. That concern trumps whatever other service they may provide.

Naturally, if you do not start with the fetus-as-human position, then you do not necessarily have to take so stark a position. You are free to regard abortion as good, indifferent or unfortunate, and weigh that in balance with all other services that PP provides. You may find that those services outweigh abortion, or you may not. It is essentially up to you.

If, however, the fetus is human, then there really is no alternative. Try to understand that to someone who believes in the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, to suggest that PP’s abortion services should be overlooked because of all the other services they provide is the moral equivalent of suggesting that Germans and Austrians were right to overlook the concentration camps because after all they boosted the economy and provided valuable goods and services. They were wrong, and so are we.

This is my argument for defunding PP. I do not expect to change anyone’s mind, but I do think that it is good for everyone to understand everyone else’s underlying assumptions and the reasoning that comes from them. Again, I acknowledge the necessity of mammograms, pap smears, STI testing and treatments, and other services. I would love to see the federal money from PP going to a non-abortion-providing alternative.

Just War and Abortion Mill Shootings

Painting of the Battle of Grunwald by Jan Matejko.

The recent shootout which took place near and then inside of a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs is of course a tragedy. It has been fairly widely condemned by pro-life leaders—as it should be. And while there seems to be some discrepancies in the narrative [1], the fact that there have in the past been both indiscriminate shootings of abortion mills and targeted assassinations of abortionists has made this a topic of some interest to the pro-life community.

In particular, the question has arisen as to whether (and how) such shootings fall astray of just war theory or for that matter of simple “self-defense” extended to defending others. Just war theory, as expounded by St. Thomas Aquinas [2], gives us three criteria which must necessarily be met before entering a war:

1. Proper authority: war is to be declared by the ruling body, not private individuals, “For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them” (ST II-II.40.1).
2. Just cause: those whom the war is waged against must be in the wrong in such a way that they are causing harm to those who declare war. “A just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault” (ibid). This means essentially that those who are being attacked must have gravely wronged those who are doing the attacking, and then refused to repent and make restoration for those wrongs.
3. Rightful intention: the wrongs committed by those against whom war is to be declared cannot use those wrongs as a pretext for attack. “It is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil…For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention” (ibid.). A harms B, and so B (justly) declares war on A—but the war becomes unjust if B decides to harm A for the sake of revenge, or old hatreds, or for sport.

A fourth criterion may be added to these, namely that war is the last resort:

4. Last resort: all other possibilities for resolution have been attempted. “War is morally permissible only when no other means to achieving the Just Cause is possible. This means that the nation considering war has exhausted all potential solutions, including political and diplomatic. This condition seems to mitigate against the national pride that sometimes leads to war as the resort of choice. A nation may have to compromise and negotiate to win solution short of war. But at least, the condition of last resort requires that political and diplomatic approaches to a solution have been fully attempted.” Note that this criterion is somewhat implicit in the criterion of rightful intention.

Once war has been declared, there are three more rules which should be followed if the war is to be waged justly:

1. Discrimination: A distinction must be made between combatants and non-combatants. Special care sould be taken to avoid where possible inflicting casualties onto non-combatants.
2. Proportionality: This is related to discrimination, but it basically means tat the damage inflicted and the costs incurred should be proportionate to the good to be obtained (or the evil to be deterred) by the war.
3. Reasonable expectation of success: If there is no hope of success by arms, then war should be avoided. This is largely to avoid inflicting wanton damage while accomplishing nothing. War is unpredictable, and so this criterion is often one of the more difficult to establish. As the Catholic Answers article on “Just War Doctrine” notes, “Because it is impossible to guarantee the outcome of an event as chaotic and destabilizing as war, all that is required for this condition is that there be a substantial possibility of success.”

On a smaller scale, these might also be taken as a guide for when (and to what extent) violence is permissible in defense of life and limb.

This brings me back to the question at hand: is such violence as abortion-mill shootings or targeted assassinations permitted under just war theory? I answer that it is not. For one thing, the individuals who perpetrate such crimes are not competent authorities to do this; we have redress to the courts, however corrupt they may be, and to the legislatures; and we may work to change society, but we are not each an authority to decide upon this course of action.

Suppose for the sake of argument that we are competent—perhaps under some rubric of “self-defense’ or “defense of innocent life.” Are the other criteria then met? I answer that they are not. Granting that the unborn are also human persons, their lives do matter and should be defended: then there is just cause. But the other side of this coin is just intention, namely that these actions would prevent abortions from taking place. It is possible that some such shooters do have this as their sole intention—but many of the angry calls for assassination or screed written in pre-meditation of the deed betray darker motives.

Police Officer Garret Swasey, who lost his life during the shooting.

In this most recent shooting, it is obvious that no discrimination was made between “combatant” and “non-combatant” [3]—if we grant the assumption that “combatants” are active aggressors (e.g. the abortionist [4]). Nor was there any sense of proportionality involved (there generally isn’t with these). Certainly there is no way to discriminate between an abortionists who will commit more abortions and a person like Abby Johnson or Bernard Nathanson who is on the cusp of repentance and conversion. Nor does it make sense to target a pregnant woman who is procuring an abortion, in the name of saving her child!

Moreover, there is no reasonable chance of success in these actions. In this particular incident, the abortion mill will be shut down for a day or two, and then open for business. Some abortions were perhaps delayed a bit, but few if any were postponed indefinitely. There will always be many more women who choose abortion so long as there is no change in the culture (and these acts of violence do not precipitate such change), or so long as they are led to believe that there are no other choices. There will always be one more practitioner willing to ply his trade in death so long as there is money to be made (and making the job a more hazardous one certainly tends to enable those willing to engage in it to make more money). Thus, these act of violence against abortionists and abortion mills have no reasonable chance of success, but rather serve only to proliferate violence and death. They can end the atrocity of abortion only by engaging in the atrocity of mass-murder, and so they fail the criteria of proportionality as well.

Finally, these are hardly a last resort. There are a variety of things which we can do to fight the culture of death without engaging in violence. Here area few things which we actually can do, and which have found varying degrees of success:

  • Contribute (time, talent, and/or treasure) to a crisis pregnancy center
  • Contribute to the various maternity homes which house young women who are pregnant and who have nowhere else to live
  • Contribute to charitable organizations which specialize in providing for those in need (Saint Vincent de Paul and the local food pantry are good options, as are the Knights of Columbus)
  • Contribute to a baby bank, which provides for the needs of a baby and his or her mother
  • Peacefully protest in front of an abortion clinic.
  • Work to elect pro-life statesmen when possible; this takes discernment, as a number of politicians who claim to be pro-life are only tenuously (or cynically) so.
  • Become a sidewalk counselor
  • Counsel and console your loved ones who become pregnant, especially if it is a crises pregnancy, and especially if they have no one else to turn to. Be there for them even if they make the wrong decisions, be a friend.
  • Get involved in 40 days for life
  • Above all else, pray.
The abortion rate (number of abortions procured annually per 1000 women) is declining.

Abortion claims about 1 million victims annually in the US [5], a terribly large number. However, this number also represents a dramatic decrease in total per year since the 1980’s. The overall rate has also decreased from a high of 29.2 per 1000 women in 1981 to about 16.3 per 1000 women today. While there are a variety of factors which may contribute to this, or which have a dubious effect on decreasing the abortion rate, it is more certain that some people who were considering abortion have walked away from it, and chosen life instead.

This is due to the peaceful activity of those who have urged a different choice, and who have stepped up to provide the resources to make that choice more viable, or to make abortion less viable. The violence of madmen shooters does not accomplish this. Far from being a sort of “just war” effort against the violence of abortion, these shootings add a few more murders to the death toll of abortion.

 

—-Notes—-
[1] For example, was Planned Parenthood actually the target of this, or just the building into which the shooter happened to take cover and hole up? Much of the media and “internet commentary” seems to be assuming that this was an “anti-abortion” gunman who was targeting an abortion clinic and its client-victims. On th other hand, The Gazette‘s timeline of events and the fact that none of the 15 people working in that Planned Parenthood location that day, nor any of the clients, were harmed suggests that they may not have been the gunman’s targets.

[2] The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists four criteria for a just war, and notes that these must be evaluated by a proper authority before declaring war:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
there must be serious prospects of success;
the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.

The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good. (CCC 2309)

Thee seven criteria which I list above can be seen reflected in these criteria found in the Catechism.

[3] The victims included quite a few innocent bystanders and police respondents.

[4] Ironically, this would make the police responders–perhaps the only other armed individuals on scene–be non-combatants.

[5] Two million, if you count the mother as a second victim, and more if you count the deleterious moral and spiritual effects on all others involved.

On Beauty and Planned Parenthood

WizardofOz1

One of my favorite authors, Dietrich von Hildebrand, makes an interesting argument about the relationship between beauty and virtue.  Essentially, what he said was that we ought to encourage people to attend to beauty, to seek it out in art, music, literature, poetry, and any other venue where it could be found.  We should expose young people to beauty, train them to recognize it and appreciate it, and that if we do this, we will be helping them to grow in virtue.  Why?  Because authentic beauty is itself a participation in the limitless beauty and grandeur of God, the one who creates and bestows beauty.

What I see happening with this current public relations nightmare for Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is, perhaps the inverse of von Hildebrand’s suggestion: people are being confronted with the gruesome truth of PPFA.  They’re seeing the callous disregard for the dignity of human life, and are being awakened to the depths to which that organization regularly stoops.  It’s taken away the clean, well-crafted public image of PPFA.  It’s a look behind the curtain, and what people are seeing isn’t beautiful, it’s grotesque.

This latest mess with the videos released by the Center for Medical Progress is somewhat reminiscent of that iconic moment in The Wizard of Oz when we finally see behind the curtain in the Wizard’s court to reveal the real person behind the Wizard.  What Dorothy and her friends found was not a powerful, mysterious leader, but a cowardly man putting on a show for the residents of Oz.

A similar thing is beginning to happen, I think, with regard to PPFA and its current president, Cecile Richards.  Mrs. Richards likes to portray herself as a great champion of health care and, above all, the rights of women.  Yet her organization’s operations stand in direct contrast to that mission.  They can be considered a health care organization only when termination of an unborn life is considered a positively good thing.  They often bemoan the regulations different states have put in to limit abortions, such as the 20-week ban, waiting periods, ultrasounds, etc.  Based on their actions and their budget, the story PPFA tries to tell the media and dupe women into believing is an all out lie.  They sell abortions incredibly well, and they account for over half of their annual budget.

Whatever the reasons for those abortions, they inherently involve the killing of a small child.  A great deal of those aborted every year by PPFA (which performs in excess of 300,000 abortions every year) are women.  Yet instead of being empowered and defended, they are bought at a price: $470.  That is what a woman’s life is worth to Cecile Richards.  However sanitary the public image of PPFA has been, it is slowly being shown to be a farce.

In the view of von Hildebrand, the human heart always longs for beauty, and has a natural capacity to recognize it and, in that very recognition, we know God.  For instance, he said that

“…the beauty of the dome of Florence or of St. Peter’s, the beauty of the first chorale in St. Matthew’s Passion, or of Mozart’s Figaro—all these are, to be sure, immediately attached to audible and visible things; they are not connected with beauty of form merely by thoughts; they are not ideas that these express thereby, but in their quality they speak about another, higher reality—they make God known.”

Hildebrand also knows the beauty of marriage and human sexuality to be moments which take the goods of the human experience and transfigure them to a divine plane.  The fruit of sexual union, the birth of a new human life, is without question one of the most beautiful and essentially awe-inspiring moments in the world.  It is a time which calls to mind all of the grandeur of creation and points to the joy we hope to experience in the heavenly reward awaiting the end of our life.  Human life, which develops during pregnancy, calls for that same joy, respect, and awe.  It is beautiful, and it points to the author of beauty, God himself.

But PPFA and their supporters would have us think that there’s nothing mysterious and beautiful in pregnancy.  Or, at the very least, nothing which can’t wait until next time.  Nothing which deserves protection.  No, for PPFA, the developing life can be cast aside, then dismembered and repackaged for the honorable cause of scientific research.  This is a perversion and a twisting of beauty into the grotesque.

This encounter with beauty’s polar opposite can, I think, in a way awaken them to the beauty of the pro-life position and hopefully to the goodness of the Creator, the only one on whom we can call to really put an end to the holocaust that our country has legally sanctioned since 1973.

Pax,

Luke

The Trouble with Transhumanism

Transhumanism is a desperate belief system that grasps at technological straws. But the raw desperation in that grasping has the potential–like all Utopian movements–to unleash violently destructive forces. Caveat emptor.” (Wesley J. Smith).

There are a number of pressing issues in the broad realm of bioethics. Abortion may well be the biggest bone of contention in heated argument or friendly debate. However, everything from stem cell research, to cloning and in vitro fertilization, to doctor-assisted suicide (a herald for euthanasia), to the creation chimera and the growth of human organs in animals, to the existence of three-parent children rightly falls under this purview. Eugenics may be a topic of the past—it now has a bad name thanks to the Nazis, who allowed it mask to slip in an evil regime—but it re-surfaces in what may be a major topic for bioethics in the future, which is the idea of transhumanism, and its intended end in posthumanism. As such, there cannot be a “Christian Transhumanism” anymore than there is such a thing as “Christian abortion” or “Christian euthanasia” or “Christian eugenics,” whatever are or have been the attempts to reconcile a Christian morality with these evils. Indeed, I have seen all of the above evils at one time or another included among the means that Tranhumanism might utilize to seek its goal.

Scientists
Behold, science! Image source.

What is the goal of Transhumanism, then? Nominally, it is the betterment of human life, although a number of its proponents are as interested in ending human life—in the sense of ending humanity and ushering in posthumanity [1]—as they are “bettering” it. Let us leave aside these charges: not all in the Transhumanist movement necessarily desire it to lead to posthumanism; many just want to see lives prolonged, aging slowed or halted, and other natural physical, mental, and psychological limitations overcome.

To what extent are these aims moral, and at what point (if any) do they become immoral? There are a few obvious answers here:

  • If the means used to achieve any of these seemingly noble ends are themselves evil, then then the whole project becomes immoral. Thus, if eugenics, cloning-for-organ-harvesting, or abortion-for-stem-cells become the methods used, then whatever small gains we may achieve pale next to the evil means used to achieve those ends.

  • If the ends themselves lead to some evil results, then we should be given some pause. For example, suppose that life extension enables us to live to be “old as Methuselah”–will we continue to welcome with abundance our future generations?

  • If immortality in this life becomes the goal, will we forget that we are but sojourners in this world, that we are meant for another?

  • If a perfected body in this life becomes a near-realty, will we forget that our bodies were meant to die, to return to dust—and only then to be resurrected and glorified and perfected?

Even a longer life is still a finite one. We will still face death–will we do it with hope in the next life? Source.

These last two questions, at least, lead to one of the fundamental moral problems of Transhumanism, which is that is seeks as so many philosophies and movements have ever sought, to replace the rule of God with the rule of man. To borrow a phrase from Voegelin, it looks to immanentize the eschaton, this time with technology rather than economics or politics or schooling.

The goal of the Transhumanist movement is finally to transcend the limitations of our human nature. This is implied in the very name of the movement. The result of doing this is therefore to move beyond our human nature—to become post-human—but to do this by technology and not grace. And, as C.S. Lewis has warned in The Abolition of Man, while these ends may appear to be man’s final mastery over nature, they will inevitably ultimately involve the mastery of some men over all other men, with nature and technology as the instruments of control.

What of the more basic goals of Transhumanism: ending suffering, prolonging life or even ending death, and in general enhancing or physical and mental abilities or remedying our limitations? Each of these is or can be a noble goal in itself. There is nothing wrong with, for example, relieving pain, no moral proscription against Tylenol and Advil or even Morphine to limit our physical agonies [2]. On the other hand, physical pain is quite probably the least of our sufferings. As Peter Kreeft has noted, ours is the culture with the greatest ability to medicinally eliminate pain, and thus the least able to tolerate it; and we are among the least happy of civilizations, as measured by the “casual” suicide rate [3].

ManOnBench
Suffering is not all pointless. We can learn wisdom from our suffering, and it can lead to contemplating life in the next world. Image source.

Nor is all suffering pointless. Obviously, nobody likes to suffer, and we do not enjoy the suffering itself (nor should we). But suffering has a moral purpose, and it is not only to punish us for the evils we have done. Perhaps the greatest of all suffering is the suffering of loss, and perhaps the most difficult to stand is the closely-related suffering of unfulfilled longing. Both types have a strong moral purpose, which is to remind us that although we are in this world we are not of it. We are meant to transcend this world, but not by our own power. We are meant to die in this life, so that we can be born in the next.

Death is not a barrier to be overcome or a foe to be conquered by us—Christ has already done this for us—and while we do not rejoice in death for death’s sake, nor should we fear it. Death is instead the thing which gives finality to this life, a sign which points us to our true home in heaven: we are to some extent guests or tenants here, and we will all eventually be asked to leave to our own homes. Rather than conquering death with technology—a proposition of which I am quite skeptical [4]—we should instead live life well, and prepare for a good death. Saint Joseph, pray for us!

—-Foonotes—-

[1] Posthumanism is loosely described as the ideal that humankind should take the next evolutionary step forward and ceases to be Home sapiens. Nevermind that this is not evolution per se. It is the idea that we should re-create humanity as something else, something better, again nevermind that “we” do not know who gets to decide what counts as “better.”

[2] Provided this is done responsibly—there is something immoral about an addiction, and certain pain-killers can be very addicting.

[3] As opposed to ritual or “honorable” suicide.

[4] Among other things, I suspect that this would involve a violation of such things as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I am apparently not alone in this assessment.

On Evangelium Vitae and Star Wars

What was said about history being philosophy teaching by example can also be said of movies. Movies can illustrate philosophy (and even theology) by showing the consequences of following ideas to their logical conclusions. Due to the extent to which people, consciously or unconsciously, turn to movies as their source of principles to guide their lives, the analysis of philosophy and theology incarnated in movies is always a worthwhile exercise.

Despite its flaws, the Star Wars trilogy (episodes 1-3, the prequels) remains an important achievement and phenomenon that simultaneously reflects and influences contemporary thoughts and attitudes. The trilogy comments on many aspects of human existence, bioethical issues included. Some of the trilogy’s messages must be taken with a grain of salt, but all the more, then, do they deserve to be discussed.

Ever since my mom has been asking recommendations for films to show for discussion at her bioethics class in a university, I have been alert to bioethical themes in movies, no matter how remotely connected to the story. Thus, the horrific possible consequences of cloning and the “new hope” that would have been killed had Padme Amidala decided to terminate her inconvenient pregnancy was not lost on me.

Then, there’s the matter of Anakin Skywalker accepting Senator Palpatine’s offer of a power that could be learned “not from a Jedi” – power to alter the midichlorians to create life, power to save Padme from dying in childbirth. Not everyone in the audience, perhaps, will consider it a metaphor for experimentation on embryos and other morally questionable scientific procedures, but just the same, the question is raised: does the desire to save one life justify appropriating God-like powers over life and death to oneself?

The trilogy’s answer unfolds as Anakin turns to the Dark Side and massacres many innocent people in his quest for that power. Themes of the end not justifying the means and the pernicious effects of wanting to be the master of life and death develop. (Unfortunately, George Lucas had to ruin what was supposed to be an epic battle between good and evil by making Obi-wan say, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes,” but this is a matter for another essay.)

However, while analyzing Anakin’s turning to the Dark Side uncovers important bioethical lessons, it also exposes flaws in the world view that pervades the trilogy.

Anakin was certainly wrong to turn to the Dark Side just to save Padme, but it could be asked, was the desire to save her life, in itself, evil?
According to the Jedi way, it is wrong to mourn for those who die. But this attitude is not only contrary to human nature; it is also un-Christian. While Christianity warns against excessive attachment to our loved ones, Christianity not only allows but in fact commands us to love our neighbour. Christianity does not preach a stoic, unaffected acceptance of death; rather, Christianity preaches a God who “came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Whether intended or unintended, a critique of “the Jedi way” comes from the trilogy itself. In his review of Revenge of the Sith, Catholic film critique Steve Greydanus writes,

“xxx Yoda, his speech patterns sounding more convoluted and less sage-like than ever, has a final speech on the Jedi precept of detachment that goes well beyond Christian freedom from excessive attachment into Buddhist impassiveness. Attachment, Yoda teaches, is ‘a way to the dark side,’ and our detachment and acceptance of death should be so complete that we shouldn’t even mourn the dead.

The problem with Yoda’s ethic of detachment is that it’s dead contrary to the unabashed humanism with which the whole story ends in Return of the Jedi, where human attachments — filial loyalty, paternal bonds — ultimately save the galaxy, destroy the Sith and the Empire, and redeem Anakin’s lost soul. Yoda and Obi-Wan consistently counsel Luke (and, in the prequels, Anakin) against the very bonds that finally lead to the triumph of good over evil.
In the end, alas, the Jedi do seem too “narrow” and “dogmatic,” not the great sages Lucas presumably wanted them to be. Perhaps the “prophecy of the one who will bring balance to the Force” was misinterpreted after all: Perhaps the prophecy was really fulfilled not by Anakin destroying the Sith order, but by Luke humanizing the Jedi ethic.”

The development of Anakin’s character arc from his proud desire to stop people from dying in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, to the scene in Return of the Jedi where he asks Luke to remove his mask, answering “it does not matter now” when Luke warns him that he’ll die, is brilliant. But Star Wars with its world view can only go so far in giving a satisfying answer to the question of how we should face death.

It would be worth to compare and contrast the Star Wars world view with expounded on by St. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae. He did write that the believer “accepts from God the need to die” and that “Certainly, the life of the body in its earthly state is not an absolute good for the believer.” But he also wrote:

“The dignity of this life is linked not only to its beginning, to the fact that it comes from God, but also to its final end, to its destiny of fellowship with God in knowledge and love of Him. In the light of this truth Saint Ireneaus qualifies and completes the praise of man: ‘the glory of God’ is indeed, man, living man”, but “the life of man consists in the vision of God.”

Immediate consequences arise from this for human life in its earthly state, in which, for that matter, eternal life already springs forth and begins to grow. Although man instinctively loves life because it is a good, this love will find further inspiration and strength, and new breadth and depth, in the divine dimensions of this good. Similarly, the love which every human being has for life cannot be reduced simply to a desire to have sufficient space for self-expression and for entering into relationships with others; rather, it develops in a joyous awareness that life can become the “place” where God manifests himself, where we meet him and enter into communion with him. The life which Jesus gives in no way lessens the value of our existence in time; it takes it and directs it to its final destiny: “I am the resurrection and the life…whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. (Jn. 11: 25-26).”

Popular culture is not devoid of valuable insights on universal questions like life and death. At the same time, popular culture sometimes raises more questions than answers, and the insights found in it must be purified and completed by the Christian world view in order to give truly satisfying answers. This need not spoil the fun of watching Star Wars. But it is just as rewarding to reflect on and discuss Star Wars insights on life and death, as well as on many other things, long after the credits roll and the John Williams score ends.

“Transabled”

Commenting on gender reassignment as “treatment” for people with gender identity issues a few years ago, Wesley Smith said :

People want to be fulfilled and lead happy lives as “themselves.” Very well. But I also worry that once we accept the premise that we have a fundamental right to be physically remade to comport with how we feel about ourselves—and to have society act in accordance—we will have crossed a cultural Rubicon, leading to extreme outcomes.

disabled-parking-signIt’s a “slippery slope” concern that’s not totally without merit. Consider: the mental illness once known as body integrity identity disorder (BIID), that now goes by the catchy new moniker “transability“.

Such word engineering suggests that this may very well be the next stage in radical self-recreationism.

Typically, people with BIID do not accept one or more of their own limbs and seek to amputate them. But, “transabled” seems to encompass any otherwise able-bodied person who wants transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment.

“Surely no doctor would ever cut off a healthy limb!”, you say. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? They already have in a few isolated cases. And its being proposed on a wider scale. Along with snipping spinal cords and other such nonsense.

“Okay, but, society would never allow such a thing to become mainstream,” you protest. No? Just look how easily the media has already slipped into the term “transabled.” It may only be a matter of time.

Transient times“, indeed.

I wrote more about this a few years ago:
Transhumanism: Amputating Healthy Limbs
UK Woman Wants Spinal Cord Cut
Wanting to be Disabled?

First, Do No Harm

Since the beginning of the practice of medicine, the Hippocratic Oath has been used to ensure that medicine remains oriented toward its true purpose: “First, do no harm.” This oath presupposes that medicine itself is not a boundless good, that it must be kept in check. Often we forget that it is possible for medicine to cause harm, because it brings us so much good. It is the solution to so many problems and brings healing to those who are suffering. But it is not the solution to every problem. The definition of what constitutes harm has changed through different centuries and cultures. How does our society define harm, and how should we as individuals define it?

Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, discusses the implications of new technologies for three-parent embryos:

While cloning involves swapping out the nucleus of a woman’s egg with a replacement nucleus to create an embryo, three-parent embryos are made by swapping out additional cellular parts known as mitochondria through the recombination of eggs from two different women. Even more baroque approaches to making three-parent embryos rely on destroying one embryo (instead of an egg) and cannibalizing its parts so as to build another embryo by nuclear transfer.

We risk trivializing our human procreative faculties and diminishing our offspring by sanctioning these kinds of “eggs-as-Lego-pieces” or “embryos-as-Lego-pieces” approaches. Ultimately there is a steep price to be paid for the ever-expanding project of upending our own beginnings and rupturing the origins of our children.

How can a procedure which treats children as items to be modified and disposed of, if necessary, be justified under the Hippocratic Oath? The reality is that the definition of “harm” in our society has become gradually skewed over the past several decades, to the point where doctors believe they are helping people by performing such a procedure. They do not see the children they are mutilating as people. They see them as commodities. They do not perceive the effects that this will have on families. In trying to respond to someone’s desire for a child, they try to bring that child into existence through whatever means possible, even if that comes at the detriment to the child in question.

This mentality extends to many other procedures as well: physician-assisted suicide devalues the life of a sick and suffering individual; it assumes that life is only meaningful if one is healthy. Embryonic stem cell research seeks to benefit certain people by killing others; it treats unborn children as expendable. The removal of hydration and nutrition from an incapacitated patient who is not dying “has become all too common,” according to the NCBC, and it considers the sick to be as good as dead. Instead of bringing care and healing to those in need—which is supposed to be the aim of medicine—it leaves the vulnerable out to dry.

Any decision affecting the care of a vulnerable individual—whether that person is too young, too old, or too ill to be able to speak up for themselves—mustn’t disregard the fact that their life is just as deserving of protection as anyone else’s, even if they don’t have a voice to remind us. Anything less would be taking advantage of the weak and defenseless. We must not be too quick to consider someone “beyond help”; even if we cannot fix their situation entirely, if we can do something to ease their pain or extend their life, then we should.

Technology has brought all kinds of new possibilities to our fingertips, but we would be foolish to assume that they come without a cost. Just because something can be done doesn’t mean that it should. Life is not a commodity, and a person cannot be measured by their usefulness.