29 marzo 2006
In other news, there was a solar eclipse yesterday that much of the world's population was treated to. It was visible in eastern Brazil, in North/Central Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and Central Asia. According to astronomers, this is the "thing to see" if you're ever going to see an astronomical event. The last one occurred in 2003, in Antarctica of all places. The good news is that in 2008, we are supposed to get one in the U.S.
27 marzo 2006
In my opinion, the great problem at present is the loss of the sense of the beauty of life. Life cannot be defended if its beauty is not perceived.
Life today has been transformed into a place for ideological struggle. It was not always like this. Life is from the beginning a concrete reality, which exists. The people around us exist. We are in relationship with them. They represent in the world an objective wealth.
From the beginning, life calls for an essential attitude of acceptance and love. Human life is never neutral. When one loses sight of the character of immediate goodness of what exists and lives before our eyes -- the beauty of the people who surround us and of those to whom we are united by bonds of love and solidarity -- life is turned into a place of ideological struggle.
How does this occur? To begin with, by a trivialization of human life. It loses its specific character and one ends up by assimilating it to any other manifestation of life, of any living being.
One no longer sees that, behind each human face, behind each person, there is a singularity, a unique wealth in which believers recognize an intention of God, a plan of love. Life is the gift of God's love to all men.
The first task is to try to give back, to the one who has lost it, the notion of a real good that precedes us, that we have not chosen and, in any case, that we have not chosen thanks to ourselves.
No one has ever decided to live. We are before a reality that invites us to this gaze of love and acceptance. One cannot have a neutral attitude to life. Life is not simply a biological phenomenon. A human person cannot be considered simply under the aspect of his biological, anatomical or cellular characteristics.
It is possible to do so, in the context of applied science, but when one wishes to explain the truth of a man's life, one is obliged to consider it in all that constitutes it, namely, his organism -- he is a living being subjected to physical and biological laws -- but also in what constitutes his specificity, his quality of rational creature, gifted with intelligence and will, gifted with the capacity to love and to enter into a relationship of communion with other men.
In other news:
- The Afghan man who was going to be executed by his government for converting to Christianity 15 years ago has been spared, thank God. Afghanistan likely buckled under the pressure of many governments and organizations around the world and let this man go free. Perhaps the saddest part is that his family ratted him out to the Islamic authorities. Now I am expecting riots all over the Middle East. Kill the infidel! Down with freedom of conscience! That is what hate-driven religious fanaticism does.
- I think Jon Corzine is a horrible governor for New Jersey. Within months, he has already raised taxes, not to mention passing that awful indoor smoking ban! Private business owners are not allowed, beginning in mid-April, to allow even a smoking section in their restaurant or bar. This is a liberal overreaction to an overexaggerated problem. The worst part is that the people had no say in it. Who asked me, or my neighbors, or my friends? No one. At least in Spain, the new law they passed gives business owners the option of being smoking or non-smoking.
It is the height of irony (or perhaps tragedy) when the same people that believe a mother has a complete and total right to murder her own child also say that a business owner does not have the right to decide whether or not people can smoke tobacco in his establishment. I do believe the smoking ban is one of the first steps toward fascism.
17 marzo 2006
Basically, his publisher is being sued because the authors of a 1982 book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, believe that he plagiarized them.
Did he even read the book? (Obviously, he did). Let's see what AP says, in an article today.
In fact, her absence could yet have a bearing on the outcome of the High Court case, in which two authors of the 1982 nonfiction book "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" are suing Brown's British publisher Random House for copyright infringement.
Jonathan Rayner James, the lawyer representing historians Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, has questioned how Brown could be sure of the provenance of research that ended up in his novel, when so much of it was compiled by someone else.
Brown says neither he nor his wife had read the "Holy Blood" book when he came to write the synopsis of his novel.
But in another article, which, disturbingly was published 2 days ago (Also by AP)......
The suit is not against Brown, but his publisher Random House, which also published "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail." Random House denies the claims, and Brown says the assertion that he copied is "completely fanciful." "I'm not crazy about the word 'copied,'" Brown testified. "Copying implies it is identical. It's not identical."
Brown said "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" was "one of the books in the mix" when he and his wife, Blythe Brown, were researching the novel. He acknowledged "reworking" passages from the earlier book. "That's how you incorporate research into a novel," Brown said.
13 marzo 2006
VALENCIA, Spain, MARCH 10, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The archbishop of Valencia described as "ridiculous" the civil registry's change in the terms "father" and "mother" to "progenitor A" and "progenitor B."
In his pastoral letter this week, Archbishop Agustín García Gasco stated that "those who dedicate themselves to abolishing family identity, who are making the juridical and social meaning of 'being father' and 'being mother' disappear, are imposing their ideological instructions to destroy the institution of the family and, with it, society itself."
Spanish law allows for same-sex unions, including the adoption of children. Subsequently, the Official State Bulletin establishes, with an order of the Ministry of Justice, a new family book form in which the terms "progenitor A" and "progenitor B" supplant "father" and "mother," according to archdiocese's Avan news agency.
For Archbishop García Gasco, "Spanish legislation in the matter of marriage and the family is every day more deceitful, sectarian and radical." In his pastoral letter, he invites families to "break absurd silences" because "to complain or laugh about the absurd anti-family policies is not enough."
He encourages the faithful to consider the forthcoming World Meeting of Families in Valencia as "a privileged occasion for families worldwide to manifest their initiative and solidarity."
10 marzo 2006
Down Syndrome and the Pressure to Abort
Elizabeth Schiltz on Change in Attitudes
MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota, MARCH 9, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Many prospective parents are waiting for years to adopt children with Down syndrome, according to a recent article in the Associated Press.
So why is there an extended wait for kids with special needs, who are usually more difficult to place with families? The reason might be: the growing acceptance of aborting babies with Down syndrome.
Elizabeth Schiltz, law professor at the University of St. Thomas and contributor to "The Cost of 'Choice': Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion" (Encounter Books), shared with ZENIT how aborting children with Down syndrome has not only become justified, but is almost considered a duty.
Schiltz also relayed her experience in receiving a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome for her son.
Q: Why do you think it has become socially acceptable to abort a child with Down syndrome?
Schiltz: Because, unfortunately, it has become socially acceptable to abort any baby who disappoints the expectations of the baby's parents for any reason, as the increasingly common practice of sex-selection abortion indicates.
Down syndrome just happens to be a disability that is easily identified through prenatal testing.
Not only have many come to accept that a woman faced with such news is justified in aborting her child, some now go further and insist that she has a duty to abort.
Bob Edwards, the scientist who created Great Britain's first in vitro fertilization baby, gave a speech a couple of years ago at an international fertility conference in which he said, "Soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease. We are entering a world where we have to consider the quality of our children."
This is frightening. It signals an erosion of societal consensus about our collective responsibility for vulnerable people.
Society will increasingly believe that a mother who forgoes an easy abortion and chooses instead to give birth to a disabled child should not look to the community for help. After all, it was her "choice."
Q: Has prenatal testing contributed to the problem?
Schiltz: Prenatal testing has made the population of children with Down syndrome more vulnerable to abortion, because it's so easy to identify them. But the real problem isn't the testing.
The real problem is using the results of these tests as part of a crude "cost-benefit" analysis -- of balancing the "benefit" of giving birth to a child with Down syndrome against the "cost" to the mother and the broader society.
Obviously, such a cost-benefit analysis ignores the fundamental truth that every human is created in the image and likeness of God. And, even on its own utilitarian terms, this analysis is often faulty because it rarely involves adequate information about the realities of living with Down syndrome -- either for the baby or the baby's family.
Brian Skotko, a Harvard Medical School student, published a pair of studies in the medical journals Pediatrics and the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology just last year, concluding that few mothers were satisfied with the manner in which their doctors delivered pre- or post-natal diagnoses of Down syndrome, or the information provided by their doctors when they gave these diagnoses.
I applaud efforts like the bill introduced in Congress last year by Senators Brownback and Kennedy, called the Prenatally Diagnosed Condition Awareness Act, that would require healthcare providers to provide up-to-date, scientific information about prenatally diagnosed conditions and referrals to support services. I'd like them to amend the bill to add information about the waiting lists for adoption of kids with Down syndrome.
Q: The Associated Press recently reported that many families are choosing to adopt children with Down syndrome and sometimes have to wait years. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?
Schiltz: I am thrilled that this has finally caught the attention of the mainstream press. The newsletters and Internet listservs of Down syndrome support groups have been talking about this for years.
In fact, I know a woman who runs an adoption agency, Huminska's Anioly, that specializes in placing children from Polish orphanages in homes in the United States.
When she heard about the waiting lists at American adoption agencies for children with Down syndrome a couple of years ago, she started a special program for children in Polish orphanages with Down syndrome.
In the States, there's another resource: the Adoption Awareness Program -- Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati.
Q: What was your experience in receiving a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome for your child?
Schiltz: I think my experience of receiving the prenatal diagnosis for my son was somewhat atypical, because my doctors knew that abortion was not an option for me. Even so, three things about the process were really striking.
First, there is a phenomenal amount of pressure to make decisions quickly, because the whole system is geared to result in earlier and therefore "safer" abortions. The pressure to act quickly in these situations not only increases risk to the baby, but I think it must often prevent parents from thinking through realistic alternatives to abortion.
Second, I was struck by how little positive information about life with Down syndrome the doctors and genetic counselors were able to provide me. Although my doctor was very supportive of my decision, neither she nor our genetic counselor had any helpful information to share about life with Down syndrome.
Third, even though I was pro-life, and even though I spent my whole life loving my mentally retarded older brother, getting the actual diagnosis was extremely traumatic. For days afterward, I hesitated to put my hands on my belly. I felt as though a stranger had moved in, and he frightened me. For weeks afterward, I felt as though I had lost my entire identity.
I had never perceived of myself as a person with a child with a disability. I had always perceived of myself as a person with "perfect" children. I didn't know how I could continue with the life I had always planned for myself.
But, gradually, I started to love that little "stranger" just as strongly as I loved the old vision of what he would be. And, gradually, I realized that my old self was still there, it just had some new things to learn.
Personally, I'm glad that I was able to go through that trauma before my child was born. But it's important to be sensitive to how devastating this kind of news can be to any parent.
Q: How are people with Down syndrome an important and special part of our society?
Schiltz: In her book, "The Child Who Never Grew," Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author Pearl S. Buck wrote this about her mentally retarded daughter: "[B]y this most sorrowful way I was compelled to tread, I learned respect for reverence for every human mind. "
It was my child who taught me to understand so clearly that all people are equal in their humanity and that all have the same human rights. None is to be considered less, as a human being, than any other, and each must be given his place and his safety in the world. "
I might never have learned this in any other way. I might have gone on in the arrogance of my own intolerance for those less able than myself. My child taught me humanity." I
n addition to teaching me about humanity, I also think that my son has taught me something about divinity. I think my love for him sometimes provides a hint of what God's love for us must be like. Like my love for my son, God's love for us doesn't depend on our intellect, our accomplishments or our proximity to what society defines as "success."
People with Down syndrome wear their vulnerability on their faces. They are a visible reminder that the image of God reflected in humanity includes people of all sorts of intellectual capacities.
It would be an impoverished society indeed that succeeded in eliminating such powerful teachers of both humanity and divinity.
09 marzo 2006
At a hearing yesterday Rep. Mark Souder strongly berated scientists and bureaucrats testifying at a Congressional hearing for minimizing a recent stem cell scandal, telling them "don't treat us like little children" and "don't BS us." The comments came at a hearing examining the impact of the revelations that Dr. Woo Suk Hwang, a South Korean scientist who had been hailed as pioneer in the field of embryonic stem cell research, fabricated almost all of his data and had coerced women into donating their eggs for research.
In attempting to defend embryonic stem cell research in general, three representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services said that many other scientific fields have been victims of research hoaxes including the field of cardiology. These comments prompted Souder's angry reproach. Souder said Hwang's research was the only research that was supportive of the new and morally controversially field of cloning and embryo destructive research while cardiology is an established field with substantial amounts of verified research.
The hearing drew a standing room only crowd and numerous members of the South Korean media were present. In his opening statement Souder, the subcommittee chairman, laid out the reasons why the Hwang scandal has broader implications on the entire endeavor of embryo destructive research. "This scientific scandal is not an isolated incident of fabrication, without real application to US research efforts," he said. "Rather, it highlights the serious, inherent potential problems with research cloning and embryonic stem cell research, including but not limited to: exploitation, fraud, and coercion. The incident is a siren warning against proceeding in these research areas without most cautiously examining the societal costs necessarily associated with it. It would be quite disingenuous to say otherwise."
Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of pro-life activities for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, laid out three lessons from the Hwang scandal in his testimony. First, he said, was the scientific lesson that there has been almost no progress in the field of embryonic stem cell research. "This is at least the third time in eight years that we have heard announcements of success in cloning human embryos for their stem cells, only to find that the claim has little basis in fact," he said.
Doerflinger said the "political lesson from the Korean scandal, and from scandalous behavior here in the United States, is that political leaders, patient advocacy groups, and all of us must stop hearing only what we want to hear about 'miracle cures.' We need to be aware of the human costs of this agenda here and now, not only its alleged 'promise' down the road." Finally, Doerflinger said, the Hwang scandal has an ethical lesson. "By demeaning life, we learn to demean truth, rendering science itself meaningless." Policy makers, he said, should "begin with a complete ban on human cloning, and with legislation to prevent the mistreatment of women as egg factories for research or as surrogate incubators for unborn children being grown for their body parts."
The hearing also revealed a new strategy for those supporting embryo destructive research. Advocates of the procedure repeatedly said that the Hwang scandal is proof that the US should provide federal funds for the research so that there can be greater government oversight.
03 marzo 2006
WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 2, 2006 (Zenit.org).- A U.S. bishops' aide criticized a report by a Planned Parenthood affiliate that claims increased access to contraception leads to fewer abortions. Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for the episcopate's Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, assailed the report on unintended pregnancy issued by the Guttmacher Institute.
"Without any evidence, the report just asserts that increased access to contraception reduces the number of unintended pregnancies and therefore abortions," said McQuade. "But that assumption is unwarranted. "California and New York, ranked among the top states for access to contraception, also have the highest abortion rates in the country. The facts simply don't support what Planned Parenthood and its research affiliate would like us to believe."
McQuade continued: "Many studies actually show that abortions decrease when states enact modest regulations on abortion -- regulations opposed by Planned Parenthood, such as public funding bans, informed consent requirements and parental involvement laws." "Where contraceptives are widely available, abortion is a common backup to failed birth control," the bishops' aide noted. "Even Guttmacher admits that 54% of abortions nationwide in 2000 'occur among ... women who were using contraceptives in the month they became pregnant.'"