Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why the disabled fear assisted suicide

by Jared Yee | 24 Jun 2011 | (4)

The recent BBC broadcast of the suicide of 71-year-old Peter Smedley in Switzerland was a public relations triumph for campaigner Sir Terry Pratchett. “This has been a happy event,” he told the BBC. But journalist Dominic Lawson took issue with this in the Independent:

“It is clear that the intended beneficiaries of Pratchett's campaign must be those who are physically incapacitated – as he fears he will be: the fully able-bodied need not call upon others to kill us. For this reason, any legislators thinking of backing Pratchett's cause would do well to consult the members of the charity Scope. Scope represents the hundreds of thousands of Britons with cerebral palsy, far and away the most common form of congenital physical disability and which affects, to a greater or lesser extent, one in every 400 children born in the UK.”

He continues:

“The chief executive of Scope, Richard Hawkes, having observed the head of steam building up behind the campaign for voluntary euthanasia, has sensibly been spending much of his time consulting his members, and other disability groups, about their feelings on this matter. Last month Scope released one of the results, a poll by ComRes, which revealed that no fewer than 70 per cent of disabled people are concerned that the changes in the law advocated by Pratchett would create pressure on vulnerable patients to ‘end their lives prematurely’.”

One woman named Valerie, a 71-year-old woman from Islington in north London, said at a meeting that if she fell over in the street when she was younger, people would help her up. However, she said, “now people just walk past.” Lawson comments:

“That is the state of mind, on both sides, in which assisted suicide for the severely physically disabled could so insidiously turn from being a liberating option into something more like an oppressive social obligation. I have no doubt that Terry Pratchett's campaign has good intentions; but for the very people he most means to help, they could pave the road to Hell.” ~ Independent, Jun 14

Retrieved June 25, 2011 from

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus (Guido Reni, 1635)

Remembering the time years ago I went to pick up my son from kindergarten and a few kids said helpfully, "Sani, your grandpa's here!" Sani stuck up for his old dad and explained, "Just because you're bald doesn't mean you're a grandpa!" Happy Father's Day to all the old dads out there!

What Price a Prestigious Education?

A Shameful Glory

By Randall Smith

In his Confessions, St. Augustine makes some notorious complaints about his own education, which by all accounts (including his own) was pretty good, not to mention expensive. His parents, who were not well to do, made sacrifices for what they hoped was his benefit. In later years, Augustine realized it wasn’t the quality of education per se that was the problem, it was the ends the education was meant to serve: primarily worldly success and praise. He was rewarded (“Well done! Well done!”) when he spoke well, regardless of the morality of his words, and punished severely, not for moral faults, but for errors in grammar or spelling.

Even his mother, the woman who was to become “St. Monica,” preferred, says Augustine, “that the unformed clay should be risked to them [his pagan teachers] rather than the clay molded after Christ’s image.” “Their sole care,” he says about his parents, “was that I should learn how to make a powerful speech and become a persuasive orator,” because, of course, in Augustine’s day, that was the way to “get ahead in the world,” much as a degree from Harvard, Yale, or Stanford is today. Augustine laments that his teachers: “did not care about the way in which I would use what they forced me to learn.” Indeed, all of the adults around him seemed to take it for granted that the purpose of an education was to satisfy the human desire for what Augustine calls in purposeful irony “a rich poverty” and a “shameful glory.”

How many good Christian parents are there in the modern world, do you suppose, who like St. Monica, love their sons and daughters, but not wisely or well enough to send them to anything other than those schools where they would be said to get the “best” education, that is to say, the sort of education intended to make them successful in the world? How many, like Monica, delayed their children’s desire for marriage, knowing that their child’s likelihood of entering into illicit sexual relationships was thereby increased, and yet justified the delay in order that he or she might complete the most prestigious degree at the best school?

In the first chapter of his Confessions, Augustine tells of learning his letters, and in retrospect, he understands how valuable this was. It allowed him to read. Yet letters are formed into words, and words into sentences, and those sentences are the material out of which are made both the immoral theater shows that corrupted him on the one hand, and the Holy Scriptures that saved him on the other. Augustine’s education left him with only “bits and pieces” — some Virgil here, some Cicero there, a bit of the Greeks thrown in for good measure — and yet to what end? What story would he write with those fragments? The story of a latter-day Aeneas perhaps, entertaining passionate evenings in the bedchamber of his own Dido? Or would it be the story of the great Roman orator, like Cicero? What awaited him? Wealth? Power? Fame? A promising career in politics, perhaps? All that, yes, and so much less.

Fortunately, Augustine wanted much, much more. And by God’s grace, eventually he found it — which is to say, eventually, he allowed God to find him. God was never far away, but sadly, as he became more “educated,” Augustine got further and further away from himself. As the years passed, he simply became more like one of “them”: the elite, the successful few. And isn’t that what his parents wanted when they sent him to school at such great expense? Even the great St. Monica couldn’t understand education any differently.

In our own day, it has been Pope John Paul II who, in his encyclical Fides et Ratio and the apostolic constitution Ex corde ecclesiae, has called students and parents to a new vision of education: one meant to integrate the various fragments we now dump into our children’s brains at great expense into an overarching search for wisdom; one meant to nourish their spirits and “lead them forth” (to “educate” in its truest sense) to a union, a deeper communion, with God. “Son of man,” warned T. S. Eliot, “you know only a heap of broken images.” Christian institutions of higher learning are called upon to do better.

They would do well to begin by learning the lessons St. Augustine has to teach: about the value of classical learning, as well as its dangers; and about the risks associated with sending young people to school when what they really want is love. “To Carthage then I came,” writes Eliot, paraphrasing Augustine: “Burning, burning, burning, burning.” It is a sentiment most young people today could echo: To college then I came: burning, burning, burning. And what do they find there at college? Guidance for their blossoming intellects? Discipline for their wandering appetites? Answers to their questions of faith? Hardly.

They find, rather, what Augustine found: approval for the worst sorts of vice, as long as they obey their instructors and stick to the path of worldly success. And after many long conversations with students, I have found they live with one certain message ringing in their ears from their parents: Whatever you do, don’t get pregnant. And don’t even think of getting married. Finish college. Get into the best professional school you can. And then — and only then — will there be time to think about things like “faith” and “family.”

Such is the path to losing our own potential Augustines, preferring that they should turn out, rather, like Eliot’s “young man carbuncular,” one of those “on whom assurance sits as a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire,” prepared for living the life, as St. Augustine tells us, of “a rich poverty” and a “shameful glory.” What else, after all, would a good college education be for?

Randall Smith is associate professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, Houston.

(c) 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to:

Retrieved June 18, 2011 from

Friday, June 17, 2011

Challenges for the Caritas Network

By Matthew Hanley

Real estate agents unable to grasp the paramount importance of “location, location, location” would not last very long. Reminders about something so elementary are not needed. Keeping “identity, identity, identity” front and center within Catholic charitable organizations, as I have written previously (here andhere), seems to require more vigilance, though why that is so is a long tale.

Identity was the recurring theme of a momentous Caritas Internationalis gathering in late May, following news that its executive director would not be permitted another term. The prominent French commentator Jean-Marie Guénois described Pope Benedict XVI’s attempts to reform the Caritas network as revolutionary – not in terms of new doctrine, but in the sense that he is reasserting control over an entire area of the Church’s vital activity in agencies that have veered far off course.

In a remarkable address to the Caritas Assembly, Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah (president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum) stressed that expressions of authentic Catholic charity are especially needed today, not least because the number of other actors on the scene is mushrooming. Most NGO activities, he reminded them, are expressions of prevailing western culture, now characterized by widespread religious indifference and secularization – “a humanism without God.” For all its tremendous material, scientific, and technological progress, the West, he maintained, is also suffering from “serious moral regression.”

Western Catholics agencies should be all the more eager to stand in solidarity with the Church in other parts of the world precisely against just such moral regression – a considerable obstacle to human development everywhere, perhaps especially in the “developed,” but bleaker, swaths of the modern West.

Yet on my own many trips to Africa with Catholic Relief Services, for example, it was not uncommon to hear locals refer to them as the “non-Catholic Catholic agency.” (Imagine what they say about CAFOD – the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development).
African bishops would tell me (after my talks about AIDS) how surprising it was to hear a young Western CRS employee speak the common Catholic language, whereas my superiors back in Baltimore told me that I would change my thinking about the way we should approach AIDS prevention – that I’d begin to oppose Church teachings – once I spent yet more time in Africa.

That Caritas’ new motto, “One Human Family – Zero Poverty” – platitudinous, vapid, quintessentially secular-NGO-ish – also doubles as the title of their strategic plan for the next four years should dispel any notion that striking reforms will occur overnight. “Business as usual”, it’s fair to surmise, will prevail within many of the Caritas member agencies for some time to come.

If reform is really to happen, I’d suggest briefly that two concrete things need to be addressed. First, charitable agencies will have to revisit the extent to which they seek public funds. A considerable portion of staff time revolves around the government’s aid agenda, which naturally diverts time and energy away from pursuing other needs or worthy initiatives.

Even when collaboration on given projects does not constitute an unacceptable level of material cooperation with morally objectionable practices, dependence on public funds all too easily tends to make the charity’s priorities nearly synonymous with those of the state. In other words, the Catholic charitable agency needs to be on guard against becoming merely a sub-contractor to a “donor” that holds a fundamentally different anthropological, much less theological, vision.

Routine participation in government-sponsored aid programs seems even less appealing anyway, in some cases, considering their repeated failures to deliver even material “development.” Besides, forgoing some publically funded opportunities does not mean other opportunities would not open up. Highly committed, wealthy donors who presently shy away from giving to some Catholic charities would, and do, contribute greatly to distinctively Catholic causes. In this light, Cardinal Sarah’s belief that great things are in store if only Caritas would rely on Benedict XVI’s encyclical on charity, Deus Caritas Est, as its own Magna Carta rings true from both a spiritual and practical perspective.

Since many Caritas member employees are unfamiliar with or unsympathetic to the contents of Magisterial teaching, however, the second and probably more important thing charitable agencies need to do is revisit how they approach hiring and developing staff. Perhaps this needs little explanation other than restating the truism that “personnel is policy.” When those in charge of programming for a country or region are not Catholic, or are aloof Catholics, their priorities tend to gravitate towards those of the governmental donors and wider NGO “community,” especially if presiding over “growth” is what gets you ahead within the agency.

If an agency is presently more comfortable addressing “climate change”(or is it “climate justice”?) than proactively promoting what Benedict XVI has long called the “non-negotiables,” how will they attract the next generation of leaders with the minds and hearts capable of carrying out the necessary reforms? Since graduates of elite universities and professionals at secular aid agencies often view prospective employers (CRS, World Bank, Red Cross, etc.) in their field as interchangeable, recruiting from such pools, as is now customary, seems part of the problem.

Addressing these matters may be a tall order – a really long-term proposition. But I suspect that if they are not tackled in a deliberate way by individual Caritas agencies, Benedict’s original and enlightening vision of charity will be a dead letter in Catholic relief circles. That would be a pity – and a great loss for peoples around the world.

The “non-negotiables” may represent sources of contention between Catholics and the rest of the “development community”, but they are, in fact, nothing short of indispensible to authentic human development. Catholic charities need to be led by people who really believe that.

Matthew Hanley is, with Jokin de Irala, M.D., the author of Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS: What Africa Can Teach the West, available now from the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

©2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Retrieved June 17, 2011 from

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Intrinsically Evil

Gendercide Recognition
Marcus Roberts | 15 Jun 2011 |

At the beginning of this month, Members of the US Congress, demographers and representatives from human rights organizations got together in Washington DC to “launch an effort to end the gendercide of girls”. The humanitarian organization All Girls Allowed (its website is hosted a film showing and press conference, demographers presented research to Member of Congress showing the link between war and a “male youth bulge” (something we've covered on this blog here), while the economic, trade and currency valuation implications of such a gender imbalance in India and China were discussed.

The point of all of this was to “proclaim one truth that everyone agrees on: Gendercide – the systemic elimination of a particular gender – is wrong.”

I would hope that everyone agrees with that statement, especially when one remembers the worrying facts about China’s and India’s gender imbalances. In China the at-birth gender ratio of boys to girls has increased from 106:100 in 1979 to 120:100 today, largely as a result of the one-child policy. There are now 37 million more men than women in China according to government figures. In India the problem is just as serious as cultural preferences for boys see both the abortion of female fetuses and the neglect and killing of baby girls that were lucky enough to survive the womb.

However, this is not just a problem in the world’s two most populous nations. According to the book Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, by Beijing-based journalist Mara Hvistendahl, this is a problem that extends throughout South and Central Asia and into the Caucuses. Indeed, according to Hvistendahl, by now Asia as a whole is “missing” 163 million females – an immense number.

I would have thought that these numbers, these statistics and the mere fact that parents are killing their children on the basis of that child's sex (due to cultural, financial or governmental pressure) would be horrific enough to not need any further arguments to justify speaking out against it. That is why I thought it was a little sad that Chai Ling, the founder of All Girls Allowed felt that she had to include the following argument to bolster her case:
"It's important for world leaders to see gendercide is not just a women's rights issue, but it also leads to trade imbalance, insecurity and a threat to peace" .

I am sure that that is all true, but shouldn't the argument simply be: gendercide is wrong because female babies (born and unborn) are either being killed or left to die! Full stop. Quod erat demonstrandum. Surely world leaders should not then ask: "Yes, but what are the likely outcomes of this?"

Some things are wrong not because of their consequences, but because they intrinsically are wrong. Gendercide is one of those things. Thus, gendercide will be wrong even if you think its consequences are good, perhaps because it is furthering China's one child policy and helping to curb China's (and the world's) population. If world leaders cannot see that, and will only agree that it is wrong because its consequences are undesirable, then that is a very worrying state of affairs indeed.

Retrieved June 15, 2011 from

The High Priest of Civic Religions

By George J. Marlin

From the French Jacobins of the eighteenth century to today’s environmentalists and other ideologues dedicated to instructing people how to conduct their daily lives, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) has been the favorite of trendsetters because he popularized the cult of nature, the getaway country home, rural simplicity, outdoor exercise and sports, fresh air, walks through the woods, and the cold bath. But especially the sovereign self, which he also manages to combine with the oppressive state.

Rousseau believed he was a servant of the people dedicated to directing mankind toward happiness. When it came to daily contact with his fellow man, however, he was an open narcissist. (“I feel too superior to hate,” “I love myself too much to hate anybody.”) Yet he treated his mistresses badly and his five illegitimate children were condemned at birth to the dreaded Paris orphanage system where the life-expectancy for two-thirds of the boarders was less than a year. One scholar has colorfully summed up Rousseau as a “masochist, exhibitionist, neurasthenic, hypochondriac, onanist … incipient paranoiac, introvert … infantilist, irritable and miserly.”

Born in Geneva and raised as a Calvinist, for a short time, Rousseau became a Catholic in order to receive financial support from a wealthy French noblewoman. Studying daily life in the France’sancien régime, he concluded society – i.e., “cosmopolitanism” – was the root of all evil. Civilization for Rousseau was not the patient accumulation of knowledge and skills, but the new original sin, an all-consuming cancer. The history of civil society was the story of “human sickness.”

Reversing the Christian story of the Fall, Rousseau argued that we are in our original state of nature inherently good – it is society that corrupts us. Social institutions, private property, wealth, luxuries, competition, social standing were unnatural and compelled men to be bad. He preferred communal living conditions that he believed were found in tribal life and ancient patriarchal families.

Assuming men would not willing return to their primitive state, Rousseau called for a new social contract whereby individuals – contrary to the sovereign freedom he accords them in other places in his work – would subordinate their rights and judgment to the needs and judgments of the entire community. The sovereign power would not be placed in one ruler but in the Volonté générale – the sacred and supreme General Will: “Let all surrender their will, their goods, their person, under the contract of the general will.” Despite his own self-indulgence and paeans to self-expressiveness, social virtue for Rousseau was, oddly, the conformity of particular wills with the General Will.

Under that scheme, each person would be both a citizen and a subject. The citizen participates in the supreme authority and the subject submits to the supreme authority of the General Will. The General Will delegates power to executives mandated to create harmony by social engineering that eliminates evil interests, biases, prejudices, and bad habits. Submitting to these decrees, Rousseau argued will preserve true freedom. Blind obedience “forces [man] to be free.”
There is no room for Catholicism in Rousseau’s society. We don’t need the help of Christ or his Church to lead a good life because each man “is the infallible judge of good and evil which renders man like unto God.” Of course, at the same time, the Rousseauvian state functions like a church of a different kind and limitless scope.

Seeking a celestial afterlife and not an earthly paradise renders Catholics unworthy of citizenship, according to Rousseau. Because of their divided loyalties, Catholics are evil agents undermining the state: “Whoever dares to say ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation’ ought to be driven from the state unless the state is the Church and the prince is the pontiff.”

Rousseau was the founder of an anti-Christian civic religion that substituted service to the state for service to God. And rejection of his civic religion was not to be tolerated:
There is then a purely civil profession of faith, of which the sovereign must fix the articles, not as religious dogmas, but as social sentiments without which it is impossible to be a faithful citizen or subject…. While the state can compel no one to believe them, it can banish him, not for impiety, but as an antisocial being, incapable of truly loving the laws and justice, and of sacrificing, at need, his life to his duty. If anyone, after publicly recognizing these dogmas, behaves as if he does not believe them, let him be punished by death.

Rousseau’s creed, which put moral and civic order in the hands of the infallible state, laid the groundwork for totalitarian rule. His earliest converts were the Jacobins who established a dictatorship in France ten years after his death. They named Rousseau one of the revolution’s gods and placed his ashes in the Pantheon – their civic temple. The masses were instructed to venerate Rousseau instead of the saints and his clothes and books were treated as relics.

Rousseau was one of many figures who prepared the way for the disintegration of the West and the horrors of the twentieth century by breaking the link between God and the natural rights of man. Communists, fascists, and Nazis looked to him to justify the new kind of state that brooked no opposition and imposed ideological policies that glorified the collective. The result was predictable: the slaughter of tens of millions of innocent human persons.

George J. Marlin is an editor of The Quotable Fulton Sheen and the author of The American Catholic Voter.

© 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to:
Retrieved June 15, 2011 from

Friday, June 3, 2011

Go Magyars! Europe's Bright Spot

Bryan P. Bradley | Thursday, 2 June 2011

Post-post-modernism advances in Europe
Hungary's “iPad constitution” is the latest challenge to secularist, anti-family trends in Europe.

In case you had not noticed, Hungary has a whopper of a new constitution that is giving the European Union and other international organizations something to think (and gripe) about. Critics call the text's reference to Christian heritage and its emphasis on strong families a dangerous blast from the past. A debate in the civil liberties committee of the European Parliament has been scheduled for next week and it promises to be quite acrimonious.

But Hungary's popular ruling parties, who famously drafted most of the document on an iPad, are convinced they are moving forward from the outdated, self-centered secularist ideologies that – look around! they say – are leading societies to a cultural, demographic and economic dead end. The future, if there is to be one, lies in promoting human dignity and economic responsibility.
“Hungary can be said to have rejected the post-modern model of society,” the Strasbourg-based European Centre for Law and Justice wrote last week in a memorandum on the new Hungarian Constitution. The Central European nation is not alone, the report notes, in distancing itself from the relativistic, anti-Christian and anti-family ideas that have come to dominate European policymaking in recent decades, but which conflict with many people's understanding of human rights, social welfare and national identity.

The Parliament in Budapest adopted the new Fundamental Law of Hungary on April 18 by a vote of 262 to 44. President Pal Schmitt endorsed it a week later to take effect from the start of 2012.

After a preamble that proudly “acknowledges the role that Christianity has played in preserving our nation”, the constitution proceeds, among other things, to declare human life worthy of protection from the moment of conception, define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, urge protection of the institution of the family “as the basis for survival of the nation”, prohibit “practices aimed at eugenics”, ban human trafficking, espouse protection of the environment and biodiversity, and set strict limits on the level of the national debt.

Ideology and democracy
Not everyone is edified or convinced by this act of moral leadership on the part of the country currently holding the EU's rotating presidency. Amnesty International expressed deep concern that the new Hungarian Constitution “violates international and European human rights standards”, in particular, “the rights of women and girls” to have abortions, the rights of same-sex couples “to marry” and “found a family”, and the rights of lesbians, bisexuals, gays and transvestites to be explicitly named in constitutional bans on discrimination. The rights group's four-page statement only dedicates a couple of sentences to concerns about one provision not linked to gender or sex -- Hungarian courts would be allowed to give non-parole life sentences for some prisoners.

These and other complaints have also been voiced within some EU institutions, especially by members of the European Parliament. The Council of Europe last month sent experts to Budapest to explore details of the constitution and prepare a report for the body's Parliamentary Assembly in June. Some question the legitimacy of the process by which the Fundamental Law was drafted. Prime Minister Viktor Orban's center-right Fidesz party and its coalition partners, the Christian Democrats, hold a two-thirds majority in parliament, which allowed them to adopt the constitution without any opposition support. Critics accuse the government of an authoritarian bent, especially in light of a media law it promoted which is seen by many as overly restrictive. The new constitution is one more example of this trend, they say. There are also claims that the government's patriotic rhetoric masks nationalistic intentions and that it is lax about protecting minorities like the Roma and migrants.

In an assessment earlier this month of developments in Hungary the Population Research Institute, a US-based human rights research group, takes note of the potential civil liberties issues but concludes that “while the new constitution may not be perfect, it is the best on the European continent right now.”

The government, for its part, says its massive election victory in April 2010 was a mandate for radical action to purge Hungarian society from remaining communist-era influences, reclaim the country's historical identity and values, and complete its transition to a modern democracy. And indeed, voters seem satisfied. The latest poll projects the ruling alliance would get 56 percent of the vote support if elections were held now, enough to retain its two-thirds majority in parliament. A distant second place, with just 18 percent of votes, would go to the Socialist Party. More than a third of respondents in the survey named Orban as Hungary's best prime minister since the end of communism in 1990, expressing particular satisfaction with his ability to defend Hungary's interests in the European arena.

Not alone
In fact, many European countries seem increasingly keen to defend their own identity, values and interests against “post-modern” impositions by international institutions and lobby groups. MercatorNet wrote in 2009 about a new Lithuanian law prohibiting public dissemination of information aimed at promoting non-heterosexual relations. The European Parliament condemned the law as discriminatory and proposed sanctions. Lithuania appealed to the European Court of Justice, which ultimately agreed that the European Parliament had overstepped the bounds of its competence and intruded into a democratic country’s legislative sovereignty.

Several recent cases at the European Court of Human Rights are also quite illustrative. An obvious example is the Italian crucifix case (Lautsi v. Italy), in which 21 European states backed Italy's ultimately prevailing stand that the display of crucifixes in public schools does not violate anyone's human rights. In a June 2010 ruling, the Court upheld Austria's right “to restrict access to marriage to different-sex couples”. In December 2010, it refused to overrule restrictions on abortions in Ireland. In January of this year, the Court judged that Switzerland did not have to ensure that a sick person wishing to commit suicide could obtain a lethal substance to be able to end his life without pain. Currently the Court is preparing to rule on whether Austria can legitimately ban ova donation by third parties for use in artificial insemination. And in another pending case, Poland is fighting a demand that it guarantee prenatal screening at a mother's request for purposes of deciding whether or not to have an abortion.

Through such legal challenges, countries are forcing a return to reasoned argumentation and universal principles of law, rather than ideological rhetoric as the basis for social policies. In consequence, both national and international institutions gradually are recognizing, as the European Centre for Law and Justice puts it, that “secularism is one 'belief' among many and... is not the obligatory pattern of the future Europe,” and – as more broadly evidenced by Hungary's new Constitution – that “the postmodern model of society is no longer compulsory in Europe.”

Bryan P. Bradley is an American-born freelance writer based in Vilnius, Lithuania, where he has lived and worked since 1994. He has reported on economic, political and cultural issues in the Baltic region for a number of international news agencies, including Bloomberg and Reuters.

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