Thursday, December 29, 2011

Monumental Kitsch: Cornelius Sullivan on the Statue of JP II in Front of Rome Train Station

Blessed Papa Wojtyla as Capeman

June 30, 2011
The statue of Pope John Paul II stands in front of Termini Station.


 ROME -- The Statue of Pope John Paul II in front of the train station in Rome does not represent the man we came to know so intimately. It is an unrecognizable man with a cape, it is monumental kitsch art. I will explain why. Pope John Paul II was seen and recognized by more people than any other person in history. For a sculpture of him to not bear his likeness is bizarre like a bad joke.

 I did not read the article right away with the headline “Sculpture of Pope John Paul II Slammed” because I thought it was just about another blasphemous piece in a museum like the one of the pope crushed by a meteorite.  At least I don’t have to go to that particular museum to be insulted by it but I will go by the train station many times and will be forced to see Man with Cape.

 Maybe the pope as a pin head with the gesture of a flasher was not meant to be blasphemous, but most viewers agree it is ugly. When I say this I don’t want to be disrespectful to the pope. It is just that images and gestures do have meanings independent of intentions. If we are not cognizant of what they are, we can be duped.

 The Associated Press article of a month ago told of the Vatican’s dislike of the statue because it did not resemble the pope and how many citizens said it looked more like Mussolini.
 Let’s analyze what the sculptor tried to do. The best that one can say about the work is that it bears a superficial resemblance to Early Modern Italian sculpture and for example, the work of Giocomo Manzu known for his Doors of Death across the river at Saint Peter’s Basilica. Manzu successfully abstracted figures but he retained their humanity and he could draw.

 Because he could draw, his figures have truth and his portraits of Pope John XXIII are recognizable and give us the man. Manzu and his colleagues of the time, like Marino Marrini and others, were so excited to wield form in a free way and reveal properties of the material, the flow of clay, and the reflective sheen of bronze. But they retained the classical discipline of drawing.

 It is not as if Blessed John Paul did not give us a super abundance of gestures, gestures from the trained and always appropriate actor. There were so many gestures of blessing, so many gestures of caring and listening. He showed to countless people, and they have testified, that he thought they were all that mattered to him at that moment.

The extended cape to enclose the faithful is dreadful because it means nothing even though it has an anecdotal base. I was once asked to make a sculpture of the Blessed Virgin with children of all different races and colors under her mantle. I said I would not do that. It is not good art because it has no human meaning. A political ideology can never translate so directly into sculptural form. Kitsch hits you over the head with an inane idea. It lacks subtlety. A good explanation is what a theologian friend said recently, “It’s like a used car salesman putting his hand on your knee.”

              Maurizio Cattelan's sculpture sold for 3 million dollars

The interesting thing about the blasphemous work of Pope John Paul II being crushed by a meteorite by Maurizio Cattelan, La Nona Ora, 1999, (exhibited at Royal Academy, London, sold at Christies for three million dollars), is that the plastic exact replica of the Pope stooped and falling is indeed how we all saw him die. He showed us how to die as his mentor, Jesus Christ, did. Who knows what his being crushed by the big rock is supposed to mean?  It becomes very expensive kitsch because it serves a political point of view.

 In a similar way, the famous work of 1987 by Adres Serrano, Piss Christ was made to shock hence the title. The little crucifix in a jar of urine offended many. Without the title, if you just viewed the photograph, the photograph is the artwork, you would see a crucifix bathed in streaming golden light. Art critic Lucy Lippard writes, “…it is a darkly beautiful photographic image… the small wood and plastic crucifix becomes virtually monumental as it floats, photographically enlarged, in a deep rosy glow that is both ominous and glorious." If you did not know the title, you would not be offended. But why did he do it?  Why does Serrano throw something in our face and on our belief?

 The sculptor flying cape maker has stumbled upon an image that has an ambiguous meaning and at the same time fails the Modernist’s test for interesting form. You see it once, you got it all. There are no subtleties to discover, don’t hope it will get better with time. And to bad it’s bronze, that indestructible metal of importance. This piece of sculpture will never acquire the charm and magic of any of the marble talking statues in the city, like the Pasquino. They weather, people write on them, they are like us in the city and don’t call attention to themselves with a set apart monumentality, and they don’t hit us on the head with a one note message.

I have cited two works of art that were made expressly to offend. With fondness I show two sculptures, the Manzu relief, and the Pasquino, two works that have become part of the integral fabric of the city. They have evolved organically and were not products of the government foisting something not right upon the citizens.

It is not good that artists work alone today. That is the only explanation of how this awkward sculpture could have happened. Would that a peer, a friend, had said early on “Lose the cape it’s a bad idea”. Artists did not always work in isolation.

"The most remarkable meeting of Renaissance artists ever recorded, arguably the most extraordinary encounter of its kind in history, occurred on January 25, 1504, when some two dozen painters, sculptors, artisans, and architects were convened to take up the question of the appropriate location for Michelangelo's all but finished David." Three Worlds of Michelangelo,  James Beck, 1999 p 123.

On the committee were Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli. There were no lawyers, no politicians, and no hobbyists. Peer involvement guaranteed quality.

This sculpture of the pope represents the antithesis of the dignity of the individual human person as articulated in Blessed Pope John Paul’s Theology of the Body. From a writer friend who always gets to the essence of things - “It's pretty awful---it's Marxist art---the attempt to meld the individual into the collective---and so, it's ugly because it's false.”

Copyright (c) 2011 by Edmund Cornelius Sullivan

Fr. Barron on Christopher Hitchens

Retrieved December 29, 2011 from Fr. Barron's Word on Fire website

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why “Merry Christmas” beats “Season’s Greetings”

I know it is already the third day of Christmas, but I just read this excellent essay by Michael Cook.  We should not be so ready to abandon the whole of Christian civilization in the same of some vague attempt to be pc, inoffensive to anyone, or because of a desperately misplaced belief in the superiority of paganism, ancient or modern.

Michael Cook | Tuesday, 20 December 2011
7 reasons why “Merry Christmas” will always beat “Season’s Greetings”

Don’t let Grinches steal your Christmas by substituting meaningless slogans.

Let’s imagine for a moment that Christmas had never happened and that the Roman Emperor Aurelian had succeeded in establishing the feast of Sol Invictus on December 25 back in the year 274 AD.

Instead of Christmas, we would have had the Feast of the Unconquered Sun. At this time of year, just after the winter solstice, the lantern beaming light and heat hangs low in the sky; the days are dark and cold. But day by day it climbs back, infallibly reaching its fiery zenith at the summer solstice six months later. Yay! Way to go! This god has won more rounds than Manny Pacquiao! 

Had this happened, the colourless salutation “Season’s Greetings” might have conveyed something vaguely meaningful, especially if you’re shivering in the northern hemisphere. Something like: gor blimey, I can’t handle this brass monkey weather, but let’s hang in there and may the gods grant us a good harvest.”

It’s a hopeful sentiment, but not an inspiring one, a bit like the experience of eating tofu and celery sticks for Christmas dinner instead of tucking into mince pies and roast turkey. The sun rises and the sun sets; seasons come and seasons go. Whatever good or evil men do, the sun shines on them all alike with a divine indifference. For devotees of Sol Invictus, “Season’s Greetings” would have been a token of our inevitable submission to fate. This was the popular wisdom of the ancient world – from which Christmas has rescued us.

Whether or not you accept the Christian theological beliefs which underpin the celebration of Christmas, they have transformed Western society and they are in the process of transforming nations far from Bethlehem. Christmas, that is, the celebration of the moment in which the all-powerful creator of the Universe took on human flesh and entered human history, sends powerful, if unspoken, messages. Here are seven which are implicitly conveyed when we wish friends a “Merry Christmas”.

God cares. “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, — They kill us for their sport.” This comes from King Lear, but it is the wisdom of paganism. Life’s a bitch, and then you die. What the Incarnation, as the theologians call the act of God becoming man, shows for all time is that the Creator cares about his creatures. As the carol says, “and he feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth in our gladness.” Jupiter, on the other hand, when presented with complaints about our sadness would probably say something like, “Yeah, whatever. Get over it. Stuff happens, you know.”

History matters. The ancients believed in the myth of the eternal recurrence, that history was not linear, but cyclic. Their cosmic fate was to live imprisoned in cycles which end in fire and then return in a new cycle, playing the same role over and over again. Its symbol is the dragon devouring its tail. But the implication of the Incarnation is that history is moving towards a climax which begins at Bethlehem. Our own participation in history makes a difference.

All men are fundamentally equal. We can get used to Christmas paintings of the manger, in which shepherds are rubbing shoulders with the Magi as they peer over Joseph’s shoulder. But the implications of this setting are immense. “With the poor, the scorned, the lowly, lived on earth our Saviour holy”: before the infant in the lowly cattle shed, distinctions of talent, rank and education are insignificant. All men are brothers.

Families are the cornerstone of society. Bethlehem suggested the ideal to which Christian families should aspire: a father and mother doting on their child, willing to make any sacrifice for his welfare. But the homely tenderness of this scene was virtually unknown in the ancient world. The Greeks and Romans were not strangers to domestic affection, but this was not the paradigm of their families. Without Christmas we would never have had the bubbly, loving warmth of the Cratchit family made famous in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Women have dignity. No women appear in Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. There are famous women in ancient history, but most of them are queens and empresses like Cleopatra and Zenobia. In Bethlehem, a simple village girl, Mary, is the central figure. Kings bow in homage to her and her child. In the Christian tradition, capacity for motherhood gives women an incomparable dignity. As Cristina Rossetti’s marvellous poem (and carol) says,

Angels and archangels
  May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
  Thronged the air,
But only His mother
  In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
  With a kiss.

Children are special. The ancient world defined children by their powerlessness; they were just underdeveloped adults. But Bethlehem suggests that we should treasure their innocence and dependence. “Once in Royal David’s City” is a Victorian carol, but it expresses it nicely:
For he is our childhood's pattern,
day by day like us he grew;
he was little, weak and helpless,
tears and smiles like us he knew.
The fact that a defenceless child is the centre of the Christmas story also means that men and women are not to be valued by how productive they are, but simply because they are with us and share in a common nature. In the Gospel account this is underscored by the sequel to the Nativity, the Massacre of the Innocents by the vicious tyrant Herod.

We should send more Christmas cards. Western art was born on Christmas Day. We take for granted the human drama depicted on Christmas cards. But in other cultures, art was meant to be a faint reflection of unchanging, inalterable divinity. That’s why statues of Buddha depict him in a few stylised postures. Even Greek and Roman art presented idealised figures and seldom depicted ordinary life.

But art of the Christian era is based upon an altogether different philosophy: that all of human life has dignity because the Child of Bethlehem is both God and Man. Since then, everything in human life carries within it a spark of divinity and becomes a worthy subject for an artist. What sort of greeting cards would we have if the cult of Sol Invictus had survived? Probably much like we have now: images of snow-bound homes or decorative calligraphy. But nothing human, affectionate and tender.

So there you have seven reasons to say “Merry Christmas” with greater gusto in 2011. Let’s defy miserabilist Grinches who want to banish it from public life.

In any case, all this has happened before. Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas in England. In the 1640s the Long Parliament decreed that no holy days other than Sundays were to be celebrated. December 25 was to be observed with fasting and humiliation for the sins of countrymen who had turned the day into a feast, sinfully “giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights”. Shops and market were to be kept open for trading. Parliament was to meet for business on December 25. Christmas, said the Puritans, was a pestilent popish festival with no Biblical justification.

However, Cromwell failed to convert Merrie England to miserabilism. As soon as Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, the Christmas bans were swept away. Mirth, mistletoe and plum pudding returned and the Christmas fast vanished. The reason for the season was no longer treason. Merry Christmas and "God bless us every one!"
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 
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Retrieved December 27, 2011 from

Ancient carol from Cyprus composed by Romanos the Melodist 6th century

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Day

LUCIANO PAVAROTTI - Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle by Saint Alfonsus Maria de' Liguori

 by Saint Alfonsus Maria de' Liguori

Here are the lyrics to Tu scendi dalle stelle from Italy, in Italian and with an English translation…
Tu scendi dalle stelle
Tu scendi dalle stelle
O Re del Cielo
E vieni in una grotta
Al freddo al gelo.
E vieni in una grotta
Al freddo al gelo.
O Bambino mio Divino
Io ti vedo qui a tremar,
O Dio Beato
Ah, quanto ti costò
L’avermi amato.
Ah, quanto ti costò
L’avermi amato.
A te che sei del mondo,
Il creatore
Mancano panni e fuoco,
O mio Signore.
Mancano panni e fuoco,
O mio Signore.
Caro eletto, Pargoletto,
Quanto questa povertà,
Piu m’innamora
Giacche ti fece amor
Povero ancora.
Giacche ti fece amor
Povero ancora.
Here’s a rough English translation of Tu scendi dalle stelle by Monique Palomares…
You Come Down from the Stars
You come down from the stars
Oh King of Heavens,
And you come in a cave
In the cold, in the frost.
And you come in a cave
In the cold, in the frost.
Oh my Divine Baby
I see you trembling here,
Oh Blessed God,
Ah, how much it cost you,
Your loving me.
Ah, how much it cost you,
Your loving me.
For you, who are of all the world
The creator,
No robes and fire,
Oh my Lord.
No robes and fire,
Oh my Lord.
Dear chosen one, little infant
This dire poverty,
Makes me love you more
Since Love made you
Poor now.
Since Love made you
Poor now.
Text and translation retrieved December 24, 2011 from

Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (September 27, 1696 – August 1, 1787), composer of this favorite Italian Christmas carol,  was an Italian bishop, spiritual writer, scholastic philosopher and theologian, and founder of the Redemptorists, an influential religious congregation. He was canonized in 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI. Pope Pius IX proclaimed him a Doctor of the Church in 1871. 

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Blaming the Jews - Again

Blaming the Jews—Again
8:52 AM, Dec 20, 2011 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS

If you were an anti-Semite dedicated to spreading your hatred of Jews, what charges exactly would you make in 21st century America?
You would avoid the blood libel—too medieval to write of sacrificing Christian children to make Passover matzo.  That kind of stuff circulates in Arab lands or Pakistan, but won’t sell in suburban America.  And the “Christ-killer” material is also dated, what with Vatican II, Evangelical support for Israel, and the like.

There are two charges you would make. First, the rich Jews control our government. Second, those Jews are trying to push America into war so your sons will have to fight for Israel.

In the last week that is exactly what we have seen. First came the Thomas Friedman column in the New York Times: “I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Perhaps it was jealousy from seeing Walt and Mearsheimer sell all those books with this line, but Friedman here tips right into the swamps.

And now we have Joe Klein, in Time magazinein a section accurately entitled “Swampland”: “Iowa Republicans are not neoconservatives. Ron Paul has gained ground after a debate in which his refusal to join the Iran warhawks was front and center. Indeed, in my travels around the country, I don’t meet many neoconservatives outside of Washington and New York. It’s one thing to just adore Israel, as the evangelical Christians do; it’s another thing entirely to send American kids off to war, yet again, to fight for Israel’s national security.”   READ MORE

Retrieved December 21, 2011 from

Pew Forum on the Global Demographics of Christianity

A new Pew Forum demographic study of more than 200 countries finds that there are 2.18 billion Christians of all ages around the world, representing nearly a third of the estimated 2010 global population of 6.9 billion. Christians are also geographically widespread - so far-flung, in fact, that no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.

Christian Demography
Marcus Roberts | 21 Dec 2011 |
In the lead up to Christmas, the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life has released a report on the demographic breakdown of Christianity in the world.  The report can be found here on the Pew website and comes with interactive maps and even a quiz.  Some of the more interesting findings is that there are about 2.2 billion Christians in the world – nearly a third of Earth’s population.  This proportion is roughly similar to that occupied by Christians in 1910.  The largest change in the last century has been the physical spread of Christianity throughout the world. In 1910, the centre of Christianity was clearly Europe where two-thirds of Christians lived. Instead:

“...[t]oday, only about a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (26%). A plurality – more than a third – now are in the Americas (37%). About one in every four Christians lives in sub-Saharan Africa (24%), and about one-in-eight is found in Asia and the Pacific (13%)...Although Europe and the Americas still are home to a majority of the world’s Christians (63%), that share is much lower than it was in 1910 (93%). And the proportion of Europeans and Americans who are Christian has dropped from 95% in 1910 to 76% in 2010 in Europe as a whole, and from 96% to 86% in the Americas as a whole.”

Christianity is today, as the report summarizes, truly a global faith.  It is also diverse theologically:
“About half are Catholic. Protestants, broadly defined, make up 37%. Orthodox Christians comprise 12% of Christians worldwide. Other Christians, such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, make up the remaining 1% of the global Christian population.”

Half of the world’s Christians live in ten countries, and the United States is still the largest Christian country in terms of absolute amount of professing Christians.  

There is a wealth of other information on the Pew website for you to look at, but the main point I took from it was that Christianity isn’t dying as a religion in terms of numbers, but it is spreading more widely and to every country in the world.

Retrieved December 21, 2011 from

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Benedict’s Christocentrism: Realities of a Primary Order | First Things

Benedict’s Christocentrism: Realities of a Primary Order
Pope Benedict XVI will be 85 years old next April and, while the pontiff is fully in his wits, we can see a loss of weight; it is reported that he feels a quite understandable fatigue born of pain, age, and heavy responsibility. A few days ago the Associated Press, noting “a decline” in the Holy Father, immediately focused on “. . .questions about the future of the papacy given that Benedict himself has said popes should resign if they can’t do the job.”

One gets the impression that the drama-hungry press would love to see Benedict step down, both for the sheer novelty of it (the last pope to resign was Gregory XII, in 1415) and for the narrative reinforcement such a move would lend to utilitarian philosophies lately in vogue, especially among those medical and economic planners for whom a person’s usefulness is a primary measure by which both cash and care are dispensed. READ MORE
Benedict’s Christocentrism: Realities of a Primary Order | First Things

Friday, December 16, 2011

Song for a baby girl in China

Must-watch video: If kids are so damn expensive why does our China need a one-child policy?
Singer Chuanzi (real name 姜亚川 Jiang Yachuan) was a troubled teen who ended up in jail. But after being released, he forged a new career as an entertainer. When he appeared on China’s Got Talent with his singing dog “Dudu” he became an instant hit. “Zheng Qianhua” is one of his best known songs. It's about a new father who names his daughter “Zheng Qianhua,” which literally means, “to earn the money to spend.”
“I have a friend surnamed Zheng who was very happy at the birth of his daughter. He wanted me to help him write a song for her. So I asked him what her name was, he said Zheng Qianhua. I was so surprised I didn’t believe it, but he swore it was true. And he wanted me to write his daughter into a song. My friend has guts, and I promised him I would, so I wrote ‘Zheng Qianhua.’”
It's a simple song, but its economic analysis is faultless. In other countries birthrates have sunk far below China's -- without the repressive, inhumane, unspeakably cruel, one-child policy.

Retrieved December 16, 2011 from

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Perpetual adolescence on display in San Francisco

Paul Adams | Friday, 16 December 2011

Perpetual adolescence goes on display in San Francisco

In America's capital of the weird breaking the world record for naked Santas is no big deal. But it says a lot about the death of childhood.

SantaFor some time now, I have been following the extensive travels and adventures of a very interesting fellow I know primarily through Facebook via my daughter – social networking in action.  A researcher at a UK think tank, he was educated in Bombay/Mumbai, he is an Indian Anglophile who describes himself as a “High Tory.”

Those he admires range from apostles and saints to Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill and one of my own contemporary favorites, Theodore Dalrymple.  He describes his religious views as “Evangelical within the Anglo-Catholic Tradition. Think Wilberforce.”

This little bit of background helps explain the horror of my friend’s experience recently in San Francisco, which he describes on his Facebook page under the heading, My American Horror Story:

As I walked past one of the many parks in San Francisco this afternoon, expecting nothing out of the ordinary to happen, I found myself drawn to the kaleidoscopic sight of thousands of Bay Area residents, young and old, dressed as Santa Clauses, and so glorious a sight the reds and whites made as they moved constantly upon the motionless green that my curiosity and aesthetophilia led me to walk right to the epicentre of it all to record the moment on film. 

As the clock struck three, a mighty gong was sounded, and before I knew it, the crowd burst into an uproar, the thousands taking off absolutely all of their clothes and screaming "Merry Christmas!" TO MY UTTER HORROR! As if that were not enough, the event was captured by photographers from nearly every Californian news publication! So if you stumble upon articles that read "Naked Santas go for Guinness World Record in San Francisco" and see photographs of a startled-beyond-belief chap totally out of place in his blazer, chinos and cardigan and who resembles me, please pause for a moment and say a prayer for my conservative and Christian soul that has been greatly troubled today. 

In other news, "the City by the Bay" made sure I was scandalized in countless unspeakable ways, and I am surprised that despite all the harsh cultural terrains my rather timid soul has had to patiently and bravely traverse through today, I still found the city to be perhaps my favorite in America - perhaps the overflow of crab chowder at the Fisherman's Wharf did the trick.

In response to the amusement his story elicited from friends imagining the shocked look on his face, he comments, “Yes, do note the point that I was in the middle of it all, which meant that I had to navigate my way to the street through hordes of screaming naked liberals!”

Two less amusing points struck me about this incongruous scene.  First is that this er, exhibition—though not very shocking or hostile by comparison—stands in the line of blasphemous art intended to shock the faithful.  It reminds me of one anti-Christian artist’s response to a question about why he only creates blasphemous works to outrage Christians and never Muslims.  He said it was because he didn’t want to get his throat cut.  We can imagine the response if the exhibitionists had chosen to mock a much-loved figure of Islamic tradition.

There is something very tired and tiresome about this kind of offensiveness that barely offends any more.  It is a reflection of the loss of religious seriousness and sensibility in the contemporary West as well as of the perpetual adolescence of those who still seek to scandalize the bourgeois (unless they are Muslim) long after their ‘art’ and antics have ceased to shock.

Now there is no suggestion in my friend’s account that the ‘naked liberals’ he encountered were personally of the Sixties generation, but the spirit of perpetual adolescence or ‘senile avantgardism’ certainly lives on in San Francisco.

It would be wrong, however, to focus too much on the anti-Christian aspect of the self-display of naked Santas in San Francisco.  Santa himself has become so secularized, having so completely lost a felt connection to the historical St. Nicholas or the Christian story of Incarnation and salvation, that parodies of him, say at office parties,  are mere symptoms, not causes, of the degradation of Christmas in our culture.

The second, perhaps more disturbing aspect of this event is the way it mocks a cherished part of children’s experience of the Christmas holiday.  The senile avant-gardism here characteristically makes a mockery of family and childhood.  Children and their traditions have no place in this world.

It is the world of what Kay Hymowitz calls the ‘child-man’ phenomenon.  It is an expression of men's loss of the life script that previously guided the transition to male adulthood via marriage and career.  It is the world of immature men portrayed in Seinfeld and by Will Ferrell, with its sort-of female equivalent in Sex and the City.  It is a world of autonomous adults and casual sex unencumbered by children or responsible parenthood.

It was a celebration of a world without children, of what the recent report on The Revolution in Parenthood calls the worldwide trends in law and reproductive technologies that are leading to a redefinition of “parenthood in ways that put the interests of adults before the needs of children.”

Paul Adams recently retired from teaching social work at the University of Hawai’i. He blogs at Ethics, Culture and Policy.
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Retrieved December 15, 2011 from

Daniel Hannan, MEP on Eurocrats' Attitude to Their Constituents: FU

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Looking from man to pig

Looking from Man to Pig
Paul Adams

A new Australian website called The Conversation, oriented to the “university and research sector,” has an article today by Peter Cowan, Professor at the University of Melbourne and Co-director of the Immunology Research Centre at St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne.  Its title there is “Xenotransplantation: using pigs as organ and tissue donors for humans” but the excellent dignitarian site MercatorNet posts it under the wonderfully Orwellian title, “Will pigs usher in the next medical revolution?” 

The article draws attention to the shortage of human organ and tissue donors and the potential for using pigs, genetically modified to reduce rejection by human immune systems, to treat several diseases like diabetes. 
Why not use primates?
Humans are primates, so the obvious choice of donor animal for xenotransplantation would appear to be another member of the primate family (chimpanzees and baboons, for instance) because of their physiological similarity. But non-human primates have been ruled out as donors for several compelling practical and ethical reasons.
One of the risks to transplant recipients is infection by viruses transmitted by the transplanted organ. As our closest cousins in the animal kingdom, primates are more likely than other animals to carry viruses capable of infecting humans; HIV, the virus responsible for AIDS, originated in chimpanzees.
This “relatedness” also poses ethical problems, with the public understandably reluctant to exploit animals that share many features with humans. And even if you discount the ethical question, it’s hard to imagine being able to breed enough primates to meet the increasing demand for donor organs.
Professor Cowan does not explain how sharing many features with baboons constitutes an ethical problem with using them as “donors,” but he is doubtless right about the practical difficulties and the reluctance of the public—a nice understatement of the public relations nightmare that would ensue. 

All animals are equal but, as in the Stalinized dystopia of Orwell's Animal Farm, some animals are more equal than others.

A reader of The Conversation already raises this objection:
I don't see why this article accepts there are ethical issues with using primates, but doesn't see these same problems with using pigs. Pigs and primates are both sentient animals who feel pain and desire to avoid suffering and death - I don't believe there is any meaningful difference between using pigs and primates.
The problem, in short, is man. Here is Animal Farm’s revolutionary pig leader (not the vegetarian graduate sociology student who wrote the above):
Never listen when they tell you that Man and the animals have a common interest, that the prosperity of the one is the prosperity of the others. It is all lies. Man serves the interests of no creature except himself. And among us animals let there be perfect unity, perfect comradeship in the struggle. All men are enemies. All animals are comrades.

Still the research will go forward and pigs will be unwilling participants in the coming revolution.  How far the processes of combining pig and man will go remains to be seen, but already we can imagine a new kind of dystopian novel that would have to borrow Orwell’s ending:
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

Euthanasia: Thinly Veiled Propaganda Disguised as a Report

Margaret Somerville | Wednesday, 14 December 2011 
Tipping the scales towards euthanasia
A widely publicized report published by the Royal Society of Canada presents a thoroughly one-sided view.

The Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel on End-of-Life Decision Making recently released its Report to much media attention. The parts of that report we can all agree on, for instance, the need for much better access to palliative care and pain management for terminally ill patients, was not the media’s focus. The panel’s recommendation that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS) should be legalized was.

It has generated many calls for a national debate in Canada on these latter issues – mainly, I would guess, if not entirely, from people advocating the legalization of euthanasia. In entering such a debate and deciding whether they agree with this recommendation, it’s important for Canadians to understand the weaknesses of the Report.

The Panel’s mandate included the following direction: “The public would… benefit greatly from having a careful, balanced review of various pros and cons of decriminalization of physician-assisted death from well-reasoned ethical and legal standpoints.” The Report comes nowhere near fulfilling this mandate. It’s a pro-euthanasia manifesto – to paraphrase an advocate for disabled people speaking in another context, it’s “thinly veiled euthanasia and assisted suicide propaganda disguised as an expert report”.

This is not surprising in view of who the authors are. Many are well-known pro-euthanasia advocates and, as the Report is unanimous, one can assume all agree with this stance. The people I know whom the Panel lists as consulting to them are, likewise, pro-euthanasia -- three of them world-leading advocates.

It’s important to understand this is not a Report of the Royal Society of Canada, as many have mistakenly assumed, as that gives it an unmerited credibility. It’s a Report of an expert panel (only one member of which is a fellow of the Royal Society) set up by the Royal Society. The fairness and wisdom of the Royal Society’s choice of panel members must, however, be questioned.

The Report is very far from being a “balanced review” or adequately comprehensive. The arguments against the legalization of euthanasia and PAS are almost entirely absent. Issues are considered almost entirely at the level of the individual. There is almost no discussion of the impact of legalizing euthanasia and PAS at the institutional level -- in particular, the impact on healthcare institutions and professions, and the law – or at the societal level, in particular, on important shared values, such as respect for life. In fact, this value is not discussed, an extraordinary omission considering the topic of the report.

Discussion of abuses is deficient and selective
The discussion of the practices in jurisdictions that have legalized or allow euthanasia and assisted-suicide are seriously deficient and very selective so as to minimize the Report’s coverage of abuses, expansions of justifications for the practices, and other problems or controversies.

For example, the Report indicates there has been one case of the use of euthanasia on disabled babies in the Netherlands. This is probably correct in the short time since the Groningen protocol allowing such euthanasia was formally accepted. But, prior to that, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine documents 22 cases of babies with spina bifida being euthanized, which is not mentioned. Such “pro-euthanasia presentations” of the facts are concerning and misleading. Likewise, the availability in the Netherlands of euthanasia for children is not mentioned. The combination of euthanasia and donation of organs for transplant in Belgium and the recent case in Flanders of “joint euthanasia” of a terminally ill man and his healthy wife are ignored. And a survey of Belgian physicians who had carried out euthanasia, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, which showed 32 percent of those physicians had carried out euthanasia without the patient’s request or consent is never mentioned.

The system set up under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act is presented as largely problem-free. The literature describing problems, for instance, articles and book chapters by renowned pain specialist and head of palliative care at Memorial Sloane Kettering, Dr Kathleen Foley, and Dr Herbert Hendin, a New York psychiatrist specializing in suicide prevention, is likewise totally ignored.

And although Canadian psychiatrist Dr Harvey Max Chochinov’s research is referenced, his ground-breaking work in the psychiatry of dying people, what helps them and what they want, is not discussed.

Through the lens of individual autonomy
The authors make an assumption that individual autonomy, implemented through “informed choice”, is always the prevailing value and construct their case for euthanasia and PAS from there. They do not consider that for many people some other value might prevail – for example, respect for human life which requires that we don’t kill each other, except when unavoidable to save life -- and what line of argument and decision outcomes that would result in.

In short, the authors have adopted a basic assumption, from which, as they state, everything else they accept and recommend flows, without adequately justifying doing so and not even mentioning the possible alternatives.

The essential difference between the pro and anti euthanasia positions is that the former gives priority to individual autonomy over respect for life, the latter does the opposite. We should keep in mind, here, that we are not just talking about the value of respect for each individual human life, important as that is, but also, respect for human life in general. The authors refer to the Charter as the primary source of our shared values: Apart from any other claims on behalf of the value of respect for life, it is one of the values enshrined in the Charter.

There is a strong emphasis in the Report on the burden and healthcare costs of an aging population and the Report gives the impression that euthanasia and PAS will help to resolve this “problem”. The authors note that euthanizing people “in advanced stages of dementia” will be an issue to be addressed in the future. In other words, they don’t reject the possibility that this might be acceptable.

The Report doesn’t mention survey results, such as those from an Environics poll, which last year (2010) asked over 2000 Canadians what the government priority should be - legalizing euthanasia or improving end-of-life care, or both. Seventy-one percent said improving end-of-life care and 19 percent said legalizing euthanasia, and 5 percent said both (the remainder were Did not know/Neither).

What about elder abuse?
Because the Report seems to have a special focus on aging, I note that the Environics polls also showed Canadians are very concerned about elder abuse if euthanasia or PAS is legalized. The 2011 poll expressly asked about "elder abuse" and 76 percent of respondents said they were concerned about it, if euthanasia were legalized. The 2010 poll did not expressly ask about "elder abuse", but did ask a question where 78 percent of respondents said they were concerned that elderly persons (disabled and sick persons too) would be euthanized without consent. To another 2010 question, 63 percent said they were concerned elderly persons could be pressured to accept euthanasia in order to reduce health care costs.

The authors recognize their position involves an inconsistency in that they champion individual autonomy as the prevailing value, but clearly will place limits on its exercise and not recognize the validity of the choice to die of all autonomous, competent adults.

But, if individual autonomy trumps all other considerations, then why is there a need any other justification for euthanasia? Simply wanting to be dead and consenting to it should be sufficient: “Over 70 and tired of life”, as proposed in The Netherlands, would suffice. And why, even, does the person need to be “over 70”? What about the broken hearted 18-year-old whose first love has abandoned her; why can’t she exercise her autonomy to have assistance committing suicide?
And if there’s a right to commit suicide, then there is a duty not to interfere with people exercising that right. How then can we justify treating people brought to an emergency room who have attempted suicide?

The usual “confusions” used to promote the case for euthanasia are all present in the Report: equating all acts and omissions; arguing there is no difference between killing and allowing to die; conflating intention and motive in relation to desired and unwanted consequences of pain relief treatment; and so on. The opposite arguments are not presented. And the fact that courts and others rely on these distinctions daily in making legal and ethical decisions is ignored.

The section on dignity, which the authors recognize is a prominent concept in the euthanasia debate, is especially biased to the pro-euthanasia arguments and inadequate. In particular, a 2008 major and very comprehensive research report on the concept by the US President’s Commission on Bioethics is not even mentioned.

The above criticisms are not comprehensive, many more could be articulated. Fortunately, in my view, there is a wealth of grounds on which the Report can be easily dismissed.

Margaret Somerville is founding director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University.
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