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This is the leading article from the Catholic Herald (22 August 2008) on which readers have commented favourably. But you might like to add your own points developing or questioning what has been said.
David Cameron is a decent man. His full acceptance, together with his wife, of their seriously disabled son is heroic and holy. And it gives him the right to be heard on the subject. But in such an important matter we must listen to him critically.
He believes in a free vote in Parliament on matters of conscience – in this case the specific issue of late abortions for the disabled unborn baby. And the principle of the free vote, although abused by Labour in the House of Lords, is one which we support.
But the question he was asked was whether, when in power, he would work to end discrimination against viable handicapped babies in the womb at a stage of gestation when the unhandicapped would be protected. That does not mean a whipped vote but using the influence of leadership, and the provision of parliamentary time and facilities. Notoriously, these were used to promote the passage of the original abortion Bill.
Sadly, despite his admirable personal family decision it seems that Mr Cameron does not believe that he should take any steps to dissuade other parents from exterminating their unborn handicapped children. Since Cameron is a thinking man, we would ask him to think again. Why should a disabled baby be lawfully killed?
Let us be clear about the facts. We are not talking about what is misleadingly called a bunch of undifferentiated cells. We are not talking about a human being with a rudimentary nervous system. We are not talking about a baby who cannot survive outside the womb. We are talking about a baby who can live outside the womb and, in many cases, can be born at natural term. If there is no handicap the law gives protection: if there is a handicap the baby can be killed at will. If that is not discrimination against the disabled, then it is hard to know what is.
If those who defend the indefensible follow their logic through, they should argue that the extermination should be delayed until the baby is already born. After all, a year or two of experience would give the parents the opportunity to see whether this was what they really wished. But of course that would bring parents face to face with what they were actually doing. And that would be uncomfortable. But don’t be reassured: one day even that eugenic logic could be advocated.
We are aware that handicap in this context means “substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped”. We are also aware of the interpretation which has allowed relatively trivial handicaps to be included. At the very least the new Bill, which will be open for amendment in the autumn, could clarify this in accordance with Parliament’s clear original intentions. Counsel’s opinion at the time (1969), obtained by the Medical Defence Society, was that “a child may be considered seriously handicapped if unlikely to be able to live an independent life when of an age to do so”. Incorporating this would not remove the fundamental evil, but it could at least lessen its occurrence.
Meanwhile, we should reflect on a more fundamental point. When a severely handicapped baby is born, the burden of looking after that child usually falls on the parents – and it is, as Mr and Mrs Cameron know only too well, a dreadfully heavy burden that can be lightened but not necessarily removed by love and assistance. Yet the question remains: to whom does the child’s life belong? The Church’s answer is that its life does not belong to any human being, but to God alone.
The last 40 years has seen, in western countries, a dramatic decline in
active Catholic membership, marriages and vocations. And many would
attribute in large measure this sorry state of affairs to the publication by
Pope Paul VI of Humanae Vitae on July 25 1968. Its ruling that the
established teaching on the intrinsic evil of contraception should remain in
force rejected the firm recommendations of the Papal Commission which had
been studying the issue since it had been appointed by John XXIII. It first
met in October 1963.
Professor John Marshall, a distinguished neurologist who had spent much of
his professional life studying the science behind natural family planning
and working with the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (now Marriage Care),
was a founder member of the commission. Now he was digging into his
excellent memory. This could be the last time a founder member would be able
to tell us about a proceeding of deep significance to the Church. I asked
him if the task had been to examine whether the traditional teaching should
“On the contrary,” he replied. “The UN was concerned with discussions on
population problems, and our job was to establish the firmest and most
coherent support for Catholic teaching based on good science and
demographics. I don¹t think anyone at that stage thought of any change in
the teaching itself. But our little band of six realised the need for
additional firepower. So when we reconvened we had seven additions.”
Five of these additions were theologians, including Joseph Fuchs and Bernard
Häring theologians of international reputation. How important were the
“Not just important crucial, as it turned out. Pierre de Lochte¹s
contribution proved to be a turning point.”
He continued: “The commission, urged on by the growing scientific knowledge
that only a small minority of acts of intercourse could lead to conception,
had begun to consider whether the issue should change its focus from the old
categories of the primary and secondary ends of marriage and its sexual
expression, to the community of love in the marriage. And the question of
the structure of the marriage act did not of course apply to the Pill. So we
had to dig deeper, and it was de Lochte who clarified that we were now
dealing with questions of fundamental theology.”
I wondered whether that was when the commission realised that the teaching
would have to change.
“Certainly not. There was strong opposition to any change from some, and
even those who were prepared to contemplate it were initially very uncertain
and alive to the momentous consequences of change. I would describe it as a
gradual realisation by the majority over periods of long discussion and
thought. You must remember that by the time of the final general meeting in
1965, there were 58 members, and now included Catholic married couples.”
I asked him to summarise the outcome of these considerations.
“Do you want the short answer or the long answer?” But he did not need my
reply; he is a succinct man with a brain like a scalpel blade. “The short
answer is that we concluded that the foundation is married love which
expresses itself ideally and most fully in the generous procreation of
children, both in their conception and continued care. Taken within this
perspective the need for every marriage act to maintain its structural
openness to conception is not necessary and may, in many circumstances, run
counter to the virtue of prudence.”
I asked whether natural planning would not have offered a satisfactory
method of achieving these objectives without interfering with the structure
of sexual intercourse. He took the view that it was man’s vocation to invent
or discover ways of bringing order to creation. The use of the safe period
was just such a control of nature, as were barrier contraceptives or the
temporary suspension of fertility through the Pill. All such methods reduced
the fullness of the sexual gift in a sense but, used responsibly, served the
higher end of marital love.
Although he and others were well aware that natural family planning, as used
at that time, could be a problem for many, the presentation by the late
Patty Crowley (who co-founded with her husband the Catholic Family Movement in America) of a survey she had been asked to conduct brought, he said, a taste of reality to those who had little pastoral experience.
It brought home the fact that well-motivated, active, Catholic couples had
on the whole valued the method but that a large majority had also found it
had harmed their relationship in various ways. It broadly concluded that the
method was not suitable for all couples and probably unsuitable for almost
any couple throughout the whole of their married lives. It would be
difficult to repeat such a survey now in the light of improved methods,
since practising Catholic married couples who use natural family planning
exclusively are no longer representative of the general population.
It was Patty who was later to reply to Fr Marcelino Zalba’s question: “What
then with the millions we have sent to hell, if the rules are relaxed?” She
responded “Fr Zalba, do you really believe God has carried out all your
“Perhaps,” Professor Marshall said, “the real turning point came in April
1965 when the four theologians who were opposed to change admitted that they
could not demonstrate the intrinsic evil of contraception through natural
law. They based their case on the tradition of the Church, and the moral
laxity which contraception would introduce. Interestingly, the Pope cited
the natural law in support of his final judgment but without giving any
further reasoning. And none has been forthcoming.”
The additional select group appointed for the final meeting to consider the
Majority Report consisted of six cardinals, 13 archbishops, one bishop and
the Pope’s theologian. The report was approved following preliminary voting
by the bishops on specific questions: was contraception intrinsically evil?
By a substantial majority the answer was no. Was the recommendation on
contraception in the report in basic continuity with tradition and the
teaching the Magisterium? By a substantial majority the answer was yes.
Subsequently, representations contrary to the Majority Report were made
privately to the Pope by those who believed that the doctrine could not, or
should not, be changed.
In view of the ultimate decision, I asked Professor Marshall whether he
thought that the Pope was determined from the first to reject any
recommendation for change.
“No, I believe it was an agonising decision for him. He was consistently
encouraging us to debate freely even when the developing trend of our
thought was reported to him. He was a man who was open to persuasion, and it
seems that in the end he was persuaded, by the so-called Holy Office, that the maintaining of the Church’s consistent authority was more important than the insights of the commission.”
“But might he not have been right in thinking that a change in such a firm
teaching would have been scandalous to many people, and eroded the Church¹s
authority?” I asked.
“Certainly there would have been many distressed people particularly those
who were not aware that such changes in non-infallible teachings have
occurred in the past. As an example, the Council’s change in the Church¹s
teaching on freedom of conscience in matters of religion was even more
radical but did not attract popular attention. And the inevitable fuss would
have been as nothing compared with the long term effects of maintaining the
I wondered whether he was referring to the very substantial drop in Catholic
practice, marriages and vocations since then.
“Certainly that. Every survey has shown that around 90 per cent of Catholic
couples ignore the unqualified teaching of Humanae Vitae. And the most
recent widespread survey of parochial clergy showed that fewer than half
supported the total ban. We have the unusual but very destructive dilemma of
the Magisterium teaching a doctrine under authority and that doctrine not
being ‘received’ by the Church as a community. Perversely, the perceived
irrelevance of the Magisterium¹s teaching on marriage may have contributed
to the growth of the contraceptive mentality which is now so evident in
countries we think of as Catholic.”
I thought that the distinction between a doctrine being taught and a
doctrine being received had deep theological significance for the nature of
the Church. But that was for another occasion, so I asked Professor Marshall
to sum up.
“The papal commission could be described as an aberration. Asking experts
from relevant disciplines to study a doctrinal question and make
recommendations had never happened before and it’s unlikely to happen
again. Yet there are so many problems. For instance, we are asked to tackle the shortage of vocations through Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Excellent in itself, but it should be
complemented by a full-scale commission, making use of the Church¹s full
resources clerical and lay. But I doubt if it will be.
“Frankly I am gloomy about the present prospects for the Church. The only
bright light is the growth of Eucharistic communities led by good priests.
That may be the future of the Church, as Karl Rahner suggested.”
CATHOLIC HERALD EDITORIAL 18 JULY
The world has changed a lot in the 40 years since the publication of Humanae Vitae on July 25 1968. In many countries rates of abortion, divorce, venereal disease, births out of wedlock and teenage pregnancies have increased dramatically. In spite of the feminist movement countless women serve, often involuntarily, in what is described unthinkingly as the “sex industry”. The industrialised world puts intense pressure on developing countries to impose draconian population control policies that sometimes include forced abortion and sterilisation. And early contraceptive technology has paved the way for other scientific developments such as in vitro fertilisation, cloning, genetic manipulation and embryo experimentation, all of which destroy human life in its earliest stages.
Paul VI predicted many of these developments in Humanae Vitae. And the encyclical’s supporters today often base their arguments on the terrible human costs of the sexual revolution. This is a powerful and often persuasive approach. But it has its dangers. The chief of these is that it can slide into consequentialism; in other words we present the dire consequences of the sexual revolution as the clinching argument for the truth of Humanae Vitae. It is far better for us to make the opposite argument: that the encyclical taught the truth about sexuality and that the devastating developments of the past 40 years might have been avoided if Humanae Vitae had gained widespread acceptance.
We infer that Professor John Marshall, who is interviewed on page seven, believes that Paul VI should have heeded the majority opinion of the papal commission on birth control, of which he was a founding member. We respectfully disagree. But we cannot contest the professor’s observation that “we have the unusual but very destructive dilemma of the Magisterium teaching a doctrine under authority and that doctrine not being ‘received’ by the Church as a community”. The crucial problem with Paul VI’s encyclical is that over the past 40 years we have not communicated its teachings effectively. Far too many people think of Humanae Vitae as “the encyclical that said No to contraception”, when they should see it as the encyclical that said Yes to the beauty of married love. As Pope Benedict XVI said in August 2006: “Catholicism is not a collection of prohibitions: it’s a positive option. It’s very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost disappeared today. We’ve heard so much about what is not allowed that now it’s time to say: we have a positive idea to offer.”
Thankfully, many gifted Catholic communicators have already taken up this challenge. Christopher West and Janet E Smith, to name just two, have helped to popularise the teaching of Humanae Vitae and John Paul II’s profound Theology of the Body. Thanks to their efforts, and no doubt to the efforts of generations as yet unborn, Paul VI’s encyclical will eventually be widely seen as one of the bravest and most enduring statements of the 20th century.
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Of course the Church has settled the matter by declaring that she has no power to ordain women priests. But, given the current fuss in the Church of England about female bishops, a thought experiment seems to me to be in order. What would be the outcome of having women clergy in the Catholic Church? I don’t want to get involved in theological argument here. I have my thoughts but they are not relevant to my purpose.
We can leave aside the enormous fuss and soul searching of contemplating and accepting the change – noting however that it might be particularly trying for previous Anglicans who had crossed the great divide. But since they converted because they had recognised the one true Church (didn’t they?) it shouldn’t really trouble them more than anyone else.
And we must look beyond the first generation or so because the pioneers of big social change often have to adopt extreme measures to succeed and may therefore be untypical. But twenty or thirty years later how might things be?
I would expect women clergy to be in a minority, and heavily weighted towards the diaconate. As a generalisation women seem to be less motivated by power and authority and more inclined to look for breadth of service. A weakness and a strength. But some would have risen, and there might well be a handful of bishops. There can be no reason for refusing episcopal status to those who are already priests – other than an unevidenced belief that women are unfitted for management.
But are women unfitted for management? Given that there are so many male managers whose incompetence is flagrant, I think it likely that any woman who could get through the stained glass ceiling would have exceptional qualities. I know of no studies which reliably show that, adjusted for variables, women are poorer managers than men. I would like to hear of any good studies. And of course there are some really first class female chief executives and entrepreneurs in the world of business.
On a prima facie basis it looks odd for a huge international organisation consisting of men and women to be run only by men. In the secular field one would expect that many of the decisions and value systems to lack the depth of understanding which women can bring. I do not say that the men would not try to include a female view, but they would probably not succeed. Women – again I generalise – place more importance on feelings and less on logic. They are impatient with theory and quick at identifying what really matters. They have less pride locking them into conservative but ultimately untenable positions. And certainly they would be better at understanding the needs and insights of rather more than half their of their constituency.
I know from long business experience that an absence of women at the boardroom table makes for a narrower range of considerations and poorer decisions. And you would be surprised at how much of what I write has been improved by the input of my wife or my daughters.
You might argue that this would not apply to an organisation like the Church but, since the Church is both human and divine, you would have to give some convincing reasons why it should be different.
But, as I say, this is just a thought experiment. So logon and do some thinking with me.
Since this blog is liberal in its approach I thought I should include the introductory part of an email which was sent to me gratuitously last week. The remainder of the email contains supplementary information along the same lines. I felt that readers of Secondsightblog really ought to have this information.
The Christian Bible AND True ( non-hypothetical ) Science AND Logic declare:
The Sun Orbits the Earth Daily and
The Earth is NOT Moving!!
Facts: by Marshall Hall
* There is NO proof that the Earth rotates on an “axis” daily and orbits the sun annually. None.
* All calculations for eclipses, the space program, navigation, satellite
movements – anything that demands precision and accuracy – are based on a
non-moving Earth. Boiled down, heliocentric math is the same as Geocentric math.
* No experiment has shown the Earth to be moving ( much less at 30 TIMES RIFLE BULLET SPEED in solar orbit and at 250 times RBS around a galaxy. One would think such speeds would flap one’s collar a little even if the “science” establishment says no! )
* Multiple experiments have shown the Earth to be stationary.
* Revisionist history reveals the roles that Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Sagan et al have played in foisting this LIE on mankind.
* The logic against a moving Earth is overpowering.
* WORLD-CLASS astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle said take your pick between the two models.
* Copernicanism paved the way for Darwinism ( which then spawned Marxism, Freudism, Einsteinism and Saganism. )
* Star speeds are not a problem when the thickness of the universe is seen to be what it really is, that is, LESS than half a light day thick [ between 500,000 and eight billion mile radius ].
* NASA’s space program is labelled “Origins Research” and costs taxpayers mega-bucks. Computerized telescopes are programmed to send back “synthesized images”. The “image warper” permits “geometric transformations” while “origins technology… configures the multiple small mirrors…” in these telescopes. Talk about a con job!
* The Bible says The Earth is NOT Moving and cannot be moved. What’ll it be folks? False science as the source of absolute truth . . . or God’s Word?
(No, Marshall Hall is not the 20th century barrister, but describes himself as an “evengelical” or “fervent atheist”. Sagan is Carl Sagan, who died in 1996. He was a scientist with a flair for publicity, and his stance was sceptical.)
I pick up my newspaper this morning, 26 June, and I read of the shortage of sperm donors needed for artificial insemination. A major factor in the decrease is claimed to be that, from April 2005, children were given the right to know the identity of their fathers. So the reluctance of donors to come forward is understandable, for donated sperm can be used for up to 10 fertilisations. One would not care to receive approaches many years later from a small horde of one’s hitherto unknown offspring.
The morality, or otherwise, of artificial insemination is not the issue I want to address, but a more general point. Even the most secular in our society are prepared to grant dignity and rights to those whom they recognise as persons. But prior to this arbitrary recognition, they are cavalier. They are happy to accept hybrid embryos, or to speak of a bundle of undifferentiated cells, and to experiment in many different ways. They destroy, without further thought, any number of embryos. They use the term “potential” person as if, in this context, it means a possible outcome – much as we might describe a talented child as a potential lawyer. But here it means that the organism is a potential person in the sense that it is naturally ordered to become a person, given an adequate environment. Nor do they see that they themselves have a radical identity with the conceptus in their mother’s womb.
If this crisis over the shortage of donor sperm reminds people that the act of fertilisation, so casually undertaken, tends to lead, as night the day, to mature people walking down the high street, they might begin to consider the dignity and significance of the whole process of procreation from its very beginning.
I am one of the few people who can remember the day that they were born. I can recall with clarity the telephone call to my granny’s house at tea time, announcing my safe arrival. A false memory of course, injected by accounts given to me when I was a child. But the probability is that a brain scan would show no difference whether the incident were false or true.
More seriously, a woman who claimed she was raped picked out her attacker with absolute confidence in an identity parade. In fact the man concerned had been on live television at the time, and her television was showing his programme while the incident took place.
Elizabeth Loftus, an American professor of law, tells us of hundreds of wrongful convictions of which the majority could be attributed to the false memory of witnesses. She even conducted an experiment in which a memory of a childhood incident was injected into subjects through suggestion. Although the incident had never happened it became a real memory for about 25% of the subjects.
It seems that the memories of witnesses to a crime can often be substantially modified by the wording or the way that questioning, either at interview or in court, is handled. And an immediate, but general, recall can be distorted as more specific questions are asked. The importance of corroborative evidence – other witnesses, CCTV, DNA etc – is clear.
Professor Martin Conway of Leeds University describes how what we remember of an incident is affected by the memories and assumptions that are already in the brain. These direct our attention to particular observations, and mean that, since each of us is different, so our memories of the same incident will be different.
This subject was most interestingly discussed on Radio 4’s Law in Action, broadcast on 17 June. I can only hope I have remembered the points correctly, but you can check the detail.
Of even greater interest to me is that it indirectly confirms that what we take from the world as it passes, or what we see on television or read in a book, is not objective. It depends to a large extent on our unique character and our previous experiences. We never see reality directly but only through our personal lens.
You might well blink. The idea that a child could be conceived, born and grow to maturity with two mothers and one father is a disturbing thought. Yet it’s already history. In the 1990s three-parent babies were conceived in the United States, with genetic material from two mothers, plus one father. The practice was swiftly banned but our enthusiastic British scientists are tackling the project again.
The female egg has two elements: the nucleus which contains the main genome and the mitochondria, which is sometimes described as the “powerhouse” of the cell. (There’s a detailed article on this in Wikipedia.) The mitochondria, it is now known, contain additional genetic material which can affect many human characteristics such as intelligence, energy and aging.
A mother with faulty mitochondria can produce children susceptible to many incurable diseases. These affect about one in 8000 of the population. The aim of the project is to replace the faulty mitochondria with a healthy version while leaving the nucleus intact. (Although the male sperm has mitochondria these are discarded, and play no part. This is how geneticists are able to trace long ancestry lines through female mitochondria since they are unchanged by a male element.)
The earlier American work had some success, but the British work is using a more efficient and safer method. Put simply, the egg from Mother A has the nucleus extracted, leaving only the mitochondria. Then the nucleus of the egg from Mother B is extracted and inserted in Mother A’s egg – which is then fertilised and implanted in Mother B.
From a biological perspective the project looks promising, and the results should be the birth of a healthy child rather than one destined to suffer from serious disease. However, much work needs to be done to ensure the safety of the procedure in the short and long term. And the long term is important because the foreign mitochondria will pass to further generations. But the odds are very much in favour of it becoming routine in the future.
A much fuller description appears in the 7 June issue of New Scientist – to which several public libraries subscribe.
There is, of course, no reason to question the full humanity of the person who is conceived in this way. But the usual moral issues arising from manipulating the normal process of human generation are taken to a further level by this tripartite parenthood. The tweaking or the insertion of additional genes, perhaps to correct a damaging characteristic, is hardly the same as incorporating something as substantial as foreign mitochondria which has deep and inheritable effects not only throughout the body, but also in the personality. Although we must accept that the intention of the scientists is a good one.
I feel that a conversation, attempting to explain to a child who its biological parents are, would be interesting to overhear. And a court case attempting to decide which parents would have responsibility for maintaining the child, and in what proportions, would make legal history.
We have all applauded the developments and potential uses of adult stem cells because they do not involve the use of embryos, and so avoid some serious ethical problems. Techniques for manipulating adult cells have made good progress, and several therapies have been developed.
But there is an ethical cloud on the horizon. Some experts believe that it will be possible to take skin cells and turn them into gametes (sperm and ova). The result may very well be the conception of possible human embryos.
There are plenty of difficulties on the way. One of the most formidable is achieving meiosis. This is the process whereby the gametes, unlike other cells, retain only a single set of unpaired chromosomes. which, in fertilisation, combine to make a double set – each derived from the different “parent” gametes.
The prospect of achieving this is a decade or more in the future. But you might like to think of some of the ethical issues which arise – particularly as British biologists are likely to be leaders in the field.