Archive of September 9, 2008

Cardinal Glemp proposes making Mary patroness of European Parliament

Rome, Italy, Sep 9, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop Emeritus of Warsaw, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, said last week he hopes Our Lady of Trybunalski, the patroness of the Polish parliament, will be named patroness of the European Parliament as well.

According to the Polish daily “Metro,” the proposal will be sent to Brussels sometime this month.  Cardinal Glemp first made the proposal during the feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa in August.

Our Lady of Trybunalski was named patroness of the Polish parliament by its former president, Marek Jurek.

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Obama concedes that ‘above my pay grade’ remarks were ‘probably’ too flippant

Washington D.C., Sep 9, 2008 (CNA) - Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, has backed away from his remarks that deciding when life begins is “above my pay grade,” conceding in a television interview that the comments were “probably” too flip.

At the Saddleback Church candidates’ forum in August, moderator and church pastor Rev. Rick Warren had asked the candidates “At what point does a baby get human rights?”

Sen. Obama had replied to Warren by saying that determining when life begins is “above my pay grade.”

Speaking to George Stephanopoulos in an interview taped for ABC’s This Week, Obama said:

“What I intended to say is that, as a Christian, I have a lot of humility about understanding when does the soul enter into … It's a pretty tough question. And so, all I meant to communicate was that I don't presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions.”

Explaining the answer he wished he had given to Rev. Warren’s question, Obama commented, “What I do know is that abortion is a moral issue, that it's one that families struggle with all the time. And that in wrestling with those issues, I don't think that the government criminalizing the choices that families make is the best answer for reducing abortions.”

He then endorsed ensuring that “the young mothers, or women who have a pregnancy that's unexpected or difficult, have the kind of support they need to make a whole range of choices, including adoption and keeping the child.”

Obama said this position is reflected in the Democratic Party’s platform.

Mark Stricherz, political commentator and author of the book Why the Democrats are Blue, commented on Obama’s remarks in a Monday telephone interview with CNA.

“He’s covering himself. He knows he messed up at the Saddleback Forum,” Stricherz argued, saying Obama’s remarks had hurt his appeal to religious voters, especially evangelical Christians and Catholics.

“He’s now trying to win those voters back.”

“The theological explanation is a dodge,” he added. “Embryologists are clear when life begins, at conception or fertilization. Just go to a local library and call up a biology textbook, and you can see when biologists say when life begins.”

CNA asked Stricherz why the question had shifted from a question about human rights to a question about when the soul enters the body.

“The theological question casts the issue as ambiguous, which is what Obama wants, leaving doubt in human minds about when human life begins,” he replied.

In Stricherz’s view, the majority opinion in the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade also cast the abortion issue and the issue of when life begins in “muddled, ambiguous terms.” The 1973 decision legalized abortion nationwide.

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U.S. bishops’ Pro-life Secretariat announces free pro-life ad designs

Washington D.C., Sep 9, 2008 (CNA) - The Pro-life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has announced that it is offering print advertisements on stem cell research and abortion for the free use of dioceses and other pro-life groups.

One ad focuses on scientific advances in stem cell research, claiming the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) render obsolete the use of stem cells derived from destroyed human embryos.
These newly discovered cells may be derived from ordinary body cells and are believed to be similar in research and therapeutic potential to embryonic stem cells.

The ad depicts a commuter on a train and asks “Science is moving on. Isn't it time for public policy to get on board?”

Another advertisement discusses the use of adult stem cells in treatments, directing readers to

It uses the tagline “Adult Stem Cell Research. Let's Find Cures We Can All Live With.”

A third advertisement in full-color examines the permissiveness of abortion laws under Roe v. Wade, bearing the words “The human heart begins to beat at 22 days. Roe v. Wade says a doctor can stop it for the next 244....Have we gone too far?”

The ad directs readers to for more information.

The last ad opposes the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which is designed to mandate taxpayer funding for abortions and eliminate almost all current laws regulating abortion.

The ad asks Congress to “Pledge now to oppose FOCA” and features a graphic of a red octagonal sign bearing the word "GO" instead of "STOP."

“You can't reduce abortions by promoting abortions. If you agree, oppose the 'Freedom of Choice Act’,” it exhorts.

The ads first appeared in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, which was distributed at the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

The ads, available at, are available for Catholic dioceses and other pro-life groups nationwide to download and print unaltered free of charge.

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Pope asks Nicaraguan bishops to encourage laity and educators to build the Church

Vatican City, Sep 9, 2008 (CNA) - On Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI met with bishops from the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua who had completed their “ad limina” visit at the Vatican.  He encouraged them to face their challenges by training members of the faithful to give witness and to assist in the management of the Church’s temporal affairs.


During the meeting, the Pontiff emphasized that it is vital for the laity to “receive encouragement from their pastors, obtain profound and continuous religious formation, and maintain perfect faithfulness to the doctrine of the Church.”


"One of the great challenges you are facing" he told the prelates, "is that of the solid religious formation of your faithful, ensuring the Gospel remains deeply inscribed in their minds, their lives and their work.”


Though challenging, this formation is essential at a time in history when “poverty and emigration are accompanied by deep social inequalities and political radicalization,” he continued.


The Holy Father also praised the bishops for creating a “climate of dialogue and openness,” without abandoning their “defense of the fundamental rights of man, denouncing situations of injustice and fomenting a concept of politics as being generous and humble service for the common good."


In doing so, the Pope called on the bishops to “promote and accompany numerous initiatives of charity and solidarity with the most needy who are present at your Churches.”  This will “ensure there is no lack of aid for families in difficulty, or of that generous spirit shown by so many lay people who, sometimes anonymously, strive to obtain daily bread for their poorer brethren."


Turning to educators, particularly those in Catholic schools, the Holy Father recalled how they perform “an essential mission of the Church and a priceless service to society.” 


The Pontiff concluded by calling on bishops to encourage educators in their work and to make every effort “to preserve parents’ rights to educate their children according to their own convictions and beliefs.”

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We cannot be silent in face of legalization of crimes, says Cardinal Rivera

Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 9, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, said this week in a clear reference to the country’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the law allowing abortion in the capital that, “even though it’s what many people want, the Church cannot be silent in the face of the crimes that are being legalized.”

The cardinal made his comments during Mass on Sunday at the archdiocesan Cathedral.  In his homily he explained that “a silent Church is of no use to either God or man.  We cannot shrug our shoulders in response to the great evils of our world, we cannot remain paralyzed, we must show our solidarity and our response, raising our voice, offering our proposals and giving our commitment to turn evil into good.”

Later, after acknowledging that “all of us have a glass ceiling, and we cannot and should not make ourselves judges of others,” Cardinal Rivera said the Church has the obligation to “avoid the sin of omission” which could be committed “by not showing our solidarity and response so that things change in our family, in our Church and in the society in which we live.”

“We cannot continue responding like Cain to the voice of God that tells us: Where is your brother? We cannot be insolent by saying, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ because the Lord will say the same thing to us: ‘The blood of your brother cries out to me from the earth’,” Cardinal Rivera said.

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Paul VI’s contribution to the Church becoming increasingly evident, Pope says

Vatican City, Sep 9, 2008 (CNA) - In a letter to Bishop Luciano Monari of Brescia marking the 30th anniversary of the death of Paul VI, Pope Benedict XVI said that as time passes, the contribution, heritage and magisterium of the late Pontiff, who guided the Church in an age marked by “challenges and problems,” are becoming increasingly more evident.

After sending his greetings to the Church in Brescia, from which Pope Montini received the gift of faith “and learned the values of piety, culture and humanity, the Holy Father noted that Paul VI “was called by Divine Providence to guide the Church during a historical period marked by no small number of challenges and problems.

In reflecting upon the years of his pontificate, Pope Benedict underscored "the missionary ardour that animated him and encouraged him to make demanding apostolic journeys, even to distant countries, and to perform acts of great ecclesial, missionary and ecumenical significance.”

"This Pontiff's name", he added, "remains linked above all to Vatican Council II. ... With the passage of the years the importance of his pontificate for the Church and for the world is becoming ever clearer, as is the priceless heritage of teaching and virtue which he left to believers and to all humanity."  Benedict XVI told the Bishop of Brescia that,“The Lord desired that a son of the land of Brescia would steer the rudder of Peter’s barque during the council, in the years of his first activities.”

Pope Benedict also expressed his own appreciation for the trust Paul VI showed in him by appointing him as archbishop of Munich, Germany, in March 1977, and in making him a cardinal three months later.
Pope Benedict highlighted the fact that Paul VI died on the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6, 1978.

In closing his letter the Holy Father gave “thanks to God for having granted the Church a pastor who was a faithful witness of Christ the Lord, so sincerely and profoundly enamoured of the Church and so close to the hopes and expectations of the men and women of his time, actively encouraging each member of the People of God to honor his memory by striving to sincerely search for the truth.”

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Cardinal Bertone: Paul VI loved humanity and longed for man to encounter Christ

Rome, Italy, Sep 9, 2008 (CNA) - During his homily at a Mass for the 30th anniversary of the death of Paul VI, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone recalled that the late pontiff “profoundly loved humanity and made this love concrete by his constant effort to help humanity encounter Christ in light of the truth and the value of life.”

During a Mass at the Cathedral of Brescia on September 6, the cardinal said that “in the light of the risen and transfigured Lord,” Paul VI “strived to understand man, his desire for life, his thirst for happiness,” and he did so during a difficult age.   He was not troubled by the many challenges he faced, but rather embraced them in his devotion to serving believers and men and women of good will, the cardinal stated.

“Pope Montini was constantly concerned with being a guide for the Christian people, who are often seduced by the world and conditioned by the threats of the enemies of Christ,” Cardinal Bertone went on. “As a generous and enlightened pastor, patient and prudent, upright in the truth and quick to dialogue, he knows how to keep the rudder of the Barque of Peter straight.” 

Paul VI’s love for God and mankind, the cardinal stated, could be seen as “the characteristic mark of his entire pontificate.”

The post-conciliar years, he said later, were perhaps marked “by the perception of not being understood, but they were also years of intense fidelity to the Church and dedication to humanity.”

“As we pray that this beloved Pontiff will soon be venerated as a Blessed, we pray that the Lord will also help us to live faithful to our vocations and understand in faith that everything is a grace: life, death, the present, the future. May God help us, like Pope Montini, to bear witness to Christian joy and proclaim with our lives that we belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God,” Bertone said.

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Cardinal Cipriani publicly forgives detractors

Lima, Peru, Sep 9, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, publicly forgave those who attacked him last week for his homily in which he said human rights are not the property “of a small ideological group.” 

“When I made these comments in honor of the institutions of the country, when I made these comments to stress the importance that the entire body of human rights has and not just those of a single group or in a particular place, I found myself surprised and even now still a little confused, I listened to three or four responses.  It was like venom that was being held in,” he said during his radio program Dialogue of Faith.

“We need to forgive and they are forgiven,” Cardinal Cipriani said.  “Thanks be to God, I have prayed for them these last few days.  Thanks be to God, I have turned the page.  I only want to say to them, let’s just keep to the basic message of St. Rose of Lima, the first saint of America,” he added.

Cardinal Cipriani was referring to the reactions of those who questioned his statements about human rights which he made during his homily on the feast of St. Rose of Lima and those who criticized his pastoral work when he was the Archbishop of Ayacucho, which suffered under the terrorism of the Luminous Way.  Most of the criticism came from members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Bishop Emeritus of Chimbote, Luis Bambaren.

During his radio program, the cardinal recalled some of the remarks from his homily.  “I thought it was important and I say it again, to pay homage to the institutions of our country, such as the Armed Forces and the Police without any desire for controversy.  And if not, then today I can pay homage to the Armed Forces and to the Police like any Peruvian can about an institution,” the cardinal said.

“The country has institutions at different levels, some liked more than others, but what we cannot do is continuously attack them. I issued a call to care more for human rights in order to say: We cannot leave human rights—I said verbatim—in the hands of a small ideological group,” he added.

“Human rights do not spring forth from a bunch of ideas, from a group of persons, neither mine, nor anybody else’s.  Human rights come from that which is the person, a free human, a human who knows how to love, how to forgive, who has the dignity to be able to have a house, a home, to be able to express himself, with religious freedom, among other rights.”

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Legalizing homosexual unions is an attack on marriage, asserts Costa Rican archbishop

San José, Costa Rica, Sep 9, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Hugo Barrantes Urena of San Jose in Costa Rica has called on the country’s lawmakers to defend the institution of marriage and not go “against correct reason” by approving same-sex marriage.

Speaking before a congressional committee that is discussing a proposal that would legalize homosexual marriage, Archbishop Barrantes warned that such a move would “obscure the general perception of fundamental moral values and would provoke the devaluing of the institution of marriage.”

“The Catholic Church considers all persons to be created in the image of God and worthy of respect,” he continued, “and she rejects all discrimination against the dignity of the person.  Thus, the Church distinguishes between respect for all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, and rejection of homosexual acts, which are objectively contrary to God’s plan for the human being.”

“The Church greatly values the natural institution of marriage, beyond any simple union, as the foundation of the family.  This natural institution is recognized by the great cultures of humanity as a truth made evident by correct reason, based on the anthropological complementarity of the sexes,” the archbishop said.

“This natural truth is notably enriched by Christian revelation, which teaches us the dignity of the human person: man and woman, the sexuality of the human being beyond his mere biological sphere, as the human being is a being with a body and a soul, and marriage as a way of life, in which personal communion is lived,” he continued.

Archbishop Barrantes pointed out that while those who argue in favor of homosexual unions “appeal to the principle of respect and non-discrimination,” granting the status of marriage and the rights that belong to it to relations between homosexual persons is “in itself a greater injustice, as it is an attack upon the common good of the social community.”

He reminded the lawmakers, especially those who are Catholic, that “as the Church, we see great value in the family, which must be defended from all attacks aimed at undermining its foundation and jeopardizing its very existence.” Therefore he urged them to pass laws “based on ethical principles and in benefit of the common good.”

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Sen. Biden criticized for remarks on disabilities and stem cells

Washington D.C., Sep 9, 2008 (CNA) - Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph Biden drew fire on Tuesday for his remarks claiming that Republicans’ pledged support for parents raising children with developmental disabilities or birth defects should drive them to support stem cell research.

Speaking to voters at an event in Columbus, Missouri, Biden said:

"I hear all this talk about how the Republicans are going to work in dealing with parents who have both the joy, because there's joy to it as well, the joy and the difficulty of raising a child who has a developmental disability, who were born with a birth defect. Well guess what folks? If you care about it, why don't you support stem cell research?"

Fox News reports that Biden aides denied the U.S. Senator from Delaware was referring to his Republican counterpart, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose infant son has Down syndrome.

While Sen. Biden is a Catholic, Catholic ethics hold embryonic stem cell research to be unethical.

The Republican Party platform opposes embryonic stem cell research, which derives stem cells from the destruction of human embryos. However, Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain has supported funding such research.

McCain campaign spokesman Ben Porritt criticized Biden, saying:

“Barack Obama’s running mate sunk to a new low today launching an offensive debate over who cares more about special needs children. Playing politics with this issue is disturbing and indicative of a desperate campaign.”

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser also criticized Biden’s remarks, saying in a press release that she was “appalled” by his “caustic comments.”

"Today Senator Biden outrageously implied that Americans who refuse to sacrifice innocent human life in the name of unproven, desperate attempts to cure our nation's ills through embryo-destructive research somehow don't really care about children,” Dannenfelser wrote. “I am a mother of five children, one with a mental disability. The fact that Joe Biden questioned the compassion of parents like me – Governor Sarah Palin, among them – makes me sputter in disbelief." 

"Compassion can never be built upon callous disregard for human life,” she stated. “History has shown this has led to the near elimination of entire classes of human beings. I want to talk to him about compassion – and not the kind that leads to the gas chamber."

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Why some politicians are against abortion and for embryonic stem cell research

Valparaiso, Ind., Sep 9, 2008 (CNA) - In December of 2005 an op-ed piece by sociologist Dalton Conley appeared in the New York Times, stating that “most Americans... see a fetus as an individual under construction.” This widespread vision of the embryo and fetus as “under construction” is the key to understanding why good people may find pro-life arguments to be absurd or otherwise non-rational, e.g., religious, particularly with regard to embryonic stem cell research.

The construction idea also may explain how Republican presidential candidate John McCain has been able to support both the right to life from the moment of conception and embryonic stem cell research.

Just think of something being constructed, such as a house, or a scholarly article – or take a car on an assembly line. When is a car first there? At what point in the assembly line would we first say, “There’s a car”? Some of us would no doubt go with appearance, saying that there is a car as soon as the body is fairly complete (in analogy to the fetus at 10 weeks or so). I suppose that most of us would look for something functional. We would say that there is a car only after a motor is in place (in analogy to quickening). Others might wait for the wheels (in analogy to viability) or even the windshield wipers (so that it’s viable even in the rain). And a few might say, “It’s not a car until it rolls out onto the street” (in analogy to birth). There would be many differing opinions.

However, one thing upon which we’ll probably all agree is this: Nobody is going to say that the car is there at the very beginning of the assembly line, when the first screw or rivet is put in or when two pieces of metal are first welded together. (You can see how little I know about car manufacturing.) Two pieces of metal fastened together don’t match up to anybody’s idea of a car.

I think that this is exactly the way that many people see the embryo, like the car-to-be at the very beginning of the construction process. In the first stages of construction you don’t have a house, you don’t have a car, you don’t have a human individual yet. You don’t ever have what you’re making when you’ve just started making it. This does not mean that our “constructionist” friends are anti-life. They may believe that a baby should have absolute protection once it has been fully fabricated. But until that point, for them, abortion just isn’t murder.

What happens when a constructionist hears a pro-lifer argue that a human embryo has the same right to life as any other human being? Journalist Michael Kinsley, writing in the Washington Post, expressed his utter bewilderment: “I cannot share, or even fathom, [the pro-life] conviction that a microscopic dot – as oblivious as a rock, more primitive than a worm – has the same rights as anyone reading this article.”

There’s a deep truth at the base of Kinsley's puzzlement. Nothing can be a certain kind of thing until it possesses the form of that kind of thing, and the form of a thing under construction just plain isn’t there at the beginning of the construction process. It isn’t there because that form is being gradually imposed from the outside and the persons or forces doing the construction have not yet been able to shape the raw material into what it will eventually be.

There is a special relevance of the construction idea to the embryonic stem cell debate. Conley admits there can be a peculiar, lesser sort of dignity even in a work-in-progress. For example, if we thought God were engaged in fabricating a new Eve, out of a bone and a breath, we wouldn't want to destroy His work-in-progress, simply out of respect for Him. Again, many of us would think a Corvette-To-Be pretty special even on the assembly line, something not lightly to be destroyed, because it's on the way to becoming something that we really care about. But if the auto factory shuts down early on, those two pieces of joined metal on the assembly line are not "to be" anything; they're just recyclable waste. Likewise, an embryo conceived outside the womb – with no plans to implant it so that it could be born – is not on its way "to be" anything. Thus it has little or no work-in-progress dignity, and work-in-progress type dignity is all that it can ever have for Conley and those who agree with his construction model of gestation.

So there is a reason that people like John McCain, and some others who are strongly opposed to abortion, even in early pregnancy, could feel free to vote for embryonic stem cell research funding. They could think that an intrauterine fetus or embryo is a great divine or human work in progress, and thus shouldn’t be aborted, even when just recently conceived, but only because it is under construction. Since the thousands of frozen, test-tube-generated embryos that scientists want to use for experiments are not under construction, are just scrap left over from IVF treatments, they can be recycled without a qualm.

Development as an alternative to construction

Despite the great explanatory power of Conley’s construction metaphor for an understanding of contemporary life-issue debates, it is radically misleading concerning the nature of gestation. It is in fact not true that the bodies of living creatures are constructed, by God or by anyone else. There is no outside builder or maker. Life is not made. Life develops.

In construction, the form defining the entity being built arrives only slowly, as it is added from the outside. In development, the form defining the growing life (that which a major Christian tradition calls its “soul”) is within it from the beginning. If Corvette production is cancelled, the initial two pieces of metal stuck together can become the starting point for something else, perhaps another kind of car, or maybe a washing machine. But even if you take a human embryo out of the womb, you can never get it to develop into a puppy or a guppy.

Living organisms are not formed or defined from the outside. They define and form themselves. The form or nature of a living being is already there from the beginning, in its activated genes, and that form begins to manifest itself from the very first moment of its existence, in self-directed epigenetic interaction with its environment. Embryos don’t need to be molded into a type of being. They already are a definite kind of being.

This idea of development – as the continual presence but gradual appearance of a being – lies deep within us. Here is a non-biological example of development. Suppose that we are back in the pre-digital photo days and you have a Polaroid camera and you have taken a picture that you think is unique and valuable – let’s say a picture of a jaguar darting out from a Mexican jungle. The jaguar has now disappeared, and so you are never going to get that picture again in your life, and you really care about it. (I am trying to make this example parallel to a human being, for we say that every human being is uniquely valuable.) You pull the tab out and as you are waiting for it to develop, I grab it away from you and rip it open, thus destroying it. When you get really angry at me, I just say blithely, “You’re crazy. That was just a brown smudge. I cannot fathom why anyone would care about brown smudges.” Wouldn’t you think that I was the insane one? Your photo was already there. We just couldn’t see it yet.

Why do we sometimes find the constructionist view plausible, while at other times the more accurate developmental view seems to make more sense? The constructionist view is intuitively appealing, I think, whenever the future is shut out of our minds, even if we are using the scientifically correct term “development.” Whenever the embryo or fetus is described in terms simply of its current appearance, it is easy to fall into constructionism. For example, if a snapshot is taken in which an embryo looks like just a ball of cells, its dynamic self-direction is obscured. It seems inert. Since an entity that had merely embryonic characteristics as its natural end state would indeed not qualify as a human being, it is easy to imagine that the entity in the snapshot is not human. Scientific knowledge of its inner activity may not be enough to overcome this impression, for it is hard to recognize a form still hidden from view.

However, when we look backwards in time or otherwise have in mind a living entity’s final concrete form, development becomes intuitively compelling. Knowing that the developing Polaroid picture would have been of a jaguar helped us to see that calling it a “brown smudge” was inadequate. If we somehow had an old photo taken of our friend Jim just after he had been conceived, and was thus just a little ball, we'd have no trouble saying, "Look, Jim. That's you!" Thus the most arresting way to put the developmental case against embryo-destructive research would be something like this: “Each of your friends was once an embryo. Each embryo destroyed could one day have been your friend.”

Deconstruction and the disabled

The construction vs. development clash may also help us to clarify our mutual misunderstandings regarding euthanasia. If a Corvette is gradually deconstructed (dismantled), it eventually ceases to merit the appellation “car”. If you were given a disassembled Corvette body, without the motor or wheels, would you feel that you had been given a “car”? What if you got only a chunk of the frame? True, Corvette-lovers might still have a certain reverence for that body, or even for a piece of the frame, because of what it used to be part of, so that wantonly trashing it (for no good purpose) could still seem to them wrong. But it wouldn’t seem nearly as bad as destroying a whole car. (Remember, there’s nothing wrong with this thinking with regard to artificial creations like cars. Once the pieces necessary to form a car are gone, that form itself is gone and so the car is truly gone.)

Life, however, is different. The form (nature, design) of a living creature both precedes and perdures independently of its appearance and function. That activated form is imbedded within a living being’s every part and every cell (in its active DNA). As long as a disabled creature remains anything – that is, as long as it holds itself together in some way, rather than just becoming a collection of non-integrated objects – that is, as long as it remains alive – it remains what it always was from the beginning of its development.

Indeed, our photo analogy fails fully to capture the nature of life. A photo does not hold itself together. If you scratch it after it has been developed, it won’t even try to repair itself. Like a constructed entity, it is merely an assemblage of parts, without a continuing inner force maintaining its form. Since a living creature is not only an assemblage of parts, it actually cannot be merely constructed. Both ancient and modern constructionists switch (and have to switch) to the developmental understanding at some point during gestation, or soon thereafter, in order to account for the fact that living human beings do have this active inner unifying form, until the day they die.

A deconstructionist might forget this truth and claim misleadingly that someone in a so-called “persistent vegetative state” is no longer a human being, having lost forever what we think special about our species. But in point of fact such a person never loses the unifying force that strives to express her humanity, until the moment she dies. Every part of her wasted body, even her very genes, actively, though in vain, strives to repair her injuries and to express her natural reason, will, and connection to those whom she has loved. She never becomes something else, such as a vegetable. That’s why her condition is tragic, because she has a human nature that is utterly frustrated. We don’t find real vegetables tragic (“Poor little heads of lettuce. Look how they’re just vegetating!”) because they are able to exhibit their inner design or nature.

As a result of accident or of age, many of us will become no longer capable (in this world) of expressing well, or expressing at all, the speech, reason, choice, and love for which we remain formed. Our humanity will have once more become partially hidden, as it was when we had just been conceived, but it will still be there.


Richard Stith J.D. (Yale), Ph.D. (Yale), teaches at Valparaiso University School of Law (Indiana, U.S.A.). Email: [email protected]

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