Archive of March 4, 2009

Assisted suicide group expects ‘cultural shift’ in Washington state

Olympia, Wash., Mar 4, 2009 (CNA) - An assisted suicide group has announced it will compile a directory of physicians who will assist terminally ill patients seeking lethal medication prescriptions after a Washington state assisted suicide law takes effect on Thursday. The group expects a “cultural shift” in the state will encourage more doctors to assist in suicides.

The move follows the passage of Washington’s Initiative 1000, which won nearly 60 percent of the vote in the November 2008 election.

Under the law, two doctors must certify that the suicidal patient has a terminal condition and has six months or less to live. The patient must be a state resident and must make two oral requests 15 days apart and submit a written request witnessed by two people.

Physicians and pharmacists are not required to write or fill lethal prescriptions if they are opposed to doing so.

Some hospitals are opting out of participation, which prevents doctors from participating in assisted suicides on hospital property, the Associated Press reports.

The group Compassion & Choices, formerly known as the Hemlock Society, backed the ballot measure.

The group’s executive director Rob Miller told the Associated Press the group is now compiling a directory listing physicians who are not opting out of the law and pharmacies willing to fill lethal prescriptions for the suicidal terminally ill.

"Physicians don't understand yet exactly how the law works," Miller explained. "Whenever there's lack of understanding, there tends to be some reluctance."

Dr. Tom Preston, a retired cardiologist who is a board member of Compassion & Choices, told the Associated Press that many doctors hesitate to talk publicly about their stand on assisted suicide.

"There are a lot of doctors, who in principle, would approve or don't mind this, but for a lot of social or professional reasons, they don't want to be involved," he claimed, saying he thinks more and more doctors who don’t have religious or philosophical opposition to assisted suicide will be open to participating.

"It will be a cultural shift," he said.

However, Dr. Linda Wrede-Seaman, a family physician and palliative care specialist in Yakima, told the Associated Press that a terminal diagnosis is never absolutely certain.

“There is no question in my mind that, if this is too easy of a task, people will die prematurely," she said.

Washington state is the second state to have a voter-approved measure allowing assisted suicide. Under Oregon’s law, affirmed in a 1997 election, more than 340 people, mainly cancer patients, have killed themselves.

A Montana district judge has also ruled that doctor-assisted suicides are legal. The case is now before the Montana Supreme Court. Though Montana doctors are allowed to write lethal prescriptions pending the appeal, there is no reporting process and it is unknown whether any doctors have helped patients commit suicide.

The Portland, Oregon-based group Physicians for Compassionate Care Educational Foundation (PCCEF) argues that allowing doctor assisted suicide undermines trust in the patient-physician relationship and changes the role of the physician from the traditional role of healer to that of the “executioner.”

The group points out that such a “culture shift” endangers the value that society places on life, especially the lives of the most vulnerable and those nearing death.

PCCEF has launched a site encouraging physicians, medical caregivers and concerned citizens to pledge to provide “optimal comfort care” for the terminally ill until “natural death.”

According to a recent edition of the magazine Franciscan Way, PCCEF's president, Dr. Charles Bentz, increased his efforts against assisted suicide after a doctor at a Catholic hospital in Oregon referred one of Bentz’s cancer patients for an assisted suicide.

The Franciscan Way reports that Compassion & Choices had well-placed supporters on Washington newspaper editorial boards and had influenced enough administrators in Catholic hospitals to keep them from opposing Washington’s Initiative 1000.

According to Bentz, the Catholic health care network “could have financed the opposition to the initiative from petty cash if they wanted to… but instead they chose to remain on the sidelines.”

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Catholic schools in Israel prepare for papal visit

Jerusalem, Israel, Mar 4, 2009 (CNA) - In preparation for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Israel, the country’s Catholic schools are preparing 500 hours of classes to explain the Pope, the history of the Catholic Church and the Vatican to their students.

Father Ibrahim Faltas, a parish priest in Jerusalem who is an assistant in the Catholic school system, told Italian bishops’ news agency SIR that the lessons are aimed at Catholic school students, many of whom are Muslim.

There are 44 Catholic schools attended by 24,000 students in Israel, where the Melkite Greek Catholic Church constitutes the largest church at 60,000 faithful.

Fr. Elias Daw, president of the court of appeal of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, said the initiative shows Israelis’ expectations for the papal visit.

“This journey comes in a delicate moment, after the tragedy of Gaza, the recent attacks against the symbols of our religion on an Israeli TV channel and the declarations made by Holocaust-denying Bishop Williamson,” he told SIR. “Christians in the Holy Land need the Pope and his voice of truth and justice now more than ever.”

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In a world lacking hope, look to Jesus, Pope tells youth

Vatican City, Mar 4, 2009 (CNA) - This morning Pope Benedict XVI made public his message for the 24th World Youth Day, which will be celebrated at the diocesan level this year. In his message, the Pope calls on young people to seek out true hope, a firm and reliable hope rooted in a personal encounter with Jesus.

The theme for the 2009 World Youth Day, to be held on Palm Sunday, April 5, is: "We have set our hope on the living God."

The Holy Father begins his message by mentioning his “deep gratitude” for the spiritual enthusiasm of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia.

“In Sydney,” he recalls, “our attention was focused upon what the Holy Spirit is saying to believers today, and in particular to you, my dear young people. During the closing Mass, I urged you to let yourselves be shaped by him in order to be messengers of divine love, capable of building a future of hope for all humanity.”

Youth is a time of hope, the Pope says, a time when “we cherish ideals, dreams and plans. Youth is the time when decisive choices concerning the rest of our lives come to fruition.”

Pope Benedict then goes on to ask, “where can I obtain and how can I keep alive the flame of hope burning in my heart?”

“Experience shows that personal qualities and material goods are not enough to guarantee the hope which the human spirit is constantly seeking. ... Politics, science, technology, economics and all other material resources are not of themselves sufficient to provide the great hope to which we all aspire,” the Pope writes.

“This hope 'can only be God, Who encompasses the whole of reality and Who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain,'” he answers, quoting from his encyclical Spe Salvi.

Looking at the profound lack of hope in the modern world, the Holy Father points out that those societies which ignore God experience “a loss of direction” that results “in loneliness and violence, discontent and loss of confidence that can often lead to despair."

This dearth of hope can only be filled by God, says Benedict XVI as he repeats John Paul II’s call of for a new evangelization.

“To you young people, who are in search of a firm hope, I address the very words that St. Paul wrote to the persecuted Christians in Rome at that time: 'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.'"

With the Year of St. Paul in full swing, the Holy Father points the youth to how the Apostle to the Gentiles experienced the hope of God.

“How did this hope take root in him? asks the Pope.

“In order to answer that question we must go back to his encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. At that time, Saul was a young person like you in his early twenties, a follower of the Law of Moses and determined to fight, ... and even to kill those he regarded as God's enemies. ... After that encounter, Paul's life changed radically, ... he was inwardly transformed by the Divine Love he had met in the person of Jesus Christ. ... From being a persecutor, he became a witness and a missionary.”

"For Paul, explains Pope Benedict, “hope is not simply an ideal or sentiment, but a living person: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. ... If we are not alone, if He is with us, even more, if He is our present and our future, why be afraid?"

The Pope also provides practical advice on how to encounter Jesus, encouraging young people to “Make space for prayer in your lives!”

While praying alone is good, Benedict XVI grants, “it is even more beautiful and fruitful to pray together, because the Lord assured us He would be present wherever two or three are gathered in His name."

This means that youth should take part in their parish’s liturgies “and be abundantly nourished by the word of God and your active participation in the Sacraments,” he explains.

"If you find your sustenance in Christ, my dear young people, and if you live profoundly in Him as did the Apostle Paul, you will not be able to resist speaking about Him and making Him known and loved by many of your friends and contemporaries.”

The Holy Father’s message also emphasizes the importance of the role played by young people in the Church, saying, "The Church depends on you for this demanding mission. Do not be discouraged by the difficulties and trials you encounter. Be patient and persevering so as to overcome the natural youthful tendency to rush ahead and to want everything immediately."

Bringing his words to the youth to a close, Pope Benedict asks Mary, Mother of Hope to intercede for young people the world over.

"Mary, Star of the Sea, we ask you to guide the young people of the whole world to an encounter with your Divine Son Jesus. Be the celestial guardian of their fidelity to the Gospel and of their hope."

The full text of Pope Benedict’s 2009 World Youth Day message can be found here:

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Bolivian bishop denies challenging officials to attend traditional Te Deum

La Paz, Bolivia, Mar 4, 2009 (CNA) - Bishop Jesus Juarez of El Alto in Bolivia denied reports this week that he had challenged the government to attend the traditional Te Deum Mass to mark the city of El Alto’s anniversary, but he did confirm that he invited the officials to attend the Mass and to pray together with the Catholic people “for progress in the region.”

The bishop’s comments came in response to reports by two Bolivian news programs about a “supposed statement” in which he challenged the government of Evo Morales to attend the Eucharistic celebration.

“I ask the media not to distort my statements. At no time did I allude to the President [Evo Morales] or to the government or to any other official,” the bishop said in press release published on the Bolivian bishops’ website.

“Before it was customary for officials to attend the Te Deum on these anniversaries to pray to God for progress in the region,” Bishop Juarez said. But after the approval of the new Constitution, “attendance is a personal choice in accord with one’s faith,” he said.

However, the bishop insisted, “The new Constitution does not erase God or the faith of the people, who have a right to express it publicly.”

Therefore, “we will have the Te Deum,” and “the Church will pray for the city of El Alto. We invite our leaders to attend. If they do so, that is their choice. The Catholic people will be there. And if any leader decides not to attend, their conscience will be respected.”

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Judge prevents pregnant mother from being abandoned

Brasilia, Brazil, Mar 4, 2009 (CNA) - Judge Sivanildo Torres Ferreira of Paraiba, Brazil ordered that prenatal care be guaranteed for a woman and her unborn child, citing a law intended to prevent women who are pregnant from being abandoned.

According to media reports, the judge made his ruling after reviewing correspondence between the mother and the alleged father. He said there was sufficient evidence to conclude that the man in question was indeed the father. If tests were to prove he is not the biological father of the child, the man would be entitled to compensation.

The judge explained that the law guarantees the right to nourishment during pregnancy, without the need to prove the fetus is viable or that a conjugal bond exists. The primary goal is to prevent pregnant women from being abandoned and left without any assistance during pregnancy.

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Archbishop calls for end to electoral violence in El Salvador

San Salvador, El Salvador, Mar 4, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador has issued a strong call asking Salvadorans to stop the wave of violence that has shaken the country during the current campaign season.

“Our country has already suffered too much violence in the past, and it is not possible to turn the clock back on the peace and reconciliation process that we are striving to consolidate. I ask everyone not to fall into the temptation of violence during this time when the country must make a choice,” the archbishop said. 

In recent days, violence related to the upcoming elections has swept across the country, leaving dozens wounded.

Archbishop Escobar Alas called on leaders of the various political parties to control their supporters and to “abandon violent attitudes in order to have a peaceful and civilized electoral contest.”

“I would like to think that the leaders of the different parties do not want violence and that perhaps the violence is coming from supporters. There is no room for violence,” he said.

The archbishop also encouraged the Electoral Supreme Court to guarantee “total transparency” for the March 15 presidential elections. Addressing those running for political office, he called on them to have the humility to accept the results.

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Ethics group demands Spanish Television correct report on objecting parents

Madrid, Spain, Mar 4, 2009 (CNA) - The organization Professionals for Ethics has sent a letter to Spanish Television (TVE) demanding it correct a report that claimed some of the parents objecting their children attending the school course Education for the Citizenry did so fraudulently.

The report in question was aired on Saturday, February 28 and leveled the claim that some of the 52,000 complaints came from parents who do not have any children yet.

 “Fifty-two thousand declarations of conscientious objection have been made, not 52,000 complaints,” the organization stated.  The declarations “made by mothers and fathers include the name and school of each student.”  “You can’t be a father or a mother if you don’t have a child who meets those conditions, so it would be very difficult for people to object if they don’t have any children,” the group said.

Professionals for Ethics is demanding that TVE correct the report, “since it does not reflect the truth.”  The group noted that the law requires a correction be made within three days.

It also pointed out that TVE sent a reporter and cameraman to cover the story and that they had access to the same information as other reporters.

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Expert signals false opposition between 'Darwinism' and the Catholic Church

Rome, Italy, Mar 4, 2009 (CNA) - In an interview with the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano, Gennaro Auletta, professor of Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University has said that the teachings of the Church and Darwinism are not in complete opposition.  

Prof. Auletta’s comments were made as the Vatican hosts an international conference, titled, “Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories. A critical appraisal 150 years after ‘The Origin of Species.’” The summit is a collaberative effort between the University of Notre Dame (USA),  the STOQ Project (Science, Technology and Ontological Research) and the Pontifical Council for Culture and lasts until March 7.

The Italian expert asserted that the Church “has never adopted an attitude of condemnation” towards Darwinism.”

“This is one of the many reasons that in my opinion make all the efforts to recover or rehabilitate Darwin superfluous, because neither the Catholic Church nor her most important exponents have ever condemned Darwinism or the theory of evolution,” he said.

“It [Darwinism] has always been given much attention,” Auletta said.  “We only need to recall that Cardinal John Henry Newman in England was a clear supporter, since its beginnings, of Darwinism. I would even say that since the famous statement by John Paul II in 1996 we have entered a phase of recognition.”

He went on to recall an article by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn published by the New York Times in 2005 in which he said the “letter (by John Paul II in 1996) cannot be read as an approval of all theories of evolution, including the neo-Darwinian theories that explicitly deny Divine Providence as a protagonist in the development of life in the universe.”

It is worth noting, he said, that the problem is not specifically in the theory of evolution but evolution as a radical ideology, as was pointed out by Jesuit Father Marc Leclerc, professor of Natural Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Auletta argued that philosophical reflection now has the task of distinguishing science from theology in relation to Darwinism. “These two perspectives are today often confused,” he stressed.

“We often hear of the incompatibility between Catholicism and the theory of evolution, of the risk of reducing the human being to a blob of cells or to the pure animal dimension, but perhaps these are only myths and the problems are different,” Auletta said.

The Italian expert said he hoped the conference would show that the institutions and universities of the Church “take the theory of evolution very seriously.”

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New 'designer babies' make life a commodity, bioethicist says

Denver, Colo., Mar 4, 2009 (CNA) - A Los Angeles clinic has announced that it will help couples undergoing a form of fertility treatment screen their embryos for sex and desired physical characteristics such as eye color and height. One Catholic bioethicist is calling the practice as the “ultimate rejection” of the unfit.

The clinic Fertility Institutes will use a technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to screen out in-vitro fertilized (IVF) embryos with characteristics the parents do not desire, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Embryos chosen for desired traits will then be implanted into the mother with the hope they will develop and be carried to term.

Normally, PGD is used to screen out embryos carrying deadly genetic disorders. Thousands of parents have reportedly used the procedure for this purpose since its introduction in the 1990s.

But Fertility Institutes takes things a step further, advertising on its website that it can offer sex and physical trait selection.

Jeff Steinberg, director of the clinic, characterized its application of PGD as “cosmetic medicine.”

“Others are frightened by the criticism but we have no problems with it,” he told the Wall Street Journal, characterizing trait selection as “a service.”

“We intend to offer it soon,” he added.

Steinberg will use a new method to screen embryos which involves taking cells from five-day-old embryos instead of the typical three-day-old embryo. The method may allow more cells to be obtained and may result in a more reliable diagnosis.

Mark Hughes, a pioneer of the PGD process who directs the Detroit-based fertility laboratory Genesis Genetics Institute called the proposal “technically feasible” but added “no legitimate lab would get into it and, if they did, they’d be ostracized.”

Many countries have banned using PGD for gender selection, but it is permitted in the United States.

CNA discussed the new PGD application with Dr. Marie T. Hilliard, R.N., a staff ethicist and Director of Bioethics and Public Policy at the National Catholic Bioethics Center on Wednesday.

She argued that under the procedure, life becomes “a commodity that is to be ordered at will.”

“The unitive and procreative nature of marriage is destroyed. IVF does violence to the marital union. Just as contraception, which constitutes sex without babies, does violence to the conjugal union, engendering babies without sex destroys the self-giving that is the very nature of married love.

When IVF is used, children are produced that are "not the natural outcome of a self-giving act of love of their parents,” Hilliard explained.

“Children who have survived the pre-implantation selection process are left asking, ‘Would my parents have destroyed me if… ?  Would they still love me if… ?’”

Hilliard disputed Hughes’ contention that selection for physical traits is a fringe practice, saying that a September 2006 study from Johns Hopkins University indicates that nine percent of pre-implantation diagnosis is for sex selection.

“When a study indicates that one out of every eleven babies selected for implantation are selected for their gender, this is significant,” she told CNA. “It is especially significant in that those not selected are often slated for destruction either for research purposes or just abandoned and destroyed because of their gender.

“Gender is one characteristic among many that persons who have commodified human life want to be able to select.”

She also challenged the idea that PGD allows parents to avoid passing on deadly disorders to their children.

“What is occurring is just the opposite. Embryos are engendered. They are conceived human beings then relegated for ‘lethal’ destruction if they have undesirable traits. In fact, the practice is to engender more than are ‘desired’ and then abandon the ‘undesirable’ to a lethal end. Many more human beings are destroyed by this mechanism than are benefitted.”

She explained that “cosmetic medicine” is moral if it does not mutilate or destroy human life, but restores what has been damaged by accident, disease, environment, or other destructive influences.

Businesses, doctors and technicians involved in these procedures are more than cooperating with the evil of abortion, Hilliard told CNA:

“Those directly engaged in these activities are the principal agents of abortion.”

She encouraged Catholics to educate themselves about what is happening in PGD procedures.

“Life is being engendered to be destroyed, with only those deemed eugenically fit allowed to live. The implications are incredible for all of us.

“This is especially true for our aging population for whom it can be determined that they are unfit to contribute to society,” she said, referring to Washington voters’ passage of an assisted suicide measure.

Hilliard noted that more than 80 percent of those who request assisted suicide in Oregon fear “loss of dignity.”

“No one loses their dignity,” she told CNA. “Human dignity is innate; but fear of rejection by others can lead to a fear of loss of dignity.

“The ultimate rejection by others is the rejection by one's own parents who have determined that a baby will not have characteristics that the parents desire in a child they ‘produce’.”

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Italian Catholics sacrificing texting for Lent

Rome, Italy, Mar 4, 2009 (CNA) - After beginning in three Catholic dioceses of Italy, a campaign to give up text messages, social networking sites and computer games has spread to other parts in Italy.

The dioceses of Modena, Bari and Pesaro began the “stop texting for Lent” campaign, the Times of London reports. The effort echoes previous comments by Pope Benedict XVI on the isolating effects of technology.

In a January message for the 43rd World Day of Social Communications, the Pope praised young people’s ability to link new media with their desire to be connected to others. He said they turn to this technology “as means of communicating with existing friends, of meeting new friends, of forming communities and networks, of seeking information and news, and of sharing their ideas and opinions.”

By seeking out others, he added, “we are fulfilling our deepest need and becoming more fully human. Loving is, in fact, what we are designed for by our Creator.”

However, he warned against an “obsessive” desire for “virtual connectedness” which may isolate individuals from real social interaction and disrupt “patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development.”

The disruptive pervasiveness of new communications has even reached into the Vatican. The London Times reports that President Sarkozy of France was criticized for checking his mobile phone for text messages during a personal audience with Pope Benedict.

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