NY priest hopes to bring 'moral tradition' to new task force role

Fr. Thomas Berg
Fr. Thomas Berg


New York priest Fr. Thomas Berg was recently appointed by Gov. David Paterson as a member of the state's Life and the Law task force. In an exclusive interview with CNA, Fr. Berg spoke of the numerous ethical challenges that New York faces as well as his intention to bring the “richness” of “moral tradition” to the debate on life issues.

Fr. Berg currently serves as president and executive director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person and is parochial vicar St. Denis Parish in Yonkers.

In an e-mail to CNA on Sept. 17, the priest gave insight into the significance of his new post as well as the mission of the NY Task Force on Life and the Law, which is a faction of the state's Department of Health.

“Our mandate is to develop public policy on any number of difficult moral issues confronting the state from within the healthcare and biomedical arenas and which require attentive analysis toward ethically acceptable solutions and policies,” Fr. Berg wrote.

“My role,” he added, “as is that of my colleagues, is to bring my own experience in dealing with such matters to the table and collaborate with them in rendering policy suggestions that are in accord with – as I would put it – the natural moral law, with the guidance of human reason.”

The task force was founded in 1985 with the purpose of creating public policy on issues such as the determination of death, the withdrawal and withholding of life-sustaining treatment, organ transplantation, and new technologies and practices to assist reproduction. The initiative comprises experts from several fields – such as physicians, nurses, lawyers, philosophers, bioethicists and religious leaders – and represents a wide variety of opinions on bioethical issues.

“Be what may our religious backgrounds, hopefully our aim would be to find solutions to these questions which are thoroughly reasonable, in the strong and literal sense of the word,” Fr. Berg noted.

When asked what he believes to be the more serious issues that the state is grappling with, Fr. Berg said, “I think there are a number of challenges facing New York, including a serious issue which has gone relatively unnoticed by most: the potential for the exploitation of economically challenged women for their eggs.”

“The New York Stem Cell Board gave the green light last year essentially for cash payments from State funds to women willing to submit to egg retrieval for their use in state funded embryonic stem cell research,” he explained.

“I think one of the biggest problems we face is that New York tax payers remain relatively disengaged from these moral debates, even when the policies set in place have a bearing on what happens with their tax dollars,” Fr. Berg observed.

“I hope to bring the richness of the natural law moral tradition to bear on our deliberations,” he said. “A number of Task Force members have also been my colleagues on the Stem Cell Board and I have always appreciated their collegiality and the seriousness with which, by and large, we have debated and addressed moral issues. I would expect nothing less of the Task Force.”

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