Sursum Corda
"an insightful Catholic Blog that eschews extremism in any direction."
--Commonweal Magazine
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Topical musings from a Catholic perspective

Friday, July 19, 2002
THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS: This is a fine article from the Catholic News Service about how an increasing number of lay people are praying the Liturgy of the Hours. The Hours are arrangements of Psalms, canticles from the Old and New Testament, scriptural readings and prayers that are arranged to be read at different times of the day. The two major offices are Morning and Evening Prayer (which used to be called Lauds and Vespers).

I’ve been praying Lauds and Vespers on my train ride to and from work for about two years now. It’s a great way to start and end the workday. I often find that my personal prayer can be very disjointed and scattered—particularly when I am commuting—and praying the Hours helps me stay focused. These are words that have been offered to God for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years. Praying the Hours links you to millions of people around the world who are praying them at the same time you are, as well as the millions in times past who have done so as well.

The core of the Hours are the Psalms. If you pray the morning, evening and night offices for four weeks, you will read almost all the Psalms, so it’s a good way to get to know them. Pope John Paul II is quoted in the article as saying that the Psalms reflect a wide array of human feelings: “joy, recognition, thanksgiving, love, tenderness and enthusiasm, but also intense suffering, sorrow and requests for help or for justice, which sometimes are expressed with anger or imprecation.”

It should also be remembered that the Psalms were Jesus’ prayers. These were the prayers that He, as a devout Jew, would have grown up with. In breaking open the Psalms, we break open the culture that shaped Jesus, and we come to understand Him better.

For those wishing to know more about the Liturgy of the Hours, there is a wonderful—and very inexpensive—little book from the Liturgical Press entitled The School of Prayer: An Introduction to the Divine Office for All Christians. It contains a short history of the Hours, as well as commentaries on the Psalms in the four week Psalter.

As to what form of the Office you should use, the choice becomes a little tougher. I use a version known as Shorter Christian Prayer which is a scaled down version of the Office that has Morning, Evening and Night Prayer. It contains a selection of readings for the various Liturgical seasons, but it is not as complete as the book Christian Prayer, which itself is less complete than the full four-volume Liturgy of the Hours, which has the complete readings for all of the hours of the day for all of the liturgical seasons. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that a beginner start with that! My advice is to start with Shorter Christian Prayer and work your way up gradually. How much weight you can carry around may affect your ultimate choice!

All of these works are approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops for use in the United States and are in some sense the “official translation.” That is both a strength and a weakness, because the translation is not terribly poetic. I am told that Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours books are more poetic and quite well done, although the order of prayer varies slightly because Tickle is (I think) an Anglican.

For those of a more technological bent, you might want to check out the Universalis web site. This site allows you to configure a web page that will show the text of the major Hours for that day. You can also download them onto a PDA. I actually did this for a year before I bought a print copy of the Hours. Reading on a PDA for a long period of time can give you a bit of eyestrain.

Happy Praying!

posted by Peter Nixon 4:55 PM
. . .
SAINT AUGUSTINE'S CONFESSIONS: A wonderful article in U.S. Catholic about the struggles and triumphs of St. Augustine's Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., the "mother church" of African-American Catholics in the nation's capital. Saint A's is a wonderful place. They are going through some tough times right now because their pastor--Mgsr. Russell Dillard--was recently removed after allegations of sexual abuse were made against him by two women from a former parish. What made this particularly painful was that Dillard was the first African-American pastor in the church's history.

I attended mass at Saint Augustine's several times while I lived in Washington. The 12:30pm Gospel Mass will knock your socks off, but set aside at least two hours and get there at least 30 minutes early if you want a seat. Also, you better walk because you're not going to find parking close to the Church. But it's worth it, believe me.

This issue of U.S. Catholic is a special issue on African-American Catholics and has a number of articles that are worth your time.

posted by Peter Nixon 1:44 PM
. . .
WANT TO KNOW MORE? About Sursum Corda, I mean, not the universe in general. On the upper right hand side of the page, I've posted a link to an F.A.Q. that tells a little more about the site (including what Sursum Corda means) and a little bit about me. No salacious details about my personal life, I'm afraid

posted by Peter Nixon 1:15 PM
. . .
BLAMING THE JEWS? The National Catholic Reporter's John Allen reports that he has run into a disturbing number of Vatican officials who--off-the-record of course--suggest that the American media's focus on the clerical sex abuse scandal has something to do with Jewish influence on the media. Allen also offers a brief assessment of Cardinal Tettamanzi, the new Archbishop of Milan and a man many believe could be the next Pope (which, of course, almost ensures that he won't be).

posted by Peter Nixon 10:41 AM
. . .
SUFFERING: Many Bloggers are posting on suffering this week: Amy Welborn, Disputations, HMS Blog, The New Gasparian. I'm not going to try to link directly to their posts because of the Blogger archive problems. I wrote something on this topic a few weeks back. If you are interested in reading it, click here. It's in my (non-Blogger) archives file.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:25 AM
. . .
ETHICS OF CLONING TO PRODUCE CHILDREN: This is the latest installment of a chapter-by-chapter summary of the new report issued by the President’s Council on Bioethics, Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry. You can read my summary of Chapters 1-4 below by scrolling down (I no longer trust the Blogger archive links).

Chapter Five discusses the ethics of cloning to produce children. The chapter is long, and I will only be able to scratch the surface of the arguments presented. Even if you haven’t read the other chapters, this one is certainly worth your time.

The chapter begins by laying out the reasons why we might want to allow cloning to produce children—assuming the technology could be perfected. One can imagine, for example, parents with fertility problems who wished to produce biologically related children. Human cloning could also allow couples at risk of transmitting a genetic disease to their children to avoid doing so. Cloning might also allow a child needing a bone marrow transplant to receive one from a cloned “sibling,” virtually eliminating the possibility. Of course there is also the possibility—a staple of science fiction writers—that we might want to use cloning to reproduce individuals of great genius, talent or beauty.

In general, those who support human cloning in these situations appeal to one or more broad principles. There is the argument from reproductive liberty which holds that individuals have a right to determine when and how they choose to reproduce. One also hears appeals to the goodness of existence, which suggests that even if cloning is risky, it is better for the cloned child to be born than not to be born. Finally, there are arguments that appeal to the goodness of well-being, which suggests that it is reasonable for parents to use cloning to relieve suffering, such as the suffering of children with disabilities or the suffering of couples unable to conceive.

While the Council acknowledged that there was merit in some of these arguments, they were generally not persuaded by them. The rest of Chapter Five offers a critique of the pro-cloning position and lays out a comprehensive argument against cloning. In the interests of space, I am going to focus on the latter.

The Council’s argument against cloning can be divided into two broad points. The first point is that cloning should not be attempted because it would be an unethical experiment with human subjects. Cloning to produce children is not now safe, either for the child or the mother. Furthermore, there is no conceivable way to make it safer without also engaging in unethical experimentation with human subjects. For these reasons, the Council concludes :

These questions of the ethics of research -- particularly the issue of physical safety -- point clearly to the conclusion that cloning-to-produce-children is unacceptable. In reaching this conclusion, we join the National Bioethics Advisory Commission and the National Academy of Sciences. But we go beyond the findings of those distinguished bodies in also pointing to the dangers that will always be inherent in the very process of trying to make cloning-to-produce-children safer. On this ground, we conclude that the problem of safety is not a temporary ethical concern. It is rather an enduring moral concern that might not be surmountable and should thus preclude work toward the development of cloning techniques to produce children. In light of the risks and other ethical concerns raised by this form of human experimentation, we therefore conclude that cloning-to-produce-children should not be attempted.
The second part of the Council’s argument is that cloning to produce children—even if perfected—would still be wrong. This is a complex and difficult argument and I am not going to do justice to it here. But let me offer a brief sketch.

In Chapter One of the report, the Council makes the point that a significant feature of human procreation is that a child is not made, but begotten: “Even if the child is wished for, and consciously so, he or she is the issue of [a couple’s] love, not the product of their wills; the man and the woman in no way produce or choose a particular child as they would a particular car. A child has a certain independence that comes from being genetically unique.

Cloning would change this. For the first time, parents would choose the entire genetic composition of their child. This could lead to a wide range of problems related to identity and individuality, family relations, eugenics and society as a whole. As the Council notes:

Cloning-to-produce children could distort the way we raise and view children, by carrying to full expression many regrettable tendencies already present in our culture. We are already liable to regard children largely as vehicles for our own fulfillment and ambitions. The impulse to created "designer children" is present today -- as temptation and social practice. The notion of life as a gift, mysterious and limited, is under siege. Cloning-to-produce-children would carry these tendencies and temptations to an extreme expression. It advances the notion that the child is but an object of our sovereign mastery.
Given the enormous importance of what is at stake, the Council argues that the “precautionary principle” should be our guide: “We should be modest about our ability to understand the many possible consequences of such a profound alteration of human procreation. Lacking such understanding, no one should take action so drastic as the cloning of a human child.” For all of these reasons, the Council concludes that cloning to produce children is both unsafe and morally unacceptable and should not be attempted.

I hope to have a summary of Chapter 6 up for Monday. If you have comments, feel free to e-mail me by clicking here.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:09 AM
. . .
Thursday, July 18, 2002
CLONING: SCIENTIFIC BACKGROUND: This is the latest installment of a chapter-by-chapter summary of the new report issued by the President’s Council on Bioethics, Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry. You can read my summary of Chapters 1-3 below by scrolling down (I no longer trust the Blogger archive links). Chapter Four of the report is entitled “Scientic Background,” and attempts to explain the science of cloning in terms that a layperson can understand.

To understand how cloning works, one must understand a little about the biology of human reproduction. In normal sexual reproduction, an egg (carrying 23 chromosomes) and a sperm (carrying 23 chromosomes) are fused together, creating a zygote that contains a nucleus with the adult cell compliment of 46 chromosomes, half from each parent. The zygote then begins the gradual process of cell division, growth and differentiation.

In cloning, the merger of sperm and egg does not occur. Instead, an egg cell is obtained from the female of the species. The egg’s nucleus is removed. The nucleus of a donor cell is inserted to produce a reconstructed egg. That egg is then “activated” with chemicals or an electrical current to stimulate the reconstructed cell to commence cell division. The cloned embryos is grown to a suitable stage and then transferred to the uterus of a female host. If the cloned embryo successfully develops until birth, the result is a cloned mammal that is genetically identical to the one that donated the original cell.

While the process seems straightforward, there are numerous obstacles to success. The DNA in the nucleus of a donor cell is differentiated according to the type of cell (skin, muscle, kidney, etc.). In order for such a cell to direct embryonic development, it must be “epigenetically reprogrammed.” In the majority of cloning attempts of mammals that have been made to date, this reprogramming has been unsuccessful and the animal has died in-utereo. There have also been cases where the animal has been born alive, but has suffered from genetic defects that did not manifest themselves for years.

While a number of animal species have been cloned, it is not known whether anyone has attempted to clone a human being to produce a child. There have been uncorroborated press reports, but no credible evidence of such experiments has emerged.

There is at least one documented case of researchers attempting human cloning for research purposes. Researchers at Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts were able to transfer the nucleus from donor cells to human eggs and stimulate the cloned embryos to begin cell division. But the embryos stopped dividing and died at the six cell stage and no stem cells were isolated.

Tomorrow, I hope to post a summary of Chapter Five, which discusses the ethics of cloning to produce children.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:43 PM
. . .
CORRECTIONS: My wife corrected me on two small points about my recounting of the "report back" session with Bishop Cummins that was posted yesterday. The first is that Bishop Cummins was relating a conversation he had had with another bishop, so the priest in question was not a priest of the Diocese of Oakland. The second point was that the quoted words were "I might as well be dead," not "I'd rather be dead," as I had reported. Small errors, perhaps, but we do strive to be accurate here at SC. I've made the change on the original post as well (something you can't do in print media).

posted by Peter Nixon 4:01 PM
. . .
CLONING: ON TERMINOLOGY This is the latest installment of a chapter-by-chapter summary of the new report issued by the President’s Council on Bioethics, Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry. You can read my summary of Chapters One and Two below by scrolling down (I no longer trust the Blogger archive links).

Chapter Three of the report is entited “On Terminology” and it quickly lays out why the chapter is needed:

What exactly is meant by the term "cloning"? What criterion justifies naming an entity a "clone"? How is the term "cloning" related to what scientists call "somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)" or "nuclear transplantation"? What should we call the single-cell entity that results from SCNT, and what should we call it once it starts to divide and develop? How, if at all, should our names for such activities or such entities be affected by the purposes we have for engaging in the activities or for using the entities?
Not surprisingly, what terminology you want to use to describe cloning is heavily determined by where you stand in the dispute. Consider the phrase “therapeutic cloning,” which is used by some to describe cloning for purposes of biomedical research rather than to produce children. Critics of the term argue that it is deceptive, because the act of cloning itself is clearly not an act of healing or therapy and the resulting clones are ultimately destroyed. Many scientists, however, dislike other terms like "cloning for research" because they believe such terms conceal the fact that reserach cloning is being undertaken in order to relieve human suffering.

In deciding what terminology to use, the Council was guided by a desire to use language that would be readily understood by laypeople and that would accurately describe what is being done. They came up with the following definitions:

Human cloning (what it is): The asexual production of a new human organism that is, at all stages of development, genetically virtually identical to a currently existing or previously existing human being.

Human cloning (how it is done): It would be accomplished by introducing the nuclear material of a human somatic cell (donor) into an oocyte (egg) whose own nucleus has been removed or inactivated, yielding a product that has a human genetic constitution virtually identical to the donor of the somatic cell. This procedure is known as "somatic cell nuclear transfer" (SCNT).

Human cloning (why it is done): This same activity may be undertaken for purposes of producing children or for purposes of scientific and medical investigation and use, a distinction represented in the popular discussion by the terms "reproductive cloning" and "therapeutic cloning." We have chosen instead to use the following designations:

Cloning-to-produce-children: Production of a cloned human embryo, formed for the (proximate) purpose of initiating a pregnancy, with the (ultimate) goal of producing a child who will be genetically virtually identical to a currently existing or previously existing individual.

Cloning-for-biomedical-research: Production of a cloned human embryo, formed for the (proximate) purpose of using it in research or for extracting its stem cells, with the (ultimate) goals of gaining scientific knowledge of normal and abnormal development and of developing cures for human diseases.

Cloned human embryo: (a) The immediate and developing product of the initial act of cloning, accomplished by SCNT. (b) A human embryo resulting from the somatic cell nuclear transfer process (as contrasted with a human embryo arising from the union of egg and sperm).

Chapter Four, which focuses on the scientific aspects of human cloning, is fairly short, so I may have it up later today.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:13 AM
. . .
THE ORPHANS WHO STAND AT GOD'S WINDOW: A challenging story in this week's Tablet about the impact of the AIDS pandemic in Africa. In ten years time the number of childrened orphaned because of AIDS will reach 42 million. That's more than the entire population of the state of California. The author's description of the situation may tempt one to despair, but he concludes on a hopeful note. He tells the story of Siphiwe Hlophe, a HIV-positive woman from Swaziland who has founded an organization dedicated to helping those with the disease:

Siphiwe formed a group called SWAPOL: Swaziland for Positive Living. It now has 150 members, mostly HIV-positive women who organise meetings to discuss Aids and spread the message to children. They counsel others who discover that they are HIV-positive, visit terminally ill people in their homes, make sure they get medical care, educate people about better diets – a crucial factor for people living with Aids – and battle with headmasters who turn away Aids orphans. They also work to make sure grandmothers and orphans get government allowances. This astoundingly difficult but inspiring work is accompanied by a great deal of laughter and song. They seem to be saying: “I am going to die of an incurable disease but before I do I am going to change the world.”
Let's hope they do.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:46 AM
. . .
Wednesday, July 17, 2002
AFTER DALLAS: A reader sent me an article (PDF-reader required) penned by Fr. Bryan Massingale, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, on the charter on sexual abuseadopted by the Bishops at their Dallas meeting. Massingale believes the charter is “seriously and fundamentally flawed.” His basic argument is that “zero tolerance” does not allow the bishops sufficient flexibility and will lead to the removal of priests who present virtually no risk to the community. Massingale notes that the while the bishops focused, quite rightly, on the failures of abusive priests, they took no real action to address their own failures:

The bishops apparently interpreted the call for “zero tolerance” as a demand to “get tough” with priests. And it was — in part. But they failed to appreciate a deeper truth in this demand. The laity’s cry for zero tolerance is also a judgment of “zero confidence” in the bishops’ credibility and leadership. If I am right, “zero tolerance” is the laity’s shorthand for telling the bishops, “Because you have abused our trust, and failed to excise appropriate discretion and judgment on this issue, we are taking the matter out of your hands, and demand a process that does not leave you and room for making prudential decisions.” “Zero tolerance,” then, is not only a call to “get tough” with abusive priests; it signals a massive breach of trust between the laity and their bishops.

But this “Charter” neither forthrightly nor adequately deals with this erosion of episcopal trust and credibility. To be fair, the bishops write, “[we] acknowledge our mistakes.” But while they get tough with priests, they are soft on themselves. There is no call for sanctions against errant bishops, not even a suggestion that such bishops might consider following their own policy by tendering their resignations and permanently removing themselves from ministry.
“I MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD”: Last night, my wife attended a ‘report back’ organized by the Diocese of Oakland where Bishop Cummins spoke about what had happened in Dallas and what was being done to implement the new sex abuse policy.

While he is moving to implement the new policy, Bishop Cummins was pretty clear that he was not entirely happy with it. For more than two decades, the Diocese has had a policy that removed abusive priests from active ministry. In a small number of cases, however, priests who responded well to therapy were allowed to exercise other forms of ministry under close supervision. This policy, in my view, has worked quite well and I am unaware of any cases where these priests have committed new acts of abuse.

That approach will no longer be possible under the policy adopted by the Bishops in Dallas. Bishop Cummins related the story of another Bishop he knew who had spoken to a priest and told him that he could no longer wear clerical clothing, celebrate the mass publicly, or otherwise identify himself as a priest. The man’s response was “I might as well be dead.”

The next speaker from the floor prefaced her question by saying “Well, some of us would like him to be dead too.”

I must say that I share Bishop Cummins’ frustration. We had here in Oakland a policy that worked well and that seemed to balance justice and mercy. But because of the well-publicized failures of certain other dioceses to act in a similar fashion, our diocese is forced to be more draconian than the individual situations of these priests may warrant.

That is not to say that I necessarily believe the Bishops in Dallas should have acted differently. As I have written in these pages before, I am very torn about this issue. I agree with Father Massingale that the laity’s anger is directed as much at the Bishops as at the offending priests. That does not mean, however, that the laity would have responded well to a policy that granted the Bishops more flexibility. Perhaps the Bishops should have ignored “public sentiment,” but given the circumstances, I don’t think that would have been wise.

Sometimes there is no decision you can make that doesn’t lead to injustice and suffering. But we need to be clear who’s responsible for that. There’s a scene at the end of the movie The Mission where a bishop is dealing with the aftermath of his decision to close the Jesuit missions in the Amazon jungle, a decision that led to the massacre of a group of tribespeople who refused to vacate one of the missions. A Portugese diplomat leans over and says to the bishop “Your excellency, we live in the world. The world is thus.” “No, Mr. Ambassador,” replies the bishop, “thus have we made the world.”

posted by Peter Nixon 3:54 PM
. . .
HISTORICAL ASPECTS OF CLONING: This week I’ll be posting summaries of the chapters of new report issued by the President’s Council on Bioethics, Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry. You can read my summary of Chapter One below by scrolling down (I no longer trust the Blogger archive links).

Chapter Two of the report is entitled “Historical Aspects of Cloning.” Scientists and others were fascinated with the idea of cloning long before it became a real possibility. Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World imagines a world where natural human reproduction has become a thing of the past and human beings are replicated in artificial wombs.

The scientific reality was more prosaic. The earliest cloning “success” came in 1952, when American embryologists Robert Briggs and Thomas King successfully cloned a leopard frog that became a tadpole. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that biologist John Gurdon reported that he had produced sexually mature frogs through cloning. Gurdon’s research generated a significant amount of publicity and led to a serious debate among scientists and ethicists about the pros and cons of human cloning.

But as long as cloning was confined to relatively simple animals like frogs, the debate remained rather academic. But in 1996, a team of researchers led by Ian Wilmut announced that they had successful cloned an adult sheep. Since then, similar success has been achieved in cloning other mammalian species, including cattle, goats, pigs, mice, cats and rabbits. The report makes this important point about those engaged in this research:

The animal cloners did not set out to develop techniques for cloning humans. Wilmut’s goal was to replicate or perpetuate animals carrying a valuable genome; for example, sheep that had been genetically modified to produce medically valuable proteins in their milk. Others, such as the cloners of the kitten CC, were interested in commercial ventures for the cloning of pets. Yet the techniques developed in animals have encouraged a small number of infertility therapists to contemplate and explore efforts to clone human children. And, following the announcement in 1998 by James Thomson and his associates of their isolation of human embryonic stem cells, there emerged an interest in cloned human embryos, not for reproductive uses but as a powerful tool for research into the nature and treatment of human disease.
Presidents Clinton and Bush, as well as the Congress, have had to wrestle with the policy issues created by these various discoveries. As it stands now, there is no federal law preventing researchers from cloning human beings, either to produce children or for research purposes. The House has passed a ban on all human cloning, but the Senate is divided between those who would ban all cloning, and those who would allow cloning for research purposes. A number of states have also adopted partial or total bans on cloning, as have a number of European countries.

Tune in tomorrow when we look at Chapter Three, which looks at the debate over the terminology used to describe cloning and how the Council resolved that debate in their own report.

posted by Peter Nixon 11:33 AM
. . .
ARE WE LOSING YOUNG ADULT CATHOLICS? This week’s Tidings (the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles) has an interesting article by sociologist James Davidson about how many young adult Catholics end up leaving the Church. The available evidence suggests that about 70 percent of young Catholics will become religiously inactive by their early 20s. The majority of this group continue to think of themselves as Catholic and about 30 percent (less than half) will eventually return to the Church. (often after they have children). Another way of looking at this is to say that out of every ten baptized Catholics, only 6 will be religiously active in their 30s and beyond. Davidson concludes:

Thus, parents and church leaders should not assume that young adults will automatically return to the church. Instead, they should consider it a pastoral challenge. They should maintain as many ties as possible with young adults, helping them locate Catholics friends and challenging them to think about Catholic marriage partners.
The Tidings also has a related article about ‘Theology on Tap,' a speaker/discussion series aimed at young adult Catholics living in Los Angeles.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:04 AM
. . .
LAY INVOLVEMENT: Amy Welborn has a very thoughtful post today on the pros and cons of greater "lay involvement" and how it might work in practice. Unfortunately, I can't seem to link to the precise post, but it was posted today (Wednesday) and is about four or five posts down. It's a long one that starts with a discussion of Voice of the Faithful in Boston.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:41 AM
. . .
PACIFISM REDUX: Lynn Gazis-Sax has made some very interesting points about Christian pacifism on her blog Noli Irritare Leones. She covers everything from Bonhoffer to scriptural interpretation. Check it out.

posted by Peter Nixon 9:23 AM
. . .
Tuesday, July 16, 2002
COMMON GROUND: There’s a great interview with R. Scott Appleby in the July issue of U.S. Catholic. Appleby was one of the laypeople who addressed the Bishops at the Dallas meeting. He is a professor of history at Notre Dame and has been a key player in the Catholic Common Ground initiative that was started by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernadin. In the interview, he talks about a number of things, including what CCG has learned by bringing together Catholics of diverse philosophical persuasions:

As the Common Ground Initiative brought together people from various points of the spectrum, we learned that when you get face-to-face with people—when you spend a weekend together and worship together, have meals together—that experience has a pacifying effect.

In that setting people are reminded that we share membership in the Body of Christ and that we care passionately about the same things. Even though the people around the tables may be from the left, right, or center, they are practicing Catholics who probably differ on only 5 percent of their worldview, not on everything. The very fact that they are actually willing to engage in dialogue says something about them. A civility emerges, followed by friendships…

In the end, though, I got the sense that people felt that some of the things we fight about, and the intensity with which we fight about them, are kind of silly. You come to realize that whether a certain liturgical style is preferable to another is perhaps less pressing than the fact that the whole culture is going to hell outside your window.

You begin to understand that the person who disagrees with you is not therefore a heretic or acting in bad faith. Although people may vehemently disagree with you and even think you are hurting the cause, they understand that you are sincere and care deeply about the faith.
For more information on the Catholic Common Ground initiative, click here.

posted by Peter Nixon 4:00 PM
. . .
THE MEANING OF HUMAN CLONING: As promised, I’m going to be going through the new report issued by the President’s Council on Bioethics, Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry. I don’t plan to offer a lot of commentary at this point; just a summary of what I see to be the key points. All quotations are from the first chapter of the report.

Chapter One of the report, “The Meaning of Human Cloning,” tries to place human cloning in its cultural and scientific context. The report notes that “cloning has arisen not so much because it was actively sought for its own sake, but because it is a natural extension of certain biotechnological advances of the past several decades.” Our quest to treat disease and relieve human suffering has given us greater knowledge of the workings of the human body and that knowledge has given us the power to control or alter those workings. While previous advances in medical knowledge have raised ethical concerns, there is increasing recognition that cloning represents something new:

A growing number of people sense that something new and momentous is happening; that the accelerating waves of biotechnical advances touch deeply on our most human concerns; and that the centuries-old project for human mastery of nature may now be, so to speak, coming home, giving humanity the power to alter and "master" itself.
The report suggests that there are three areas of inquiry that are essential to understanding the meaning of human cloning: 1) the nature and meaning of human procreation; 2) the aims, means, and ends of biomedical science and technology; and 3) the relation of science and technology to the larger society.

With regard to the first issue, the report lays out a compelling argument that how we understand ourselves as human beings is tightly linked to the fact that we reproduce sexually. The genetic endowment of our children is determined by nature and chance, not by human design. This shapes how we view our children:

Though their conception is the fruit of our activity, and though we are responsible for saying "yes" to their arrival, we do not, in normal procreation, command their conception, control their makeup, or rule over their development and birth. They are, in an important sense, "given" to us. Though they are our children, they are not our property. Though they are our flesh and blood, and deeply kin, they are also independent "strangers" who arrive suddenly out of the darkness and whom we must struggle to get to know. Though we may seek to have them for our own self-fulfillment, they exist also and especially for their own sakes. Though we seek to educate them, they are not like our other projects, determined strictly according to our plans and serving only our desires.
Would cloning change how we view children? Would it change how we view our responsibilities to them, and theirs to us? As the authors make clear:

Cloning would be the first instance in which parents could select in advance the precise (or nearly precise) genetic makeup of their child, by selecting the donor to be cloned. It therefore forces us to ask what might be the difference between begetting and making, to wonder whether cloning somehow crosses the line between them, and, if so, to consider whether and why that should worry us.
The second issue that we need to wrestle with if we are to understand the implications of human cloning is its relationship to medical research. While the idea cloning to produce children has produced widespread revulsion among the general public, that public is much more divided about whether cloning for research purposes is morally licit.

The authors of the report note that, in our culture, we generally do not give a great deal of thought to the question of what goals science and research should serve. The usefulness of such activities seems self-evident. But there are times when this work raises profound questions about the kind of people we are and want to be. In such situations, we are “forced to consider the ends and means of science and technology, and to explore their standing in the scheme of human goods.”

Medical research raises these questions in a particularly acute way, because the goal of such research is to treat disease and relieve human suffering. This is clearly a great good. But is it the only human good? If not, what other goods can conflict with it? In the pursuit of this good, are there any means that cannot be employed?

One of the reasons cloning for research raises this issue with such force is that the embryos created through cloning are destroyed through the research process:

This fact raises serious and troubling questions about the proper way to regard these nascent human organisms and the morally appropriate way to treat them. Cloning techniques might provide an even more useful source of embryos for biomedical research than simple IVF techniques. Human cloning could yield numerous identical embryos, could provide for the study of stem cells derived from individuals known to possess genetic diseases, and might eventually yield transplantable tissues for regenerative medicine that would escape immune rejection. Human cloning-for-biomedical-research therefore brings the moral question of means before us with even greater force. It calls on us to think of the good of medical advances and the relief of human suffering while at the same time considering our responsibilities to nascent human life and the possible harms to ourselves and future generations that may result from coming to regard the beginning stages of human life as raw material for use and exploitation.
The final issue to be considered before proceeding to an examination of cloning itself is the relationship of this technology to the wider society. Our society places great value on freedom of scientific inquiry and we have obtained great benefits by protecting that freedom. In general, the restrictions that we place on science are those necessary to protect human subjects, or consumers who might consume the ultimate product of a particular line of research (e.g. a particular medicine).

Cloning has parallels with some of these examples, but it is not a perfect fit. At issue in any effort to produce cloned children is not merely whether it can be done safely, but whether it should be done at all. Even if the process could produce a physically healthy and psychologically well-adjusted child, would the process of cloning do harm to our society as a whole? If so, would that harm be sufficient to justify prohibiting the use of this technology for that purpose?

Chapter One of the report concludes with an exhortation to respect the “good faith” of all of the parties in this discussion:

The potential dangers we face do not result from ill intent or bad faith. Neither of the prevailing caricatures in the cloning debate—the mad scientist on a blind quest for an inhuman immortality or the puritanical Luddite seeking to keep the future at bay—is accurate, appropriate, helpful, or fair. The challenge we face is not as easy as that. The challenge we face involves the conflict of competing sets of concerns and priorities, each in the service of vital human goods, and each driven by a desire to improve the human condition and to protect essential principles. The widely shared desire to cure disease, relieve suffering, understand human biology, and provide humankind with new and more powerful means of control can conflict, in this case, with the widely shared desire to respect life, individual identity, the dignity of human procreation, and other institutions and principles that keep our society healthy and strong. The challenge for our society is to determine, through public deliberation and thoughtful reflection, how best to adjudicate between these two desires and to determine what form to give to the tacit agreement between society and science, by which society promises freedom within bounds, and science affords us innovation, knowledge, and power while respecting reasonable limits.

Well, I think we’re off to a good start. Check back tomorrow (hopefully) for my summary of Chapter Two, which will focus on the history of cloning.

posted by Peter Nixon 2:35 PM
. . .
CLONING: This week I’ll be posting a few excerpts from the recently released report of the President’s Council on Bioethics, which focuses on the issue of human cloning. As reported in the press, the Council recommended a ban on reproductive cloning (i.e. cloning to produce children), but was unable to come to consensus on how to address cloning for biomedical research. The result was a divided report, with a slim majority favoring a four-year moratorium on research cloning to allow for further debate.

The report is well worth your time. The issues it covers are of enormous importance. The debate over cloning is often thought to be yet another front in the abortion wars, but it is more than that. It is not merely a debate about the value of human life in the womb, although that debate remains an important one. It is also about the meaning of our humanity itself and to what extent we will remain recognizably human if the processes of human reproduction become entirely subject to our wills. How we, as a society, address the issue of cloning may well establish the parameters of debate for dealing with the emerging technologies of genetic manipulation.

posted by Peter Nixon 10:31 AM
. . .

. . .