Thursday, July 23, 2015
I suspect that many of us are personally confronting the challenges of caring for aging parents. A recent intervention by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN's working group on aging cited Pope Francis' recent poignant comment on this topic: "“it’s brutal to see how the elderly are thrown away… No one dares to say it openly, but it’s done!” It's scary to see one's own personal situation as part of a worldwide trend -- rather like recognizing your own contributions to the global environmental situation described in Laudato si.
The description of the problem in the Holy See's intervention describes an impending global crisis as significant as the environmental one, one that ought to be getting more attention that it typically does:
In the West, data tell us that the current century is the aging century: children are diminishing, the elderly are increasing. Currently 700 million people, or 10 per cent of the world’s population, are above 60 years of age. By 2050, it is estimated that this number will double, reaching 20 per cent of the global population.(2) This increasing imbalance is a great challenge for contemporary society. For example, this puts increased pressure on healthcare and social protection systems. Given these figures, my delegation would like to draw particular attention to the needs of elderly women who are often excluded or neglected.
Therefore, as the number of older people increases along with the rise in average life expectancy, it will become increasingly important to promote an attitude of acceptance and appreciation of the elderly and to integrate them better in society. My delegation would like to reiterate that the ideal is still for the elderly to remain within the family, with the guarantee of effective social assistance for the greater needs which age or illness entail.
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Friday was one of my most favorite days of every year -- the day I get to watch my son and his fellow Special Olympians at the state gymnastics meet. As always, it was a day of witnessing what true joy and pride looks like, again and again. If you've never witnessed a Special Olympics competition of any kind, do yourself a huge favor and watch one.
When I got home, I saw that, while I was watching my son, Pope Francis was addressing the Special Olympics team from Italy who will be coming to Los Angeles for the World Games later this summer. Among his thoughts:
Please, remain faithful to this ideal of sport! Do not let yourselves be “contaminated” by the false sports culture, that of economic success, of victory at any cost, of individualism. It is necessary to rediscover “amateur” sport, that of gratuitousness, sport for the sake of sport. It is necessary instead to protect and defend sport as an experience of human values, yes of competitions, but in loyalty, in solidarity -- always dignity for every person!
And, on a somewhat related note, a very sweet message to all fathers from the Jerome LeJeune Foundation: My Dear Dad.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
I haven't had a chance to read Laudato Si yet, but a group of my colleagues at UST (including my co-director at the Murphy Institute, Billy Junker) just had a conference on these issues here last week, and had this to say in today's local paper. Their conference included a keynote by John Allen, in which he offered some of the predictions and cautions about likely reactions to the encyclical that appeared in this column of his (he calls it "getting ahead of the spin"). Today's column offers an informative historical survey of the evolution of Church thought on these issues.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Related to Rick's recent post about the advertising in Spain for a prenatal test for Down Syndrome called "Tranquility", here's an equally frightening essay by Renate Lindeman, a spokesperson for the Dutch parent group Downpride.
Denmark was the first European country to introduce routine screening for Down syndrome in 2006 as a public health-care program. France, Switzerland and other European countries soon followed. The unspoken but obvious message is that Down syndrome is something so unworthy that we would not want to wish it for our children or society. With the level of screening among pregnant Danish women as high as 90 percent, the Copenhagen Post reported in 2011 that Denmark “could be a country without a single citizen with Down syndrome in the not too distant future.”
... like other European governments, the Netherlands is currently considering permanently including the NIPT, primarily aimed at Down syndrome, in its prenatal screening program. An American-European-Canadian study on DNA screening for Down syndrome was published in the New England Journal of Medicine this year. Dick Oepkes, chairman of the Dutch NIPT consortium, called results “positive,” stating in a recent interview: “Surveys show women experience waiting for test results arduous. Offering the DNA test as a first step will allow women who consider terminating the pregnancy to make their choice before they have felt the fetus move.”
Lindeman has two children with Down Syndrome. She gets right to the crux of what's really at stake behind the rhetoric of the push for such testing, including what makes the "Tranquility" advertising approach that Rick found so horrifying:
Screening and selection say nothing about the inherent worth of people with Down syndrome. They say everything about the elevation of the capacity for economic achievement above other human traits. My children are fascinating, demanding, delightful, present, annoying, dependent, loving, cuddly, different, unpredictable and completely human, just like other children. They are not a mistake, a burden or a reflection of my “personal choice,” but an integral part of society.
If we allow our governments to set up health programs that result in the systematic elimination of a group of people quite happy being themselves, under the false pretense of women’s rights, than that is a personal choice — one we have to face honestly.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
My colleagues at the John Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought, Michael J. Naughton, Jeanne G. Buckeye, Kenneth E. Goodpaster and T. Dean Maines, have written a book applying the principle of subsidiarity in a concrete context. This might be a good resource for those teaching or working with Catholic social teachings. Their description:
Respect in Action: Applying Subsidiarity in Business is a book addressed to business leaders committed to implementing sustainable organizational changes consistent with the key principles of Catholic Social Thought. It is directed to managers whose decisions and purposes influence not only the economy, but the lives of men and women around the world who work for them. Subsidiarity invites organizations to pursue the common good through practices that take the integral development of the human person at least as seriously as economic prosperity. We believe this book has something important to say to practitioners as well as to business faculty and students.
You can download it (for free) as a PDF or e-book here.
Friday, June 5, 2015
Monday, May 18, 2015
With Minnesota's Governor threatening to veto the bipartisan education funding bill later today, sending the legislature into a special session this summer, I'm happy to report that something positive came out of this past session. On Monday, Governor Dayton signed the Prenatal Trisomy Diagnosis Awareness Act. It passed unanimously in the House and 58-1 in the Senate. That doesn't happen much anymore!
Effective August 1st, health care practitioners in Minnesota who perform genetic tests on pregnant women for Patua syndrome (trisomy 13), Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18), or Downs syndrome (trisomy 21), will have to provide specific information if the results are positive. The information has to include "up-to-date and evidence-based information about the trisomy conditions that has been reviewed by medical experts and national trisomy organizations", including expected "physical, developmental, educational, and psychosocial outcomes", life expectancy, and contact information for nonprofit organizations that provide information and support services for trisomy conditions.
You'd think such information should be routinely given, but 20 years ago when I received a diagnosis of Trisomy 21 for my son, it certainly was not part of anything I got from our genetic counselor or doctor; anectodal evidence suggests things aren't much different now.
According to my friends (and a former student) at the Minnesota Catholic Conference, some of the key factors in getting passed were the diverse coalition of supporters, bipartisan authorship, pepole with disabilities serving as the principal public advocates, and message discipline (this is an information bill--and who is against more information? Well, based on the sole vote against this, apparently Senator Katie Sieben.)
Though similar bills have been passed in six other states [Massachusetts (2012), Kentucky (2013), Pennsylvania (2014), Maryland (2014), Louisiana (2014) Delaware (2014), and Ohio (2014)] Minnesota's is the first to include Trisomy 13 and 18. Anyone who wants information on this bill or the background of its passage, feel free to contact Jason Adkins, Executive Director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Update to my recent post mentioning the prosecution of a the right-to-die group Final Exit Network Inc. here in Minnesota: they were convicted today assisting in the suicide of a woman who took her life in 2007 after years of suffering with chronic pain; it's the first time they've been found guilty of this charge. They do, of course, intend to appeal for violation of the First Amendment.
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
There has been a lot of quiet activity around the country around assisted suicide legislation. In Minnesota this past year, the "Minnesota Compassionate Care Act" was introduced (SF 1880) and given its first hearing in a committee; it is supposed to be the subject of "listening sessions" around the state over the summer. Similar legislation is being considered (and mostly rejected, so far) in many other states. Here's a helpful roundup of initiatives (complete with color-coded map) from "Death with Dignity National Center."
For a vivid description of some of the legislative tactics involved in past attempts to pass such legislation (California in 1999), see this Weekly Standard account of the reaction to an opposition coalition composed of "Disability-rights activists in wheel-chairs marched in solidarity with white medical professionals, alongside African-American clergy and advocates for the poor, next to Latino migrant farm workers and Catholics praying the rosary."
This Monday, a trial began in Dakota County, MN, on charges against Final Exit Network Inc, a Georgia nonprofit that provides assistance to people wanting to commit suicide, and its medical director. According to this newspaper story about the trial:
When an applicant meets the Final Exit Network’s criteria — which includes being mentally competent and suffering from “intolerable medical circumstances” like cancer or Lou Gehrig’s disease — the network assigns volunteer “Exit Guides” who provide information on ending one’s own life.
The network’s preferred method is helium asphyxiation using a plastic bag as a mask. Often, two Final Exit Network members are present and remove items the person used to take their life.
The article also reports that, so far, attempts to prosecute Final Exit Network activists in Georgia and Arizona have failed; their director's medical license was revoked in Maryland last year, for allegedly assisting in six suicides.
If you need any inspiration for speaking up against laws that would legalize the work of groups like Final Exit Network, take a look at this testimony by Stephen Mendelsohn in opposition to the Connecticut bill, and this page from my favorite disability activitist group, Not Dead Yet. I love the beginning of Mendelsohn's testimony:
Movements are known by their mottoes. The civil rights movement sang "We Shall Overcome." In the disability community, we have our own motto: "Nothing About Us Without Us." We. Us. Interdependence. Community.
The "right-to-die" movement, led by Compassion & Choices, has its motto. It can be seen on their green stickers, multiple Facebook pages, billboards and earlier this year in the Connecticut Capitol concourse: "My Life. My Death. My Choice." Me. Myself. I. The difference is revealing.