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Maxim Real Issues No. 151, 7 APRIL 2005

Maxim Real Issues No. 151, 7 APRIL 2005

Pope John Paul II - Certainty amidst moral confusion

Judged unworthy of living

Compensation for unwanted birth

Upper Hutt Change Agent Workshop

Pope John Paul II - Certainty amidst moral confusion

On Friday billions of people around the world will mourn and honour the passing of one of the 21st century's most significant leaders. In an age of transience and moral uncertainty, Pope John Paul II exhibited a trust and confidence in the permanence of moral truth.

His extraordinary gifts first came to the attention of his fellow bishops attending the Second Vatican Council, summoned in 1953 to respond to the needs of modern times. Archbishop Wojtyla already had experience in guiding his fellow Poles through two totalitarian regimes: he also knew that the perils of undermining the inherent dignity of every human life were not just a menace behind the Iron Curtain. Two decades later, when elected Pope, he would make human dignity the dominant theme of his pontificate.

His experience at the hands of tyranny also gave him a deep appreciation of evil. Whilst always championing hope, he was forever the realist and scorned wishful notions of heaven on earth.

The Pope's mission often took him outside the Vatican. Everywhere he went, he urged those who would listen to build what he coined "the culture of life". Young people, in particular, have been inspired by his unshakeable faith and coherence. His deep love for all people, especially children, the poor, the sick, the dying, the elderly and the marginalised, gained him affection, especially from the Third World. He earned respect from the West by his courageous defence of freedom and democracy, notably by the instrumental part he played in bringing Soviet Communism to a peaceful end.

When John Paul's call to respect life and dignity extended to personal morality, however, he gained many enemies - his views on abortion, sterilisation, contraception, homosexuality and euthanasia have not fitted comfortably with the liberal trends finding their way into the media and governments worldwide. Yet, as we have seen this week, his compassion, courage, consistency and humanity were still admired even by his natural 'enemies' - he even won admiration and trust from both Jewish and Muslim leaders.

The truth is that we all want some kind of moral certainty, and when somebody shows it in word and deed he or she is immediately inspiring. That's why the population of Rome will double on Friday.

Click below to read an article on Pope John Paul II in the Autumn edition of Evidence:
http://www.maxim.org.nz/evidence/true_love.pdf (0.6 MB)
(Requires Adobe Reader)

Judged unworthy of living

Terri Schiavo had parents who wanted to care for her as a disabled daughter, a spouse who wanted her to die and a legal system which allowed the removal of her feeding tube. In the struggle we heard a range of legalisms and euphemisms, which sounded distinctly Orwellian - "right to die"; "guardian ad litem" and "persistent vegetative state" (PVS). All of these the media accepted as conceptually self-evident. The probate judge declared Mrs Schiavo PVS without a visit and without the aid of an up-to-date medical evaluation.

Many are already accustomed to thinking of the designation and termination of new life simply in terms of "choice". The consequence is a culture where it is routine to make judgements about which lives are worth living and which are not. Having determined who is a "burden" at birth, it is becoming much easier to decide the nature of "burden" when a "loved one" is dying.

One also wonders how this mindset will develop as the baby boom generation ages. They will have fewer people to depend on, or support them, and they will have diseases which are more expensive and difficult to cure.

Terri Schaivo's parents failed to convince the state that she should be allowed to live. Many of us in the future could be found similarly wanting as western nations like New Zealand rapidly become increasingly populated with people living longer.

The Pope too required a feeding tube. Fortunately for him, his life was in the hands of God, not a Florida judge.

Compensation for unwanted birth

Interestingly, as Terri Schiavo's life has ended so contentiously, over in the Netherlands the beginning of a young girl's life has raised similar issues.

According to the British Medical Journal the case of Kelly Molenaar is the first in the Netherlands where damages have been awarded to a severely disabled person for having been born.

Kelly's parents were told prenatal diagnostic tests were unnecessary and so they did not go ahead with them. However, as a result of a chromosomal abnormality, their daughter was born mentally and physically disabled. Her parents claimed that if they had known of her condition, they would have had their daughter Kelly aborted.

The courts accepted that the midwife was responsible for not recommending tests and also awarded Kelly compensation for emotional damage because she was born, whilst apparently stating that they did not mean to imply that Kelly's existence was a source of suffering. The compensation was awarded as recognition that the parents' rights had been violated.

The situation Kelly and her parents face is an unimaginably hard one, but are we really prepared to say that parents have a right to be compensated for a birth they didn't want? What kind of precedent does it set to say that Kelly should not have been born? And should the medical staff be held responsible?

In the West, there is a growing emphasis on perfectibility and minimising pain. The two cases of Terri and Kelly signify that someone's life is only worth living if it is of a certain 'quality'. But if we want to pass on to our children a society that values all people we must be prepared to show strength and sacrifice in the face of pain and suffering.

Upper Hutt Change Agent Workshop

If you want to be informed about current issues and challenged to think more deeply about 'hate speech', education, same-sex marriage and the 2005 election, come along to the Upper Hutt Change Agent workshop on 12 April. Be equipped with practical tools to engage in public policy and debate.

For details visit:

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Minister of Social Development, Steve Maharey

We see this as an historic election. It's the one we hope when we decisively put to bed the conservative vote in this country….We came in to change the direction of the country.

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