Thoughts in Solitude - Thomas Merton

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” † † †
-Thoughts in Solitude
© Abbey of Gethsemani
"Your way of acting should be different from the world's way"...Rule of St. Benedict.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Tyranny of Liberalism

James Kalb on the Ideology's Totalitarian Impulses

By Annamarie Adkins

NEW YORK, MARCH 27, 2009 ( Liberals -- on both the Right and Left -- may posit that they favor freedom, reason and the well-being of ordinary people. But some critics believe that liberalism itself erodes the very institutions -- family, religion, local associations -- necessary to restrain its excesses.

One such liberal skeptic is attorney and writer James Kalb, who recently wrote a book entitled, "The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by Command" (ISI).

Kalb explained to ZENIT why he believes liberalism inevitably evolves into a form of soft totalitarianism, or a “dictatorship of relativism,” and why the Church is well positioned to be its preeminent foe.

Q: What is liberalism?

Kalb: We're so much in the middle of it that it's difficult to see it as a whole. You can look at it, though, as an expression of modern skepticism.

Skeptical doubts have led to a demand for knowledge based on impersonal observation and devoted to practical goals. Applied to the physical world, that demand has given us modern natural science.

Applied to life in society, it has led to a technological understanding of human affairs. If we limit ourselves to impersonal observations, we don't observe the good; we observe preferences and how to satisfy them. The result is a belief that the point of life is satisfying preferences.

On that view, the basic social issue is whose preferences get satisfied.

Liberalism answers that question by saying that all preferences are equal, so they all have an equal claim to satisfaction. Maximum equal satisfaction therefore becomes the rational ordering principle for life in society -- give everyone what he wants, as much and as equally as possible. In other words, give everybody maximum equal freedom.

Q: How can an ideology of freedom become tyrannical?

Kalb: Equal freedom is an open-ended standard that makes unlimited demands when taken seriously.

For example, it views non-liberal standards as oppressive, because they limit equal freedom. Liberal government wants to protect us from oppression, so it tries to eradicate those standards from more and more areas of life.

The attempt puts liberal government at odds with natural human tendencies. If the way someone acts seems odd to me, and I look at him strangely, that helps construct the social world he's forced to live in. He will find that oppressive. Liberal government can't accept that, so it eventually feels compelled to supervise all my attitudes about how people live and how I express them.

The end result is a comprehensive system of control over all human relations run by an expert elite responsible only to itself. That, of course, is tyranny.

Q: You argue that liberalism, especially its "advanced" form, corrupts and suppresses the traditional aspects of life that defined and kept Western society together for centuries such as religion, marriage, family and local community. How does it do that?

Kalb: Equal freedom isn't the highest standard in those areas of life. They have to do with love and loyalty toward something outside ourselves that defines who we are. That love and loyalty involve particular connections to particular people and their ways of life.

Such things cannot be the same for everyone. They create divisions and inequalities. They tell people they can't have things they want.

So equal freedom tells us traditional institutions have to be done away with as material factors in people's lives. They have to be debunked and their effects suppressed.

At bottom, liberalism says people have to be neutered to fit into a managed system of equal freedom. They have to be encouraged to devote themselves to satisfactions that don't interfere with the satisfactions of others.

In the end, the only permissible goals are career, consumption and various private pursuits and indulgences.

That doesn't leave much room for religion or for family or communal values. The only permissible public value is liberalism itself.

Q: How does mass media advance the cause of liberalism?

Kalb: The relationship is almost mechanical. It's one of the great strengths of liberalism.

Television and the Internet give us a world chopped up into interchangeable fragments.

To make that world comprehensible to journalists and viewers it has to be put in order in a simple way that can be understood quickly without regard to particularities.

That's impossible if complex distinctions and local habits are allowed to matter.

For that reason the mass media naturally favor a top-down managerial approach to social life with a bias toward sameness and equality -- in other words, something very much like contemporary liberalism.

To put it differently, the mass media prefer things to be discussed publicly and decided centrally based on a simple principle like equality. If that's done they can understand what's going on and what it all means.

Also, they themselves will serve an important function because they provide the forum for discussion and the information for decision. That situation naturally seems appropriate to them.

Q: What about the distinction between Anglo-American liberalism and continental liberalism, and their different models of secularism? Is it inaccurate to lump everything together under the heading of "liberalism"?

Kalb: The fundamental principle is the same, so the distinction can't be relied on.

In the English-speaking world the social order was traditionally less illiberal than on the continent.

King and state were less absolute, the Church had less independent authority, standing armies were out of favor, the aristocracy was less a separate caste, and the general outlook was more commercial and utilitarian.

Classical liberalism could be moderate and still get what it wanted.

Liberalism is progressive, though, so its demands keep growing. It eventually rejects all traditional ways as illiberal and becomes more and more radical.

For that reason state imposition of liberal norms has become at least as aggressive in Britain and Canada as on the continent.

The United States is still somewhat of an exception, but even among us aggressive forms of liberalism are gaining ground. They captured the academy, the elite bar and the media years ago, and they're steadily gaining ground among the people.

The international dizziness about President Obama and the violent reaction to the narrow victory of Proposition 8 concerning same-sex marriage in California show the direction things are going.

Q: Does rejecting "liberalism" mean rejecting freedom of conscience, political equality, free markets and other supposed benefits of "liberalism"?

Kalb: No. A society can still have those things to the extent they make sense. They just need to be subordinated, at least in principle, to a larger order defined by considerations like the good life.

The Church has noted, for example, that free markets are an excellent thing in many ways. They just aren't the highest thing. The same principle applies to other liberal ideals.

Q: Both Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII condemned liberalism, but it seems the Church has embraced it since the Second Vatican Council in its defense of democracy and human rights. The tone of Church social teaching has also focused more on influencing liberal institutions, and less on shaping individuals, families, and local communities. How does one account for this shift in the Church's attitude?

Kalb: The Church apparently decided modernity was here to stay. Liberal modernity looked better than fascist modernity or Bolshevik modernity.

It claimed to be a modest and tolerant approach to government that let culture and civil society develop in their own way. So the Church decided to accept and work within it.

Also, the development of the mass media and consumer society, and the growth of state education and industrial social organization generally, meant Catholics were more and more drawn into liberal ways of thinking. Hostility to liberalism became difficult to maintain within the Church.

The problem, though, is that liberal modernity is extremely critical and therefore intolerant. In order to cooperate with it you have to do things its way.

The recent, virulent attacks on Pope Benedict for many different reasons by the liberal elite illustrate that phenomenon perfectly.

For that reason, if there's going to be joint social action today, it inevitably focuses on extending liberal institutions rather than promoting local and traditional institutions like the family, which are intrinsically non-liberal. Many people in the Church have come to accept that.

Q: You argue that religion can be the unifying force that offers resistance to advanced liberalism, and that the Catholic Church is the spiritual organization most suited to that task. Why do you think so?

Kalb: To resist advanced liberalism you have to propose a definite social outlook based on goods beyond equal freedom and satisfaction.

A conception of transcendent goods won't stand up without a definite conception of the transcendent, which requires religion. And a religious view won't stand up in public life unless there's a definite way to resolve disputes about what it is.

You need the Pope.

Catholics have the Pope, and they also have other advantages like an emphasis on reason and natural law. As a Catholic, I'd add that they have the advantage of truth.

© Innovative Media, Inc.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Stem Cells for Dummies

ZE09032410 - 2009-03-24

Explained by Senior Fellow at Culture of Life Foundation

By E. Christian Brugger

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 24, 2009 ( Given the new Presidential order allowing federal funds for research using human embryonic stem cells, it might be helpful for readers to become more familiar with the terminology used in any discussion of controversies surrounding embryonic stem cell research.

What is a Stem Cell?

A stem cell, whether of the adult or embryonic type, is an undifferentiated cell (i.e., a cell that has not yet specialized into a particular cell type, e.g., liver cell, pancreatic cell, or cardiac cell) with two unique capacities: the first, for rapid and prolonged self-multiplication into daughter cells identical with itself; and the second, for development and differentiation into specific types of cells such as liver and cardiac cells.

What is a Stem Cell’s Potency?

A stem cell’s “potency” refers to its capacity for differentiation, that is, for developing into particular kinds of human cells, e.g. liver, kidney, blood, etc. Different types of stem cells have different scopes to their potency: e.g., totipotent, pluripotent, multipotent or unipotent. A totipotent cell is capable of differentiating into every tissue in the human body, including extra-embryonic support tissues necessary for human gestation (e.g., placenta, umbilical cord, amniotic sac); a single-celled embryo, also called a zygote, possesses the capacity of totipotency; also, the individual cells of an embryo’s body, called blastomeres, in the first few days of the embryo’s life are totipotent; if a blastomere splits off from the embryo’s body, it has the capacity for complete human development, which is how we get identical twins. A pluripotent cell is capable of differentiating into almost all the tissues of the human body, but not the extra-embryonic support tissues; embryonic stem cells are pluripotent. Stem cells can also be multipotent (capable of differentiating into the cells of a cell group type, e.g., blood cells) and unipotent (unable to differentiate into any other cell type than itself).

What are the Differences between Embryonic and Adult Stem Cells?

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are undifferentiated, self-renewing, pluripotent cells. They are harvested from the bodies of embryos at approximately day five of human development. At day five the embryo’s body takes the shape of a hollow sphere (the embryo at this time is called a “blastocyst”). The blastocyst has an outer cell layer and an inner cell mass (picture a basketball with a small group of marbles clumped together on the inside). The cells of the inner cell mass will eventually differentiate into the varied tissues of the person’s body; and the outer cell layer will develop into the placenta and other support tissues. But it is important to understand that at this point, both the outer cell layer and inner cell mass constitute the embryo’s body. The inner cell mass can be understood to be the embryo’s internal organs. These cells are what we call embryonic stem cells and have the capacity of pluripotency; they are coveted by ESC researchers precisely because of their pluripotency. Just as harvesting all the internal organs of an adult would kill the adult, harvesting the stem cells of an embryo kills the embryo.

Adult stem cells (ASCs) also have the capacities of self-proliferation and differentiation, but are not derived from the bodies of embryos. They are ‘adult’ not because they’re found only in adults, but because the tissue in which they’re found is differentiated tissue (as opposed to the undifferentiated tissue of an embryo’s body). Thus ASCs can be found in newborn tissue. In fact, some of the most clinically valuable ASCs are found in umbilical cord blood. Although some ASCs have been found with the capacity of pluripotency, most are only capable of differentiating into the tissue type or related group type of the tissue in which they’re found.

Ethical controversy surrounding stem cell research

Every reasonable person agrees that the clinical end being sought in stem cell research is praiseworthy -- namely, finding clinical solutions for remediating serious illnesses. Controversy surrounds the means by which that end is pursued. The familiar ethical question raised by ESC research is this: Is it justifiable to kill human embryos in order to explore potentially healing remedies for other persons? Those who judge human embryos to be human beings, albeit at an early stage of development, think it’s wrong. Those who believe embryos are “pre-human” entities, developmental precursors to whole human beings, think it sometimes can be justified.[1]

ASC research avoids this ethical problem by avoiding research on embryos altogether. The ethical questions surrounding ASC research then are similar to those involved with all research on human subjects: Do the benefits promised by the research outweigh the burdens imposed by it for the human subjects of the research? Is fully informed consent being secured? Is truthfulness in reporting of data being maintained? Are unwarranted promises of benefit being eschewed? And so on. If the answer to these is yes, then one may proceed with confidence that the research is legitimate. In fact, the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic bishops have consistently supported research on stem cells that does not exploit or destroy human embryos[2]. This support is reaffirmed in the new Vatican document on bioethical questions, Dignitas Personae[3].

Don’t current findings demonstrate that ESC research is clinically unnecessary?

This is a very important question and should be asked often of scientists and public officials. Let me elaborate it: since ASCs have already proven remarkably effective in treating serious diseases, including formerly untreatable diseases[4], and since ESC research, despite billions of dollars spent, has produced nothing but failures on the clinical front, and even human tragedies[5], and since the desire to develop clinically useful patient-specific pluripotent stem cells is being rapidly and efficiently fulfilled by the new and remarkable Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSCs)[6], why aren’t embryonic stem cells obsolete in the minds of scientists? Why does the scientific community insist on greater liberties for embryo-destructive experimentation when both moral reasoning and cutting edge science point in another direction? Why this lust for the embryo?[7]

I don’t have a satisfactory answer to this. Some researchers obviously believe that embryonic stem cells, despite current evidence, promise benefits that ASCs and iPSCs do not. I’m also told that many of the best researchers are turning away from ESCs because of the mounting problems they pose, and turning towards research with iPSCs. If this is the case, then the questions posed above need to be put frankly to our politicians, because some still seem to think that the future of stem cell research lies with ESCs.

In the shadow of President Obama’s executive order overturning the Bush stem cell policy, the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) stated on the House floor that the U.S. House will take up a bill in early April to overturn the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment prohibiting federal funding from research involving the creation or destruction of human embryos [8]. With all we now know, why is Congress bent on spending taxpayer money for embryo destructive experimentation? Isn’t that scientifically retrogressive and economically wasteful, not to mention morally unjust to the embryos killed as a result of the decision and to taxpayers who object to public funds being used for such research when alternatives are available?


Some might be wondering what distinguishes the “Bush stem cell policy” (Aug. 2001) from the restrictions imposed by the Dickey-Wicker amendment (1996). Dickey-Wicker was passed before ESC research was launched in 1998 by the first successful isolation of ESCs by James A. Thomson’s lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It simply restricted funding on research that created or destroyed human embryos. After 1998, pressure was exerted on the Clinton administration to free up funds for this new ‘promising’ type of research. But Dickey-Wicker stood in the way. Thus, to sidestep the restrictions Clinton, as he was leaving office (2000), approved federal guidelines permitting the NIH to fund research on stem cells derived from ‘spare’ embryos slated for destruction at fertility clinics. Do you see the slight of hand? By the time stem cells are derived, the killing is over. If private funds paid for the killing, then the federal government would fund the subsequent research. Clinton’s lawyers argued that his guidelines conformed to Dickey-Wicker, and legalistically construed, they did. At once, the NIH began accepting grant proposals from scientists bent on embryo destructive research. Aware of the loophole, newly elected President George W. Bush passed an executive order permitting federal funds for ESC research only on certain pre-approved stem cell lines created by that date. Since stem cells can self-proliferate indefinitely, these sixty lines, he thought, would provide subject matter for years of viable research. But under the new policy, funding would be prohibited from all stem cell lines derived after August 2001. NIH grant proposals thereafter were carefully reviewed to ensure that federal funds would not be used to facilitate harm to human embryos. Obama’s recent presidential order overturned the Bush restrictions. Dickey-Wicker however still stands. But for how long?


[1] I critiqued several of the most prominent theoretical arguments against the personhood of human embryos in my June 2008 CLF Brief entitled “Arguments for and Against the Personhood of the Embryo”, so I do not intend to engage that question here.

[2] See Pontifical Academy for Life, Declaration on the Production and the Scientific and Therapeutic Use of Human Embryonic Stem Cells (August 25, 2000); Catholic Online, “American Bishops Reaffirm Church Support for Adult Stem-Cell Research,”, June 26, 2006,

[3] See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Dignitas Personae (On Certain Bioethical Questions) (2008), nos. 24, 31, 32.

[4] For an enlightening updated summary of clinical successes using ASCs prepared by the Family Research Council, see

[5] Recall the recent tragic story of the 9 year old Israeli boy, who received embryonic stem cell injections in Russia for a lethal brain disease, and contracted as a result tumors on his brain and spinal cord; see CBS News report, “Study: Stem Cell Injections Caused Tumors: Israeli Researchers Say Fetal Stem Cells Led To Benign Tumors For Boy With Rare Genetic Disease,” Feb. 17, 2009; available at

[6] Induced pluripotent stem cells are differentiated cells such as a skin cell that are “reprogrammed” back to a state of pluripotency. They were first reported in research with human cells in November 2007. I describe their advent and initial promise in my CLF Brief from January 2008, “A Moral Tsunami”. Since then dozens of studies have been carried out (and published) perfecting the initiate technique. For example, researchers at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., recently converted skin cells from patients with Parkinson’s disease into the type of neuron destroyed by the disease. Although the technique needs perfecting, it promises to provide a therapy one day that replaces the damaged neural tissue of Parkinson’s sufferers with healthy tissue derived from the patient’s own body, and therefore with no risk of immune rejection. See the NY Times on line report, “Converting Cells Shows Promise for Parkinson’s”, March 6, 2009, available at

[7] See Bernadine Healy’s piece in US News and World Report on line, “Why Embryonic Stem Cells Are Obsolete” March 04, 2009, available at

[8] The exchange between Hoyer and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on March 12, 2009 can be read in the Congressional Record, House, page H3376, March 12, 2009.

* * *

E. Christian Brugger is a Senior Fellow of Ethics at the Culture of Life Foundation and is an associate professor of moral theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado. He received his D.Phil. from Oxford in 2000.

[Article published with permission of the Culture of Life Foundation (]

Blessings at Holy Communion

ZE09032401 - 2009-03-24

ROME, MARCH 24, 2009 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: In America, the custom of giving blessings to people who are unable to receive Communion is growing rapidly. In my parish, in Texas, it appears that the practice of extraordinary ministers of holy Communion tracing a cross onto the head of small children and visitors has become more important than the Eucharist itself. Many have commented to me that it is so "unwelcoming" not to do this. I have pointed out in liturgy meetings that neither the Rite of Blessings nor the Roman Missal envisions this practice. As a deacon I am greatly bothered by this trend, but my "parish administrator" is hesitant to change the habit of the previous pastor. In fact, at weddings and funerals this behavior is encouraged for non-Catholics by our presiding priests. I would greatly appreciate reading or hearing your opinion/suggestions on what appears to be an insert into the Eucharistic rite and perhaps a disservice to our ability to create a true desire and understanding for receiving Christ at Mass in holy Communion. -- D.I., Texas

A: We have addressed this topic on a couple of occasions (May 10 and 24, 2005) in which we expressed misgivings regarding this practice. At the same time, we pointed out that the legal situation of the usage is murky with bishops making statements falling on both sides of the argument.

Recently, however, a document has appeared in several Internet sources which indicate that the Holy See is tending toward a negative view of the practice. The document is a letter (Protocol No. 930/08/L) dated Nov. 22, 2008, sent in response to a private query and signed by Father Anthony Ward, SM, undersecretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

As a private reply the letter is not yet a norm with legal force and, as it makes clear, is not a definitive reply. However, it provides some valuable pointers on the legitimacy of this practice and the mind of the Holy See regarding it.

The letter said that "this matter is presently under the attentive study of the Congregation," so "for the present, this dicastery wishes to limit itself to the following observations":

"1. The liturgical blessing of the Holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of the Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of Holy Communion.

"2. Lay people, within the context of Holy Mass, are unable to confer blessings. These blessings, rather, are the competence of the priest (cf. Ecclesia de Mysterio, Notitiae 34 (15 Aug. 1997), art. 6, § 2; Canon 1169, § 2; and Roman Ritual De Benedictionibus (1985), n. 18).

"3. Furthermore, the laying on of a hand or hands -- which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here -- by those distributing Holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.

"4. The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio n. 84, 'forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry'. To be feared is that any form of blessing in substitution for communion would give the impression that the divorced and remarried have been returned, in some sense, to the status of Catholics in good standing.

"5. In a similar way, for others who are not to be admitted to Holy Communion in accord with the norm of law, the Church's discipline has already made clear that they should not approach Holy Communion nor receive a blessing. This would include non-Catholics and those envisaged in can. 915 (i.e., those under the penalty of excommunication or interdict, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin)."

Although the letter as such is not legally binding, some of its points, such as No. 2 on the prohibition of lay ministers giving liturgical blessings, are merely restatements of existing law and as such are already obligatory.

Nor did the letter deal with all possible circumstances, such as the case of small children mentioned by our reader. Because of this, some dioceses have taken a prudent wait-and-see attitude regarding these blessings. For example, the liturgy office of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, while reiterating that "the Archdiocese has no policy prohibiting the use of blessings at the time of Holy Communion," prudently suggested to pastors that it "may be appropriate to avoid promoting the practice until a more definitive judgment regarding its value in the liturgical celebration can be obtained."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Statement from Cardianl George on Conscience Protection

Protecting Conscience Rights in Health Care: Our Voice is Needed!

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is inviting public comment on a proposal to rescind an important federal regulation issued in December. The regulation implements and enforces three federal laws protecting the conscience rights of health care providers, especially those at risk of being discriminated against because of their moral or religious objection to abortion.

The Catholic community must speak out to protect Catholic doctors, nurses and hospitals.

Conscience Rights: From Choice to Coercion

Life Issues Forum

Conscience Rights: From Choice to Coercion
By Susan E. Wills

January 23, 2009

A hallmark of free nations is the recognition of the individual's freedom of conscience. Tyrant states do not protect conscience; they strangle it.

The right of conscience is as old as Western civilization. Over 2,400 years ago, Sophocles' fictional Antigone was esteemed for following her conscience in burying her brother in defiance of the king's edict.

The first recorded claim of conscience rights for medical personnel is the 4th Century B.C. Hippocratic Oath: "I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients. ... I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion."

The right of conscience is recognized in the U.S. Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the World Medical Association's Code of Medical Ethics, and in 47 states, laws protect the conscience rights of healthcare providers.

The Catechism callsconscience "man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths" (CCC, 1776).

Given the universality and history of the right of conscience among free peoples, it is shocking that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others have sued to overturn regulations implementing long-standing federal laws enacted to protect the conscience rights of healthcare professionals and institutions.

In attacking the recent regulations, the ACLU is taking aim at three federal laws. Congress enacted the "Church Amendment" immediately after the Roe v. Wade decision to ensure that health care professionals and hospitals would not be coerced into involvement in abortions or sterilizations. The Coats Amendment was enacted over a decade ago to nullify the attempt by the medical accreditation council to coerce medical schools into training ob-gyn residents in abortion procedures. Since 2004 the Weldon Amendment has prevented governmental discrimination against healthcare entities on account of the entity's refusal to "provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions."

Despite all their talk of "choice," the abortion industry and its supporters are determined to eliminate the choice of medical professionals and entities to not become accomplices in killing unborn boys and girls. Despite all their talk about "privacy," the abortion industry and its supporters are determined to trample on healthcare professionals' innermost zone of privacy, that "secret core and sanctuary" known as conscience. It is no longer enough, in their eyes, that women and girls can obtain potentially abortifacient drugs in virtually every pharmacy in the U.S. or that women and girls can have abortions on request in every city where there's a profit to be had. They will not rest until every pharmacy, hospital, healthcare provider, and taxpayer collaborates in the culture of death.

In the coming weeks, we may see an unprecedented assault on conscience rights: taxpayers could be forced to fund organizations that promote and perform abortion overseas, including UNFPA, the enabler of China's abusive population control policy; taxpayers may be required to fund contraceptives and abortifacient drugs at ever-higher levels; taxpayers may be required to fund abortions for the low-income and uninsured; and healthcare professionals and institutions may be forced to violate their consciences or quit providing services.

We must pray and act to stop the assault on conscience.

Susan Wills is assistant director for education and outreach, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. Go to to learn more about the bishops' pro-life activities.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cardinal Denounces Obama's Stem Cell Ban Reversal


Calls It a Victory of Politics Over Science

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 9, 2009 ( The U.S. bishops' conference pro-life committee chairman is denouncing President Barack Obama's executive order that will allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Cardinal Justin Rigali issued a response to the U.S. president's order today that will allow federal tax dollars to be used to fund scientists in the destruction of live human embryos to develop stem cells for research.

The cardinal said: "President Obama's new executive order on embryonic stem cell research is a sad victory of politics over science and ethics.

"This action is morally wrong because it encourages the destruction of innocent human life, treating vulnerable human beings as mere products to be harvested.

"It also disregards the values of millions of American taxpayers who oppose research that requires taking human life. Finally, it ignores the fact that ethically sound means for advancing stem cell science and medical treatments are readily available and in need of increased support."

The cardinal also cited a letter written Jan. 16 by Cardinal Francis George, president of the bishops' conference, to Obama, urging him not to allow funding for this research. Cardinal George stated three reasons why this research is "especially pointless at this time."

"First," he wrote, "basic research in the capabilities of embryonic stem cells can be and is being pursued using the currently eligible cell lines as well as the hundreds of lines produced with nonfederal funds since 2001."

He continued: "Second, recent startling advances in reprogramming adult cells into embryonic-like stem cells -- hailed by the journal 'Science' as the scientific breakthrough of the year -- are said by many scientists to be making embryonic stem cells irrelevant to medical progress.

"Third, adult and cord blood stem cells are now known to have great versatility, and are increasingly being used to reverse serious illnesses and even help rebuild damaged organs.

"To divert scarce funds away from these promising avenues for research and treatment toward the avenue that is most morally controversial as well as most medically speculative would be a sad victory of politics over science."

President Obama's action reverses the ban on federal funding for this type of research enacted by former president George W. Bush, who limited the use of taxpayer money to the 21 stem cell lines already developed before his order.

Cardinal George stated, "If the government wants to invest in hope for cures and promote ethically sound science, it should use our tax monies for research that everyone, at every stage of human development, can live with."

© Innovative Media, Inc.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Why the John Paul Generation Will Welcome New York's Next Archbishop

It was no accident that Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan visited St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., during his first hours on the ground in the archdiocese of some 2.5 million parishioners that, beginning next month, he will lead. Earlier, at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, he told a news conference that increasing priestly vocations was his "first mandate." In archbishop-speak, this means he has his marching orders from Rome.

His task won't be easy. Vocations are way down. St. Joseph's will ordain three priests this year, compared with the 30 or more who were ordained yearly at the high-water mark during the 1960s. To make matters worse, influential dissenters within the church are heavily invested in the archbishop's failure.

Advocates for married priests and the ordination of women have not gone away, and they have made it an article of their particular faith that celibacy and an all-male priesthood are at the root of all church problems, from declining attendance at Mass to the sexual abuse of minors. They have been frozen out of the leadership ranks since John Paul II, the current pope's predecessor, was elected in 1978, but they have "burrowed in" and are thriving at Catholic universities and even a few seminaries. Some, like theologian Richard McBrien, of the University of Notre Dame, have even carved a part-time career out of contradicting the Vatican in the media. In recent weeks he has been quoted twice by the New York Times, criticizing church efforts to revive the sacramental confession of sins.

Nevertheless, Archbishop Dolan has something of a track record as a shepherd of new seminarians. His current, much smaller, archdiocese of Milwaukee will ordain six priests this year -- the most since 1992. The Milwaukee seminary expects to meet or exceed that number in coming years, based on the number of men in its pipeline. Archbishop Dolan also spent seven years as rector of the North American College in Rome, where clerical highfliers are sent for advanced study and grooming. He has written a book full of spiritual advice for aspiring clergymen, "Priests for the Third Millennium," which has been used as a textbook in seminaries. But, above all, the people who know him well say that Archbishop Dolan's charisma and ebullience -- in sharp contrast to the reticent manner of Cardinal Edward M. Egan, the current archbishop of New York -- are bound to be a shot in the arm for the church in its efforts to attract the next generation of clerics.

The viability of a celibate male priesthood is a centerpiece of the agenda first promoted by John Paul II that continues under Benedict XVI. It is an agenda designed to restore the teaching authority (magisterium) of the pope, provide doctrinal clarity and unity, and put an end to the deviations and diversions that sprang up in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. While John Paul and Benedict, until 2005 known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, never publicly criticized Vatican II itself, they clearly took a dim view of the interpretation of the council's work by the church's left wing. "Liberation theology," which was often indistinguishable from Marxism, was the first trend to be squelched. Advocacy for women priests and married priests, and calls for doctrinal change that would better reflect secular society's norms -- on issues such as abortion or same-sex unions -- have been discouraged and resisted at every level. Because personnel moves are policy decisions in any large organization, the past two popes have been scrupulous in appointing bishops with orthodox views. So much so that Father McBrien has stated that John Paul's "most serious deficiency" was "the poor quality" of the bishops he appointed.

It's not always easy to get the balance right in matters of authority and tradition, as the Vatican discovered recently when it badly fumbled an effort to bring some right-wing rebels back into the fold, including one who had denied the Holocaust. And the almost incalculable institutional damage done by the clerical sex scandal also has emboldened the church left and, more important, created a serious credibility problem with people still in the pews. That so much of the criminality occurred decades ago is hardly a defense or a comfort to the many victims. It will be years before the scandal recedes, and it can't be an easy time to be recruiting for the priesthood anywhere in the U.S.

One trend favoring the traditionalists -- often overlooked in the media but much remarked upon in church circles -- is the apparent orthodoxy of the young priests who are being ordained these days. In contrast to the stereotypical generational split that has older people favoring conservative views and the young advocating change, younger priests often tend to be more in tune with Rome than some of their elders were and are. It's not entirely clear why this is, but observers have suggested that the older generation identified so closely with Vatican II that it has had difficulty adjusting to the leadership of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The youngsters, in fact, have been described as the "John Paul" generation in church publications. Like the Marines, they may be few but they evidently are proud.

Still, there is a great deal riding on one obviously affable Irish-American from Milwaukee who appears as comfortable talking sports stats as vocations. Based on reports from the field, Archbishop Dolan will be a conciliator who knows where to draw the line. In an email he once sent his priests in Milwaukee, he said he would support the appearance of most speakers at parishes even if they weren't his "cup of tea," but he made clear that Marquette University theologian Daniel C. Maguire, a pro-choice former priest, was off the list. Mr. Maguire, he noted, was "so radically outside church teaching that his appearance at any parish would be a grave scandal."

Mr. Maguire recently returned the compliment in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, declaring Archbishop Dolan a "backslapping autocrat." Autocrat or not, if he can turn the New York program around in coming years, Rome will be pleased and Rome's dissidents will be stymied.

Mr. Willcox is a writer in Ridgefield, Conn.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reading and Responding to the Signs of the Times

Fr. Roger J. Landry

The Anchor
March 6, 2009

There’s a necessarily prophetic dimension to the proclamation of the faith. While the Gospel is fundamentally, supremely and not merely etymologically “good news” — a jubilant “yes” to the revelation of the love of God for us incarnate in Jesus Christ — it can only be understood in its fullness by contrast to the darkness it illuminates, to the evil it defeats and redeems.

This contrast between the positive and the negative, between the good and bad, was the subject of Jesus’ first homily, which echoes on the lips of priests every Ash Wednesday as they impose ashes on Catholic foreheads. First, Jesus announces the good news: “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand.” Then he presents without nuance what response that must provoke in others: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Jesus’ whole ministry shows this balance between the comforting beauty of his words in the Parable of the Prodigal Son and his bitter castigations of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, between the tenderness with which he treated the woman caught in adultery and the ferocity with which he drove the moneychangers from the temple. Jesus’ balance — which, while not being “fifty-fifty,” proportionately involves both blessings and censures —resonates in his body the Church, which was constituted by him to welcome everyone, but call everyone to conversion and the fullness of life.

It’s not surprising that many believers prefer to focus on the more comforting and less challenging aspects of Jesus’ words and deeds, but it’s important to remember that Jesus was not schizophrenic: the same redeeming love he showed in his interactions with Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, and the Good Thief was still at work when he called Pharisees “whitewashed sepulchers,” challenged the Rich Young Man to treasure him more than his possessions, and told each of us that unless we deny ourselves, pick up our Crosses and follow him, we cannot be his disciple.

Similarly, the Church’s maternal nature is shown not just in the compassionate works of the vast network of hospitals and schools and the provision of the nourishment of God’s word and the sacraments. It is also shown when she provides the loving discipline — in words and in deeds — without which we could not be true disciples.

This is the context in which properly to interpret the recent prophetic statements and actions of Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver and Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton on the issue of abortion. In the last few years, both have earned the reputation for being two of the boldest and most outspoken prelates in the country in defense of those who have no voice.

In an interview with last week, Archbishop Chaput described that while the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel of Life often falls on deaf ears — including some who have been baptized Catholic — he said that the Church must continue to be faithful in calling our culture to repentance and warning of the personal and cultural consequences of continued ignorance of that prophetic call.

“It seems human history has been a series of times of us not taking the warning signs seriously,” Archbishop Chaput stated, and cited the story of Noah and the flood. “They were eating and drinking and carrying on and the flood came. They just weren't willing to take the warnings that God sends us and I think it is true about our time that we are not taking the situation concerning the Church and the world seriously now. … [We need to] be persistent in our preaching and in our continuing to give the warning and that God bring fruit from that if He chooses. We shouldn't give up.”

He said that part of the problem is that it’s harder to change people’s minds than form them correctly in the first place. “I don't know how clearer the bishops, at least as a body, can be speaking about these matters beginning with the Holy Father,” but he acknowledged that this has become a process of reformation rather than formation. “I don't know if it's because we've let it go on for such a long time and haven't challenged it before now, but this attitude of being comfortable with being pro-choice and Catholic at the same time seems to be deeply set in the lives of these folks. …Either someone taught them that or they've arrived at it themselves and weren't challenged on it, …but they seem so firmly set in the course they've taken. … I'm not aware of a single case of a Catholic politician who is pro-choice who has changed his or her mind.”

That points first, he said, to a “very bad period of catechesis” in the last 40 years in our country — not merely with respect to the laity but also the clergy — that is “bearing bad fruit in our time.” This situation requires more decisive action on the part of clergy today to remedy the confusion. “It's very important for clergy to advise political leaders of the great scandal that they might be part of because this can lead not only to the death of the unborn but it can also lead to the spiritual death of the political leaders who vote that way.”

This catechesis ought to begin with the simple truth of what happens in abortion, that an innocent human being is slaughtered in a grotesquely inhuman way. “We need to reinvigorate the Church's understanding of the horror of abortion,” Archbishop Chaput stressed, saying we need to be as horrified by abortion as we are about genocide and slavery. “It seems that we have become deadened to the horror of abortion. If we can reinvigorate our understanding of that, become more sensitive to great evil that abortion is, then we can make a difference.”

Once the Catholic Church achieves that reinvigoration of the evil of abortion, then many of the other scandals associated with the abortion issue would likely take care of themselves, such as the ignominy of Catholic politicians who support abortion, the shame Catholics who support them, and the sacrilege of those who are not in communion with the Church’s teachings on abortion receiving Holy Communion.

Because we don’t yet understand sufficiently the horror of abortion, Archbishop Chaput declares, “we can put up with people who are pro-choice or pro-abortion and not challenge their Catholic identity. … Of course, we hope they will come back to the faith and to the truth, so we don't want to chase them away from the Church but … Communion means not only union with the Lord but also union with His Church which is His body.” 

That is the reason why the Church has consistently taught that those who are not in communion with the Church’s teaching on abortion should not present themselves for Holy Communion at Mass.

Since various Catholic politicians have ignored that consistent message just as they’ve disregarded the Church’s teachings on life, Scranton Bishop Joseph Martino last week upped the ante, instructing all the ministers of Holy Communion, both clerics and lay, to refuse the Sacrament to those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin,” in accordance with the Church’s code of canon law.

The purpose of the decree, he said, is “to prevent sacrilege and to prevent the Catholic in question from committing further grave sin through unworthy reception.” He cited the protocol described in a 2004 letter of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to U.S. bishops that said that when a person consistently campaigns and votes for permissive abortion laws, his pastor should meet with him to instruct him on the Church’s teaching, inform him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he repents, and, that, if he fails to repent and continues to present himself for Communion, he will be denied.

No bishop would ever look forward to such actions, but they are consistent with the balance inherent in the prophetic, sanctifying and shepherding duties of his office. Let us all pray and hope that it brings the offenders to repentance and to embrace the whole Gospel, including the Gospel of Life.

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Copyright © 2005-2007 All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

From the Deacon's Bench: Should deacons wear the collar?

Every now and then, I hear from deacons and deacon candidates who ask that very question. Some have seen pictures of deacons in other dioceses in clerical attire and asked, "What's up with that?" I can almost hear them scratching their heads.

I decided to pose that question to someone who knows a lot more about this than I do: William Ditewig, Ph.D. Bill was for a long time the executive director of the Secretariat for the Diaconate with the USCCB. Ordained for 18 years, he is now the Director of Graduate Programs in Theology and Associate Professor of Theology at Saint Leo University in Tampa.

He's the author of 101 Questions and Answers About Deacons, and The Emerging Diaconate, among others.

In other words, he's a brainiac.

And he's a great guy, to boot. He gave a superb retreat to my class just before ordination.

So here's some of what he e-mailed me on the subject of deacons wearing the collar:
To begin, we need to know what the law says or doesn't say about the matter. Canon law requires clerics to wear the clerical attire prescribed by the episcopal conference and/or the bishop of the diocese. Notice that even canon law doesn't mandate "collars" per se; it's just that collars have -- over the last century or so -- become the standard clerical attire in the United States and other parts of the world. As late as the late 1800s, "clerical attire" in the US often consisted of simple, plain clothing -- and it was usually the black "frock coat" that often marked the cleric, not a "collar" -- their neckware was the same as anyone else. (This also parallels the development of clerical "titles": back in the 1800s, it was not unusual for a priest or even a bishop to go by "Mister" or perhaps "Reverend Mr." Some bishops and priests who had doctorates might go by "Doctor", or "Reverend Dr." but this was rather rare. Even to this day, in Europe, most bishops don't go by "Most Reverend." Titles are affected greatly by local or national practice.) Bottom line: clerics are bound by law to wear "clerical attire" -- however that is defined in the region.

But then we get to the permanent deacon. Our famous canon (c. 288) relieves us of the obligation to wear clerical attire. Why? Because it is assumed that most permanent deacons are still working men, and the law doesn't want to impose a conflict on such deacons. As you know, I was a career Navy officer, and I was ordained while still on active duty. If c. 288 didn't exist, I would have had to show up for duty wearing a collar, not my Navy uniform! That would not have worked well! OK, so, the OBLIGATION is removed; that doesn't mean we CAN'T wear clerical attire as determined by lawful authority. The lawful authority on this question can be either the USCCB or the diocesan bishop, or both. Let's look at each.

The USCCB, since the first Guidelines on Formation for deacons were promulgated in 1971 (the "Green Book") has adopted the position that, nationally, the preference is that deacons should dress in a manner "resembling the people they serve." Obviously, this means dressing like lay persons (at least one person has joked that since we serve bishops, we should start wearing collars and pectoral crosses!), but it was never promulgated as PARTICULAR LAW. This position has remained throughout the three documents which address the issue (the 1971 Guidelines, the 1984 Guidelines, and the 2004 National Directory), and the US bishops are in agreement: THEY DO NOT WANT A NATIONAL LAW ON THIS ISSUE, because that would tie the local diocesan bishop's hands. They have reviewed this decision several times; they even considered a proposal to pass a law that each of the 14 episcopal regions could have their own policies -- this proposal also went down in flames. The bottom line: the bishops want the ability to deal with this issue in their own dioceses, and don't want some other supradiocesan authority to dictate it to them.

So, let's move on to the diocesan bishop. We have 196 dioceses and eparchies in the United States, and the pastoral situation in each is unique, and that affects how bishops deal with this. Many, many dioceses have policies in which deacons wear clerical attire. The policy in Washington, DC (my home diocese) is quite good: "If, in the professional judgment of the deacon, the wearing of clerical attire will enhance his ministry, he may do so." Under previous archbishops, this meant wearing the same kind of (black) clerical attire as the presbyters. Archbishop Wuerl decided to adapt the practice, and directed what I call the "St. Louis option" (because this is where I first saw this practice): deacons would wear grey clerical shirts, while priests would continue to wear black. This offers a measure of distinctiveness. Not all dioceses worry about the color of the shirts. Still other dioceses absolutely FORBID the wearing of clerical attire by deacons, and this is the right of the bishop. They do this for a variety of reasons, but usually it's over concerns of confusion. But probably by far the MOST COMMON PRACTICE is that deacons may wear clericals on an "ad hoc" basis with the bishop's permission. In other words, the deacon calls the bishop and explains what he wants to do and why he feels he needs to wear the collar; more frequently, of course, the bishop himself will communicate those situations in which he wants deacons to wear the collar. Again, in Washington, even WITH our policy, Cardinal Hickey used to REQUIRE that we wear collars whenever we served in hospitals and prisons; it was no longer up to us. The bottom line here: Each bishop wants to have this flexibility. By the way, I can't give specific numbers on which dioceses follow which policies for the simple fact that these policies can change from bishop to bishop. So, as in Washington, while one policy is followed under one bishop, it may change or be modified by a successor bishop.

A word about the reasons pro or con for wearing collars. We've heard them all. And deacons themselves are almost equally split on it themselves. For example, there are deacons in many dioceses who would REFUSE to wear collars unless they were directly ordered to do so, BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE THAT THE COLLAR WOULD GET IN THE WAY of their ministry! They believe that, whatever benefits might be present in terms of identifying the deacon, they don't think those benefits outweigh the negatives. Of course, other deacons are concerned that no one will know that they are deacons if they don't wear a collar. Here's where my personal experience rears its head. I have worn the collar on many occasions, sometimes routinely, while in the Archdiocese of Washington. In other dioceses, I have NEVER worn it. You know what? It didn't make one iota of difference. People knew who and what I was either way. Secular clothes with a nametag; clerical attire with nametag: IT DIDN'T MATTER in practice.

And, ironically, in the nearly 10 years I was in and out of the USCCB headquarters in Washington, including the five full years I served as Executive Director of the Secretariat for the Diaconate, I didn't wear the collar once, even though I could have, given the policy of the Archdiocese of Washington. In all of the trips I made in that capacity to more than 150 dioceses (including the wonderful diocese of Brooklyn!) in our own country and numerous countries overseas representing the diaconate of the United States, I never wore the collar. And it never mattered one bit. When we're serving in a parish, our parishioners don't need a collar to identify us; and I've found that in most other venues, we don't need a collar either. "Cleric ID cards" and nametags usually work just as well, and they don't carry the "baggage" of the clerical collar. (By the way, I don't wear a collar here on campus either; yet all of my undergrads refer to me as "Deacon" -- or "Doctor"; actually, my nickname is "Triple D": "Deacon Doctor Ditewig").
So there you have it. Thank you, "Triple D."

Alternative to Deadly Embryonic Stem cell Procedure?

By Wesley Smith

Second Hand Smoke

Scientists have developed what appears to be a safer way to create a promising alternative to embryonic stem cells.

SAN FRANCISCO (Second Hand Smoke) - President Obama still hasn't rescinded the Bush stem cell policy. He will, but it may matter a lot less than people once thought. The IPSC advances continue, opening the door possibly for a way forward in biotechnology that all Americans can support. And, it is reported in the Washington Post! From the story:

"Scientists have developed what appears to be a safer way to create a promising alternative to embryonic stem cells, boosting hopes that such cells could sidestep the moral and political quagmire that has hindered the development of a new generation of cures.

"The researchers produced the cells by using strands of genetic material, instead of potentially dangerous genetically engineered viruses, to coax skin cells into a state that appears biologically identical to embryonic stem cells. "It's a leap forward in the safe application of these cells," said Andras Nagy of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, who helped lead the international team of researchers that described the work in two papers being published online today by the journal Nature. "We expect this to have a massive impact on this field."

The IPSCs are already being used in drug testing and etc. But can't be used in patients:

"The alternative cells, known as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, appear to have many of the same characteristics as embryonic stem cells but are produced by activating genes in adult cells to "reprogram" them into a more primitive state, bypassing the moral, political and ethical issues surrounding embryonic cells. Until now, however, their use has been limited because the genetic manipulation required the use of viruses, raising concerns the cells could cause cancer if placed in a patient. That has triggered a race to develop alternative approaches. "These viral insertions are quite dangerous," Nagy said."

Well, so are embryonic stem cells. Pluripotency itself is a problem due to potential tumor formation, and if the stem cells come from "leftover" embryos, immune rejection issues--which is why with the exception of the Geron approved trial, they haven't been used in humans. And the story doesn't get into the amazing adult stem cell successes in early human trials, which are patient specific and don't appear to pose the tumor threat.

Be that as it may, let us all hope the IPSC advances continue. If they work, it could bring about a rapprochement between both sides of the great ESCR debate, while not opening the door to human cloning.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Designer baby row over US clinic

A US clinic has sparked controversy by offering would-be parents the chance to select traits like the eye and hair colour of their offspring.

The LA Fertility Institutes run by Dr Jeff Steinberg, a pioneer of IVF in the 1970s, expects a trait-selected baby to be born next year.

His clinic also offers sex selection.

UK fertility experts are angered that the service will distract attention from how the same technology can protect against inherited disease.

The science is based on a lab technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD.

I would not say this is a dangerous road. It's an uncharted road
Dr Steinberg

This involves testing a cell taken from a very early embryo before it is put into the mother's womb.

Doctors then select an embryo free from rogue genes - or in this case an embryo with the desired physical traits such as blonde hair and blue eyes - to continue the pregnancy, and discard any others.

Dr Steinberg said couples might seek to use the clinic's services for both medical and cosmetic reasons.

For example, a couple might want to have a baby with a darker complexion to help guard against a skin cancer if they already had a child who had developed a melanoma. But others might just want a boy with blonde hair.

His clinic is offering this cosmetic selection to patients already having genetic screening for abnormal chromosome conditions in their embryos.

This is the inevitable slippery slope of a fertility process which results in many more embryos being created than can be implanted
Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics

"Not all patients will qualify for these tests and we make NO guarantees as to 'perfect prediction' of things such as eye colour or hair colour," says the clinic's website.

Dr Steinberg said: "I would not say this is a dangerous road. It's an uncharted road."

He said the capability to offer such services had been around for years, but had been ignored by the medical community.

"It's time for everyone to pull their heads out of the sand."

Slippery slope

But Dr Gillian Lockwood, a UK fertility expert and member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' ethics committee, questioned whether is was morally right to be using the science in this way.

"If it gets to the point where we can decide which gene or combination of genes are responsible for blue eyes or blonde hair, what are you going to do with all those other embryos that turn out like me to be ginger with green eyes?"

She warned against "turning babies into commodities that you buy off the shelf."

Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics said: "This is the inevitable slippery slope of a fertility process which results in many more embryos being created than can be implanted. Choices will always have to be made. Do you choose octuplets or the ones with the prettiest noses?"

In the UK, sex selection is banned and choices are currently permitted only in relationship to the baby's health.

Italian fertility law does not permit the creation of surplus embryos or selective testing. Ms Quintavalle said that was "one sure way to avoid the slippery slope".

Meanwhile, new legislation in the UK, due to come in on 6 April, will allow IVF mothers to name anyone as "father" on the birth certificate - even another woman.

The only restriction on naming a second parent will be if they are close blood relatives or if the second person does not agree.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/03/02 10:17:50 GMT