Monday, June 11, 2012

Whose Conscience Is It Anyway?

Our God loves us; He treasures us; He wants the absolute best for us! 

    "For this command which I am giving you today is not too wondrous or remote for you.
    It is not in the heavens, that you should say, 'Who will go up to the heavens to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?'
    Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?'
    No, it is something very near to you, in your mouth & in your heart, to do it. See, I have today set before you life & good, death & evil.
    If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I am giving you today, loving the LORD, your God, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and ordinances, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
    If, however, your heart turns away and you do not obey, but are led astray and bow down to other gods and serve them,
    I tell you today that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land which you are crossing the Jordan to enter & possess.
    I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live,
    by loving the LORD, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land which the LORD swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them" (Deutronomy 30: 11-20)

Back in 1968, countless Catholics - laity, religious, and clergy (even bishops!) - were convinced that the world desperately needed contraceptives and that the Church needed to change its teaching that had always rejected contraceptives.  Because our God so loves us, He inspired Pope Paul VI to radically go against the opinions of so many laity, religious, and clergy - to choose life - and beautifully reiterate the Church's teaching in Humanae Vitae - the Holy Father's beautiful encyclical on human life. 

Nearly a half century after Humane Vitae, informed Catholics know that the availability of contraceptives has wreaked havoc on our culture - economically, sociologically, and spiritually.  While church attendance has plummeted for Catholics and other Christians, we have seen astronomical increases in abortion, broken families, child abuse, cohabitation, human trafficking, illegitimacy, loss of a societal child-centeredness, pornography, sexual assault, and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as a widespread failure to appreciate the meaning of marriage.  Back when nearly everyone was claiming that contraceptives would be a panacea for our problems, our God knew that they were  absolutely BAD medicine!  Way back then, He also knew that some of what was being passed off as "contraceptive" would later be discovered to also be abortifacient.

It is absolutely bizarre that the draconian HHS mandates of Obamacare would be trying to force Catholic institutions to pay for contraceptives and abortifacients.  Why aren't we shouting from the rooftops that these poisons constitute absolutely BAD medicine? Apparently, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has shied away from doing so, in the belief that we will attract more allies by simply emphasizing religious freedom.  On its web page dedicated to the upcoming Fortnight for Freedom, the USCCB highlights an English language video by Bishop William Lori, which discusses our heritage of religious freedom in the United States and makes no mention of the awful medicine constitute by abortifacient and contraceptive give-aways.

Are We Partially Shying Away from Discussing Abortifacients and Contraceptives Because Our Hands are Dirty?

As per the USCCB's Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs) ,(Deuteronomy 30: 11- 20)
    "52. Catholic health institutions may not promote or condone contraceptive practices but should provide, for married couples and the medical staff who counsel them, instruction both about the Church’s teaching on responsible parenthood and in methods of natural family planning."

    "53. Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution. Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available."
In  Diagnosis Critical: The Urgent Threats Confronting Catholic Healthcare, Professor Leonard J. Nelson maintained that
  • "compliance with the ERDs has been uneven when it comes to contraception and sterilization. Typically, obstetrician-gynecologists practicing in Catholic hospitals and physician office buildings owned by Catholic hospitals provide prescriptions for contraceptives to their patients" (p. 53).
As noted in the video documentary 28 Days on the Pill,
  • “The situation in the Roman Catholic realm is not what many would expect. One Roman Catholic doctor we talked to said he knew of no Roman Catholic hospital in the United States that did not prescribe [hormonal contraceptives]. Tremendous pressure can be placed on Roman Catholic doctors to conform. So what the official teaching is and what is done in practice can be two different things.”
In a study of the compliance of Catholic hospitals with the ERDs, Sandra S. Hapenney, Ph.D. found evidence of numerous direct female sterilizations at some Catholic hospitals.  She noted that
  • "diversity of practice resulting from varied interpretations and applications of the ERD[s] exists among hospitals, and within hospital systems and dioceses. An analysis of the conscience clauses illustrates that Catholic hospitals are in jeopardy of defending themselves against judicial challenges and could strip themselves of the ability to mount a political front to aid in defending the conscience clauses."
As per Professor Nelson,
  • "any argument in favor of exemption from laws requiring a hospital to provide these services may be substantially undermined by the fact that the Catholic hospital is already, in some fashion, involved in either providing those services - as in the case of sterilizations - or involved in partnerships with entities providing such services" (p. 137).


The Particularly Peculiar Situation of Emergency So-Called "Contraception"

Whether it's called the Morning After Pill, Emergency Contraception, Plan B, or Ella, the Vatican has faithfully followed God and made clear that so-called emergency "contraception" - a choice against life - is to be condemned.  Yet it is maintained by the Catholic Health Association (CHAUSA), the National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC), and the USCCB that there exists a legitimate protocol for Catholic hospitals to employ so-called emergency "contraception" in treating those who identify themselves as victims of rape.  No such protocol is indicated by the Vatican in its "Charter for Health Care Workers," “Statement on the So-Called ‘Morning After Pill’," Pope Benedict XVI's address to the International Congress of Catholic Pharmacists, or "Dignitas Personae."

In the September 2000 "Breast Cancer : Its Link to Abortion and the Birth Control Pill," Chris Kahlenborn, MD of Altoona, Pa cited the abortifacient potential of emergency so-called "contraception" and emphatically maintained that "informed practicing Christian physicians will not give the 'post-rape pill' in any circumstances."  In the Pontifical Academy for Life’s 10/31/00 “Statement on the So-Called ‘Morning After Pill’,” the Vatican itself seemed similarly unambiguous:
  • “those who ask for or offer this pill are seeking the direct termination of a possible pregnancy already in progress….from the ethical standpoint the same absolute unlawfulness of abortifacient procedures also applies to distributing, prescribing and taking the morning-after pill. All who, whether sharing the intention or not, directly co-operate with this procedure are also morally responsible for it….since these procedures are becoming more widespread, we strongly urge everyone who works in this sector to make a firm objection of moral conscience, which will bear courageous and practical witness to the inalienable value of human life, especially in view of the new hidden forms of aggression against the weakest and most defenceless individuals, as is the case with a human embryo.”
In 2003, the Catholic Medical Association passed "A Resolution in favor of prohibiting all 'emergency contraception' in Catholic Hospitals":
  • "Whereas women who are victims of a sexual assault should be treated with compassion and provided with all the legitimate means to prevent health consequences from the assault, And
    Whereas pregnancy is a rare outcome of rape, occurring in less that 5% of cases, And
    Whereas ample evidence exists that 'emergency contraception' which can be given up to 120 hours after the act, adversely affects the function of the corpus luteum and affects endometrial development, making implantation of the blastocyst less likely, And
    Whereas 'emergency contraception' given prior to ovulation does not consistently prevent ovulation or pregnancy, and still has an effect on the corpus luteum and the endometrium, preventing implantation,
    Therefore be it resolved that 'emergency contraception' is a misnomer as it does not consistently prevent fertilization, And
    Therefore, be it further resolved that as 'emergency contraception' has the potential to prevent implantation whether given in the pre-ovulatory, ovulatory, or post-ovulatory phase, that it cannot be ethically employed by a Catholic physician or administered in a Catholic Hospital in cases of rape."
For Catholic hospitals to proceed with using so-called emergency "contraception," J. B. Shea, MD (12/3/06) maintained, jeopardizes the conscience protection of all health care professionals: "Catholic hospitals are not free to prescribe or provide anything with abortifacient properties without contradicting their witness....this witness given by Catholic hospitals affects not only the patients and care givers in Catholic institutions, but those in secular institutions, putting pressure on them to violate their consciences or lose their jobs." 

Especially in light of the Vatican's 2000 statement and the testimony of faithful Catholic physicians, many had to be taken aback by the 9/27/07 "Statement by Connecticut Bishops Regarding Plan B" from Archbishop Henry Mansell, Bishop Paul Chomnycki, Bishop Michael Cote, and Bishop William Lori:
  • “to administer Plan B pills in Catholic hospitals to victims of rape a pregnancy test to determine that the woman has not conceived is sufficient. An ovulation test will not be required. The administration of Plan B pills in this instance cannot be judged to be the commission of an abortion because of such doubt about how Plan B pills and similar drugs work and because of the current impossibility of knowing from the ovulation test whether a new life is present. To administer Plan B pills without an ovulation test is not an intrinsically evil act.

    "Since the teaching authority of the Church has not definitively resolved this matter and since there is serious doubt about how Plan B pills work, the Catholic Bishops of Connecticut have stated that Catholic hospitals in the State may follow protocols that do not require an ovulation test in the treatment of victims of rape. A pregnancy test approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration suffices. If it becomes clear that Plan B pills would lead to an early chemical abortion in some instances, this matter would have to be reopened.”
Coming just one month later, could the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his Address to the International Congress of Catholic Pharmacists have been merely coincidental?
  • "it is not possible to anaesthetize consciences...concerning the effects of particles whose purpose is to prevent an embryo's implantation or to shorten a person's life. The pharmacist must invite each person to advance humanity, so that every being may be protected from the moment of conception until natural death, and that medicines may fulfil properly their therapeutic role....your Federation is invited to address the issue of conscientious objection, which is a right your profession must recognize, permitting you not to collaborate either directly or indirectly by supplying products for the purpose of decisions that are clearly immoral such as, for example, abortion or euthanasia."
Though the National Catholic Bioethics Center has maintained the existence of a legitimate rape protocol, a November 2007 article by Father Tad Pacholczyk, Ph.D. seemed to delicately and indirectly take issue with the Nutmeg State's bishops' foregoing the need for an ovulation test:
  • "the Food and Drug Administration...acknowledges...: 'Plan B may also work by...preventing attachment (implantation) to the uterus (womb).' The package insert for the drug from the manufacturer (Barr Pharmaceuticals) uses identical language....To provide the morning-after pill without considering a woman’s ovulatory state...crosses an important moral line. Choosing to act in a way as to possibly cause the death of another human is not generally a good moral choice [sic]. When we have uncertainty about the presence of a human in the bushes during a hunting trip, for example, we ought not shoot into the bushes."
A year after the Connecticut Bishops' Statement, §23 of the Vatican's 9/8/08 Dignitas Personae  seemed to provide additional clarification and signal a need to update Directive #36 of the USCCB's "Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 4th ed."  While distinguishing between "interceptive" methods interfering with an embryo before implantation and "contragestative" methods interfering with the embryo after implantation, §23 made clear that both are illicitDignitas Personae did NOT offer guidelines for the supposed "moral" use of a potential interceptive or contragestative.  Yet Bishop William Lori, chair of the USCCB's Committee on Doctrine and Pastoral Practices, stated: "I don't think the document explicitly addresses the rape protocols, nor does it specifically address Plan B....If it had wanted to, it could have and would have. It doesn't settle that question."  In Talking Points Developed by CHA Ethics Staff on Dignitas Personae, the CHAUSA seemed to move quickly to obscure any clarity:
  • "Comments in §23 may raise some questions about Directive 36. The paragraph states that 'anyone who seeks to prevent the implantation of an embryo which may possibly have been conceived and who therefore either requests or prescribes such a pharmaceutical, generally intends abortion.' The Catholic Health Association supports this judgment. It also believes that implementation of Directive 36 of the Ethical and Religious Directives remains unchanged. Plan B, the medication of choice for emergency contraception, does not appear to have a post-fertilization effect, given the results of repeated scientific studies."
In the most recent update of the USCCB’s “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 5th ed(ERDs)” (2009), Directive 36 remained unchanged:
  • "Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is the victim of sexual assault. Health care providers should cooperate with law enforcement officials and offer the person psychological and spiritual support as well as accurate medical information. A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred  already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum."
(According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Holy Redeemer was alone among Philadelphia's Catholic Hospitals in NOT requesting an exemption from providing emergency so-called "contraception" to those identifying themselves as victims of sexual assault.) 

If There is a Discrepancy Between Dignitas Personae & the ERDs, It's Sure Good that We Can Count on Normally Orthodox Sources of Moral Guidance, Right? 

As per 9/14/10 comments by Judie Brown of the American Life League and the Pontifical Academy for Life:
  • "there is all manner of dodging Catholic teaching at even the most prestigious levels. The National Catholic Bioethics Center (NCBC)...published an article by Marie Hilliard, Ph.D., JCL, RN in which she...fails to point out that, because any such pill may abort a child, none should be used.  As the Vatican has clarified through Bishop Elio Sgreccia, former president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, among others, the morning-after pill may not be given as a treatment for rape because of the potential to abort."
Speaking for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, Hilliard confirmed that the Vatican has NEVER spoken on rape protocols, and she used this lack of explicitness to justify the existence of rape protocols.
  • "The use of Plan B or any other 'morning after pill' for the purpose of avoiding conception following consensual sex is contraceptive in nature and is rejected by the Church. Many Catholics are surprised to discover that sexual assault is another matter. The issue of sexual assault is not addressed in the new bioethical document, Dignitas Personae, so sound moral reasoning has to be used to determine which protocol is morally acceptable for the administration of emergency contraceptive drugs."
With all respect to the impressive credentials of Hilliard and others at the NCBC, this argument is just not convincing.  Isn't it somewhat akin to claiming that, since the Vatican never explicitly stated that people under 5' 2" merit absolute absolute respect, we may currently disregard their human dignity?  Just as our absolute need to honor the human dignity of people under 5'2" is inherent in the natural law and everything the Church teaches, the prohibition of so-called emergency "contraception" in all situations seems clear in Dignitas Personae.  I am not alone in thinking this way.  As per Father Robert Gahl of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross,
  • "I don’t see how one can read Dignitas Personae in such a way that administrating Plan B (or other morning-after pill or emergency contraception) can be justified. 
In reading Dignitas Personae, I see nothing to suggest that its teaching is limited - as Hilliard suggests - to those engaged in consensual sex: "the use of means of interception and contragestation fall within the sin of abortion and are gravely immoral. Furthermore, when there is certainty that an abortion has resulted, there are serious penalties in canon law."

Going to the Deli, Instead of Explaining the BAD Medicine

In testimony before Congress, Bishop William Lori tried to liken efforts to force Catholic institutions to pay for  abortifacients and contraceptives to forcing a Kosher deli to sell pork.  As he failed to emphasize the destructive nature of abortifacients/contraceptives, Professor Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis was able to punch lots of holes in Bishop Lori's comparison:
  • "The analogy to 'forcing kosher delis to sell ham,' put forward by Bishop William Lori, exemplifies the way the problem is misunderstood.....To focus on the religious liberties of employers while overlooking those of their employees, and to focus on only the free exercise clause of the First Amendment while ignoring the dangers of coercive religious establishments, is to pervert what Washington meant when he spoke of 'liberty of conscience' and to set back the cause of liberty and justice for all" (The Jewish Daily Forward, 3/7/12)
When we do not shy away from the destructiveness of abortifacients/contraceptives, our arguments and witness can be enormously more effective.  A case in point is the response to a 6/6/12 piece in the NY Times, which had maintained that: "Leading scientists say studies...provide strong evidence that Plan B does not prevent implantation, and no proof that a newer type of pill, Ella, does.... Controversy over emergency contraception is figuring in the presidential race and debates over the Obama administration’s health care law."  An OBGYN, Donna Harrison, MD, was able to simply and quickly counter that
  • "The recent New York Times article by Pam Belluck, asserting that so-called abortifacient drugs may not be abortive at all, is a wonderful example of convolution of facts to obscure reality....In point of fact, any drug which can act to prevent pregnancy after a woman has ovulated must have some post-fertilization effect....And, because some physicians and scientists stubbornly adhere to the principles of Hippocratic medicine, and refuse to give a drug which will kill one of their patients (the human embryo), and may harm the other (the mother) the controversy will not go away."

The Beatitudes from "Jesus of Nazareth"


Use of Emergency So-Called Contraceptives in Catholic Hospitals for Those Reporting Rape

Book & Film Reviews, pt 1

Book & Film Reviews, pt 2

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12/12/08 Interview with Rev. Tad Pacholczyk, Ph.D. of the National Catholic Bioethics Center

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