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Resist ‘hidden euthanasia’ of elderly, Little Sisters stress

Steubenville, Ohio, Oct 18, 2014 / 06:34 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Receiving an award recognizing their works of service, members of the Little Sisters of the Poor stressed the need for loving attention and care for the elderly, particularly by the youth.

Fertility treatments fall short of expectations

Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2014 / 04:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Tech giants’ new policies offering egg freezing options as a work benefit overlook the technique’s “highly problematic” failure rates and risks to potential children, sa…

Houston carries out ‘witch hunt’ on pastors opposing ‘bathroom bill’

Houston, Texas, Oct 16, 2014 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- City officials in Houston have filed a subpoena against local pastors over a lawsuit regarding a bill that would do away with sex-assigned restrooms.

After citizens filed a lawsuit against th…

No boundaries to prayer for nurse under Ebola quarantine

Dallas, Texas, Oct 15, 2014 / 05:10 pm (CNA).- Catholics in Texas are praying for the two nurses infected with Ebola, one of whom is a devout Catholic in communication with a priest.

“It is with profound sadness that we learn of the two Dallas healthcare workers being treated for the Ebola virus after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, Nina Pham and Amber Joy Vinson,” Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas said Oct. 15. “We pray not only for their recovery, but also for their families and loved ones.”

Pham, a nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, contracted the disease while caring for Thomas, an Ebola patient from Liberia who died Oct. 8. Vinson, another nurse who cared for Duncan, admitted herself to the same hospital on Oct. 14 reporting symptoms of the disease.

“This situation reminds of the countless hours of selfless service that nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals and institutions provide in protecting us and our community,” Bishop Farrell said. “This is a time for our community to respond with calmness and compassion.”

Pham, reported to be a devout Catholic, is being kept in isolation and communicates with her family through Skype and phone calls from the Dallas hospital.

She has also been speaking with a priest, Diocese of Dallas communications director Annette Gonzalez Taylor told CNA Oct. 15.

“He’s not allowed in the quarantine area, but he is communicating with her,” she said, adding, “the power of prayer has no physical boundaries.”

Father Jim Khoi, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Fort Worth, where Pham’s family attends Mass, has been holding daily prayer services for her.

The priest, citing conversations with Pham’s mother, told the Dallas Morning News that Pham is “very comfortable” and “very supported now.”

“She knows that everybody knew to pray for her especially in this difficult time.”

On Tuesday Pham issued a statement through Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, saying, “I’m doing well and want to thank everyone for their kind wishes and prayers.”

“I am blessed by the support of family and friends and am blessed to be cared for by the best team of doctors and nurses in the world.”

Pham has received a blood transfusion from Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly in hopes the blood contains antibodies that can help combat the virus.

Fort Worth’s Nolan Catholic High School, where Pham graduated in 2006, will be holding a private prayer service for Pham on Oct. 16.

Her case has raised some concerns about the disease and its transmission at Mass and in other venues.

Taylor said that the Dallas diocese has told priests and liturgists to follow the U.S. bishops’ protocols for influenza season, but she added that this action was not only in response to Ebola.

“It was sent out just as much to address the onset of flu season and the presence of the enterovirus (D68), which is very contagious, and is now in Dallas and around the country.”

“People with symptoms should not come to Mass, if you are symptomatic,” Taylor said. “It’s not a sin to miss Mass if you are sick,” she explained.

She also noted that individual Catholics have the responsibility to decide whether to receive the Precious Blood from the chalice during communion.

Bishop Farrell praised Dallas officials for their response to the Ebola infections. He voiced confidence that officials “will take the necessary steps to care for the sick and protect the community.”

Pat Svacina, communications director of the neighboring Diocese of Fort Worth, said the diocese has health care professionals on staff who are monitoring the latest CDC guidelines on the disease and distributing the information to officials such as school nurses and pastors. This was being done prior to news that Pham had been infected, he said, noting that Pham was not in the Fort Worth area when she became contagious.

“The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and its parishioners pray for the nurse that has been affected with Ebola and for her family, associates and all those affected by Ebola,” Svacina told CNA Oct. 14. “We ask that Our Lord, Jesus Christ, be with them in their time of need.”

“Bishop Michael Olson has asked our Catholics to pray for Nina and her family. The Diocese likewise is praying for all Ebola patients,” he said.

More than 4,400 people have died in the latest outbreak, primarily in West Africa. Although World Health Organization officials fear there could be thousands of new infections in future months without an effective response, the rate of new infections has appeared to slow down, the BBC reports.

Supreme Court halts parts of Texas abortion law, but it’s not over yet

Washington D.C., Oct 15, 2014 / 04:59 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Backers of a 2013 Texas law which strengthened health and safety requirements for the state’s abortion clinics will continue to support the law as it winds through the court system, following a temporary block of some portions of the law.

The Supreme Court temporarily blocked parts of the law on Tuesday, while the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals considers an appeal regarding the statute.

A key part of the state law that was blocked required all abortion clinics to upgrade to surgical facility standards, and until now it had closed all but eight abortion clinics in Texas. The Supreme Court also allowed two clinics a temporary exemption from the part of the law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Opponents of the bill say the requirements are more about restricting abortion than about women’s safety. Supporters of the bill, such as Texas Right to Life and the Susan B. Anthony List, say abortion clinics with lower standards than other surgical facilities puts women at undue risk.

“We think that the women of Texas deserve better than being subjected to sub-par clinics and sub-par standards, and we’re doing our best to look out for their safety by passing these laws,” Emily Horne told CNA Oct. 15. Horne serves as a legislative assistant with Texas Right to Life.

The Susan B. Anthony List, a movement to advance pro-life leadership in the United States, expressed their concerns about the blocking of this bill in a statement from their president, Marjorie Dannenfelser.

“Women across the country are suffering at the hands of abortionists. Where are all the watchdogs of women’s health? Abortion politics has superseded authentic concern for the health and safety of women. This is a shameful hour when ‘access,’ at any cost supplants safety and health. Should women stifle their concerns about assembly-line style abortions that prey on the most vulnerable women? We say ‘no!’”

The Texas law demanding stricter requirements for abortion clinics was created in response to the case of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who in 2013 was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter as a result of his negligent practices.

According to the grand juror report on the case, a patient of Gosnell’s died because his clinic failed to meet proper surgical facility requirements, such as wider hallways for easy paramedic access, that could have saved the young woman’s life.

“It’s those types of things that they noted in the case that actually are required in surgical center facilities,” Horne said, “And so that’s a specific thing that this law would have changed. We were hoping something like the Gosnell case never happens in Texas as a result of these requirements.”

Other parts of the Texas law still stand. The constitutionality of the ban on abortions after 20 weeks, at which point an unborn baby can feel pain, has never been challenged and will remain in effect.

“That’s been in place for almost an entire year and saving babies for that long, so that’s been huge,” Horne said.

Last October, the fifth circuit court of appeals reinstated the requirement of admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic after U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the provision was unconstitutional.

This requirement is still in place for all but two abortion clinics, one in El Paso and one in McAllen, which received an exemption Tuesday.

One argument against the surgical facility requirements is that it would mean expensive upgrades for all abortion clinics, even ones that only provide chemical abortions. However, when chemical abortions fail, women have to be treated surgically.

“If there’s a complication, women have to sign a waiver prior to getting a chemical abortion she’s ok with coming back for a surgical abortion,” Horne said, “so in the event of a medical complication they would need a surgical facility anyway. They said they’d refer women to the nearest surgical facility, which might be 100 miles away.”

Casey Mattox, a senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said the law affirms Texans’ “freedom to prioritize women’s health and safety over the bottom line of abortionists.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision only temporarily and partially prevents the Texas law from going into effect while the 5th Circuit finishes hearing the case. While that is disappointing, it should cause no great alarm. The state’s requirement against cut-and-run abortionists remains in effect for all but two abortion facilities.”

Mattox continued: “Likewise, the limitations on chemical abortions up to seven weeks gestation and prohibiting abortionists from sending women home alone to abort have been upheld and remain in effect. We remain confident that the entirety of Texas’s law will ultimately be upheld.”

The issues in question with the law up until now have been whether the law can be enforced while the case is still in court. The fifth circuit court has yet to schedule a hearing and officially rule on the full case, but Horne remains hopeful.

“Last week when they listed the injunction, they said the reason they were doing so was because of a likelihood of success on the state’s part,” Horne said, “so what the Supreme Court rule on Tuesday doesn’t change what they said there.”

“And those are very encouraging words for us.”

Women without wombs: New technology offers progress, warning

Washington D.C., Oct 14, 2014 / 04:38 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The first successful birth to a woman who had undergone a womb transplant highlights both opportunities resulting from new technology and the need for caution, said a Catholic bioethics expert.

“The womb can be recognized as an organ that serves a particular function,” explained Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center.

He told CNA on Oct. 10 that the transplantation of a healthy womb to a woman who lacks a womb because of birth defects or disease can be licit and “would be analogous to a situation where a kidney fails to function” and a donor provides a healthy organ to someone in need.

Women can lose function of wombs after cancer, medical treatments, or due to certain birth defects.

Recently, a Swedish woman gave birth to a baby boy after receiving a transplanted womb donated by a post-menopausal friend in her 60s. This is the first successful womb transplant to be coupled with a pregnancy, after two attempts by other medical teams that failed to lead to successful pregnancies.

“Our success is based on more than 10 years of intensive animal research and surgical training by our team and opens up the possibility of treating many young females worldwide that suffer from uterine infertility,” said professor Mats Brannstrom, leader of the transplant team, to the BBC.

Fr. Pacholczyk explained that while the number of couples who could benefit from this therapy “is relatively small,” the transplant itself opens the possibility for a new morally acceptable therapy.

Transplanting the uterus alone could be morally acceptable, he said, as long as the transplant of ovaries and sex cells were not also done, respecting the uniqneness of each person’s genetic information.

The priest also noted that in the recent case, the woman – whose ovaries were still functioning – and her husband had used in-vitro fertilization to create 11 embryos, implanting one which resulted in a successful pregnancy and birth. The use of in-vitro fertilization violates Catholic teaching, because it too separates the creation of life from the marital act.

For such a womb transplant to be completely licit, Fr. Pacholczyk said, IVF could not be used, and children would need to be conceived naturally “through the marital act.”

Fr. Pacholczyk also pointed to ethical concerns surrounding potential donors for the therapy.

In this case, he noted, “the uterus was obtained from a postmenopausal woman” whose “reproductive life was behind her.”

“By donating the uterus she is not compromising her reproductive function nor is she compromising any significant hormonal function,” he explained, saying that uteri from cadavers and from post-menopausal women could be used for transplant.

What would not be morally acceptable, he noted, is for a premenopausal woman to donate a uterus “with a contraceptive intention,” or in a way that would prevent her from being able to bear life while she is still biologically capable of doing so.

Regnum Christi laity begin journey to renewal

Atlanta, Ga., Oct 14, 2014 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- North American lay members of the Legion of Christ’s apostolic movement Regnum Christi met Oct. 10-12 for their national convention in Atlanta, where they prepared to revise their laws and o…

Don’t rush to judge Columbus, anthropologist encourages

Providence, R.I., Oct 13, 2014 / 04:33 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The controversies surrounding Christopher Columbus are sometimes misplaced and should not overshadow Columbus’ Christian motives in his voyages,  a scholar of religious studies and anthropology has said.

“In recent times, Christopher Columbus has become the symbol for everything that went wrong in the New World, so much so that it has become difficult to celebrate the holiday commemorating his discovery of the New World,” Carol Delaney, a visiting scholar of religious studies at Brown University, told CNA Oct. 10.

“I have been dismayed by the lack of knowledge about the man by those who are rushing in judgment against him and changing the day that commemorates his extraordinary achievement.”

“While we may not agree with the scenario that motivated Columbus, it is important to understand him in the context of his time,” she added.

Delaney, who holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago, is author of the 2011 book “Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem,” which examines Columbus’ religious motivations for his voyages.

Her book warns against misjudging Columbus’ motivations and accomplishments “from a contemporary perspective rather than from the values and practices of his own time.”

In her view, some criticism “holds him responsible for consequences he did not intend, expect, or endorse” and blames him for “all the calamities” that befell the “new world” he was once celebrated for discovering.

Columbus has been a major figure for Catholics in America, especially Italian-Americans, who saw his pioneering voyage from Europe as a way of validating their presence in a sometimes hostile majority-Protestant country. The Knights of Columbus, the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, took his name and voyage as an inspiration. At one point in the nineteenth century there were efforts to push for the voyager’s canonization.

In 1892, the quadricennial of Columbus’ first voyage, Leo XIII authored an encyclical that stressed Columbus’ desire to spread Catholic Christianity. The Pope stressed how Columbus’ Catholic faith motivated his voyage and supported him amid his setbacks.

In recent decades, some critics have stressed the negative aspects of Columbus’ voyage and European colonization of the New World, noting that European colonists’ arrival brought disease, violence and displacement to natives. Columbus Day holidays and parades have drawn protests from some activists.

Some U.S. localities have dropped observances of Columbus Day, while others have added observances intended to recognize those who lived in the Americas before Columbus sailed.

Delaney, however, questioned interpretations that depict Columbus as a gold-hungry marauder who did not care for the natives.

She said Columbus was motivated by the belief that all people must be evangelized to achieve salvation and by the belief that he could ally with the Great Khan of Cathay and secure enough gold to support an effort to retake Jerusalem.

“There was no intention of taking land or enslaving the people of the Khan, ruler of one of the greatest empires at the time,” Delaney said.

On his first return voyage to Spain, Columbus brought several natives who were not enslaved. Rather, they had been baptized and educated.

“One became his ‘adopted son’ and translator on future voyages, two were adopted by the (Spanish) king and queen,” she said.

After Columbus’ ship the Santa Maria ran aground on his first voyage, Columbus left 39 men on an island in the Caribbean with special instructions.

“He told them they should not go marauding, should not kidnap and rape the women, and should always make exchanges for food and gold,” Delaney explained.

“When he returned with more ships and people he found that all of the men whom he’d left
behind had been killed. Unlike the priest who accompanied him, Columbus did not blame the natives, but his own men; clearly, they had disobeyed his orders.”

Delaney acknowledged that Columbus on later voyages enslaved some natives who resisted Christianization. At the same time, he also punished his own men who perpetrated misdeeds against the natives.

The scholar has also questioned uncritical treatments of the Spanish friar Bartolomeo de las Casas, who is sometimes compared favorably to Columbus.

While las Casas is now remembered primarily as a defender of the rights of native Americans, she said this came later in life. The friar also owned slaves, endorsed slavery, and operated plantations. He also helped suppress a native rebellion

Columbus never owned slaves and yet is “reviled and blamed for everything that went wrong in the Indies,” Delaney said in her book.

IUDs for teens? Endangering, not empowering, docs say

Washington D.C., Oct 12, 2014 / 06:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Medical professionals blasted the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent recommendation that long term contraceptives are the best way for teen girls to avoid pregnancy, saying that it se…

Can death be beautiful? A response to Brittany Maynard

Denver, Colo., Oct 10, 2014 / 06:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Brittany Maynard plans on ending her life on November 1.

The 29 year-old has been diagnosed with an advanced brain tumor, and in April was given a prognosis of six months to live. Not long afterwards, after researching her options, Maynard and her family left their California home and moved to Oregon, where Maynard could opt for physician-assisted suicide via the Death with Dignity act.

She carries a prescription in her purse that will kill her if ingested. If she changes her mind, she won’t take the pills.

In an op-ed written for CNN, Maynard said: “I’ve had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.”

A few states to the south and west, Kara Tippetts of Colorado is preparing for the end of her life.

She knows it will come sooner than later. Tippetts, like Maynard, knows great suffering. She has been battling an aggressive form of breast cancer for two years that has metastasized throughout her entire body.

She was diagnosed at the age of 36, and has since been trying to make the most of her time with her four young children, and husband Jason.

After news broke of Maynard’s decision, Tippetts wrote Brittany an open letter from her heart, sharing her love and prayers, sympathizing with her extreme suffering and thanking her for sharing her story.

“I think the telling of your story is important,” she writes. “It’s a discussion that needs to be brought out of the quiet corners and brought brightly into the light. You sharing your story has done that. It matters, and it is unbelievably important. Thank you.”

Kara then gently pleads with Brittany to reconsider.

“Dear heart, we simply disagree. Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known.”

Dr. Julie Masters is also glad that Maynard’s story is out there. The chairman of the Department of Gerontology at the University of Nebraska, Masters teaches a class called “Death and Dying” for undergraduate students. The class covers everything from funeral planning to grief and loss, religious perspectives and near-death experiences.

It just so happened that the syllabus lined up with the news – her class’s discussion on physician assisted suicide and euthanasia was the same day Maynard went public with her decision.

“I really don’t believe in coincidences, I think we’re given information when we need to hear it,” Masters said. Her hope is that Maynard’s story will open up the desperately-needed conversations about end-of-life decisions in both families and larger communities.

Her fear is that many will now see Death with Dignity as the only way to go.

“That’s where I get concerned about responsible reporting,” she said. “That other people will read this and (may) say, ‘Well gosh, then I guess that’s what I need to do, that’s the way to go’, but that’s not the only option, and I hope folks understand that. That’s where the idea of hospice or palliative care comes into play.”

“When you see a headline like, ‘I have the right to make my decision’ … we forget that there’s a bigger picture in terms of our understanding of end of life wishes.”

Masters made it clear that she could not speak specifically to Maynard’s situation.

“We only know a snapshot, we don’t know the whole story, and so I’m not sure exactly why … she’s chosen that path,” she said. Something typically touted as a benefit of physician assisted suicide is that it cuts down the costs of hospice and palliative care, Masters said, though that’s rarely the reason people actually opt for it.

In Maynard’s op-ed, she mentions wanting to be in control of her own destiny, in having the power to choose when she dies. Master’s said this idea of self-autonomy is often the reason people choose this option.

“It’s not about financial costs, it’s about being in control of my own destiny,” Masters said. “But you have to include a different perspective – what does it mean to be in control? Are you really in control? That’s something that you have to think about.”

Masters’ also hopes that in the wake of Maynard’s decision, end-of-life care can be viewed in a broader perspective that includes longer-term hospice and palliative care.

“If we would think about care in a broader range, meaning not just six months or less, but looking at it from a year, or two years, or three years out, that person’s going to have a better sense of care, and a better sense that they will be supported at the end of their life.”

Most insurance policies only let people receive hospice care if they are given a prognosis of six months or less to live. Broadening the perspective of what hospice or palliative care could change the conversation about end-of-life issues, Masters said, but even as it stands, statistics show most people don’t take full advantage of the care available to them.

“When you look at median length of stay and average length of stay, what we find is that people are not able to take advantage of hospice for as long as it’s really out there,” she said.

Why aren’t they taking advantage?

“I think part of it is we don’t want to talk about it, we’re afraid of it, we’re afraid of death.”

Clergy can be key in opening these conversations, Masters continued. A study done by the Nebraska Hospice and Palliative Care Association on the end-of-life planning of Nebraskans found that many people said they wished they had had more conversations with their clergy regarding death and dying.

“(People are) looking to clergy to initiate the conversation. And so is there an opportunity, whether its from my priest or my rabbi or my imam or my minister, you fill in the blank, where they could help me begin that conversation,” she said.

Masters recalled how much comfort a priest brought when her own father, a devout Catholic, was dying.

“His faith is what really helped define who he was over the course of his life, and so to have his priest come by and anoint him, to have his priest come pray with him and give him Communion, was very important,” she said. “I can’t tell you how helpful it was to us, to know that we were doing things in accordance to the faith tradition.”

Masters said she often thinks what Mary and Joseph talked about as the foster-father of Christ neared the end of his life.

“Don’t you wonder if Mary had a conversation with Joseph about the end of life? We don’t hear much about the two of them but they had to have had a conversation, because I don’t think he died suddenly,” she said.

In the Catholic tradition, St. Joseph is referred to as the patron of a happy death, as it is believed that he died with Jesus and Mary by his side.

“Don’t you think at some point Mary said, ‘Ok Joseph, what do you want?’ I wonder about that and I think about her as a caregiver and where she was, and her intersection with death in so many different ways, with Joseph or with Jesus.”

Tippetts, too, said her faith is what gives her peace and comfort in her dying days, and she expresses her hope that Brittany will come to know the same love and the same understanding of beauty in suffering.

“Knowing Jesus, knowing that He understands my hard goodbye, He walks with me in my dying. My heart longs for you to know Him in your dying. Because in His dying, He protected my living. My living beyond this place,” Tippetts wrote. “ My heart longs for you to know this truth, this love, this forever living.”

Tippetts begged that Brittany at least seriously consider the person of Christ before making crucial end-of-life decisions.
 
“For everyone living knowing death is eminent- that we all will one day face this it – the question that is most important. Who is this Jesus, and what does He have to do with my dying? Please do not take that pill before you ask yourself that question.”
 
“It’s a question we all must ask, as we are all dying.”

Kara Tippetts recently wrote a book about her journey through life and towards her last breath called The Hardest Peace. She also blogs about her experience at http://mundanefaithfulness.com/.

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