As many of you have probably heard, evidence emerged earlier this week that Planned Parenthood has been harvesting tissue and even organs from aborted fetuses to be used in medical research. The Twittersphere exploded with outrage when the news broke, and the attacks on the villainy of Planned Parenthood intensified. In our absolute disgust, however, there is a danger that we can miss a teachable moment: Planned Parenthood does this because there is a market for fetal tissue.
What most struck me about the news this week was not that fetal tissue was being harvested, but that there is a research industry that depends on fetal tissue, and this industry is large enough to warrant developing protocols that will save this tissue during an abortion so that it can later be used for research. This is especially troubling to me as I recall that stem cell research contributes substantial amounts of money to California’s economy. One website reported that in 2013, one agency specializing in stem cell research generated $286 million tax revenue (http://www.sdbj.com/news/2013/feb/01/study-released-economic-impact-agencys-stem-cell-r/).
There is a tendency in society to lapse into indifference with regard to our medical technology. As long as the end results will serve the needs of our own disease, we tend not to look closely at the means by which that technology was developed. This attitude is of course an extension of the indifference with which most of us have probably, at some point, viewed the economy in general. As long as there is positive growth and benefit for us, we aren’t concerned with the lives that are literally ripped apart in order to support it.
I have no great wisdom to offer in response to this situation. I only hope that we can use it as a springboard to discuss both what the role and purpose of medicine and medical research is or ought to be, and to reflect on the attitude of indifference (or selfishness?) that has allowed for the emergence of such an economy that is driven by such practices. As Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si, “whatever is fragile… is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which becomes the only rule” (#56). I think it’s time we begin to ask ourselves seriously: which God do I promote through my choices, decisions, and actions? The God of Jesus Christ, or god of economic interest?
By Ted Furlow, Director Department of Pastoral Planning
Last Sunday my wife left something in church, so she asked me to stand by for a moment as she went back. Well, a moment turned into 15 minutes – shocking, after all of these years I should have known – so I used the idle time to just sit and watch cars go in and out of the parking lot.
Watching, it occurred to me that cars might be a measure of a society; they demonstrate a divergence of choice and a plurality of both taste and self. As I watched the parade of different models, different colors, and different styles drive by me, I had to wonder what it is about our cars. I suppose in a perfect and equal vanilla culture, we might all drive a beige four door sedan.
But our culture is a lively and colorful pastiche of wants and needs, dreams and preferences. We each stake out our space in this milieu of culture in vibrant colors and choices emblematic of who we are, or who we want to be… perhaps even evident in the type of vehicle we own.
This impact of this consumer centered, first world culture, plants us firmly within it. As I watched the parade of Benzes, Beemers, F-150’s, SUV’s, et al, come in and out of the lot at church, I began to think about the singularly Catholic notion that we are somehow “counter cultural.” You couldn’t prove it by the parking lot.
Our Diocese has been calling us to become “interculturally” competent in our ministry to people through a process known as BICM (Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers). To that I would add our need to become “in-culture” competent to properly identify our role in this secular and materialistic world. Using the term “counter cultural” seems to be a basic contradiction. If I am to live out the demands of Vatican II and be the light of the world, it is reasonable that I should light the world from within the culture, rather than shine on it from without.
Vatican II called us to be fully engaged in modern culture, and not to withdraw and build a parallel world of our own fears, reflections, indifferences and opinions.
As Catholics, we should step into the economic and social struggles that we see, we should reach out to support the marginalized and neglected, and we should lend our voice to challenge systems which oppress and exploit people. We should also openly question an economic system we benefit from which builds on the backs of the working poor, and adversely impacts the world in which we live.
Our voice should be a voice, described by the philosopher Kierkegaard, as a sign of contradiction, differentiating itself from within the culture which we share. It is the counter intuitive voice of the Gospel, rising from a core of moral and social justice values that have not been invented, but have been received.
Gaudium et Spes reminds us that the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the people of our times is also the joy and hope and the grief and anguish of we who profess to follow Christ… but only if we are present to share that experience, and not standing on the sidelines observing.