How To Mark Respect Life Month?

The word "respect" comes from a Latin verb meaning "to look at," so this October is naturally a time to look at life and as Christians discern ways to cherish and promote life on this Earth. From the countless brochures being handed out in Catholic churches across the United States this October--the ones with photos of fetuses in varying stages of development--an unprepared visitor might conclude that the most important function of pro-life month is to preach against abortions. Although we all know this is not the case, it's intriguing that there appears to be little discussion in the Catholic world about how to celebrate God's greatest gift. Conceptually and philosophically, a concept such as Respect Life Month has the potential for examining many ways of exploring this great theme. Why not talk about it some more?

Previously I have written about the great potential to recognize ways to bring love to those children who have been born with genetic anomalies and other conditions causing severe and profound mental retardation. I have also noted many ways parishes might help these children throughout the life span. One such developmental disability is Down syndrome. Persons with this genetic structure may function in all levels of retardation, but increasingly, with the impact of living at home and early intervention, more and more Down syndrome children function in higher levels of functioning. Yet the course of abortions continue, and George Will, no bleeding heart himself, inveighs against the practice as a form of genocide: one group of persons are systematically being erased from the planet. I happen to agree with him, as the father of a son with Down syndrome, and as a parent who chose against the needle of amniocentesis because of the harm it might cause another child.

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Respect Life Month should encourage us to examine other ways we go against the command to cherish life. Here are two possible topics for discussion:

For about a month now, I have wanted to write about recent neurological findings regarding football injuries--youth, college, and professional. (The New York Times has made this one of their causes.) Football is capable of causing severe brain damage, more than most, even medical professionals, expected. There are too many unrecognized concussions, too many second concussions, too many aged football players who suffer dementias and other Alzheimer's-like conditions. Let me say that I like football, baseball, hockey, basketball, and soccer; I draw the line at cage fighting and my libertarian side thinks adults who want to pursue risky sports activities should be allowed the choice. (And even Pope John XXIII writes on sports: "The spiritual value of sport is enhanced also by that noble discontent which, shown in the effort to do better every time, characterizes every competition). Adults can choose the level of risk and danger they desire. But what about the kids whose minds are made up for them?

Another case is automobile deaths. Happily, there has been some good news on this front. The number of fatalities in automobile accidents was 33,808, the lowest figure since 1950. Of these, 10,838 were due to one driver being intoxicated. Figures from a decade ago hovered around the 40,000 per year mark. (A rough estimate of cumulative auto deaths from 1950 equals 2,100,000 deaths--about twice the number of U.S. soldiers killed in battle in all wars since 1776.) Yet despite declining car deaths in the USA, the United Nations has recently declared that by 2020 the number of on-the-road deaths by automobile around the world will exceed the number of those dying each year due to HIV/AIDS. The UN says this is a social justice issue because most of the deaths will be occurring in low or middle-income countries.

In psychology one receives training in statistics and in many methods of interpreting numbers. Perhaps the figures on deaths by automobile will cause reflection by some, during this month of Respecting Life, and even the level of danger in sports perhaps is worthy of reflection and examination, although I suspect the economic gains from these endeavors will nullify much dissent. I am sure there are other ways we could promote life, and I encourage readers to spend some time considering the many possibilities--helpful avenues which may be unexplored due to the single-focus of an institution or our own squeamishness.

William Van Ornum

 

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Peter Lakeonovich
7 years 7 months ago
"an unprepared visitor might conclude that the most important function of pro-life month is to preach against abortions."

Bill, that is actually the most important function.

You don't mean to suggest that there are bigger affronts to life in the culture of death than abortion do you?

Forget me, I'm no expert.  Here's Cardinal Rigali for the USCCB:


http://www.usccb.org/prolife/programs/rlp/09rigali-stmt.pdf
Bill Collier
7 years 7 months ago
George Will also has a son with Down syndrome, and Will has written movingly about his son's influence on him and the Will family. I'm sure you can relate similar thoughts. :)

I have a brother who has twin daughters-born on Christmas Day-with Turner's Syndrome, another genetic disorder, in which the baby girls are born with one X chromosome instead of two. There can also be a host of physical and mental challenges associated with Turner's. One of my brother's twin daughters also suffered oxygen deprivation as the result of the umbilical cord being wrapped around her neck during delivery. That daughter will need specialized care throughout her lifetime. The other developed cancer as a result of the estrogen treatments that Turner's children often receive. Fortunately, her identical twin was the perfect bone marrow donor, and the daughter who received the bone marrow has been cancer-free for about 15 years. She also graduated from college this past May. Life is ... complicated...and to be greatly cherished.

As to your thoughts about an expansive interpretation of "pro-life," I've found that buying into Cardinal Bernardin's consistent ethic of life principles caused a paradigmatic shift in the way I view bioethics and, indeed, all life issues. Like the biological web of life that interconnects all life forms, adhering to a consistent ethic of life makes one more sensitive to the details and inter-relationships of all life issues, and more appreciative of the concepts of personal and human dignity and, as a Christian, more thankful for God's creation.       
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Bill,

Down syndrome can bring great joy into families, as has happened in mine. As a rule Down syndrome persons are much healthier due to better medical care since the 1980s and programs of home intervention. Yet some suffer severe heart problems and there is a wide range of intellectual functioning within the group. I have seen a few Down syndrome children who also suffer from autism, and they are at risk for the kinds of psychiatric problems the rest of us are. 

Best wishes and prayers for the Christmas Day twins! I hope that the intensive care that is needed will always be available. This can be such an incredible worry for parents.

Cardinal Bernardin has great insights.

Thanks for writing. amdg, bill

we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Dear Readers,

I'm especially interested in your thoughts on the football issue and automobile deaths.

Many are involved with the planning of football, and all of us in some way own or rely on automobiles.

Does a serious consideration of the destructive potential of each of these activities deserve reflection, discussion, and possible change of habits? I really do believe Respect Life Month holds great potential for Choosing Life in many different activities.

best, bill
7 years 7 months ago
Maybe in the case of football and criving cars, it's determined that the risks are outweighed by the benefits.     When kids are the ones playing football or driving, though, I'm not sure they can make an informed calculation of the risks. Maybe as a socirty we feel life is cheap enough (or personal liberty is important enough)  to favor the benefits over the safety of kids.  Interesting that  Catholic schools are so into football.
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Crystal,

I think you are correct-we have decided as a society that having cars is worth 33,000 dying in accidents per year.

I wonder if we could nudge it down to a lower number...25,000????....might even help make the country "greener"...

BTW that 2,100,000 figure I cited is about 22 times the number of persons initially vaporized at Hiroshima, over 600 times the number of persons killed at WTC on 9-11..

To me it is a staggering figure. bill
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Pete,

Thanks for the link. It's w well-written statement that deserves to be read by everyone. Thanks for writing. bill 
7 years 7 months ago
I have no recent experience with youth sportsm but having read several articles and your blob, Bill, I believe that protecting children from serious sports injuries fits into an expansive view of respect for life as well as society's moral responsibility to protect its young from harm, whether neglect, abuse or preventable injury.  With more and more evaidence piling up of sports injuries causing life long neurological damage. adults, especially those that have anything to do with these sports have a huge responsibllity to find ways and means to prevent them to the greatest extent possible. 

There should be a discussion about what the response of Catholics, who manifest a respect for life in all its manifestations , are doing to resolve this problem.  Where is the leadership??  What is Notre Dame and its famed football program doing?  Jesuit and other Catholic High Schools??  Catholic parents whose children participate in sports and are the ones most likely to be injured?  Our country has a tradition of families taking hold of an issue  and at a grass root level  identifying needs and advocating for change and resources.  (MADD, ARC, Alliance for the Mentally Ill, for example).  Catholics who have so many resources should be in the forefront in leadership.  Perhaps, if the various factions within the church would stop squabbling and calling names, they could unite and be the People of God we are all meant to be.

As for vehicle accidents, the numers are overwhelming.  One solution which gets shot down is for the speed limit on major thoroughfares be lowered.  An added bonus to that is for the environment.  Americans seem to be in too much of a hurry to go with that idea and choose higher speeds and more fatal accidents.  We don't always choose well!!
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
I appreciate this piece. Respecting Life should encompass all life: from conception to death and this should include those with various disabilities and disorders. In doing this people will respect life. Parents with children with disabilities and disorders really promote life and should be commended for their courage and determination to protect and respect life which is a challenge to them and yet uphold life for the sake of their loved ones. Life is precious and all who take care of others with disabilities and disorders know this. Dr. Bill, thank you for your courage!
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Thanks, Janice....I'm starting to feel like the villge crank on this topic, it seems to have so much potential for elaboration. Your kind words are appreciated. best, bill
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Thank youi, Father George!
7 years 7 months ago
I didn't mean to say I thought all those deaths were acceptable given the benefits.  I just meant it seems like society is sort of desensitized to that.   I have no idea what the numbers are, but I wonder how many people die from smoking, for instance, yet even though smoking has no benefit (aside from the money it makes for the growers and sellers) I doubt it will ever be outlawed.

I think  bringing up the subject of football and driving and the toll it takes on kids is a really good idea - it makes us consider the discrepancy between our belief in the sacredness of life and the way we actually live.  That's a first step to changing things.
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Hi Crystal,

From reading so many of your posts and your blog I know that there is no way that you would find the deaths attributed to cars "acceptable."

But sadly I do think society (and church???) finds those 33,000 deaths a year acceptable.Otherwise, people would drive differently, drive less, pay more attention on the road, NEVER drink and drive, etc. But here I am, turning into the village crank on this issue, or the high school driver's ed teacher. (Somewhere-I can't find it-Pope John XXIII wrote about it.)

You are right about smoking. Michael Bloomberg has discovered how hard it is to get rid of it.

Interesting how we as a group can collect specific injustices and problems, and exclude other ones....

bill

7 years 7 months ago
Please keep writing.....or "cranking".....if that is what it takes.  We can only hope and pray that your seeds of wisdom find fertile ground, sprout and grow.  Best to you, Bill.
Janice
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
David,

Can you come up with 3 or 4 topics relevant to Respecting Life? Or maybe the Bishops could devote one of their meetings to all the possibilities. I certainly agree with you that there are hundreds of possible topics!

How mobile do people NEED to be? Do you see any waste going on regarding unnecessary use of automobiles?

Sometime when my car is in the shop I start to wonder, "Do I really need to run around so much?"

best,

bill
Marie Rehbein
7 years 7 months ago
Wow, I think I am taking on the role of Devil's advocate here, but my college motto was "that they may have life and have it abundantly", and I think that while it may be admirable to want to prevent deaths and injuries, the frequent result of such efforts puts such a lid on the joys of living that it may be better to not try.  I am remembering here where our children were not permitted to use the new playground equipment we parents had raised money to purchase and had taken time to install lest one of the children suffer any kind of injury (sprains, breaks, and even scrapes) and the (Catholic) school were to become vulnerable to a lawsuit.

The goal in respecting life has to be to find a balance between risk and reward, not to achieve perfect prevention of injury and death.
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Hi Marie,

I appreciate the devil's advocay approach, and also the contrarian approach, but it seems to me that your response, while bringing out some excellent points, doesn't really speak to three specifics I've brought up here but rather downplays the whole issue I've brought up.
[And maybe that is a good thing! :-)]

In general I will agree with you that there is too much overprotection in our age, accidents happen when risks are taken, and that these are part of lfie. No one has to be responsible or liable altough our legal system has seemed to crrate a climate where there is always going to be a fear of blame. You can probably add many other areas beyond the playground risk, and I agree with you, let's put the moneky bars and swings back up.

Mountain climbing....skiing....auto racing....experimental jet pilots....I have no problem with any of these, and many other things, when adults choose to do them and follown the responsible procedures.

There are a couple of neat books, one for boys and one for girls, about how to do those old time activities which were "riisky" years ago and which parents and teachers avoid, perhaps things like climbing trees, building forts, riding bikes off dirt hills, hopping fences, and a few others I waon't mention.....

But what is your opinion about the automobiles and the preventable football injuries? I'd be interested if you'd read the link to the New York Times.

And what other appropriate ways could we focus on "pro-life"? If there aren't any, maybe it is best just to say that!

So as far as automobiles and football goes, I don't think I'm being a killjoy....

Perhaps having worked with head injury victims makes me a little sensitive both on the football and automobile issues. I do think on these we could cut the risks a bit, not to mke either endeavor injury-free, but to save at least a few lives.

Thanks for reading and respnding. Have a good weekend. bill

Marie Rehbein
7 years 7 months ago
Bill, I didn't mean to give the impression that I was dismissing your broader perspective on respecting life.  In fact, I found it refreshing. 

I had not read the NYT article, but was familiar with the situation, being acquainted with a brain surgeon who has made the brain injuries from football his issue.  At your suggestion, above, I did read the editorial and was intrigued by the suggestion from one of the respondents who thought the solution would be doing away with the helmets.  Perhaps there is something to the idea that when we "protect" ourselves, we put too much trust in that protection. 

The same thing, though, does not apply, in my opinion, to the issue of automobile safety, since there we know that automobile and roadway safety features really do add protection.  However, the four-wheel drive delusion is probably similar to the helmet idea, where people who have four-wheel drive vehicles believe themselves to be safer than their are slippery roads.

Due to environmental concerns more than public safety concerns, I would love to see developing countries go the public transportation route and for our country to return to that.  However, having just read in the NYT that suburbanization has a root in the belief that by dispersing the US population the US was provided with more protection should it be attacked post-Hiroshima, I again find myself seeing where too perfect a solution to one problem creates another problem.

Pointing out things that can be undertaken in an effort to be more respectful of life are difficult for me since I seem always to see the other side of the coin at the same time.
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Marie,

Thanks for continuuing the discussion. And the idea of not wearing helmets to increase safety, hopefully by cutting down on super careless head tackles by defensive linemen or sacking of quarterback, is a good example of how too many layers of protection can not only defeat the purposed of safety but take lots of joy away. I have been warned by a neurologist friend to be very careful when biking, even to avoid it on our roads, but there has been more than once when I inadvertenlty forgot the helmet. It does feel free. If I were not a parent with responsibility, I would be biking more and skiing more.

That Law of Unintended Consequences sure came into play with the suburbs. Wish they all had sidewalks!

Maybe the developing countries can figure out better ways to do things. I really like trains, and as Europe has discovered, there are many advantages, and they add to that sense of community-meeting strangers, talking with them, gatherings at the stations, etc. But I too am like you and can think of the other side of the coin. In Japan the high speed trains are magnets for suicides. And in Chicago, where there are many trains and many grade crossings, there is what is called "Death by Metra", intnetional and accidental. But let's not go there. Public transportation has great potential here and everywhere.

Your posts here and on the bible are provocative and challenging. Were you taught by Jesuits? amdg, bill
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
David,

The USCCB left off abortion? Are those bishops in denial again????? [Sorry, couldn't resist, :-)] Or to rephrase Voltaire, "If the Bishops did not exist, we would have to create them...for the sake of Catholic journalism!"  

I like each of your ideas, and they have got me thinking more, to wit:

There are so many unexplored ways to think about what people and societies over time have done to animal populations. I think the native Americans, with their great respect for animals, can teach us a few things. There was a picture of a dead Blue Whale on Cnn.com-apparently hit by a boat, what a magnificent creature!

I always liked the phrase brotherhood of man, and the implication of of the closeness of siblings together....historically the phrase has carried much goodwill. Perhaps we can agree to make a few "dispensations"; even our bureaucratic Church does so in its many rules and obligations!

The deceased...gosh....in my area there are cemeteries that are forgotten. No one mows them anymore. If we believe in the Communion of Saints, then there is this linkage that is too-often forgotten. So in a way remembering the dead is a way to respect life. Great point. I had never thought about it like this.

Rethinking and preventing life threatening actions at a social, national, and international level. I give the Church alot of credit here, as I certainly studied these issues a great deal at DePaul and Loyola, and might not have done so at a secular college or university.

You've hit a sensitive topic here re: caring for our own bodies. This writer has been having too much food, chronically. Something to work on at the personal level......

Even the viruses and bacteria are part of the great web of life. We have sadly learned that too much intervention in one part of the system may show up somewhere else. The Law of Unintended Conseuqnce, just mentioned above. Our antibiotics have created super-bacteria. And fish in certain ecosystems are behaving weirdly because of too many metabolites of Prozac/Paxil/Lexapro/Celexa (SSRIs) in the water. (I'm not kidding on this one.) And if you recall a few weeka ago what I wrote about "the boots of the fisherman"...

I admire hunters and food gathers who harvest enough for their needs and of their family. Just enough. Nnd they respect the sacredness and the gift of the bounty of the harvest.

The discussion on necessary/desirable would keep us reading and writing forever, and not living and enjoying our life.

Thank you again, David, for your support of all the blogs here. have a good weekend. amdg, bill
Marie Rehbein
7 years 7 months ago
Bill,

Just to answer your last question, I was not taught by Jesuits, but I grew up in the state with the highest percentage of Catholics that was also the first to establish freedom of religion and was educated by Lutherans there.
we vnornm
7 years 7 months ago
Marie,

I know a good many Lutherans who would make great Jesuits. I think part of Ignatius's charism and appeal during those Counter-Reformation years and beyond was that he, like Martin Luther, understood exactly what is meant by Grace. And when one thinks about it, Luther's putting the list of "concerns" on the Brandenburg Cathedral door presaged many similar ventures by Jesuits in the past four centuries! best, bill

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