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.
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