Structures of Sin

The Current Comment item on “Big Pharma and the Poor” (2/11) did not convey a proper understanding of the situation. The problem of access to health care for the poor seems to grow faster than we can find solutions. But blaming the pharmaceutical industry is not a solution. Pharma is no better and no worse than any other sector of the global economy.

For at least the past 70 years, control of American business (and that includes Big Pharma) has been in the hands of the managers of pension funds—our pension funds. The emphasis on return on investment and everything that goes with it (like the protection of intellectual property and patent rights) is there precisely because that is how we want it. We expect our pension funds to appreciate; and when one manager does not do well in that regard, we replace him. Additionally, our insatiable need to avoid risk and ensure efficacy compounds the problem by escalating the cost of pre-market drug testing as much as tenfold. As a result, it costs today on the order of $1 billion to bring a new drug to market. That makes the price of the drug high and at the same time precludes developing drugs for small markets or those with low returns.


We can consider ourselves to be as socially conscious as we like, but in the final analysis we depend upon that profitability in order to fund our own retirements.

Robert P. Heaney, M.D.

Omaha, Neb.

This Mortal Coil

Thomas A. Shannon points out correctly, in “At the End of Life” (2/18), that the use of a feeding tube for a person in a persistent vegetative state, which current medical knowledge considers irreversible, “seems to confer on physical life an almost absolute value.” My hope is that when the “dying process” has clearly begun in me, and it becomes clear that my physical life is slipping away, I will be allowed to make the final journey for which I have spent my life preparing, to join Francis of Assisi in saying, “Welcome, Sister Death.”

Eugene Michel, O.F.M.

St. Paul, Minn.

Moral Duty at Home

Gerard F. Powers’s clarion call, in “Our Moral Duty in Iraq” (2/18), to continue our failed policy in Iraq considers what we “owe to the Iraqi people” without due consideration to the war’s cost at home and to America’s reputation in the international community. The costs to Americans at home go far beyond concerns about our national security interests. They include the lives of American servicemen and women, the life-changing injuries to tens of thousands of others (coupled with cuts to domestic programs that help people with disabilities find work) and fewer government resources to support the most vulnerable Americans.

It is also highly doubtful that even Powers’s more modest goals in Iraq can be accomplished, given the fundamental differences between Iraqi culture and our own. It is interesting that Powers does not hazard a guess as to when we might reasonably expect to achieve those goals. Presumably, he would have us stay until the job is done—five years, ten years, or one hundred years.

The costs of this war are too high, and the likelihood that we can pay any part of what we owe the Iraqi people through its continued prosecution is too small. We should withdraw as quickly and safely as possible, realize that tribal and religious differences will result in bloodshed that we simply have no power to prevent, and provide economic support to Iraq to help rebuild the infrastructure we have destroyed.

Chris Kuczynski

Baltimore, Md.

Money Talks

Regarding “Our Broken Parish” (2/11): I’ve seen many a parish community demolished and then rebuilt in a new pastor’s image. It is a sad commentary on our ecclesial life when even a parish with strong, educated lay leaders can be totally changed by just one man.

I have witnessed only one parish (a fairly affluent one) that was able to succeed in forcing a change by withholding money from the weekly collection. It took nine months of putting the money in a separate account and sending the deposit slips to the bishop with a note saying that when the pastor was removed, the parish would receive the money.

Sherry Fischer

Spokane, Wash.

Easy Target

Regarding “Our Broken Parish” (2/11): The decision to become a part of a neighboring parish requires soul-searching and prayer. I have moved to different parishes in the past several years in order to continue to experience the remarkable talent of an extraordinary priest. His homiletic and musical talents and pastoral care distinguish him as one of the best; yet he is not always welcomed warmly by parishioners in a new parish. He is sometimes resented because he chooses to do some things differently from his predecessor, and he is not given credit for his creativity. To be placed under the microscope of public criticism is demoralizing for anyone, particularly one who has consented to be a pastor.

Bonnie Jachowicz

Franklin, Wis.

Thin Black Line

I could identify with the author’s grief in “Our Broken Parish” (2/11) over losing a beloved pastor. It is difficult to lose a shepherd who grieves with us in our times of greatest sorrow and also celebrates with us during our happiest moments.

Our call is to recognize that each priest who serves us brings his own unique personality to the parish. I would suggest to the author in this time of priest shortages: Be grateful you have a priest. Nothing the author described suggested any grievous action by the priest, but rather a parish that lacked leadership and a congregation that feels threatened.

Paddy Mehlhaff

Aberdeen, S.D.

Under Pressure

Regarding “Our Broken Parish” (2/11): The church is not a democracy, but it is also not a monarchy. Both priests and parishioners have responsibilities and rights as co-workers of the church, and no one should put up with unnecessary suffering.

A clergy shortage gives no priest the right to be condescending and elitist toward parishioners. But there could be pressures from outside the parish that are influencing the priest’s style of leadership.

I would contact the bishop and request a meeting. The diocese needs to know that its members are in need of help.

Vickie Figueroa

Southfield, Mich.

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