A Passion for Life
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who passed away on Aug. 11, one month after her 88th birthday, leaves a rich legacy: the Special Olympics. Through her leadership the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation funded research on finding ways to treat mental retardation. For four decades she campaigned tirelessly for the rights of those with intellectual and other disabilities. It was her passion, her cause, and she was committed to bringing her vision to fruition; now the Special Olympic competitions take place not only regionally and nationally but internationally. These sporting events involve up to three million individuals of all ages. Although she never held public office, she embodied the family’s public service tradition and perhaps had a greater impact on people’s lives than any of her siblings from the Kennedy clan. Her Catholic faith informed her pro-life actions; and her message is all the more relevant today, in light of scientific/medical experiments and new procedures that seek to screen for genetic defects. (See her article on prenatal testing for Down syndrome in the May 14, 2007, issue of America.)
During the 1987 Special Olympics World Games, held in South Bend, Ind., she gave a rousing speech to the athletes: “You are the stars and the world is watching you,” her voice rang out. “By your presence you send a message of hope to every village, every city, every nation…. [You have] the right to play on any playing field…the right to study in any school…the right to hold a job…the right to be anyone’s neighbor. You have earned it!” We applaud Mrs. Shriver, a special lady, for her life of love and service.
Scientist in Chief
It is not surprising that the decision to name Francis S. Collins, an evangelical Christian, as head of the National Institutes of Health has already met with resistance from prominent atheists. In a column on the op-ed page of The New York Times, Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, questioned whether a man who has argued that “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence” should serve as administrator of $30 billion for medical research. Yet Dr. Collins is a well-respected scientist and administrator who oversaw the mapping of the human genome in his role as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. These credentials are the chief reason he was named to the N.I.H. post.
By picking a believer, the Obama administration declined to subscribe to the argument that faith and science are necessarily antagonistic. At a time when books by “new atheists” top the bestseller lists, this is a welcome endorsement from a very influential source. Of course, Collins’s appointment will not settle the disputes over evolution or the origins of life, but it should provide an opportunity for reflection, not just about how faith and science are complementary, but also where they part. Harris seems most troubled by Collins’s belief that God sometimes acts “outside of nature.” Yet the origins of the universe remain a mystery, and even the eminent physicist Stephen Hawking concedes that the forces behind the Big Bang are difficult to explain absent a discussion of God. These questions will likely have little impact on Collins’s administrative duties at the N.I.H., nor should they. But perhaps his appointment will prompt more readers to pick up his book, The Language of God—and put down The End of Faith.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to seven African nations over a period of 11 days in early August shows that the administration takes Africa seriously. Her message was a mixture of encouragement and criticism. Her reception in Liberia by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the woman who has guided that nation’s transition from conflict to peace, was particularly warm.
To the battered, violated women of eastern Congo, she promised $17 million in aid to strengthen security and provide medical assistance. To those in an AIDS clinic in South Africa she pledged to continue the Pepfar policy for the prevention and treatment of AIDS. She urged government leaders in Kenya and Nigeria to rid their nations of corruption and to assure more democratic elections and government. She urged South Africa to take a stronger role in returning normalcy to its troubled neighbor Zimbabwe.
Throughout the trip, the critical tone of Mrs. Clinton’s message to government leaders received strong approval from the crowds, especially the youth. Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who himself had been confined to prison for 11 years, objected that Africa does not need to be lectured about democracy. Later he complimented Secretary Clinton on conceding to President Obama in the Democratic primary. How to concede an election, he allowed, “was a lesson Africa needs to learn seriously.”
In many ways Secretary Clinton’s trip echoed and reinforced the policies enunciated by President Obama in his brief visit to Ghana in July—a willingness to assist as partners working with Africans rather than simply providing charity for Africans.