Saturday, 6 December 2008

The price for opposing euthanasia

The Grand Duke of Luxembourg is to be stripped of his executive veto after refusing to rubber-stamp a euthanasia law.
Grand Duke Henri and Luxembourg's Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker The cynical epitaph for the rakish King Charles II of England -- "Here lies our Sovereign Lord the King, Whose word no man relies on ; Who never said a foolish thing, And never did a wise one." -- sums up most republicans' feelings towards constitutional monarchs. Palatial accommodation, fabulous salaries, gorgeous clothes, jetsetting, handshakes with everyone from Bono to Barack – all this just to sign a few laws tossed across a desk by the government of the day.
However, 53-year-old Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg is made of different stuff. He has just precipitated a constitutional crisis in his tiny (population 470,000) realm by refusing to grant royal assent to a law authorising euthanasia -- "for reasons of conscience".
Back in February the Luxembourg parliament voted to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, copying the pioneers in this dark trend, neighbouring Belgium and the Netherlands. The law would let doctors kill the terminally ill if they asked repeatedly and had the consent of two doctors and a panel of experts. Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, strongly backed the bill, even though it was opposed by his own party, the Christian Social People's party. It narrowly passed, by a vote of 30 to 26, thanks to support from Socialists and Greens.
The Grand Duke's refusal is nearly unprecedented in his nation's politics. "I understand the Grand Duke's problems of conscience," Mr Juncker declared. "But I believe that if the parliament votes in a law, it must be brought into force."
A streak of moral sensitivity seems to run in the Grand Duke’s family. In a remarkably similar case in 1990, his uncle, King Baudouin I of Belgium, also refused to sign a law legalising abortion. He abdicated for two days while the measure passed through Parliament.
The constitutional deadlock has been resolved by changing the constitution: the Grand Duke will be stripped of his constitutional veto. Before the Parliament votes on the third reading of the euthanasia bill, it will alter article 34 of Luxembourg’s constitution. From then on the Grand Duke will not actually sanction new laws, but merely enact them. Exercising his conscience has cost Henri and his successors a precious traditional prerogative.
Was it worth it?
According to the classic analysis of the 19th century English journalist Walter Bagehot, a constitutional monarch has three rights, "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn" – but not the right to obstruct the government’s purpose. And a monarch who refuses to promulgate legislation is all but unheard of.
But, for all that, a monarch is a man whose conscience is a public good. His subjects will assume that if he signs a piece of legislation, he must have seen no fundamental evil in it, nothing that fatally undermines human dignity. As the head of state, he inevitably is regarded as a model of civic virtue. One of the great benefits of a monarchical system, Bagehot argues, is that it makes the ideals and working of government intelligible to the common man. A monarch without virtue undermines the institution.
So the Grand Duke cannot not decline personal responsibility for allowing fellow citizens to be killed by doctors, no matter how much political pressure is applied. A Man For All Seasons, Robert Bolt’s play about Thomas More, illustrates this this point. One of his old friends asks More why he would not sign the Oath of Supremacy: "Why can't you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship!" And More replies, "And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?"
Local politicians believed that he should have rubber-stamped the law, since he is just another cog in the political machine. But even a Grand Duke is a man, not a machine. Had he sanctioned the euthanasia bill, his fellow citizens could easily have thought that euthanasia is consistent with democracy, solidarity and human dignity. But it is not. On the contrary, legalised euthanasia abandons the sick and dying at the most vulnerable moments of their life. It cheapens human life and corrupts the medical profession. It has immense potential for abuse.
Developments throughout the Western world in the last few months have shown that respect for conscientious objection is under threat. After 40 years of idolising whim and caprice masquerading as conscience, the pendulum is swinging back the other way. Governments are trampling on consciences even though they have been shaped by an objective moral law, not personal preference. Countering this trend takes courage. Luxembourgers should be proud that their constitutional monarch is a man who refuses to become a constitutional mannequin.
Friday, 5 December 2008
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.

Vatican Instruction on Bioethics

UK and US may feel heat of new Vatican instruction
Robert Mickens 6 December 2008

Britain and the United States are likely to be among the countries that will be implicitly criticised in a soon-to-be-released Vatican document on bioethics. The document will address such controversial bioethical issues as embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said it would unveil its new instruction - "Dignitatis Personae: on some bioethical questions" - at a press conference on Friday. It is anticipated that the new text will unequivocally oppose principles such as those contained in Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFE) and those that lie behind undertakings by US President-elect Barack Obama to fund federally embryonic stem-cell research.

The new CDF text, which has been under elaboration for a number of years, will be the first Vatican document to address bioethical issues since Pope John Paul II's 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae. Archbishop Angelo Amato, who served as CDF secretary until July, had already indicated nearly two years ago that the new document was being prepared and was intended to update a similar CDF instruction on bioethical themes, "Donum Vitae", published in 1987.

Pope Benedict XVI hinted several months ago that the major purpose of the new document would be to protect the "concept of human dignity" in the face of scientific innovations. In an address at the CDF plenary assembly in January, he said the instruction would look at "new problems" in bioethics that have arisen in the past two decades. Among them he cited the freezing of human embryos, embryonic reduction (selective abortion of medically implanted embryos), pre-implantation diagnosis, research on embryonic stem cells and attempts at human cloning.

The Pope hinted that in dealing with these "difficult and complex issues" the new document would be based on two fundamental criteria for moral discernment: "unconditional respect for the human being from conception to natural death" and "respect for the originality of the transmission of human life through acts proper to spouses".

During January's meeting with members of the Vatican's doctrinal office which he led for more than two decades, Pope Benedict said the Church "appreciates and encourages the progress of bio-medical science that leads to possible cures unknown until now". He specifically mentioned the use of somatic, or adult, stem cells, treatment that aims to restore fertility, and cures for genetic diseases. The Pope said the Church's Magisterium could not address every scientific innovation, but had to reaffirm the important values at stake and offer ethical and moral principles and guidelines for new and important issues.

Archbishop Luis Ladaria, the current CDF secretary, will lead the four-person panel that will present "Dignitatis Personae" to journalists next week. Joining him will be Archbishop Rino Fisichella, a noted theologian who heads the Pontifical Academy for Life, and Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president-emeritus of the academy. Maria Luisa Di Pietro, a university bioethics professor and president of the Italian pro-life movement Scienza e Vita (Science and Life), will also be part of the Vatican panel.


Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Converted Muslim Tells Story Behind Papal Baptism

Italian Journalist Recounts Journey to Catholicism

By Luca Marcolivio

ROME, DEC. 1, 2008 - The high-profile baptism of Magdi Cristiano Allam at the Easter Vigil ceremony presided over last year by Benedict XVI has a story behind it. According to Allam himself, his conversion journey was possible because of great Christian witnesses.

One of the directors of the Milan daily Corriere della Sera, he spoke about his conversion and the experiences that led to it when he met with university students of Rome last week to tell the story of his path to Catholicism.

Starting from the Easter Vigil of 2008 -- which Allam called the "most beautiful day of my life" -- when he received baptism from Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Basilica, the Italian-Egyptian journalist spoke of his life journey and the reflections that brought him to embrace "a new life in Christ and a new spiritual itinerary."

"This journey," he recalled, "began apparently by chance, [but] in truth was providential. Since age four, I had the chance to attend Italian Catholic schools in Egypt. I was first a student of the Comboni religious missionaries, and later, starting with fifth grade, of the Salesians.

"I thus received an education that transmitted to me healthy values and I appreciated the beauty, truth, goodness and rationality of the Christian faith," in which "the person is not a means, but a starting point and an arriving point."

"Thanks to Christianity," he said, "I understood that truth is the other side of liberty: They are an indissoluble binomial. The phrase, 'The truth will make you free' is a principle that you young people should always keep in mind, especially today when, scorning the truth, freedom is relinquished."

The journalist continued: "My conversion was possible thanks to the presence of great witnesses of faith, first of all, His Holiness Benedict XVI. One who is not convinced of his own faith -- often it's because he has not found in it believable witnesses of this great gift.

"The second indissoluble binomial in Christianity is without a doubt that of faith and reason. This second element is capable of giving substance to our humanity, the sacredness of life, respect for human dignity and the freedom of religious choice."

The journalist affirmed that the Holy Father's 2006 speech in Regensburg -- which caused uproar within the Muslim community -- was for him a reason to reflect.

Allam said: "An event, before my conversion, made me think more than other events: the Pope's discourse in Regensburg. On that occasion, citing the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, he affirmed something that the Muslims themselves have never denied: that Islam spreads the faith above all with the sword."

He added: "There is a greater and more subliminal danger than the terrorism of 'cut-throats.' It is the terrorism of the 'cut-tongues,' that is, the fear of affirming and divulging our faith and our civilization, and it brings us to auto-censorship and to deny our values, putting everything and the contrary to everything on the same plane: We think of the Shariah applied even in England.

"The one called 'a great one,' that is, to always give to the other what he wants, is exactly the opposite of the common good, perfectly indicated by Jesus: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' That evangelical precept confirms for us that we cannot want good for the rest if we do not first love ourselves. The same is true for our civilization.

"Contrary to that principle is indifference and multiculturalism that, without any identity, pretends to give all kinds of rights to everyone. A result of multiculturalism was the imposition of social solidity and the development of ghettos and ethnic groups in perpetual conflict with indigenous populations."

The journalist recounted: "This led me to consider the third great binomial of Christian civilization: that regarding rules and values, a key for a possible ethical rescue of modern Europe. The old world, nevertheless, is a colossus of materiality with feet of clay. Materialism is a globalized phenomenon, unlike faith, which is not."

Responding to a question about a possible compatibility between faith and reason in Islam, Allam contended that "unlike Christianity, the religion of God incarnate in man," Islam is made concrete in a sacred text that, "being one with God, is not interpretable."

"The very acts of Mohammed, documented by history, and which the Muslim faithful themselves do not deny, testify to massacres and exterminations perpetrated by the prophet. Therefore, the Quran is incompatible with fundamental human rights and non-negotiable values. In the past, I tried to make myself the spokesman of an Islam moderate in itself."

Regarding interreligious dialogue between Christians and Muslims, Allam said that it is possible only "if we are authentically Christian in love, including toward Muslims. If we make dialogue relative, we will instigate our questioners to see us as infidels, and therefore as land to be conquered."

The journalist emphasized for the students the importance of an education that goes back to transmitting "an ethical conception of life, with values and rules at the center of everything." A negation of such principles, he contended, "is wild capitalism, which, paradoxically, has its maximum development in communist China."

"We cannot conceive of the person in 'business' terms," he concluded, "and we have to find rules of co-existence that are not founded on materialism. We should redefine our society based on being and not on having."