Friday, August 28, 2015

Happy Feast Day, St. Augustine!

St. Augustine and the Fire of Wisdom
Happy those who feast on wisdom and savor her knowledge,
She will nourish and refresh them.”
Happy Those Who Feast on Wisdom, Hymn for the Office of Readings, 28th August.

Today is the Feast Day for St. Augustine, my favorite Doctor of the Church.     I've posted in this blog on his remarkable thoughts, applicable to the science of today (Let's Hear it for St. Augustine) , on his profound insights on God as greater than infinite (Mathematics, the handmaiden of theology) and on his sage advice for daily living (Good Advice from St. Augustine and More Good Advice) .    I'd like to add two more from the daily readings (Augustine, Day by Day, John Rotelle O.S.A, compiler)

LOVE (August 29th)

"Love is the only sign that distinguishes the children of God from the children of the devil.  To prove this, let them all sign themselves with the cross of Christ.  Let them all respond: Amen.    Let all sing: Alleluia.  Let all build the walls of churches.
There is still no way of discerning the children of God from the children of the devil except by love!"
Sermon 1 John 5:7

THE INNER VOICE (August 26th)

"Consider this great mystery.  The sound of my words strikes the ears, and the Master is within!   Do not suppose that any human is the teacher of another.  We can admonish by the sound of our voice, but unless there is one Who teaches on the inside, the sound we make is futile.I, for my part, have spoken to all;  but those to whom the Annointing within does not speak, those whom the Holy Spirit within does not teach, go back untaught." Sermon on 1 John 3:12

That's it folks,
Shalom

Friday, August 21, 2015

When is human?

7 1/2 Week Embryo
Endowment for Human Development

3 months Old Fetus, Endowment for Human Development
 “We're all human, aren't we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.” J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows
"Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being." Catholic Catechism, 2258






This post is in response to comments on  "The Banality of Evil, Redux" reposted on Matt Briggs' blog . The commentators attempted to justify abortion by denying the humanity of an embryo or fetus using the following arguments:
  1. A fetus is not human until it totally emerges from the birth canal (a presumed justification for partial-birth abortion);
  2. Before some arbitrary time mark, say 24 weeks after conception, it is  permissible to abort a fetus;
  3. Since self-awareness is a prime criterion for being human, it is permissible to abort an embryo or fetus before it is self-aware.
All these assertions deny a fundamental article of Catholic Faith, that life begins at the instant of conception and that the Holy Spirit endows that life with a soul. 

Another commentator gave an excellent general rebuttal to the assertions above: "zygote, embryo, fetus, infant, child, teen-ager, adult, oldster are only labels for stages in the development of a human being;   the human is one entity".   As this comment made clear, a human being develops continuously, not in discrete steps that have sharp demarcation points.

PARTIAL BIRTH ABORTION IS IRRATIONAL

In 1999 Senators Rick Santorum and Barbara Boxer debated partial birth abortion. Senator Boxer maintained, without any other specific qualification, 
"The baby is born when the baby is outside the mother’s body"
Senator Santorum tried to get her to be more specific:
"But, again, what you are suggesting is if the baby’s toe is inside the mother, you can, in fact, kill that baby." 
 Senator Boxer vehemently denied that, but would not be specify how much of the baby's body had to be in the birth canal to justify partial birth abortion. Her assertion that the baby had to be outside the mother's body in order to qualify as a human being defies common sense, as is made obvious by Senator Santorum's questioning. And this is the problem with partial birth abortion: it defines human status in a totally arbitrary way.

TIME LIMITS TO ALLOW ABORTION ARE ARBITRARY

In many states an arbitrary time after conception is set for abortions to be allowed:  before that time abortion is legal; afterwards, not.    Most recently the Ohio State Legislature passed a 20 week abortion limit.   Some interesting questions occur, naive though they may be.    First, how do you determine (without drastic invasions of privacy) when conception occurs?   Drawing a curtain over that issue, we can ask if a fetus at 19 weeks, 6 days, 23 hours, and 59 minutes after conception is non-human, i.e. legally eligible for abortion, and a fetus 20 weeks, and one minute after conception is human, not to be aborted.     I should hope it's clear that any time marker to legalize abortion is arbitrary, without any rational basis. 


THERE IS NO SHARP POINT AT WHICH A HUMAN IS SELF-AWARE

The third of the comments above asserted that an embryo or fetus would not be human because it would not be self-aware and, therefore, could be aborted without qualms.  Really?  If we're deeply asleep, do we then become non-human, zombies?    What about people in deep comas from which they later awake?    Are they non-human while in coma and then become human again when they recover?    

With respect to self-awareness in infants, it does not suddenly occur when the baby emerges from the birth canal.    Studies by an Emory University psychologist, Phillipe Rochat, suggest that there are five levels of self-awareness from infancy to early childhood.   Rochat asserts that even immediately after birth, babies have passed beyond the initial stage (total confusion): 
"It appears that immediately after birth, infants are capable of demonstrating already a sense of their own body as a differentiated entity: an entity among other entities in the environment (Level 1)." Phillipe Rochat, Five levels of self-awareness as they unfold early in life 
And if this awareness is present immediately after birth, should it not also be present before birth?    And if the development of consciousness is a continuous process, when is it that not one smidgeon of self-awareness is present?  Remember, the brain is present as a partially developed organ some 5 weeks after conception.

ALLOWING ABORTION HAS WIDER MORAL CONSEQUENCES

In a previous post, The Banality of Evil, Redux, I compared the Nazi genocide of Jews to the Planned Parenthood abortion industry:  
"The Nazis did not regard Jews as humans, nor, evidently, do Planned Parenthood doctors regard unborn babies as human."
Once it is admitted that a person "no matter how small" can be classified as non-human, then there are no limits:
"Assuming as a principle that humans can be selectively classified as unworthy of life—as elderly, as disabled, as unborn, as ethnically impure, as mentally challenged–violates that which is, or should be, written in the conscience of every man."
Since Roe vs Wade there has been a decline in sexual morality, a rise in fatherless families and, generally,  all that contributes to bad times.   Whether there is a causal relation as some contend can be debated.  (See The Myth about Abortion and Crime  and Does Abortion Really Reduce Crime.)  So where does that leave us?   That only evil can come from abortion.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Banality of Evil, Then and Now:
Do Planned Parenthood Officials Sin?

Eichmann on Trial, from the Telegraph, UK
“The net effect of this language system was not to keep these people ignorant of what they were doing, but to prevent them from equating it with their old, "normal" knowledge of murder and lies. Eichmann's great susceptibility to catch words and stock phrases, combined with his incapacity for ordinary speech, made him, of course, an ideal subject for "language rules.” Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem:  A Report on the Banality of Evil.

INTRODUCTION

When I first came across the Planned Parenthood videos, in which the PP representatives talked in the most commonplace terms about methods for killing babies to enhance the harvestability of organs for resale, my thoughts turned back some 54 years to the trial of Adolf Eichmann, an SS officer who supervised the transport of Jews to death camps.    He had fled to Argentina, was captured by Israeli agents, stood on trail in Jerusalem, was sentenced to death, and executed.

In that trial Eichmann testified about the  Wannsee Conference" , which was held in 1942 to frame the "Final Solution of the Jewish Problem".   Eichmann, an aide of SS General Reinhard Heydrich who headed the conference, portrayed himself as a non-participant, only a recording secretary, who was horrified by  the proposed methods.   An earlier interview in Argentina with the Dutch Nazi collaborator Willem Sassen shows him, however, to be a dedicated anti-semite.

I want to show that both the Nazi elimination of Jews and Planned Parenthood's commercial traffic in baby parts proceed from similar principles:   for the Nazis, Jews were not human, and could be eliminated in order that they not contaminate the "Master Race";   for Planned Parenthood, a fetus is not a human being (even if it emerges partially from the birth canal), because it has not been "born" .  These principles were not stated explicitly, but they were fundamental in all the propaganda from the Nazis and from the advocates of partial-birth abortion.   Those involved in these decisions, as the transcripts show*, have no qualms about their projects; there is no hint of conscience being over-ridden.

WANNSEE--THE FINAL SOLUTION OF THE "JEWISH PROBLEM". 

At the 90 minute buffet luncheon where the annihilation of 11 million people was discussed, the following guidelines were setup:
Heydrich ... observes, 'Approximately eleven million Jews will be involved…' He further states in the Protocol, 'In large, single-sex labor columns, Jews fit to work will work their way eastward constructing roads. Doubtless the large majority will be eliminated by natural causes. Any final remnant that survives will doubtless consist of the most resistant elements. They will have to be dealt with appropriately because otherwise, by natural selection, they would form the germ cell of a new Jewish revival.' In other words, none would be allowed to survive.  Beginning with Germany proper and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Europe was to be cleared of Jews from west to east " United States Holocaust Memorial Museum,  Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution,   
As Eichmann observed in his trial testimony, the atmosphere was not grave but, shall we guess, convivial?
 "... then in the second part, everyone spoke out of turn and people would go around, butlers, adjutants, and would give out liquor. Well, I don't want to say that there was an atmosphere of drunkenness there. It was an official atmosphere, but nevertheless it was not one of these stiff, formal, official affairs."  Adolf Eichmann, Trial Testimony

LUNCH MEETINGS WITH PLANNED PARENTHOOD

The atmosphere at the lunches where Planned Parenthood (PP)  doctors met with representatives  of the Center for Medical Progress  (CMP) was also convivial.   The best wines (white or rose) to go with fish, good routes through northern LA, etc.  were highlights.

There's almost too much to quote from the transcripts.   Costs for fetal body organ and efficient ways to procure them were discussed as if an auto supply dealer was discussing replacement parts.  The killed babies were viewed as objects, not as potential human beings whose lives had been terminated for the convenience of the female carrying the child.

Here are just two illustrations ("Buyer" refers to the CMP representative ostensibly lining up sources for fetal organs; PP to the doctor, Deborah Nucatola, MD, Senior Director of Medical Services, Planned Parenthood of America)

"Buyer: There’s times depending on the specific project that people want pancreas at 9 weeks, 10 weeks. From my perspective, I think it’s not going to be reasonable to be collecting at a site that does not have the capability to go farther up in to the 2nd trimester. It doesn’t mean that the facility needs to go all the way up to 24 weeks every time but, to be able to at least say we can go up to 12 and 16, 12 and 18 would probably be better, for the age protocols that require later gestational tissue, 18 weeks is kind of the lowest range, 18 to 20, 24 for certain things. So, if we could get up to 18, that would make it worth it to be operating at that site.
PP: Ok, and we have some affiliates that use digoxin or some other feticide and that would basically limit. So, in general, you’re probably going to be able to get to twenty weeks, it’s going to be very unusual to get a patient that’s above twenty weeks. At the Planned Parenthoods in California. New York, doesn’t use digoxin at all-
 Buyer: Not at all.
PP: Not at all. There’s like a culture war on feticide. People on the west coast seem to prefer feticide, people on the east coast seem to not believe in feticide. Everyone has their own styles." [emphasis added'    Transcript by the Center for Medical Progress Dr. Nucatola, p. 5
And there's more:

"Buyer: We need liver and we prefer, you know, an actual liver, not a bunch of shredded up—
PP: Piece of liver.
Buyer: Yeah. Or especially brain is where it’s actually a big issue, hemispheres need to be intact, it’s a big deal with neural tissue and the progenitors, because those are particularly fragile. If you’ve got that in the back of your mind, if you’re aware of that, technically, how much of a difference can that actually make if you know kind of what’s expected or what we need, versus—
 PP: It makes a huge difference. I’d say a lot of people want liver. And for that reason, most providers will do this case under ultrasound guidance, so they’ll know where they’re putting their forceps. The kind of rate-limiting step of the procedure is the calvarium, the head is basically the biggest part. Most of the other stuff can come out intact. It’s very rare to have a patient that doesn’t have enough dilation to evacuate all the other parts intact.
 Buyer: To bring the body cavity out intact and all that?
PP: Exactly. So then you’re just kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, we’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact."  [emphasis added].    ibid, p. 11
Ipse dixit (It speaks for itself).

Note that the "crushings" are discussed as if one were finding the best way of crushing a walnut to extract the meat.   And as the Nazis discussed ways of killing Jews that would be most economical and least disturbing to the local populace--they finally settled on the gas chamber.


DO THOSE SIN WHO KNOW NOT THEY DO EVIL? 

Both the Nazi officials at Wannsee and the Planned Parenthood doctors have committed acts that we as Catholics take to be mortal sin, killing or planning to kill innocent humans.   The Nazis did not and the PP doctors evidently do not regard what they are doing as sinful.   The Nazis did not regard Jews as humans, nor, evidently,  do Planned Parenthood doctors regard unborn babies as human.    Does this evident ignorance of doing evil exempt the Nazis and Planned Parenthood doctors from guilt?   If we turn to the Catechism we find
"For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."[emphasis added] .   CC, 1857, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas.
Further,
"Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.,,,Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man." [emphasis added]  CC. 1859, 1860.
The last statement clinches it.   Assuming as a principle that humans can be selectively classified as unworthy of life--as elderly, as disabled, as unborn, as ethnically "impure", as mentally challenged--violates that which is, or should be, written in the conscience of every man.   Therefore, the Nazis and the Planned Parenthood doctors are guilty of mortal sin.

Those perpetrating these sins attempt, as in the opening quote, to justify their actions by euphemisms,
by changing "the language rules", as Hannah Arendt so aptly puts it:  the Nazis called racial hatred "The Jewish Problem" and concentration death camps "The Final Solution";  those advocating killing the unborn are called "pro-choice";    procuring baby parts for fetal tissue "research";  using federal funds to support abortion "promoting women's health".

What is the solution?  To pray for the conversion of those who do not recognize that each human is a life given by God.     There have been instances of such conversions:  witness that of Dr. Bernard Nathenson. so we should not be without hope.

*Here are links to the transcripts:
Lunch with Dr. Nucatola, Senior Director of Medical Services, Planned Parenthood of America.
Interview with various officers of Planned Parenthood.
See also the Center for Medical Progress website on the videos with Planned Parenthood.

About Me

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Retired, cranky, old physicist.   Convert to Catholicism in 1995.   Trying to show that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith.   Intermittent blogs and adult education classes to achieve this end (see http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/   and http://home.ptd.net/~rkurland)

Extraordinary Minister of Communion volunteer to federal prison and hospital; lector, EOMC.
Sometime player of bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet, bass, tenor bowed psaltery for parish instrumental group and local folk group.

And, finally, my motivation:
“It is also necessary—may God grant it!—that in providing others with books to read I myself should make progress, and that in trying to answer their questions I myself should find what I am seeking.
Therefore at the command of God our Lord and with his help, I have undertaken not so much to discourse with authority on matters known to me as to know them better by discoursing devoutly of them.”
St. Augustine of Hippo, The Trinity I,8.