Monday, December 20, 2010

"Safe, legal, and rare"- in practice, abortion is none of those things

Writer Breda O'Brien comments on the recent case of A, B, and C v. Ireland that went before the European Court of Human Rights. She describes each woman's situation and the poor counseling they received, being pressured to see abortion in the UK as their only option when in fact it would only exacerbate their difficult personal situations.

An excerpt:
"As a woman who still calls herself a feminist, it makes me furious that feminists seem to think that abortion is such a good thing for women, an absolutely necessary “right”, when so often it is a somewhat brutal substitute for what they really need....Again, becoming a mother is seen as the worst possible option. How far have women’s rights come when that is still the case?"

It is an excellent piece, illuminating the difficult alternatives that stand before Ireland now. Read her full column here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ireland and Abortion

The European Court on Human Rights has issued a complex ruling this week on the status of abortion in Ireland, the significance of which is hard to estimate. The Court ruled in a case brought by three women from Ireland claiming that their rights were violated when they were not able to terminate their pregnancies by abortion. The Court has upheld the claim of one woman, who had been diagnosed with cancer before becoming unexpectedly pregnant and who wanted to terminate her pregnancy in order to undergo cancer treatment. Their ruling will require Ireland to amend its abortion legislation in ways poorly defined.

The status of abortion in Ireland is complex. Consonant with Catholic teaching, a right to life, rather than a right to abortion is enshrined in Ireland's constitution. The 1861 Offences Against the Person Act absolutely prohibits abortion in Ireland, but in 1983 an amendment to the Constitution came into effect that stated “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” The 1983 amendment is therefore open to the possibility of the loss of the life of the child for the sake of saving the life of the mother. However, the circumstances and procedures for such a sacrifice were never explicity defined. Therefore in practice abortion has not been performed in Ireland; were a doctor to perform even an abortion he or she deems medically necessary to save the mother, both doctor and mother would expose themselves to the risk of prosecution and the doctor could lose his license.

The case is further complicated by the 1992 Irish Court's ruling on Case X in which a 14-year-old girl resorted to seeking an abortion in the United Kingdom after being raped and becoming pregnant; she sought the abortion because she was suicidal, and the Court ruled that abortion should have been make available to her in Ireland because her life was put at risk due to the situation of her pregnancy. Despite the ruling, Ireland still made no move to legislate clearly in what circumstances doctors should be allowed to perform abortions in Ireland. So while both the 1983 amendment and the 1992 court case open up the possibility of abortion in certain very limited circumstances, Irish doctors live in a culture of fear and confusion as to when they can actually recommend abortion to save the life of the mother.

The risk now is that the European Court on Human Rights is requiring Ireland to generate the legislation it has continually put off, providing a window of opportunity for pro-choice advocates to push through a much more permissive abortion law than the Irish people of 1861, 1983, and 1992 every intended. This is a dangerous moment in Ireland. Some are calling for a referendum on the decision of the courts in Case X, hoping to overturn the 1992 decision and therefore exclude risk of suicide as grounds for legal abortion. It is not entirely clear that such a referendum would have that hoped-for outcome, though figures do suggest that despite massive cultural shifts in Ireland in the last three decades, roughly 70% of Irish people do still approve of the 1983 formulation of the right to life for both baby and mother. Some also fear that the European Court could force Ireland to legalize abortion on demand, consonant with the rest of the EU, except Malta, whose situation is similar to Ireland's.

Of course, the fact that abortion on demand is illegal in Ireland does not mean that Ireland has been spared from the scourge of abortion. Cheap flights to London make it easy for Irish mothers to procure abortions in the UK, and it is estimated that several thousand do annually. However, that number has been falling by hundreds in the past eight consecutive year: in 2001, 6,500 women with Irish addresses obtained abortions in the UK, while last year that number had fallen to just 4,500. The practice is generally accepted, so that while it is still taboo to speak openly about seeking abortion outside of Ireland, it is a well known and politely ignored phenomenon- even Brendan Behan wrote about it, in his collection of short stories called After the Wake, with a party to welcome a girl back to Dublin who had just taken a 'holiday' in Britain to obtain an abortion serving as the plot for one of his stories. Abortion is complexly situated in Ireland's culture, in a society that has become very permissive in a very brief interval. Nevertheless, it is still an overwhelmingly pro-life country and has one of the best track records in Europe for maternal health.

For further insight into the developing story, stay tuned here, and check out these articles:

"Legislating Abortion Can No Longer Be Evaded" from the Irish Times, 12/17/2010

"Abortion Travel Numbers to UK Fall" from the Irish Times, 12/16/2010

"European Court Says Irish Abortion Laws Breach European Rules", Catholic News Service, 12/16/2010

The full description of the three women's cases can be found at:

Monday, December 6, 2010

There's just something about Jane

If you visit our offices in Geddes Hall, then you are likely to find that the question "Who is your favorite Jane Austen heroine?" is frequently fodder for small talk around the Center. Today's Wall Street Journal addresses the trans-generational popularity of our literary heroine:

"The appeal? Ms. Austen's tales of courtship and manners resonate with dating-obsessed and social-media-savvy 21st-century youths, says Nili Olay, regional coordinator for the New York Metro chapter of the Jane Austen Society of North America, or JASNA.....Jennifer Potter, 24, a member of JASNA's New York chapter, says Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre" feels antiquated. She finds Jane Austen's writing more relevant to her life. "Marrying for money, crazy parents, dating—these are all basic themes," Ms. Potter said, sipping tea near the sandwich table at a recent Austen meeting that drew 200 members."

Read the full article here.

Monday, November 29, 2010

In Thanksgiving for Life

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, Wisconsin Right to Life has produced this beautiful short video telling the story of two families who discerned that adoption was the best parenting choice for them. Their story was especially poignant to us at the Center, as we made adoption the theme of this semester's Bread of Life dinner and discussion a few weeks ago. Watch the video here. This Thanksgiving, we are giving thanks for life at all its stages, from conception to natural death, and for the great sacrifices our parents, our forefathers, have made to give us the abundant life we celebrate.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Defense of High Concepts

Past Assistant Director of the the Center for Ethics and Culture, Dan McInerny, has a new blog considering high concepts as expressed in contemporary art forms. Check it out here. A brief snippet:

"Why is the need for what Chesterton calls the “true romantic trash” infinitely deeper and more important than the rules of good art? Why does my son go every morning to his “Lego table,” and the city he has built there and the adventures of its citizens? “Literature is a luxury,” Chesterton affirms, “fiction is a necessity.” Is this because the need to be amused or distracted is deeper than the need to be intellectually stimulated? Or does it have more to do with the wonder provoked by the high concept? For isn’t this what makes a fictional concept “high”—that it generates maximum wonder on the part of an audience?

The high concept is a way of wondering, and philosophy, Aristotle says, begins in wonder. When we engage with a story, we wonder at a fellow human being set out on a path in which he will achieve either happiness or misery. How will it turn out for him? Will he find happiness? Or will he find out that what he thought was happiness really isn’t? To wonder about these questions is the beginning of the quest for wisdom."

He will be updating it regularly. Happy reading!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Health Care Reform: Protecting Rights or Championing Interests?

In the most recent issue of Traces, the international magazine of Communion and Liberation, Adam Skoczylas interviewed Notre Dame Law Professor O. Carter Snead about the health care reform bill that was enacted into law this year.

New World: Health Care Reform
Protecting Rights or  Championing Interests?

While the health care debate seemed to originate in a desire to serve real human needs, it’s culmination expresses a weak sense of altruism and a serious battle of interests. Carter Snead, an expert in the field of law and bioethics, helps us take a look at where the chips have fallen for those without a voice in the debate.
by Adam Skoczylas
Over the past year, we heard political discourse and rhetoric trumpeting a clear sense of urgency for health care reform. Support for reform seemed to rise out of an awareness of real human needs and a moral imperative to take care of those most in need. There was much debate over those factors responsible for poor health care and those that have impeded access to quality health care for millions within U.S. borders: high costs of health care and health insurance, denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, challenges to the relationship between health care providers and patients, the role of insurance companies, et cetera. The PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), signed into law on March 23, 2010, by President Barack Obama, addresses some of these factors and expands access to health insurance to millions of Americans. But is the PPACA really health care reform?
On the whole, the new law focuses on controlling those factors that have been responsible for high costs and limited access to health care by reforming health insurance. With its emphasis on health insurance, however, it is plain that what is most human in health care is lost in the PPACA.The law’s expansion of access to abortion is one evident symptom of this. In the face of human frailty, patients’ most basic need is for a relationship with a trustworthy presence–a caregiver–that will follow them and, if possible, help restore them to health. Respect for the dignity of a patient begins with this relationship. Without this most basic and human factor as its point of departure and measure, the PPACA is little protection for the dignity of human life when it is most vulnerable. In fact, it opened the door for serious violence to the dignity of and respect for human life at its earliest stages.
What happened to the awareness of real human needs touted this year in the public square? In the following commentary, Carter Snead (Professor of Law at Notre Dame University) offers a contribution to understand an aspect of this issue, describing how the political branches of the federal government, the legislative process, and the role of interests in this process influenced the formation and passage of the PPACA. He explains how the law sets new precedent, one that violates “basic principles of justice with respect to human beings at the beginning of life.”
The PPACA is a gargantuan piece of legislation. It is thousands of pages long. I suspect that no more than a handful of people in the world have actually read all of it. Certainly it is not the case that most of our representatives, senators, and President have read all of it. This is an interesting illustration of  the “bureaucratization” of the legislative process. You have congressional staffs and consultants who came in to write this large piece of legislation in a modular way. It is never the case that someone steps back and looks at a bill of this size in its entirety to figure out what exactly it will do. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, had an interesting and telling comment during the run-up to the enactment of the new law. She said, “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.” No one really was able to say in a coherent and comprehensive way what the bill would do in its entirety.
One of the reasons that the legislative process is a modular process has to do with the size of the congressional staffs. But there are also a number of people who have incentives to get involved in this process. This includes lobbyists, the health insurance industry, and the like. Anyone who thinks that any piece of legislation is rooted in an altruistic desire on the part of the drafters to address a social problem on its own merits and to find the most effective and efficient solution is naïve. The people at the table drafting this bill were lobbyists, ex-lobbyists, or people who will be lobbyists soon–people who had very vested financial interests in the way this bill turned out. You can see this in the reactions of a number of interest groups in the wake of the bill’s passage. The insurance industry is very pleased by what happened because the law mandates that everyone purchase health insurance and provides subsidies from the federal government for insurance. This supplies a customer base for the insurance companies, along with subsidies. The people who have the most influence in the government–the federal government of the United States and other places as well–are people who can afford to put together well-organized lobbying campaigns. And there is a sort of “revolving door” between private industry and working on the staffs of these Congress people that prevents any kind of real compromise and on-the-merits decision making. The questions of what health is, of whether it is a human right, of who has access to health care, and of what the moral obligations of a government are to ensure access to quality health care for its citizens, are all questions that probably did not play much of a roll in the drafting of this bill.
              A new precedent. One thing that it is perfectly clear that the law will do is increase access to abortions across the country. The way it will do this is by subsidizing health care plans that provide for abortions. This was a huge debate during the run-up. There was this question about whether or not the long-standing practice of the federal government not to fund or subsidize health care plans or health care programs that include abortion coverage should be included in the bill.
There was a lot of discussion about the Hyde Amendment that was enacted in the 1970s and restricted federal funds from flowing to programs that promote or subsidize abortion. The Hyde Amendment is an appropriations rider–a restriction on funding that has to be reauthorized every year–that is attached to the funding bill for the Department of Health and Human Services through which all these funds flow. Because the new health care reform bill would create an entirely new stream of funding, it was a blank slate regarding restrictions to the funding. There were some in Congress who argued that the Hyde Amendment should be established for this new funding stream as well to prevent the federal funding of abortion. I think a number of the abortion rights advocates in Congress and outside of Congress saw this as an opportunity to undo what they regarded as the problem of the Hyde Amendment, which is to say that, in their minds, it was a form of discrimination against poor women who could not afford to pay for abortions. They thought that the government had the obligation to pay for those abortions that the Hyde Amendment prevented.
            The Stupak failure. The Hyde Amendment also prevented the subsidizing of any health care plans that were purchased in the program of health care coverage for federal employees. Eight million federal employees participated in this program, this constellation of insurance plans. Insurance companies participated, but none of them were authorized to provide access to abortion. We had an entire system, a precedent, namely that federal employees’ health benefits programs, where there were widespread subsidies for health care coverage, did not include abortion coverage. There was clearly a precedent for that kind of approach and many people in Congress argued for that approach to the new streams of funding.
Bart Stupak from Michigan was one of the most high profile supporters of the proposition that abortion should not be funded. He had his Stupak Amendment which passed on a bipartisan basis in the House. And then of course the bill went to the Senate where the version of the bill was passed without the Stupak Amendment.We then saw this famous capitulation by Representative Stupak where he dropped his support for the Stupak Amendment as enacted in the House to be attached to the final bill. The House then agreed to pass the Senate version of the bill, which not only omitted the Stupak Amendment, but was also less progressive than the House version and less aggressive in coverage. The Senate bill was simultaneously less generous and less pro-life. The House and Senate agreed to language that allowed the government to subsidize abortion coverage so long as there is–and to my mind a very superficial and not very meaningful–accounting mechanism where everyone who buys into these plans (even if you do not want an abortion) has to pay a surcharge to cover the costs of abortions that are subsidized by the government.This raises a conscience question: Do individuals have to pay directly for the abortions when they buy into a plan? It is a serious matter. But I think the more serious question is the increased access to abortion that will come from the government’s subsidizing of plans that provide abortions. This is a new precedent, and it is the most disturbing thing to me personally about the new law. It is a real expansion of access to abortion.
              A way forward. How do you maximize access to quality health care for the people most in need? That is where I would start. Quickly, you come to the second question: Why is it the case that many people are receiving deficient levels of health care right now? We have a moral imperative to take care of the people most in need, and this obviously includes health care access. The second piece of the puzzle is: What is the problem, what is obstructing that right now? Access to health care is crucially important. We have to get to the root problems of why access is difficult to achieve, and of course we have to have this side-constraint of respect for the dignity and equality of every human life and not adopt a policy that promotes the use and destruction of human life in any stage of development. The first thing that needs to be done is to change those provisions of the law that do violence to the equality and dignity of every human life. The first order of business, as far as I’m concerned, is not just to improve the law’s defects as a way of maximizing access to health care, but to undo what the law does in terms of violating basic principles of justice with respect to human beings at the beginning of life.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Vocation of a College Student

Prof. Stanley Hauerwas, Prof. of Divinity at Duke University, is a long time friend of Notre Dame and of the Center for Ethics and Culture and its Director, David Solomon.  In a recent piece for First Things, available here, he gives advice to Christian students who are beginning their freshman year in college.  We think it is pretty good advice and we invite all of you (especially our student friends) to read it.  We would also appreciate any feedback in the comment section.

An excerpt:

"Christ’s call on you as a student is a calling to meet the needs of the Church, both for its own life and the life of the world. The Resurrection of Jesus, Wilken suggests, is not only the central fact of Christian worship but also the ground of all Christian thinking “about God, about human beings, about the world and history.” Somebody needs to do that thinking—and that means you."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Non-Embryo Destructive Stem Cell Research Advances

In yesterday's New York Times, researchers announced that they have made progress in their endeavor to create stem cells from skin cells for use in medical therapies. This research is important because while non-embryo-destructive stem cells, such as those made from skin cells, have shown great potential, using them has hitherto involved an increased risk of cancer.

The Times reports:

"In 2007, when scientists first reported they had reprogrammed skin cells into stem cells, it was hailed as an alternative to getting stem cells from embryos, which are then destroyed. Since then, researchers have been working on fine-tuning the method.


The new approach is more efficient than earlier efforts and avoids tampering with DNA, said Derrick Rossi of Children's Hospital Boston and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. He and his colleagues reported the work in a paper published online Thursday by the journal Cell Stem Cell."

Read the full article here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Another medical system in need of reform

A dentist in Tipperary explains in the Irish Times how the failing Irish economy and poor decisions by the national Health Services Executive have jeopardized dental care for Irish patients, especially the most vulnerable in society:

"The continuing confusion surrounding these two dental benefit schemes has had two significant effects. Firstly, the most vulnerable in our society are being denied basic dental treatment - something I personally find shameful in a supposed civilised society.

Secondly, dentists have seen up to 80 per cent of their business simply disappear. The substantive issue of medical card treatments will not be heard in court until December. The PRSI scheme remains effectively collapsed.

Throughout Ireland, dentists are working three-day weeks, putting nurses on part-time and, in some cases, shuttering up for good.

This current situation, with PRSI patients disincentivised from maintaining adequate oral health and medical card patients denied basic dental services, sounded the death knell for my single-handed country practice whose life-blood was the two State benefit schemes."

Read the full story "Why I'm Closing My Practice" here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Psychological Factors in Women's Post-Abortion Experiences

The Witherspoon Institute published an article yesterday examining the distinctive psychological make up of women and how it leads to post-abortion trauma. Evelyn Birge Vitz and Paul C. Vitz, both professors of New York University, frankly discuss "Women, Abortion, and the Brain" in this new article.

An excerpt:

"A woman may reason her way to the decision to terminate the unwanted pregnancy. Her abortion decision may seem, and may indeed be, rational in terms of her long-term goals and interests, and her chosen values. But afterwards, a woman may experience several powerful reactions, which are rooted in the structures and basic chemistry of her brain."

Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

David Solomon weighs in on the dismissal of Bill Kirk, former Associate Vice President for Residence Life

In today's edition of the Irish Rover, Center Director David Solomon offers a perspective on the dismissal this summer of Bill Kirk, Associate Vice President for Residence Life at Notre Dame:

So Long, Captain Kirk:  A Personal Reflection

    The decision by Father Tom Doyle, Notre Dame’s new Vice-President for Student Affairs to fire Bill Kirk from his position as Associate Vice-President for Residence Life has left many of us with an empty feeling.  It has also put another dent in Notre Dame’s reputation as a family-friendly and compassionate employer.   The decision was both unfair and imprudent.  It was unfair, because, as a loyal employee of Notre Dame for almost 22 years—and one who had been placed repeatedly in positions where he took the brunt of public criticism for enforcing policies adopted by his superiors—he deserved better from those superiors than to be removed from office with no notice and with no public explanation for his removal.   It was imprudent, because administrators of Bill Kirk’s talent, compassion and principled commitment to the good are rare.  He loved Notre Dame and he loved and respected the students whose welfare he vigorously pursued. 

    In addition, his removal from office took place against the background of other events at Notre Dame that inevitably raised questions about its real motivation.  Bill Kirk’s office had been the target of the much publicized ire of a grumpy Charlie Weis who,  on his way out of town, told the South Bend Tribune that the Office of Residence Life was “the biggest problem on the campus” (SBT, 12-5-09). Perhaps, it seemed to some, Coach Weis, unable to take a scalp from USC, took pleasure in participating in taking one from the less well-armed Bill Kirk.

    Bill Kirk, of course, has long been one of the favorite targets of the denizens of ND-Nation and other red-meat web sites where rabid Notre Dame fans gather to cyber-vent.  They frequently charge  that Bill Kirk’s enforcement of Notre Dame’s disciplinary code was too harsh and that his insistence that Notre Dame athletes be subject to the same rules as other Notre Dame students was responsible for our repeated failures on the athletic fields.  If Kirk would just let “boys be boys”, we could overcome even Charlie Weis’s massive incompetence and return to glory.  One wag on the internet predictably responded to Kirk’s firing with the witless, “Ding-dong the wicked witch is dead.”

    Events later in the summer seemed to confirm that the firing of Bill Kirk would make life easier for Notre Dame athletes in disciplinary trouble.  The same week he was fired, it was announced that a celebrated football player charged with  serious misconduct would return to his team as usual.  It was also widely noticed that a student charged with a similar offense some years before had been treated much more harshly.  This announcement prompted another internet wit to offer a definition of a “Notre Dame trade”—you trade an associate vice-president for a tight end.

    Later in the summer, when a number of prominent under-age Notre Dame athletes and other students had a hostile encounter with the local police at an off-campus party, it was promptly announced both by our football coach and our basketball coach that discipline for these matters would be handled “internally” in the athletic department.  In a summer in which all Domers were celebrating the distance between our oversight of athletics from the disorderly mess at USC, this incident raised questions about just how different we really are.  Was this another sign that in the post-Kirk era, student discipline at Notre Dame would be handed out in a less even-handed way?  While everyone is equal, some are a little more equal than others—or so it appeared to many.

    Of course, it may simply be a coincidence that these events followed so closely on the firing of Bill Kirk—and the “restructuring” Father Doyle gave as his brief explanation for it.   Notre Dame’s refusal to give any explanation for Kirk’s firing, however, gives credence to rumors of changed attitudes toward student discipline—especially as it relates to the athletic department.  One can understand the general wisdom of Notre Dame’s oft-repeated policy commitment—“we will not comment on personnel matters”—but such silence has a price when actions are as ambiguous in their intent as the firing of Bill Kirk.  And the price seems far too high when the issues at stake are of such importance—they concern, for example, as this action did, the essential fairness of procedures for student discipline and the integrity of the athletic program on which so much of Notre Dame’s corporate endeavors seem to be recently focused.  At a university that now casually refers to the “business of college football” and the “Notre Dame brand”, special vigilance is needed to protect basic fairness from the intrusion of corporate interests.

     The larger role played by Bill Kirk and his family at Notre Dame and in the local community also raises questions about the wisdom—indeed, the fairness—of severing him from this community.  Bill’s wife, Elizabeth, has played a very visible role on campus in recent years as the Associate Director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture.  She has also figured prominently in campus affairs as the faculty advisor for the Right to Life Club and the Identity Project.  She has been one of a very few articulate and confident pro-life women on campus prepared to mentor young women seeking to take on the tricky balancing act of wife, mother and career.  She has increasingly played a role nationally and internationally as a leading pro-life spokesperson and, together with her husband, has forged important links between Notre Dame and other organizations in the community.  As official faculty advisor to the Right to Life Club, Elizabeth served as primary advisor to the student coalition formed in the spring of 2009 as “NDResponse” and served as a conduit for many, including junior, untenured faculty members, who were unwilling to get involved directly for fear of reprisal.  Without compromising his administrative duties, Bill stood with the students of NDResponse at their rally on the South Quad on Commencement day.  He  was the only senior administrator at Notre Dame willing to do so.  With the firing of Bill Kirk, Notre Dame will almost certainly also be deprived of Elizabeth’s talents.

    At the time Bill took part in the NDResponse rally, many people commented on the courage it took for him to stand with his wife and other witnesses to  this protest of Notre Dame’s decision to award President Obama an honorary degree.  I personally discounted these worries, believing that the Notre Dame administration would admire him for his principled stand on a matter so close to the Catholic heart of Notre Dame, even if they disagreed with his particular action.  The administration welcomed President Obama’s sharp dissent from and attack on central Catholic teaching on life.  It seemed only reasonable that they would equally welcome dissent from university policy by such a loyal  Catholic and member of the Notre Dame family as Bill Kirk—especially when his dissent was made in the name of the Catholic principles at Notre Dame’s heart  and in the company of his bishop.

     Perhaps, alas, there was reason for Bill Kirk to be worried about his participation in NDResponse after all.  There is no doubt that the treatment of Bill Kirk this summer will have a chilling effect on the participation of other administrators, unprotected by the safety net of tenure,  in the great debates about public policy and moral principle into which Notre Dame will be inevitably drawn.   A number of other administrators have told me that in light of Bill Kirk’s treatment, they will in the future keep their heads down rather than dissent from the policies of the central administration.   It will be tragic if these pressures toward uniformity become a permanent feature of Notre Dame life.  Universities are no place for yes-men.

    It is, however, the callousness and the brutal insensitivity with which Bill and Elizabeth Kirk were effectively severed from the Notre Dame community that has had the greatest impact on those of us who regard them as personal friends.  And here I must speak very personally.  The Kirks’ house has been an oasis of hospitality for faculty, students and administrators at Notre Dame, as well as for their countless friends and acquaintances in the larger South Bend community and from around the world.  It is perhaps their own penchant for hospitality and welcome that makes their treatment by Notre Dame seem so appalling.  

    The parents of two young adopted children, Bill and Elizabeth Kirk were in the process, as Bill Kirk’s bosses well knew, of adopting a third child at the time he was fired.  Can one imagine Father Doyle firing an at-will employee of Notre Dame with 22 years of service, two toddlers at home and a wife in the early stages of labor with a third child?  As adoptive parents, this was the Kirk’s situation.  The disruption in their life, and the life of their young family, suddenly and with no prior notice, has been wrenching for them as well as for their many friends.  The excuse given for Bill Kirk’s firing, “restructuring”, seems strange indeed.  It is impossible to believe, for example, that the firing was part of a larger organizational shift in the Office of Residence Life, since Bill Kirk seems to be the only person in the office whose job was eliminated. 

    Those of us who have been at Notre Dame for some time (in my case, 42 years) cannot help but contrast the treatment of the Kirk family with actions of an earlier day and by administrators of a different stripe.  Ralph McInerny, who had taught at Notre Dame almost sixty years before his death this past winter, always felt a special loyalty to this University and especially to Father Hesburgh (with whom he disagreed on many fundamental matters) largely because of the special treatment he received when he and his wife Connie and their children encountered a personal tragedy early in their time at Notre Dame.  Their first child, Michael, died tragically of a brain tumor while not yet 4.  With two other children and a third on the way, financially exhausted and living in a tiny Quonset hut in Notre Dame’s vetville, they were struggling simply to keep going.  Ralph loved to tell the story of how Father Hesburgh came to their rescue in these difficult times.   After the funeral for Michael in the Basillica, he took Ralph aside and told him that Notre Dame would give him sufficient money to buy his first house and achieve the kind of financial status he needed to care for his family.  At that time Ralph had not yet written a single one of the 130 books he would go on to write.  He was just another struggling assistant professor in philosophy.  Ralph McInerny never forgot this action of Father Hesburgh’s, however,   and repaid the Notre Dame community many times over with loyal and steadfast service to his students and colleagues here for over half a century.

    It may be that in an era when Notre Dame has become more of a brand and less of a community, such actions are no longer possible and that those of us who long for them are simply being naive.   If so, it is surely a great loss.  The Kirks will survive their brutal treatment by Our Lady’s University.  They are people of enormous energy and talent—and goodness.  They will make new friends and contribute to other communities elsewhere.  It is those of us left behind who are the real losers,  and those responsible for the firing of Bill Kirk may suffer the biggest losses of all.

David Solomon

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Federal Funding for Embryo-destructive Stem Cell Research Prohibited by Ruling by Federal District Judge

The New York Times reports today on the ruling by Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court for the Disctrict of Columbia in a case that brought the Obama administration's support for embryo-destructive stem cell research into question. Although it is unclear how the Justice Department will interpret the Judge's ruling, Judge Lamberth was clear in his assertion that “If one step or ‘piece of research’ of an E.S.C. [embryonic stem cell] research project results in the destruction of an embryo, the entire project is precluded from receiving federal funding.”

Scientists receiving federal funding for their research reacted with dismay: " 'I have had to tell everyone in my lab that when they feed their cells tomorrow morning, they better use media that has not been funded by the federal government,' said Dr. George Q. Daley, director of the stem cell transplantation program at Children’s Hospital Boston, referring to food given to cells. 'This ruling means an immediate disruption of dozens of labs doing this work since the Obama administration made its order.' "

The full article can be read here: Judge Halts Obama's Expansion of Stem Cell Research

Monday, August 23, 2010

Human Dignity and the Future of Health Care

We want to draw your attention to a conference sponsored by the Institute for Faith & Learning at Baylor University, October 28-30, 2010. Entitled "Human Dignity and the Future of Health Care: Every Person Endowed with Dignity--Every Person Worthy of Care," it will feature guest speakers such as Elias Bongmba, Toyin Falola, Paul Griffiths, Daniel Sulmasy, and our 2010-2011 Remick Fellow, Gilbert Meilaender.

They ask: "Inspired by the conviction that a Christian understanding of the dignity of the human person should inform these fundamental questions, the 2010 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture seeks to explore the future of health care, not only in the United States but around the world. In an often compartmentalized debate, how might an acknowledgment of human dignity shape our understanding of the moral, political, and economic dimensions of one of the most pressing concerns of our time?"

See for further details.

Friday, August 20, 2010

As we gear up for another academic year we ask: What happened to the papal encyclicals about Catholic universities?

Randall Smith, associate professor of theology of the University of St. Thomas, Houston asks why Catholic universities don't pay attention to Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

A snippet: "How tragic. One of the greatest popes in history writes a remarkably nuanced and intellectually profound encyclical — one basically exhorting Western civilization not to lose its faith in reason — and a dozen years later the response from the halls of the academy is still a collective yawn: “We can’t be bothered with this. We’re much too busy doing cutting-edge scholarship.” Cutting-edge scholarship that very few people read, much less care about, and that is largely subservient to the categories of modern thought, rather than a challenge to them."

Read the full article at:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tell Us What You Think!

Our new website is now live! Let us know what you think of it by commenting on this post! Compliments and constructive criticism are very welcome.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dominicans and the Challenge of Thomism

In July of this year, a group of distinguished  Dominican scholars met in Warsaw to reflect on the relevance of the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas to contemporary philosophical thought.  Audio recordings of the talks at the conference are now available at the web site for the conference.  We recommend these talks for anyone interested in what Aquinas has to offer to help us understand our contemporary situation.  The talks by Romanus Cessario and Michael Sherwin are of special interest I think.  Father Sherwin was a graduate student in theology at Notre Dame some years ago and also visited the Center as a Myser Fellow in 2006-07.  He was also the Clarke lecturer at the Center’s 25th anniversary medical ethics conference held in Rome last spring.  His lecture at the conference focuses on the significance of the revival of virtue ethics within Anglophone moral philosophy in recent years while Father Cessario’s talk reflects more generally on the form a genuinely Thomist moral theology might take in the context of contemporary thought.  We think everyone will find these talks of interest!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

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