Demoting Humans

John Haas Discusses the Greatest Bioethical Challenge Today

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By Jaime Septien

QUERETARO, Mexico, SEPT. 1, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Latin America -- referred to by popes as the continent of hope -- is facing more and more of the bioethical challenges confronting its northern neighbors, including the biggest challenge of all: the depersonalization of men and women.

But in this battle -- both in North and Latin America -- the Church is leading the way, says Dr. John Haas, director of the Philadelphia-based National Catholic Bioethics Center.

Haas spoke with ZENIT when he was in Mexico giving a conference to the second class of students studying a master's in bioethics at the Advanced Social Research Center, at its new Queretaro campus.

Haas, who is also the founder and president of the International Institute for Culture, addressed the students on the subject of cloning and its risks to humanity.

In his interview with ZENIT, Haas emphasized the Church's leading role in the bioethics battle.

ZENIT: What role is the Catholic Church playing in the debate on ethics and biology in the United States?

Haas: Something that is very interesting to observe is that the Catholic Church has been and is in the vanguard. Everyone today talks about bioethics, but I should note that our center was established in 1972, before abortion was legalized in the United States, before anyone heard talk about AIDS, before stem cells were isolated. In the United States, after the government, the Catholic Church is the second most important entity providing health care to the population. The Catholic Church provides billions of dollars in health services to Americans every year. This has made us capable of anticipating the subjects that, tomorrow, will be central in medicine and in the life sciences. We must be prepared to address them from the Gospel perspective.

ZENIT: What are the most important subjects in bioethics today?

Haas: From my point of view it is the de-personalization and de-humanization of health services. Human beings are being regarded as lacking rights. Organ donation has become an international business. The same happens with in vitro fertilization that, in the United States, moves close to $5 million every year. Men and women are not being regarded as human beings, but as material to use for scientific experiments, even on some occasions for experiments that, on the surface, have the very good intention of helping others.

ZENIT: Despite the Church's long history in the subject of bioethics, its seems that her voice is not heard in large decision-making forums, no?

Haas: True, but on occasions she is heard, especially when a forceful position is taken. For example, when the mayor of New York asked Cardinal [John] O'Connor [former archbishop of New York] to include contraception in Catholic health services, the cardinal said no. The mayor insisted and Cardinal O'Connor threatened with the closure of the Church's hospitals and health centers. The mayor had to backtrack because it would have been terrible for New York.

ZENIT: Has there been progress in the bioethics committees in hospitals? Is the Catholic Church being taken into consideration?

Haas: That's very important. For more than five years the organization that accredits hospitals in the United States has established as a norm the formation of an ethics committee in every hospital. However, every Catholic hospital in the United States already had one, and they have always had them. This is another example of how the Catholic Church is ahead of the times. The National Catholic Bioethics Center, over which I preside, has a one-year program to certify hospitals in this subject. Doctors, nurses and administrators take the full course. This enables us to standardize bioethical criteria with the Catholic essence and to bring Catholic morality and principles to exist in hospitals run by the Church. And the other hospitals are taking our example and our methods.

ZENIT: Do you face the "black legend" that the Catholic Church is opposed to scientific progress?

Haas: Your question is very interesting, as in the United States no one has heard anything about "the black legend" [traditionally referring to accusations against the Church regarding the colonization of the New World], but the effects are the same as those produced in Latin America in regard to the role of the Church in the conquest and colonization. It is different in the United States because it is a country with a Protestant majority. And Protestants believe that their ideas are what religion is. Luther said we are saved by grace and faith alone. For him, reason was dangerous. In his commentary on Galatians he said that if Christians want to be saved they must kill reason and offer it as a sacrifice to God. The problem is that many people in my country believe that that is true of all religions. Hence, the Catholic Church is "irrational" and "legalistic." And nothing is further from the truth, as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have shown: Faith and reason are the two forces we have to know the truth. Also, nothing is further from the truth than that Catholics reject abortion, contraception, etc. because someone orders us to do so, rather than because, consistent with the Gospel, the spirit of the Gospel, the liberty of the Gospel, we have seen the immorality, the inhumanity of these practices.

ZENIT: How can a true Catholic culture be re-introduced into the context in which we live?

Haas: In his encyclical "The Splendor of Truth," Pope John Paul II says, almost at the end, that the real strength of the teaching of the Church and of the culture of the Catholic Church is that of remaining with one's eyes fixed on Jesus Christ crucified. Everything stems from here, as it is no longer the time for arguments, it is the time for witnesses, as the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said on one occasion to the United States episcopal conference.

[Translation from Spanish original by ZENIT]