Seeing Christ in Others: Recognizing the Gifts of the Disabled

This past week, I read an article that’s been making its rounds on social media about a mother in London who won the “right” to murder her daughter. The judges were swayed by the claim that the daughter was in pain and just wanted to be at peace. Ironic, then, that the mother chose one of the most painful ways for her child to die, starving her for 14 days until she finally succumbed to the lack of nutrition and fluids. Nancy did not have a terminal disease, nor was she in some way injured so severely that there was no hope of her living. In fact, she was breathing on her own and not on life support. Rather, her mother sought to end her life simply because she was disabled, needing round the clock care and unable to talk or walk. This mother, and the judges who decided to play God with the life of this 12 year old child, made the decision that her life had less value than theirs did.Read More »


Harassing Abortionists Will Not Make Them Pro-Life

stand true

Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, a pro-life group, recently staged a protest outside of abortionist Richard Agnew’s home, where they wrote messages on the street in chalk. The group wrote messages like Abortion is murder, Your neighbor is a monster, and Agnew kills babies. Agnew’s neighbors were not pleased about the protest, and wanted vandalism charges filed. Police also considered battery charges, but ultimately, the district attorney’s office chose not to file any charges.

The group began protesting Dr. Richard Agnew, an obstetrician affiliated with Hoag Hospital, after he objected to the hospital’s ban on elective abortions. Complaints from neighbors inspired the city council to pass an ordinance saying that protesters of a private residence must do so from at least 300 feet away.

On July 29 and July 1, members of the group returned to Agnew’s neighborhood and, while complying with the 300 foot limit, wrote phrases like “your neighbor is a monster” around the doctor’s home, The Daily Pilot reports. His family has repeatedly said that abortions are a pretty small part of what he does at work. His son said that the fetuses involved had “severe problems.” His wife has referred to the protesters as threatening, saying she was afraid somebody would “get killed if we don’t address the matter.”Read More »

The Other Mothers

A True Story of Loss, Survival and the Largest Public Health Experiment in History

Small-Town Michigan, 1951. An energetic seven year old boy named Michael experiences flu-like symptoms and headaches. They don’t go away. Within a week, he is feeble, lethargic, severely aching all over. His mother prays as his father notices his stiffness, his slowing reflexes, and they both know they must rush him to the doctor.

David Kelly in iron lung, with sister, at Rancho Los Amigos.

Big-City Hospital. Michael is in an iron lung. His mother’s fears have come true: Michael has polio, an extremely contagious virus for which there is no cure yet. She rushes between long-distance visits, caring for her toddlers at home, and daily mass. She is pregnant and has no idea what this means for her baby, but she knows she must visit her son. Once-strong, athletic Michael cries for her when she must leave – but he is not alone. He shares his hospital bay with countless other boys and girls suffering from the same illness. During his six-month hospital stay, he sees many of them come . . . and go.

polio 2
Iron lung machines (1957) Cincinnati, Ohio

In time, Michael’s condition improves. His parents dare to hope – will he survive polio? What are the statistics on that, exactly? There were about 28,000 total cases of polio in the US that year. They would not have known it yet, but Michael was the only child from his shared room to come home alive.

Until now, I had always focused on my Grandmother’s part in this story: how hard it must have been for her to raise my mother and aunts while caring for my Uncle Mike. I tried to imagine my brusque, silent-strong-type uncle hanging on to life. I can’t see it; I can only see him as I know him. I return to thoughts of my Grandma. I have always admired her strength and courage, her steadfast prayer, her fervent hope for all her children. Not to mention the fact that she went on to conceive twins as Michael was recovering, and she raised them all with style, patience and grace. But now I turn my thoughts to the Other Mothers.Read More »

Dear Internet Atheists: A Breakup Letter



Dear Internet Atheists,

We’ve seen you all over the comm boxes of various skeptical and science-oriented pages.  Denigrating the Church as anti-science, mocking people of faith as ignorant throwbacks to the Dark Ages, and insisting that there’s no way to reconcile faith and science.  “Pick a side!” you demand.  While your Dawkins-esque screeds might sound good in an echo chamber, what they actually reveal is a staggering ignorance of the significant scientific contributions that the Catholic Church and her members have made.  While we acknowledge and regret that darker moments in our history, it’s patently unfair and illogical to discount and deny all that we have contributed, and continue to contribute, to science.

But let’s just pretend for a moment that you get your way; we’ll take our ball and go home.  Here’s the catch, though:  let’s imagine that we also take our scientific contributions, and any ensuing discoveries, advancements, etc.  along with us.  After all, surely our knuckle-dragging Church and brethren couldn’t possibly have contributed anything that actually matters, right?

Here’s a just a sampling of some of what we’ll be taking with us:

The Big Bang Theory:  First posited by Belgian priest and cosmologist Monsignor Georges Lemaitre (who, by the way, was also a friend of Albert Einstein.  Maybe you’ve heard of him?).

Universities:  Instituted and nurtured by the Catholic Church, beginning as early as some time in the High Middle Ages.

The Scientific Method: Although not “invented” exclusively by the Church, Catholics did play a significant role in the development of the scientific method as we know it today.  Most notable of these are Friar Roger Bacon, who received a papal commission for his work on the scientific method, and of course, St. Thomas Aquinas.  And let’s not overlook Bacon’s mentor, Bishop Robert Grosseteste, one of the most enlightened men of the 13th century, who made significant contributions to mathematics, optics, and science.

Modern Genetics:  A field indebted to Fr. Gregor Mendel, also known as “the father of modern genetics.”  His Laws of Inheritance and other contributions brought the study of genetics into the modern era.

The Gregorian Calendar:  Although the modern calendar officially came in under Pope Gregory XIII, the Church had long recognized and sought to rectify the errors of the Julian calendar.

Modern astronomy:  French Jesuit Jean-Felipe Picard, considered the “father of modern astronomy,” was a contemporary of Galileo and the first person to provide an accurate measurement of the earth’s size.  (Geeky readers will of course note that the captain from Star Trek: The Next Generation, was named after Jean-Felipe Picard!)

Acetylene and derivatives (including rubber):  Fr. Julius Nieulawnd, botanist and chemist, took a deep interest in the practical applications of chemistry.  Through his work he ultimately develop the first synthetic rubber, and was award the Morehead Medal, American Institute Medal, and the Nichols Medal (the highest honor bestowed by the American Chemical Society).

And let’s not forget some significant contributions from non-Catholic Christians.  How about the Human Genome Project, which was lead by Dr. Francis Collins, medical geneticist and evangelical Christian? Or Robert Boyle, a devout Anglican and one of the founders of modern chemistry?  Or maybe Richard Lower, another Anglican, and pioneer of blood transfusions?

This list goes on and on.  There is virtually no field of scientific study that has not been touched in some way by the Catholic Church and/or Christian scientists.  We’ve only scratched the surface, and this isn’t even taking into account the contributions of non-Christian people of faith.

So fine.  If you really insist this relationship is over, we’ll go.  But we’re taking all of this, and more, with us.  I think you’ll find your world is much smaller with us, and all we’ve given to science, in it.


Your Rational Catholic Friends

P.S.  No, we don’t want Kirk Cameron.


Christian Hope and Bucket Lists

Shane and his parents, from the Prayers for Shane Facebook Page.

This morning, in the early, still hours when most of America lies sleeping, a mother gave birth to a son.  His name is Shane, and he has anencephaly.  And before he was even born he had a bucket list.


Anencephaly is a type of neural tube defect in which part of the brain and skull do not develop.  Children with anencephaly are born with a devastating prognosis, with most children dying at best within hours or days of birth.  This is an extremely challenging diagnosis to receive, and many parents choose abortion after finding out about their children’s severe birth defect.  That knowledge that abortion may be presented as an option or perhaps as the only option is partially responsible for why many Christian parents opt out of prenatal testing.


Prenatal testing as a term can mean any number of things.  It can refer to ultrasounds at various points in gestation.  It can refer to blood tests for various biomarkers or for fetal DNA.  It can refer to amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling.  These procedures run the gamut from risk free to carrying a risk of miscarriage.  They have different false positive and false negative rates, test for a variety of conditions, and in some cases (such as spina bifida) allow for treatment to occur before a child is even born.


Many times parents of faith reject some or all of these tests out of hand.  “I would love my child and want him or her regardless, so why would I want to have to explain to a doctor that abortion is not an option for me?”  “I would rather see a child before a diagnosis.”  “It won’t change anything, and sometimes the tests are wrong.  If the tests are wrong and I can’t change it anyways, what is the point?”


And yet, without prenatal diagnostics, Shane has no bucket list.  Prenatal diagnosis gave him and his parents the chance to love more fully instead of less, to love with heart and eyes wide open. The chance to run from such a hard and painful knowledge to hope.  To make a bucket list.  To celebrate life fully in the knowledge that our children are not our own, but merely entrusted to our care.


God gave them Shane, their irreplaceable child, in whose face they see the Risen Christ standing at the threshold.  Science gave them a diagnosis.  Faith and science informed by each other gave Shane a bucket list.   A list of memories.  A list of hope.  An authentic pro life witness in a time and place that says that some children are not worth the having, that some people are not worth the pain it will take to say goodbye.


Happy birthday, blessed boy.  And blessed be the parents who gave you life.  We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song.


A later post will work through the pros/cons and some of the misconceptions of prenatal testing.  To follow along with Shane’s story and wish his parents well, please visit the Prayers for Shane Facebook page.


Edit:  Born on earth at 2:55am, baptized a Catholic, Shane died enrobed in love at 6:15 this morning.  Peace, hope and love to his parents.

Science, Superstition and the Duty to Vaccinate

In previous posts authors at the Rational Catholic have sought to argue that not only can the Catholic, pro-life parent vaccinate his or her children but also that they ought to do so.  The reasons that a parent should vaccinate come from both an interest in the wellbeing of one’s own child as well as a general obligation to the common good.


Understanding that this is a complicated, emotional issue with profound moral and spiritual ramifications, last week I sought guidance from the National Catholic Bioethics Center regarding whether there is an active duty to vaccinate one’s children.   The National Catholic Bioethics Center is a non profit organization whose mission centers on the protection and defense of human dignity through research, education, consultation and publication in the areas concerning health care and life sciences.   They offer free consultation to anyone seeking guidance regarding ethical questions, and were kind enough to answer mine.


Reproduced with permission from correspondence with Edward Furton, M.A., PhD, Ethicist and Director of Publications for the National Catholic Bioethics Center


Focusing in on your central question, there is indeed a moral duty to immunize one’s child and so help preserve the public good through the use of scientifically established and clearly beneficial programs of vaccination. The chickenpox vaccine may be an exception to this rule, as the risks resulting from this disease are not great. As for the rest, for example, measles, mumps, and rubella, these are important childhood vaccinations and parents have a special duty to care for and love their children. Children cannot make these decisions for themselves and so depend upon the prudential judgments of others.

Unfounded fears about possible adverse effects do not overcome the objective duty to make use of immunizations. To make a sound moral judgment, the individual Catholic must properly inform his or her conscience. That means that one must seek to determine whether fears are based in reason and fact, or they are instead merely — if I may put it this way — superstitions. A correctly formed conscience will come to the conclusion that immunization is a moral obligation.

For those who remain “invincibly ignorant,” and who refuse to acknowledge facts, they must follow their conscience even though it is ill formed.


There is no question, no debate to my mind that parents who refuse immunization of their children do so in the pursuit of what they see as good.  They do not do so from a desire to cause harm to their children or to their communities, but there is still a question of fundamental scientific ignorance in play that leads to vaccine denial.  Not malevolent ignorance, but ignorance none the less.  And ignorance should be met with education wherever possible.


There are excellent resources available to better understand the science of immunization.  I will make and keep up to date in this post a list of resources for those who seek to understand the science of immunization.  It is natural to have questions, concerns, fears and uncertainty about this topic especially given how pervasive myths are about vaccines.  But none of those fears nullify the obligation we have to our children, and to each other.


To close, and with my thanks to Dr. Furton for allowing me to share his words:

“We are rational creatures and science represents our best understanding of how to protect ourselves from the transmission of serious diseases….  In the final analysis, we must rely on what is presently known in order to shape our decisions. Guesswork and unsubstantiated beliefs are not good grounds for moral action.”


Note:  Dr. Furton makes the possible exception of the chicken pox vaccine due to his belief that chicken pox is generally a mild, and less dangerous disease than other diseases currently vaccinated against.  I disagree with this risk assessment and feel that the 100 annual deaths and 11,000 annual hospitalizations in the pre vaccine era, and in particular the risk to the pregnant, the immunocompromised such as children who have received organ transplants, the elderly and the medically at risk make the chicken pox vaccine very important to obtain even though it is grown in fetal cell culture.  

Vaccine Education Resources


Vaccine Education Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Vaccines, Course at Coursera