Traumatic Brain Injury & Christian Hope

March is Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month.  TBI’s are beginning to receive greater attention as increasing numbers of soldiers are suffering TBI’s in Iraq and Afghanistan.  A recent post on Air Force Times notes: In the Army alone, some 114,000 soldiers have suffered concussions since the wars began.”  TBIs have also been in the headlines concerning football, raising concerns  for both NFL players and every parent whose child wants to join a football team. Last year’s football season was dominated by worries of concussions and other head injuries that could lead to brain injuries, but the season ended on a high note when Green Bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, shook off two regular season concussions to win the Super Bowl MVP honors. However, after the bright lights of the stadium go down, the long-term effects of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, become apparent.” How much attention a disease or condition receives is often tied to celebrity sponsorship, a scientific promise of a cure, and as the recent headline Former NFL Player Donates Brain After Death indicates a preference to high-tech, sexy medicine.  Hesitancy to confront the ambiguity and long term consequences of TBI experienced by soldiers, athletes, and even Congresswoman Giffords exposes the awkwardness with which our society, as a whole, deals with caregiving.  A focus on TBIs requires raising awareness of the patient, family and caregivers involved in longterm care – and allowing them to...

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Beyond Noticing: Learning to See

In her book titled Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters (Free Press, 2007), Courtney Martin distinguishes between “being noticed” and “being seen.” Martin writes that adolescent girls and women are caught up in this desire to be noticed, especially by men, and so they spend countless hours trying to make themselves pretty. Being noticed is an affirmation of a woman’s beauty and desirability. The stare of a man from across the room, or the turn of his head as a woman walks by, or passing honk from a male driver all serve to affirm a woman’s value. As Martin puts it, “A man I have never met can instantly put a little swing in my step.” But being noticed is fleeting, never penetrating the surface of hair and skin and nails, and ultimately, powerless to affirm a woman’s true value. By contrast, being seen is personal, intimate, transformative. To see someone is to understand who someone really is, to see her dignity. Being seen is also linked to action; seeing demands an ethical response. Martin says that “Being seen is a hand on the small of your back as you walk through a doorway, a glass of water when you are coughing in the middle of the night, his making a passing reference to something you said so long ago you barely remember it.” Our readings for the fourth Sunday of...

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What is Happiness?

A simple question, right?  But as I’ve discovered during my current attempt to get out of my applied ethics ‘element’, and venture into the world of theoretical ethics, it is actually quite complex.  I’m hoping to get some feedback from my CMT.com colleagues who know more about this than I do. Peter Singer also focuses mainly on applied ethics, and has said less and less about theoretical ethics over the years.  However, the little that he is saying is, at least in my view, encouraging for the prospect of dialogue.  For instance, in the introduction to his just released third edition of Practical Ethics he says, “I am now more ready to entertain–although not yet embrace–the idea that there are objective ethical truths that are independent of what anyone desires.”  As we will see below, I think a major part of what of what is driving this change is his understanding of happiness and its relation to the moral life. From a Roman Catholic perspective, our own Bill Mattison points out that connecting ethical behavior to happiness is: how most Christian thinkers through history have understood the Christian moral life. St. Augustine assumes in his main discussions of morality that the starting point for such reflections is how to life a happy life, and explains why the love of God and neighbor that Christ commands in all four gospels...

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Is Sex of Any Kind Consent to Child Support?

Surely there is almost nothing worse than abandoning one’s own children–and often their mother–because one refuses to take responsibility for one’s sexual behavior.  This is why it is a very good thing that we continue to tighten child support laws and their enforcement. But for what sort of sexual actions must a father be responsible in this way?  Legally, all it appears that men (and even boys!) can be responsible for almost all of them: Courts have ruled that boys who were statutorily raped by older women must pay child support. Courts have ruled that when a woman has taken the semen from a condom a man used for sex with a different woman and has inserted it in herself, the man must still pay child support. Courts have ruled that when a woman has concealed her pregnancy (denying the man the right to be a father) and then sued for child support a decade later, the man must still pay child support…Few if any men are relieved of child support obligations due to the circumstances of the pregnancy, no matter how bizarre or unjust. [Find some details on these kinds of cases here.] And for another bizarre example, check out this case: Phillips accuses Dr. Sharon Irons of a “calculated, profound personal betrayal” after their affair six years ago, saying she secretly kept semen after they had oral sex, then...

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Celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation

Today, March 25, is the Feast of the Annunciation. Falling on the calendar exactly nine months before Christmas Day and the celebration of Jesus’ birth, the annunciation celebrates the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit when the Word became flesh and first began to dwell among us. Today’s feast, however, often gets overlooked, despite the importance of what it celebrates–the Incarnation. The Incarnation is what makes Christianity distinct among other religious traditions. The Christian God is not one who is remote or indifferent, but a God who so loved the world and the humans he created that God became flesh, sharing completely in our humanity. The Incarnation bears significantly on the ways Christians do ethics, that is, the way Christians reflect on how to live and act well in the world. The Incarnation is an antidote to flesh and world-denying tendencies we sometimes call “gnostic,” tendencies which deny the goodness of the body and advocate for a radical spiritualization of religion. It would be naive to claim that Christians have always done a great job affirming the goodness of the body, but the Incarnation serves to reground whatever gnostic tendencies we may have in the understanding of God who took on flesh. In light of an incarnate God, flesh-denying tendencies are always identified as heretical and antithetical to basic principles of Christian theology. The Incarnation also grounds Christian...

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Libya: Process = Justice?

Are Bush and Obama both unjust? Over at dotCommonweal, Peter Nixon notes that Obama makes “Bush’s pace” look “positively dilatory,” since at least in the lead-up to the Iraq war, there was a vigorous debate about justice. NPR reported this morning that the British parliament will be debating this, but that the advocate for the government will argue that the war is “legal” because of the UN resolution. This is also apparently what is supposed to make us think Obama is acting rationally and carefully, and not like a “cowboy.” We are witnessing the reduction of justice to process. What makes a war just (apparently) is not its aims, but the process by which it is entered. Indeed, the ambiguity (or confusion) over exactly what the aims are is bad-to-embarrassing. In the American context, the Bush and Obama administrations seem to provide constant reminders that the political options available to Catholics are frustrating. Either the view of justice is substantively wrong, or the view of justice is empty. We get the “dictatorship of relativism” or simply...

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Is Nebraska’s Fetal Pain Bill Cruel?

After teaching the principle of double effect last week, I had a student approach me this Thursday questioning whether inducing labor in Danielle Deaver’s case would qualify.  My student said he was “really disturbed that doctors wouldn’t induce labor for a woman when both her and her unborn child were experiencing such severe suffering. It seems cruel.” Until my student brought it to my attention, I had not heard of Danielle Deaver, the woman who the Nebraska State Paper reports was forced, due to the state’s new abortion law, to “live through ten excruciating days, waiting to give birth to a baby that she and her doctors knew would die minutes later, fighting for breath that would not come.” Nebraska recently enacted legislation that made abortion illegal at 20 weeks after gestation, citing evidence that at 20 weeks, the fetus can feel pain.  According to the Deaver’s interview with Planned Parenthood, Danielle was 22 weeks along when her water broke.  Danielle reports that doctors told her that even if it were possible to carry the baby to term, she would likely be born without functioning lungs and with contractures due to the fact that the uterus, without amniotic fluid, was pushing on the baby.  Her physician, Dr. Todd Pankcatz, confirmed with the Des Moines Register that the Deaver’s did in fact request an abortion, but that due to the...

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Torture, Accusations and Humanity

Next weekend, Duke University will host its conference on torture, which has a very specific goal in mind: identifying that “torture is always wrong, torture does not make ‘us’ safer, and we need concrete tactics to refuse the climate of fear and and compliance.”   The conference is broadly ecumenical and also interfaith, including Muslim voices too.  And, it has a variety of well-known people presenting who have long been involved in advocating against torture. I wish I could go and be a Catholic voice in this mix.  The magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church is that torture is always wrong, as well (see Compendium 404) because of the tradition’s strong belief in the integrity of the human person and the possibility of that person to turn toward good ways of living – even when that person is accused of murder or sexual abuse or other horrendous crimes.  Torture, as a way of breaking people mentally, physically and spiritually, cannot be a humane way of relating to other humans.  I find this actually comforting, for my own part: given the number of people who have been falsely found guilty (as confirmed by DNA tests) I’d rather know that if I were ever accused of something, at least from the point of view of the church, I still possess a fundamental human dignity. Culturally, however, it’s far more difficult.  Accusations have a way...

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Should Catholics stand up for public workers?

The recent events in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to discipline the compensation and bargaining rights of public workers is exactly the kind of public controversy in which Catholics ought to have a voice… but often don’t. Much of the debate is portrayed as a question of whether public workers are overcompensated. The New York Times constructed a graphic  that attempts to get at the “complexity” of the issue, but the lens used is telling. Like most reports, the standard is a comparison between public and private wage and benefit levels. Besides the problem of comparing the diverse work...

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