BOOKS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Culture of Life: Culture of Death, edited by Luke Gormally
, January 25, 2003
Culture clashCulture of Life: Culture of Death
Edited by Luke Gormally
Distributed by Ignatius House Services, PO Box 180, Sumner Park, Qld 4074
Rec. Price: $59.70 plus $4.40 p&hIn July 2000, a number of important papers were delivered and discussed at an international conference in the UK on contemporary challenges in the fields of ethics and bioethics, where Christian principles conflict with the values of the prevailing secular society.
The Linacre Centre, which published the papers, is one of the principal bioethics institutes in Great Britain, and is supported by the British Catholic Bishops.Culture of Life - Culture of Death
is a compilation of many of the papers delivered at that conference, and includes contributions by Archbishop George Pell, the late Cardinal Thomas Winning, Professor Anthony Fisher, Professor John Finnis, Professor Robert George of Princeton, and Dr Robert Walley, Director of Matercare International.
The theme around which the conference was organised was suggested by the Pope's 1995 encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)
, in which John Paul II described the prevailing secular and materialist culture of Western societies as "the culture of death".
Professors Finnis and George emphasised that every human person - whether sharing a religious faith or not - is capable of choosing what is morally good, based on human knowledge and human nature.
In his paper, "Secularism, the root of the culture of death", Professor Finnis explicitly dealt with the problem of intention, which is a sharp dividing line between deliberate killing - as in abortion, the killing of newborns with disabilities, and euthanasia - and letting die.
He pointed out that this confusion has influenced legal judgments in the US and the UK.
Interestingly, it was also an important contributor to the outcome of the recent Parliamentary debate in Australia on the Human Embryo Experimentation Bill 2002, in which the Prime Minister said he did not believe there was a sufficient distinction between allowing embryos to be experimented upon, and letting them die, to proscribe such experimentation.
The conference discussed many of the most pressing moral issues currently facing Western societies, including utilitarianism as a guiding principle in medical ethics; HIV/AIDS; the efforts to enforce population control, both within countries such as Australia and on developing nations; and the more familiar issues of abortion, human embryo experimentation and euthanasia.
The conference also discussed some of the most contentious issues in the bioethics field, including the attempts to modify abortion laws, use of the rubella vaccine, despite the fact that it had been grown on a cell line derived from an aborted baby; and withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from dying patients.
The book does not contain the discussion which followed the presentation of these papers, where at times strong differences of view were expressed. This is unfortunate, but would have further delayed publication of the book, and made it substantially longer than its 350 pages.
The conference highlighted the clash of cultures in contemporary society, and showed why it remains important to understand and fight for the principles on which a civilised society was created, and on which its future existence depends.