A hard-hitting week for human rights

Poignant moments from this week’s TV and radio

Advent is certainly a time of expectation, and so it was particularly suitable that RTÉ showed a programme about a pregnancy last Sunday. Moment of Truth (RTÉ 1) told the moving story of Lorraine Dempsey. She was pregnant with twins but things started to go wrong as the time for birth drew near.

One of the twin girls, Rianna, had a difficult birth leaving her on life support with little chance of survival, while the other girl, Sadhbh was healthy.

The ‘moment of truth’ was when it came time to decide whether it was appropriate to continue with life support. Ironically, Lorraine was a palliative care nurse and was well aware of the difficult ethical and emotional issues involved.

When life support was eventually removed, they put baby Sadhbh in the incubator with her sister and you’d want a heart of stone not to be moved by the pictures of the two wrapped around each other as they had been in the womb. That seems to have made all the difference as Rianna survived, albeit with disabilities. We saw the Dempsey family today, 11 years later enjoying a family life that, as Lorraine explained, was normal for them. The positivity from herself, her daughters and husband Carl was inspiring.

This wasn’t the only thing unusual about the family. Lorraine’s father was a Muslim from Morocco, while her mother continued to be a practising Catholic.

At one stage, Lorraine had offered to become Muslim, as a sort of gift to her father, but in her later crisis had insisted on Rianna being baptised.

She didn’t rail at God for what happened, more inclined to go for the ‘why not me’ approach.

On Tuesday of last week, there was widespread media coverage of Pope Francis’ wide-ranging address to the European Parliament. It was hard hitting on human rights and human dignity and was particularly blunt when it came to abortion. Nevertheless it was received and reported quite positively. On RTÉ Radio 1’s News at One, Joe Little reported on how the Pope stressed the dangers of concentrating on technological and economic factors to the detriment of genuine concern for human beings and on the Pope’s reference to children “killed in the womb”.

On Newstalk’s Lunchtime Show the same day, Shona Murray gave a comprehensive report from Strasbourg and spoke of the huge applause and standing ovations the Pope received there when he criticised attitudes to the elderly, migrants and the unborn. She highlighted his call for a return to principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, which she described as “some of the most important words in the European dictionary”. She might have mentioned they are also key concepts in Catholic social teaching.

Murray was back on Newstalk last Sunday morning with her show World in Motion. After a largely positive item about Trócaire’s involvement in a campaign against gender-based violence in Malawi, there was an atrocious interview with Nigel Rodley, chairman of the UN Human Rights Committee and former UN special envoy on torture.

I was with him when he spoke against what we generally accept as torture, but then Ireland’s supposedly restrictive laws on abortion came in for criticism. Ironically he had just shown an admirable aversion to the idea of torturing children. Has the man the slightest idea of what goes on in an abortion? Has he any concern for the human rights of unborn children?

The most telling moment came when he regretted using the word ‘baby’ about the unborn child: “… the baby’s life… excuse me… I’m falling into the trap myself, the fetus’ life”. The trap? I thought Murray was hopelessly one-sided on the matter, offering no challenging questions. She did however ask the following leading question: “Do you not agree that abortion should be available when a woman’s health is in danger?”

She  used emotive terms like “the rapist’s child” and seemed to take it as given that Ireland’s current abortion-related laws amounted to “cruel degrading treatment” of women.

Finally, on last Thursday’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, there was an enjoyable interview with three seminarians studying in Maynooth. All three had interesting vocation stories – Leo Creelman had been a businessman but finally gave in to the call that was pulling him towards priesthood, Sean Jones was influenced by a pilgrimage to Lourdes, while for Vincent Stapleton, it was his work as a primary teacher. Vocation directors take note!

Pick of the week

Keep Christ In Christmas
EWTN Sat, Dec 6, 5pm
What a small group of Catholics are doing to combat the secular war on Christmas.

RTĖ Lyric FM Sun, Dec 7, 8am
Including Marian motets and music for St Nicholas from medieval England and by Benjamin Britten.

Home From Home
TV3 Wed, Dec 10, 9pm
Documentary taking an observational approach to life in Irish nursing homes.