Choosing the sex (or, as some say, the gender) of a child may have been an aspiration that parents have sometimes wished for, throughout history: think of a family with four girls wanting a son, or vice-versa. And now clinics in San Diego, California are offering this choice to men through a process of sperm separation. The Californian “life science” clinics claim that they can separate X (for female) from Y (male) sperm and thus provide an 82% chance of fathering a boy or a 93% chance of fathering a girl. (It is apparently easier to isolate the X sperm.) And business is booming.
There is an ongoing debate on whether this is an ethical procedure: I cannot imagine that the moral theologians of the Catholic Church will endorse the innovation as it departs emphatically from the accepted ideal of conception arising in the course of nature from the marriage act. And besides, shouldn’t children be accepted as blessings rather than commissioned as designer products?
And yet the Californian system is less distressing than a practice which is carried out in China and India, and has been shown to be occurring in Britain: female feticide. That is, the abortion of unborn babies because they are female.
Last year, the Daily Telegraph in London mounted an investigation which disclosed this scandal: a pregnant female reporter approached abortion providers and claimed that she sought a termination of pregnancy – at a well-developed stage of the pregnancy – because her baby was a girl. The reporter found little difficulty in getting doctors to agree to such an operation and the investigation was secretly filmed and recorded.
It has since been established that this was, medically, an unethical procedure (the reporter did not, of course, have an abortion) and completely against the spirit of the British law. The health minister described it as “illegal and morally wrong” and a very good case was made for prosecuting medics who carry out such practices. But just last week, the Crown Prosecution Service (which decides which cases to bring to court) said it would “not be in the public interest” to prosecute the doctors and clinics performing “wrong-sex” abortions.
So, carry on committing feticide seems to be the message. The law will turn a blind eye. The largest abortion provider even justified any such choice that was made by women (or men), on the grounds that “any abortion is legal” if it is “in the interests of the physical or mental health of the woman”. The 1967 Act did not foresee, or intend, termination of pregnancy for sex selection, but “mental health” apparently can be stretched to cover this choice – or any choice.
The imbalance between boys and girls in the Indian census of 2011 showed there were over seven million fewer girls born than boys. In some Mumbai clinics, female feticide is advertised as a means to save the cost of raising a daughter: the slogan, referring to dowry and marriage costs goes: “Better 500 rupees now than 500,000 rupees later.”
Welcome to the world of sex selection indeed.
JPII’s traditional values
Fr Tony Flannery had some critical words about Pope John Paul II in an interview with Pat Kenny on Newstalk last Monday. Fr Flannery said his blood ran cold when he sensed the late Popeís theological and ecclesiastical attitudes – a ìretrenchmentî after the liberal opening-out of Vatican II. On his visit to Ireland in 1979, Fr Flannery felt he glimpsed something hard and unyielding about JPís face.
The Polish Pope certainly was a traditionalist, but I always think we should put his values into the context of what he had lived through. He had experienced Nazism and Stalinism, lived through both and defied both, and it was perhaps unsurprising that this ordeal and these challenges should have made him feel that the Faith required a robust defence. Fortunately for us, we not been subjected to these experiences, and we do not know if we would have endured them so bravely, nor triumphed over such adversity. As he lay dying, John Paul II cast his mind back to the Jewish playmates of his youth, and what they had then gone through: his moral values were traditional, but he was not lacking in compassion for suffering.
Uplifting church visit
Last Sunday, on the Anthony Trollope trail in Co. Leitrim (the great novelist began his writing life at Drumsna), I attended Mass at St Maryís Church at Carrick-on-Shannon which is part of the Kiltoghert parish: and I was stunned by the reconstucted altar there. It is very modern and very beautiful.
Silver undulating bars form a design across the back of the altar, behind which is a magnified Eucharist symbol, in sun-like proportions.
The effect is wonderfully uplifting. The porches of the church are reconstructed in glass and bring an effect of light and transparency.
The priest there is Fr Michael McGrath, and I am told he is proud of the lovely Carrick church by the Shannon, as well he might be.