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Several US states consider bills regulating abortion

Pregnancy Test. / Flickr/Ernesto Andrade.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Apr 22, 2021 / 20:01 pm (CNA).

Numerous states of the US have been considering bills regulating abortion in recent weeks.  

In Idaho, a bill which would ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat passed the Senate on April 21 and is awaiting the governor’s signature. 

The day before, the bill advanced through the Senate State Affairs Committee, and was voted through the Senate by a vote of 25-7. The bill contains exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or medical emergency. 

“This is good legislation that gives a preborn child the same rights as a mother,” said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, a Republican who sponsored the bill. 

It is unknown if Gov. Brad Little (R) will sign the bill.

Unlike other “heartbeat” bills, Idaho’s legislation will not go into effect until similar legislation in another state has been cleared by a federal court. Presently, all attempts at passing “heartbeat” abortion bans have been blocked by federal courts. 

Two bills are currently sitting on the desk of Oklahoma Gov. Ken Stitt (R). One bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat; the other would suspend a doctor’s license for a maximum of one year if they perform an abortion. 

If the bills are not signed by the end of the week, they will go into effect in November. 

In Tennessee, lawmakers passed a bill requiring women to bury or cremate fetal remains after a surgical abortion at an abortion clinic. The bill is now on the governor’s desk, awaiting his signature.

Abortion clinics would be required to pay for the cost of burying or cremating the remains of the infant, unless a woman chooses to dispose of the remains at a different location. In that case, the woman who procured the abortion would have to pay for the burial or cremation. 

Typically, fetal remains after abortions are treated as medical waste and disposed. 

The bills’ sponsor, Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), said that “charities (are) out there that are set up to help with the burial expenses” of an aborted child. 


Additionally, under the bill, a woman who undergoes an abortion would have to fill out a form for the Tennessee Department of Health describing how and where the fetal remains will be disposed. 

In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) signed a bill April 21 requiring women who were sexually assaulted and seeking an abortion after the 20th week of a pregnancy to report their assault to the authorities. 

In Arkansas, abortion is available until the 20th week of a pregnancy, with limited exceptions. Last month, Hutchinson signed a bill that effectively banned abortion altogether in the state; however, it has not gone into effect. 

When Hutchinson signed the bill, SB6, he noted that it is contrary to established precedent set by the Supreme Court, but that he hopes the bill will be used to overturn these precedents. 

“SB6 is in contradiction of binding precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law,” Hutchinson said at the time.

In Ohio, lawmakers are once again considering a version of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which requires that doctors provide lifesaving care to infants who are born alive after an attempted abortion. 

Under Senate Bill 157, a doctor who is found in violation of the law will be charged with “abortion manslaughter,” a felony. 

“The heart of the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act is quite simple: no helpless newborn child should be left alone to die,” Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said in a published statement.  

“It is our sincere hope that shared human decency will compel legislators at the Ohio Statehouse to come together to protect innocent, born babies desperate for a chance to live.”

A similar bill was previously considered in 2019. While that bill passed the Ohio Senate, it was not voted on in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Names of accused Rochester priests will not be blocked

Priest collar /

Rochester, N.Y., Apr 22, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

A federal judge has said the names of priests accused of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Rochester cannot be kept confidential during the diocese’s bankruptcy proceedings.

 

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Paul Warren on Thursday sided with Gannett Co., Inc., the parent company of the local Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

 

Gannett had filed a motion to intervene in the diocese’s bankruptcy proceedings after the diocese asked in an earlier motion to have the identity of abused priests kept confidential.

 

The motions involve the diocese’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, which were begun in September 2019 following a flood of lawsuits accusing priests in the diocese of sexual abuse.

 

Gannett argued that keeping the identities of accusers secret would “perpetuate the very secrecy that has allowed the scandal to continue for generations.”

 

However, the Diocese of Rochester said in court documents that it was not trying to conceal information but rather “reduce the risk of vigilantism or other breaches of the peace.”

 

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Rochester told CNA that the purpose of their motion was to protect survivors who had come forward and exposed sex abuse.

 

“The primary purpose of our recent court motion was to protect from public disclosure in required ‘Certificate of Service’ documents – which notify all interested parties of case filings – the identities of those persons who have come forward in this case as survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and who wish to remain anonymous,” the spokesperson said.

 

“It should be noted that the Committee of Creditors in our Chapter 11 case, which represent survivors, supported our motion,” the spokesperson said.

 

The spokesperson said the diocese wanted to “preserve public safety and avoid potential breaches of the peace that might possibly ensue with the publication of the names and addresses of those accused, as well as preserve the due process rights of individuals against whom allegations may not at this time be substantiated.”

 

The diocese maintains that Gannett’s objection did not force them to withdraw their previous motion.

 

Rather, the spokesperson said, they had determined that they did not have an immediate need to file Certificates of Service containing perpetrator information, so they withdrew their motion from the court prior to the court hearing and the judge’s decision.

 

The diocese said it will still be permitted “to protect the privacy of survivors and…to request redaction at a future time of those who are accused but whose cases have not as yet been proven or acknowledged.”

 

The harrowing story of an LA priest who survived a shooting in Nigeria

Father Aloysius Ezoenyeka / John McCoy/Angelus

Los Angeles, Calif., Apr 22, 2021 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

Father Aloysius Ezoenyeka didn’t know how long he had been unconscious. A gentle slapping on his face stirred him, and his eyelids flicked open to an African hospital room filled with people clapping and cheering.

“Father, Happy New Year. Welcome to 2021.” Joy flooded the faces of the weary doctors, nurses, friends, and family who surrounded his bed.

The news of the new year wasn’t the only surprise awaiting his waking moments. The medical staff recounted everything that had happened to him over the past 24 hours, relaying the harrowing tale of the father-and-son rescue team that brought him to the hospital, the struggle to find a clinic that could perform life-saving surgeries, and more—a flurry of events that followed Father Al’s being shot by armed assailants while alone on Southwest Nigerian roads, just one night before.

The events of the previous night began with Father Al praying the rosary while he drove, contemplating what post-prayer music to put on for the rest of his long drive. Suddenly, he heard a sharp noise. Perhaps it was just a pebble propelled loudly from under his tire.

In the next split second, the origin of that sound was unmistakable. His windshield shattered as bullets passed by his side, fired by two men hiding in roadside bushes directly in front of him.

“I didn't know what to do, but I didn't have any time to be afraid,” he told CNA. He had traveled this road many times as a Benedictine of Ewu Monastery, and he had heard it was a dangerous stretch of land because of bandits. But he never expected that he would be on the receiving end of violent gunfire.

“I didn't think there would be any problem at all for me. I knew that there could be robbers, but I never really thought seriously it would happen to me.”

Although unscathed after the first volley of bullets, he knew that the assailants’ intention was to kill him. “You might as well at least try a little bit to give them a run for their money,” thought Father Al.

In that desperate moment, he found himself faced with three options: he could take the lane further from the shooters, but that would allow more time for them to shoot at him. Or he could take the lane closer to the bush in which they hid, but that would just make his car a closer shot.

The third option was to drive towards his attackers. “That would scare them. Or, they would get me right away, and that would be the end of it.” Making a life-or-death decision, he pressed himself under the steering column, taking meager cover under the dashboard as he slammed on the gas pedal.

The assailants ran into the bush behind them to avoid his car and unleashed another barrage. Rounds lodged in the front tire and around the engine—and painfully into Father Al’s stomach.

“There's no way you can have that amount of bullets without being hit. I'm just surprised I was only hit once. I didn't stop... I held the wound as much as I could to keep the blood from flowing, but it was practically impossible to do that. I did that the best I could.”

As he later recounted the story, Father Al nonchalantly noted the irony of his situation, laughing: “Drive-bys are usually people inside the vehicle shooting at people or houses, but this drive-by was me driving by.”

He decided to stop for help once he was out of range and out of danger. As soon as he was clear, almost like clockwork, the engine died and he coasted off the road near a lonely truck stop with broken vehicles. He stepped out of his own mangled car, and then collapsed. 

An 11-year-old boy named God-is-Great watched Father Al’s wounded body fall to the ground, unmoving. The boy ran to get his father, SonyMopo. Others came to help, too, but no one had medical training, there were no supplies, and not even a 9-1-1 number to call. While SonyMopo went to get his own vehicle, nothing could be done for Father Al.

“There's no emergency line. They were confused. What's truly sad is that you couldn't do anything for another human being that is in need. Just thinking about it is really strange. I could feel that they wanted to help, but didn't know what to do,” the priest said.

He lay bleeding on the ground for over an hour. Eventually, SonyMopo came speeding along, coming to a rolling stop next to the crowd surrounding Father Al’s wounded form. They loaded him into the back of the vehicle to take him to the local clinic.

The only path they could take was blocked by the same shooters. Unknown to Father Al, SonyMopo had grabbed a gun. He told his son to drive the car while he shot out of the lowered passenger-side window to scare off the assailants so they could pass safely. 

“At that point, I was in pain, just trying to pray,” Father Al said.

A young man named Chidiebere sat in the back with Father Al and prayed Hail Marys in their familiar, shared language. They were both from the same tribe, just one village over from each other. Interspersed in these prayers were appeals for Father Al to pray out loud and to not close his eyes.

“Any time I would try to give up, he would say, 'No, no, no, Father, you'll make it.'”

Together, they arrived at the first clinic, Okada Teaching Hospital, at 6 p.m. and stayed there for about two hours. But they had no supplies at the clinic.

The hospital staff murmured at Father Al’s volatile condition. “Don't worry about that man—he's not going to make it. He's going to die anyways, so just look at other ones,” he remembered hearing.

Chidiebere, SonyMopo, and God-is-Great continued to encourage him to stay awake as they sped for more than 90 minutes to their next option for care: the emergency room at Benin, to which they arrived at around 10 p.m. Multiple times, they were delayed by policemen who pulled them over for speeding.

“A lot of things go through your mind. You say a lot of prayers,” Father Al said. “Apart from saying those prayers, you have to make peace with the fact that this is the end. And I did. The beginning hours were praying for God to help me and all that, but by the time we got to the hospital in Benin, I had already made my peace. I could not believe that I was going to make it, and I was okay with that. I prayed to God.”

When the medical team found that he was a priest, they called everyone they could think of and worked to get a team of doctors to leave their families to prepare for surgery on New Year’s Eve.

At this point, Father Al assumed he was going to die. He had lost a lot of blood, and the doctors had said it was too late for him.

The priest’s brother Titus drove the three hours from their village to the hospital and collected Father Al’s things from SonyMopo.

“Listen. I love you, take care of everyone else. I will see you again,” Father Al told Titus before being ushered into surgery right around midnight, New Year’s Day.

A violent attack from gunmen and a five-hour surgery were certainly not part of Father Al’s plans. As a priest serving in California, he was in Nigeria just on a visit to family. 

Father Augustine Ebido called Father Al’s American physician, Kevin White. Dr. White attempted to get through to Father Al’s regional bishop, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, to inform him of the priest’s condition.

But through all the chaos and a literal game of telephone, incorrect information was shared throughout the staff and diocese. “Some people were thinking I was going to die, that I didn't make it, that people died in the car with me... it was just a lot of mixed up messages,” Fr. Al said.

Bishop Barron traveled to Father Al’s parish, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, to give the unfortunate news of his shooting.

“We heard that he had been shot many times and was left on the side of the road,” Bishop Barron told the Angelus. “When I first got the news, it was that he was dying. We had very little hope.”

Unsure of his condition, Father Al’s parishioners started a 3-day Novena, and the parking lot filled with cars to pray. They sent donations and more than 400 pounds of gifts for him and the people in Nigeria.

A few days later, Father Al was able to call Bishop Barron directly and give him the news of the successful surgery. 

“He was very weak. I could barely understand him. But he was conscious, and he knew who I was,” Bishop Barron told the Angelus.

Bishop Barron called often to check on his recovery and to offer help, encouraging Father Al to return to America to receive medical attention.

Father Al insisted he did not want to go anywhere until he had healed, so the bishop told him, “Whatever you need, let us know and we'll provide it for you.” 

Although appreciative of the many offers he received to be transported to America, Fr. Al said he chose to remain in Nigeria with his family to help show people in the United States that despite the troubles Nigeria faces, it is filled with good people.

The priest said he is saddened by the media portrayal of Nigeria, which tends to focus on negative events but not positive aspects of the country. Father Al said he is proud of his country and grateful for the care he received, feeling God worked through the doctors and nurses there.

“There's no way you can survive six, seven hours without medication with losing so much blood,” he said. “That was almost an impossibility. They said at that clinic there was no way else I was going to survive. The doctors at the hospital said it was not going to work. I think it was purely providential.”

Father Al eventually healed and did return to the United States, where 600 people attended a “Miracle In Nigeria Thanksgiving Mass & Celebration” that Bishop Barron concelebrated with Fr. Al on Palm Sunday this year at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

Today, Fr. Al has almost entirely recovered.

“I don't have much pain anymore. I ran four miles this morning. I guess if I can run four miles, I've recovered,” he laughed.

Fr. Al remains grateful for the experience, saying it has brought him closer to God and changed his views on life. 

“This is the way I read my own life: God prevented my death because he believed I was not ready,” he said. “I was not ready for eternity. I was not ready for Heaven. I needed more work for sanctification. I needed to be alive for him to sanctify me and purify me and help me to be ready.”

Abortion survivor hopes her story spurs support for mothers in need

Claire Culwell / EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2021 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

An abortion survivor hopes that her story of life will help people be “the hands and feet of Jesus” to women in need.

Claire Culwell, who survived an abortion attempt, authored the forthcoming book telling her life story, “Survivor: An abortion survivor’s surprising story of choosing forgiveness and finding redemption.”

“My hope is that as people read this book, they will know what abortion is, they will know what it does, and they will act on being the hands and feet of Jesus, being that support system for women,” Culwell said on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, in an interview that will air on Thursday night.

Culwell, who regularly speaks on abortion at public events, was adopted and did not know her birth story until she was in college. She met with her biological mother for only the second time when she received news that would change her life.

Culwell had presented her mother with a ring, a necklace, and a card thanking her for “choosing life.”

“And she said ‘Claire, there’s something I need to tell you,’” Culwell recounted to EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. “She said, ‘Your life is a miracle. Because I had an abortion when I was pregnant with you at 13 years old.”

Culwell’s mother was pregnant with twins and had undergone a dilation and evacuation “D&E” abortion, a common second-trimester abortion that results in the dismemberment of the child. After several weeks, her mother returned to the doctor complaining that she did not feel normal.

She was told that she had twins, and that only one of the twins had been aborted.

When Culwell received the news from her mother, “it felt like the room was spinning out of control, I couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of her mouth,” she told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

“But I saw her tears,” she added, noting that she forgave her mother for the abortion attempt.

“I can grapple all day with the fact that my life was spared and my twin’s wasn’t, and what am I missing, and I’ll never understand,” she told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. “The only person that understands is the God that wrote this story for me, and He wrote it perfectly, and I can trust in that.”

Culwell has chronicled her story in her book “Survivor,” which will be released on April 27.

Now she speaks out about abortion, including testifying before members of the Kentucky state legislature on a proposed “heartbeat” abortion ban in 2019, and testifying before members of the Texas state legislature on a bill requiring care for abortion survivors.

“After finding out I’d survived an abortion, I developed an interest in pro-life issues. And in time that interest grew and grew,” she told EWTN Pro-Life Weekly.

“Soon, I began telling my story to small groups at schools and churches near me – a major accomplishment for one of the world’s quietest introverts. And eventually, telling my life story would become my calling,” she said.

She said that her story has touched the hearts of many people.

“People come up to me all the time and they’re like ‘Claire, because of you, because of the way that you have been able to forgive, because of the way that you shared that God has forgiven you and has forgiven your birth mother, I believe now that my child forgives me, that my God forgives me,” she said.

New Justice Department official opposed Little Sisters of the Poor in contraceptive mandate case

Christopher E Zimmer/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 22, 2021 / 10:23 am (CNA).

An Obama-era Justice Department official with a history of pro-abortion and pro-transgender statements was confirmed to a top position at the agency on Wednesday.

The Senate voted 51-49 to confirm Vanita Gupta, former president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and former civil rights head at the Justice Department, as associate attorney general on Wednesday afternoon. Gupta, a daughter of Indian immigrants, will be the first woman of color to hold the position.

From 2014 to 2017, Gupta served as head of the civil rights division at the Justice Department. In her new role, she will be expected to address race relations and police reform at the Justice Department, but in overseeing the civil rights division she could also be in a position to advance transgender ideology and abortion.

At her March 9 confirmation hearing before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gupta would not directly answer what restriction on abortion, if any, she supported. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) posed the question to her.

When Cruz followed up by asking Gupta if she believed the government could ban partial-birth abortion, she replied that “my duty, if confirmed, will be to federal laws and the Constitution.”

“Roe versus Wade is established precedent and has been reaffirmed numerous times by the courts,” she said.

Gupta was also grilled on religious freedom. Cruz asked Gupta if she supported a provision of the Equality Act which supersedes existing religious freedom protections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

The provision would bar people from making religious freedom claims, when they are sued for discriminating against others based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Equality Act passed the House in March,

“Religious liberty is incredibly important to me. I am a person of faith,” Gupta said. Later, she said that “I support RFRA. I have enforced provisions of RFRA. And the Justice Department must enforce the law. The Justice Department enforces religious liberty and protects it. and it also enforces our nation’s anti-discrimination laws.”

However, in past statements Gupta has argued that religious freedom should, at times, give way to claims of LGBT or sex discrimination.

In the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor against the HHS contraceptive mandate, Gupta argued in 2020 that the sisters and others should not have a religious exemption to the mandate; the rule required health plans to cover contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients.

“Religious freedom does not create a license to discriminate,” she said, arguing that women seeking contraceptives would be discriminated against.

“This troubling decision allows employers and universities to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage based on religious or moral opposition,” she said of the Catholic sisters being exempt from the mandate.

In 2017, Gupta argued that Christian business owners should be forced to serve events they are morally opposed to.

Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips was at the Supreme Court after he was sued for not baking a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony. Phillips said that he could not in conscience serve a same-sex wedding ceremony, and said that he should not be forced to do so against his religious beliefs.

Gupta compared the case to segregation-era cases of racial discrimination where business owners flatly denied all service to people based on their race. She argued that religious freedom at times must yield to claims of discrimination.

“On that principle, there ought to be no question that Colorado’s law allowing Charlie Craig and David Mullins to buy a wedding cake from any bakery they choose – notwithstanding that they are gay – should trump claims by a bakery that providing the cake would violate the owner’s religious beliefs,” Gupta wrote in a SCOTUSblog symposium on the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

“At times, the free exercise of religion yields to other foundational values, including freedom from harm and from discrimination,” she wrote.

While previously at the Justice Department, Gupta also praised the agency’s work on behalf of people identifying as transgender.

In a May 9, 2016 press conference announcing a Justice Department complaint against North Carolina’s bathroom bill, Gupta reiterated the agency’s support for people identifying as transgender.

”Here are the facts.  Transgender men are men – they live, work and study as men.  Transgender women are women – they live, work and study as women,” she said.

Gupta has also supported abortion in previous statements. After the Supreme Court struck down Louisiana’s abortion regulations last summer, she called for passage of federal legislation that would overturn many state limits on abortion.

“Despite this victory, depending on where they live, too many people in America face insurmountable obstacles to obtaining an abortion.  Congress must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to ensure reproductive freedom is available to all,” Gupta stated. The proposed legislation would subject state abortion laws to increased legal scrutiny.

What Catholics should know about brain death 

Chaikom/Shutterstock.

Denver Newsroom, Apr 22, 2021 / 04:01 am (CNA).

 The Catholic Church is clear in its teaching on when life begins: at conception. 

On death— described as “the end of man's earthly pilgrimage”— the Church teaches in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that “life is changed, not ended;” that death represents the moment of “the separation of the soul from the body.”

While the moment of human conception— the beginning of life— is well-understood and observed from a scientific standpoint, the exact moment of death can be harder to pin down.

This is especially true thanks to various forms of modern technology such as ventilators, which make it possible for doctors to declare a patient dead based on the state of their brain, even if their body appears, to the untrained eye, still to be alive. 

Brain death, also called death by neurological criteria, is the practice of declaring a person dead based on the loss of brain function, rather than the stoppage of the heart and breathing. 

Brain death is, today, a commonly accepted standard for declaring a person dead. According to the 1981 guidelines of the American Medical Association, brain death entails the “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain.” 

Most people are unlikely to need to think about brain death until it affects a loved one— but on a nationwide scale, the phenomenon is more common than one might think. An estimated 42 people are declared brain dead throughout the U.S. every day. 

The issue is complicated by the reality of organ transplantation. Brain-dead donors are, today, the primary source of organ transplants. 

Organs such as the heart, lungs, and pancreas can be— and are— harvested from brain dead donors as close to the time of death as possible. Donors’ bodies are sometimes given painkillers to stop involuntary movements originating from the spinal cord. 

What Catholics should make of this

The term “brain death” is not found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But statements from popes and from the Vatican have made it clear that, if properly diagnosed, the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain function is a valid way to assess with moral certainty that a person has died. 

Moral certainty, St. John Paul II has said, “is considered the necessary and sufficient basis for an ethically correct course of action.”

Catholic doctors and ethicists today largely echo the Vatican in stating that brain death, when properly diagnosed, is not a “kind” of death; it is simply death, period. 

However, brain death remains a hotly debated topic among some Catholic medical professionals and ethicists.

One Catholic doctor told CNA he is concerned that proposed changes to U.S. law regarding brain death could make it easier for doctors to diagnose, and thus may remove some of the rigor that the Church requires for moral certainty about brain death. 

What brain death is

A Harvard Medical School Ad Hoc Committee introduced the concept of “brain death” in August 1968— less than a year after the first successful heart transplant, performed in South Africa in December 1967. 

That document from the Harvard committee introduced the idea that in addition to using “irreversible cessation” of cardiorespiratory function as a criterion for death, doctors also can use irreversible cessation of brain function to determine death. 

While legal standards for determining brain death differ from country to country, in the U.S. the law relevant to brain death is the Uniform Determination of Death Act

The UDDA, passed in 1981, states that an individual who has sustained “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem, is dead.” 

All 50 states have adopted the UDDA into their own laws, with a few variations in the language used. New Jersey allows the family or proxy of a patient declared brain dead to object to the diagnosis on religious grounds. 

The UDDA leaves the “acceptable diagnostic tests and medical procedures” for determining brain death to the “medical profession,” saying doctors remain “free to formulate acceptable medical practices and to utilize new biomedical knowledge, diagnostic tests, and equipment.” 

But above all, the act stipulates that a determination of death “must be made in accordance with accepted medical standards.”

It is worth noting that the “entire brain” provision of the UDDA differs from the law in some other countries, such as the U.K. 

In an illustrative case in February 2020, four-month-old Midrar Ali was disconnected from his ventilator after judges agreed with doctors that the boy’s brain stem was dead. “Brain stem death” is not accepted for a diagnosis of death in many parts of the world, including in the U.S.

What changes have been proposed

In a Jan. 21, 2020 article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a medical doctor and two legal scholars proposed several revisions to the UDDA.  

The proposed changes to the UDDA would bring the law in line with guidelines for diagnosing brain death put forth in 2010 by the American Association of Neurology.

To that end, the authors suggest a revision to the sentence in the UDDA mandating “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain,” most notably deleting the word “all.”

The revised version the authors propose would read: “Irreversible cessation of functions of the entire brain, including the brainstem, leading to unresponsive coma with loss of capacity for consciousness, brainstem areflexia and the inability to breathe spontaneously.”

Hormonal function, associated with the part of the brain called the hypothalamus as well as the pituitary gland, is not part of the “accepted medical standards” for brain death, the authors claim. 

The authors’ proposal to remedy this disparity is to add “with the exception of hormonal function” to the UDDA’s “entire brain” requirement. 

This is significant because in several high-profile brain death cases, patients declared brain dead have appeared to exhibit changes over time associated with puberty.

Excluding hormonal function from the definition of brain death would remove the ability to sue from families or proxies of patients who continue to grow despite being declared brain dead. 

Finally, the proposed revisions would remove any need for doctors to obtain consent from a patient’s family members before performing brain death tests. These tests can include the apnea test, whereby a patient is removed from a ventilator for several minutes to see if they are capable of breathing on their own. 

One of the reasons for the proposed changes, the authors write, is because of apparent confusion about what constitutes “accepted medical standards” for declaring a patient brain dead. 

The authors highlighted a case out of Nevada whereby Aden Hailu, a 20-year-old student, was declared brain dead in 2015, a diagnosis her father contested. 

The state Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that it was not clear that the hospital, which used the AAN criteria, had used the “accepted medical standards” in proclaiming the diagnosis, suggesting that the AAN criteria may not fulfill the UDDA’s “entire brain” requirement.

This is because the AAN guidelines— last updated in 2010— do not mandate tests for complete cessation of brain function beyond what can be diagnosed bedside, such as an electroencephalogram. 

In response to the Nevada ruling the AAN, along with several other medical organizations, rushed to publicly defend its guidelines. The Nevada legislature has since codified the AAN criteria as the “accepted medical standards” for declaring brain death in the state, the first state to do so. 

The authors contend that all other states should do the same. 

What the Catholic Church has said about brain death

In an Aug. 29, 2000 address to the International Congress of the Transplantation Society, St. John Paul II addressed the concept of brain death. 

The pope said that “the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity...if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology.”

In 2008 the Pontifical Academy of Sciences stated that “brain death...'is' death,” and that “something essential distinguishes brain death from all other types of severe brain dysfunction that encompass alterations of consciousness (for example, coma, vegetative state, and minimally conscious state).”

“If the criteria for brain death are not met, the barrier between life and death is not crossed, no matter how severe and irreversible a brain injury may be,” the academy added.

Jozef Zalot, a staff ethicist for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that if accepted guidelines for determining brain death are rigorously applied, then it is possible to determine with “moral certainty” that a person has died. 

Zalot pointed to a FAQ from the NCBC on the matter.

“The Catholic Church looks to the medical community to determine the biological signs that indicate with moral certainty that this event has already occurred. In recent years, medical research has indicated that the irreversible loss of brain function provides a firm indicator that death has already occurred,” the NCBC says. 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its 2018 Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services, states that the “determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria.” 

Dr. Barbara Golder, a medical doctor and lawyer with the Catholic Medical Association, stressed that Catholics are not obliged to continue futile care. She told CNA that in general, for most situations, a brain death diagnosis is both “reliable and reasonable” when it is used to determine whether to cease care, such as a ventilator, to a patient. 

Golder noted, however, that the realities of a brain death diagnosis can leave doctors, family members, and observers uneasy. 

This is mainly because brain death often does not “look” like death, as a patient declared brain dead may still appear to be breathing, exhibit involuntary functions such as sweating, and may even grow and develop. 

Harvard ethicist Robert Truog, who does not believe that brain death necessarily represents biological death, has noted that “In some cases — particularly involving children and otherwise healthy young adults — patients diagnosed as brain-dead can actually survive biologically many years, provided they receive basic life support like mechanical ventilation and tube feedings.”

The bodies of brain-dead patients are sometimes given anesthetics while their organs are harvested, and may exhibit involuntary movements. 

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences addressed this in its 2008 paper stating that “the ventilator and not the individual, artificially maintains the appearance of vitality of the body. Thus, in a condition of brain death, the so-called life of the parts of the body is ‘artificial life’ and not natural life. In essence, an artificial instrument has become the principal cause of such a non-natural ‘life’. In this way, death is camouflaged or masked by the use of the artificial instrument.”

The NCBC agrees, stating that despite the complete loss of brain function, “artificial support may cause the victim to appear alive visually and to the touch.”

The media, in reporting on brain death cases, often focus on this fact.  

One highly publicized case is that of Jahi McMath, a 13-year old California girl who in December 2013 suffered a brain hemorrhage after complications following routine tonsil surgery. 

Five physicians- two at Children’s Hospital Oakland and three independent doctors requested by the family- declared McMath brain dead based on tests showing no blood flow to her brain and no signs of electrical activity after performing an EEG.

McMath’s family contested the diagnosis, and in January 2014 the hospital released her. The girl’s family took her to an undisclosed location— reportedly in New Jersey— for treatment where, the family claims, McMath continued to live and grow with the help of a feeding tube. Videos posted online show McMath occasionally exhibiting movement, such as twitching her foot. 

In June 2018, McMath’s family said that the teenager had died, citing “complications associated with liver failure.” 

The NCBC has said in the past that in cases where a patient declared brain dead has ultimately recovered or improved indicates an incorrect diagnosis of brain death in the first place.

“Stories of people continuing on a ventilator for months or years after being declared brain dead typically indicate a failure to apply the tests and criteria for determination of brain death with proper attentiveness and rigor,” said Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, director of education for the center, in a 2005 information sheet.

“In other words, somebody is likely to have cut some corners in carrying out the testing and diagnosis.”

Why Catholics should care about the proposed UDDA changes

Zalot said while in principle having uniform guidelines is a good thing, it is worth asking whether the AAN guidelines, as proposed by the authors of the revisions, are the best guidelines to use. 

The proposed changes to the UDDA seem, Zalot said, to militate against moral certitude that a person is dead by making certain confirmatory tests unnecessary. 

“It certainly gives the appearance of cutting corners,” he said. 

Joseph Eble, a private practice doctor and president of the Tulsa Guild of the Catholic Medical Association, told CNA he worries that a shift away from anything less than the most rigorous standards for diagnosing brain death could make it harder for Catholics to be morally certain that a person has in fact died. 

While the AAN guidelines do acknowledge that brain death diagnoses are complex and ought only be done by a doctor with considerable skill and experience, the guidelines also state that tests such as an EEG are not required for pronouncing brain death. 

“The AAN Guidelines require only clinical testing at the patient's bedside for a declaration of BD, even though more advanced testing could reveal persistent brain function which bedside testing could miss,” Eble said. 

Eble says he worries that making such tests optional under law will make it easier for doctors to diagnose brain death in patients who have a chance of recovery if their organs were not harvested and they were given additional time. 

In his 2000 address, St. John Paul II stressed the importance of only removing organs from people who have definitively died. 

The pope’s speech built upon his writing in the 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae, in which he decried any practice whereby “organs are removed without respecting objective and adequate criteria which verify the death of the donor,” calling such a practice a form of “furtive...euthanasia.”

Once again, the issue of organ transplantation, which is a lucrative business, complicates the matter. 

According to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which launched an investigation into corruption in the organ transplant industry in December 2020, many of the nations 58 organ procurement organizations have exhibited problems such as waste, “exorbitant executive pay,” and lobbying against reforms. 

While organ donation and acceptance is allowed and even laudable for Catholics, care must be taken to ensure that the patient is in fact dead. 

The NCBC states that it is acceptable for Catholics to receive transplanted organs from brain dead donors, as long as there is moral certainty that the diagnosis has been made with “rigor.”

'It's really important'

Eble said he hopes Catholics will carefully consider the topic of brain death.

“It would be most helpful if the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and ultimately the Magisterium, could issue a clarification of that Address based on a careful study of the medical aspects of BD (in particular the AAN guidelines) in light of the essential elements of the Church’s anthropology. Such a clarification would help to dispel the confusion among Catholics with respect to BD,” Eble wrote along with Dr. Doyen Nguyen in a March article for the Homiletic and Pastoral Review

Golder noted that making the decision to discontinue treatment and let an illness run its natural course— whether the patient has been declared brain dead or not— is never easy, and should be done in close collaboration with a trusted doctor, she said. 

“Don’t be shy about asking for someone to help guide and interpret. It’s really important,” she said. 

“Ask the doctor to explain how the process [of declaring brain death] works, as different places have different protocols. There are no ‘silly’ questions—ask whatever comes to mind.”

Catholic families should understand that most doctors are doing the best they can when it comes to diagnosing death. The rest, she says, is in God’s hands.

Report: some countries used pandemic to target religious minorities

Oct. 15, 2020: Demonstrators in Manhattan protest the treatment of Orthodox Jewish communities during COVID-19 / Ron Adar/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

Some countries used the COVID-19 pandemic to target religious minorities last year, a federal commission revealed on Wednesday.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal commission, released its 2021 Annual Report on Wednesday. Among its findings, USCIRF said that some governments targeted religious minorities through misinformation campaigns or with disproportionate restrictions during the pandemic.

USCIRF Chair Gayle Manchin, who is also the wife of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), told reporters on a Wednesday press call that “in many cases, these [public health] measures complied with international human rights standards,” but in some places they did not. 

“There were countries that blamed COVID-19 on a particular religion,” adding, they used the pandemic “as an excuse,” she said.

In Sri Lanka, for example, the report said, authorities required the cremation of those who died from COVID-19, including Muslims, “for whom the practice is religiously prohibited.” 

However, the World Health Organization found there is a lack of evidence to support the claim that the cremation of deceased COVID-19 victims is necessary “for public health reasons.” The report said that Sri Lanka’s requirement was lifted earlier this year. 

The report added that authorities in Vietnam arrested members of the Ha Mon religious group, accusing them of “sabotaging implementation of solidarity practices.” In Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, officials blamed Shi’a religious communities for the spread of COVID-19, “and subjected some neighborhoods and localities to stricter lockdown measures.”

Johnnie Moore, USCIRF commissioner, told reporters that anti-Semitism in Europe and other parts of the world increased as the virus spread. 

“We saw all over the world, the Jewish community in particular targeted,” Moore said, adding that “egregious” and “unconscionable tropes” blamed the Jews for the pandemic. 

Manchin said the commission will monitor COVID restrictions and make sure that, as they are lifted, “they are lifted fairly across the country.” 

USCIRF reports on the state of international religious freedom and global religious persecution, and advocates for the release of prisoners of conscience. 

Regarding the imprisonment of people for their religious or conscientious beliefs, there were positive trends on this issue last year, USCIRF noted. Amid an effort to reduce prison populations as part of COVID-19 public health responses, several countries furloughed or sent to house arrest some prisoners of conscience. 

In addition to noting China’s abuses of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang - actions that the United States has determined to be “genocide” - USCIRF warned about China’s increasing influence abroad. China has harassed and even successfully worked to repatriate Uyghur refugees and others who have fled repression in China, the commission said.

“While the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) policies and actions have resulted in severe persecution of religious groups within China’s borders, its growing overseas influence and activities also negatively affected religious freedom and other human rights far beyond,” USCIRF said.

Manchin and USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins, who is also president of the Family Research Council, were among US officials recently sanctioned by the Chinese government for their criticisms of Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs.

“I feel flattered to be recognized by Communist China for calling out genocidal crimes against religious and ethnic minorities in the country,” Manchin told Reuters in a March statement.

On Wednesday, the commission listed 14 countries with the worst records on religious freedom, recommending them to the State Department to be listed as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs). The designation is reserved for countries with government policies that foster “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations” of religious freedom. 

Of these countries, 10 are already designated by the State Department as CPCs - Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. USCIRF recommended that four other countries be added to the CPC list - India, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam. 

The report also recommended 12 countries for placement on the State Department’s Special Watch List for “their governments’ perpetration or toleration of severe violations” of religious freedom. These countries included Cuba and Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.

Syracuse diocese to hold Mass for Healing amid nearly 400 sex abuse claims

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Syracuse, New York / Mahmoud Masad/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2021 / 13:22 pm (CNA).

The Diocese of Syracuse will hold a Mass for Healing on April 29 after nearly 400 sex abuse claims involving the diocese have been filed.

“One victim of sexual abuse is too many,” said an April 19 letter from Bishop Douglas Lucia of Syracuse to his diocese. “And so, to see the number ‘371’ is particularly disheartening and of the greatest concern for me because of the damage done both directly and collaterally,” he said of the 371 claims that had been filed under the state’s Child Victims Act.

Lucia said that he is renewing his commitment and that of the Diocese of Syracuse to assist survivors of sexual abuse with their healing. 

“We seek to make amends for the wrong and sinful behavior perpetrated against you and cannot apologize enough for the failure to protect you from your abusers,” said the bishop. 

New York’s Child Victims Act created a one-year extension of the statute of limitations for old sex abuse cases; originally scheduled to close in August 2020, the one-year period was extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will close at the end of August 14, 2021. 

However, a bankruptcy court determined April 15 as the closing date for abuse claims to be filed against the Syracuse diocese. In preparation for the deluge of lawsuits under the Child Victims Act, Lucia filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last June. 

In the letter, Bishop Lucia said it was “of particular concern” how the diocese “could respond in a just and fair manner to the claims of sexual abuse arising from the NYS Child Victims Act.” 

At the time of the filing, around 100 lawsuits had been filed against the diocese. 

The “next phase” of this reorganization will begin now that all abuse lawsuits have been filed, said Lucia. The phase will involve the diocese meeting with insurance companies and the creditors committee, with the goal of compensating victims of abuse while moving on from bankruptcy.

“Over the course of the coming months, I ask you to pray with me for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as both Advocate and Consoler for this work, so that it may bear much healing and fruit for those involved,” said Lucia. 

“Particularly, I seek a reasonable way to assist the victims of child abuse in the Diocese of Syracuse which fosters restoration and renewal in their lives as children of God,” he said. 

Lucia added that a Mass for Healing will be held at the cathedral on April 29, the end of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. He said that there will be a special blessing during the Mass for survivors of abuse, and that he “will particularly pray for the gifts of healing and fortitude for all victims of crime and oppression.” 

“Having just celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday, I again place our diocesan family under the loving care of the Sacred Heart of Jesus praying that He will make our hearts more like His through this time of purification and reparation,” said Lucia. 

“Please know my prayers for you and your loved ones continue and I ask humbly for your prayers for all victims, as well as for me and the Church of Syracuse.” 

'Cleanse our land': U.S. bishops call for prayer, action to end racism after Chauvin verdict

CHOOGKY/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Bishops across the United States on Tuesday and Wednesday responded to the guilty verdict for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, in the trial for the murder of George Floyd.

Two chairs of committees at the U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) issued a joint statement on Tuesday evening, after a jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.

“The death of George Floyd highlighted and amplified the deep need to see the sacredness in all people, but especially those who have been historically oppressed,” read a statement by Bishop Shelton Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, chair of the USCCB’s anti-racism committee, and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chair of the USCCB’s domestic justice and human development committee.

“Whatever the stage of human life, it not only matters, it is sacred,” the bishops said.

The trial of Derek Chauvin began on March 8. He was arrested on May 29, 2020, and charged with third-degree murder for the killing of George Floyd, a 46 year-old Black man.

Chauvin and three other police officers held Floyd in custody on the evening of May 25, in Minneapolis, after Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a nearby store. Video taken by bystanders showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd lay handcuffed on the ground. Floyd was audibly gasping and moaning, and complaining that he could not breathe; toward the end of the video, he appeared unconscious.

After an ambulance arrived and transported Floyd to the hospital, he was declared dead. The killing sparked mass protests and riots around the United States against racism and police brutality.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis, joined by bishops of the five other Minnesota dioceses, called for civility and prayer on Tuesday afternoon before the verdict was announced.

In the wake of Tuesday’s verdict, the first African-American cardinal called for Catholics to fight racism without violence.

“As the Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us and the life example of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. showed us, it is the virtue of charity, non-violence, prayer, and working together that moves us toward reconciliation and true healing from trauma we have experienced,” stated Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

“May we choose to respond with civility and respect for the dignity of all of our brothers and sisters, as we continue the work of rooting out all injustices and systemic racism in our society,” Cardinal Gregory stated.

U.S. bishops called for prayer and action to end racism. “Let us pray that through the revelation of so much pain and sadness, that God strengthens us to cleanse our land of the evil of racism which also manifests in ways that are hardly ever spoken, ways that never reach the headlines,” Bishop Fabre and Archbishop Coakley stated.

“Let us not lose the opportunity to pray that the Holy Spirit falls like a flood on our land again, as at Pentecost, providing us with spiritual, emotional, and physical healing, as well as new ways to teach, preach, and model the Gospel message in how we treat each other,” the bishops said.

The archbishop of Baltimore, where racial tensions and riots flared in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, said that the verdict should prompt Catholics to fight racism.

“As citizens, we must insist on the elimination of all forms of racism in our societal structures. Let us take personal responsibility in overcoming racism, prejudice, and other injustices,” said Archbishop William Lori.

Other bishops said that police officers must be held accountable for their actions.

“When officers fail to live up to their responsibilities, they should be held accountable, as it respects the victims of their actions as well as the reputation of their fellow officers,” Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia stated.

Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky, called the verdict “a long overdue result that finally brings justice for a Black victim of a brutal killing by police.”

“There are many other families who are longing for this kind of justice and recognition of the worth of the lives of their loved ones; we must work to make this verdict the norm rather than the exception,” he said.

The archbishop of Philadelphia recounted the “overwhelming” grief that followed Floyd’s death, and decried “the mortal sin of racism.”

“I pray that the Holy Spirit stirs up a desire in our hearts to look for solutions to the problems we encounter,” Archbishop Nelson Perez stated on Tuesday.

The USCCB vice president, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, said that “social injustices still exist in our country and that together we must peacefully rebuild what hatred and frustration has torn down.”

Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis stated on Tuesday that "Mr. Floyd’s family said they want peace and do not want to see any further violence."

"Racism is not a thing of the past and we all must continue to work and pray that the God-given dignity of all people, especially those in our country whose voices have not been heard adequately, will be respected," he said.

This story was updated on April 21.

Fargo diocese investigating vandalism outside cathedral

Cathedral of St. Mary, Fargo, North Dakota / Cathedral of St. Mary

Washington D.C., Apr 21, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).

The Diocese of Fargo and the Fargo Police Department are investigating an incident of vandalism outside the cathedral last weekend.

A statue of Jesus in front of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo was defaced with black paint on its face. The diocese said it did not know exactly when the vandalism occurred overnight between Friday, April 16, and Saturday, April 17. 

By Monday, the paint had been removed, however. The diocese said it did not know who removed the paint, and would look for any permanent damage done to the statue. 

The marble statue was originally sent to the cathedral from a parish in Cincinnati which had closed. The Diocese of Fargo installed the statue outside of St. Mary’s Cathedral in May 2018. 

A spokesperson for the diocese told the local news station KVLY that the diocese would be praying for the person who committed the vandalism, hoping that he or she would “someday have an encounter with the face of Christ themselves.”

This is the second act of vandalism at a Catholic church in the Fargo area in recent years. In 2018, a statue of the Virgin Mary was decapitated at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in South Fargo. 

The incident follows a series of acts of vandalism and arson at U.S. Catholic churches last year, which has continued into 2021.

In January, someone attempted arson at the cathedral of the Diocese of Toledo, painting the message “Jesus is Black” on the outside wall and causing an estimated $5,000 in damage.

Other churches and statues were targeted and defaced throughout 2020, including numerous statues of St. Junipero Serra in California which were torn down or vandalized. In Brooklyn, a man toppled a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe outside a church; the Knights of Columbus donated $10,000 for a replacement statue, which was installed on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

A historic mission church in California was destroyed by fire in a suspected case of arson, another church in Florida was set on fire with parishioners inside, and St. Mary’s basilica in Minneapolis was damaged by fire.

Senator Joe Kennedy (R-La.) wrote Attorney General William Barr in August, asking the Justice Department to prosecute acts of church vandalism and increase its prevention efforts. 

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) also wrote to Barr, asking him to respond to the targeting of churches.

“Since June, there have been nearly a dozen reported attacks on Catholic churches around the nation. These disturbing attacks range from arson to the beheading of a statue of the Virgin Mary,” he wrote. 

“I find these attacks to be a disturbing trend, happening in multiple areas across the nation, including within my own congressional district,” he said.