pope benedict is up in your gametes
pope benedict is getting behind a boycott of a referendum to discuss medically assisted fertility.
The referendum seeks to overturn key provisions in a law passed here last year that is the most restrictive on medically assisted fertility in Europe. The current law bans donations of sperm and eggs, defines life as beginning at conception, and allows fertility treatment only to married heterosexual couples.the article then drags in the hot-button terri schiavo case, as if there really is some comparison. apparently the church believes in the right to life... er, unless of course you are a single mother, or a gay couple. or what if your husband put his sperm in the bank and then died? what then benedict?
[thanks new york times]
May 31, 2005
In Political Step, Pope Confronts Law on Fertility
By IAN FISHER and ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
ROME, May 30 - Pope Benedict XVI waded gingerly into Italian politics on Monday for his first time, endorsing a call by Italian bishops for a boycott of a contentious referendum on medically assisted fertility.
The referendum seeks to overturn key provisions in a law passed here last year that is the most restrictive on medically assisted fertility in Europe. The current law bans donations of sperm and eggs, defines life as beginning at conception, and allows fertility treatment only to married heterosexual couples.
The effort to roll back many of those provisions is shaping up as an important battleground for the Roman Catholic Church, energized by a new pope with strong views on social issues. The Radical Party gathered more than a million signatures to force the referendum. Since then, the fight has raged for weeks in pulpits and in the press, with posters in the streets, advertisements on television and pamphlets in churches.
In his comments on Monday, Benedict raised the temperature a decisive degree by backing the strategy of Italian bishops, who have encouraged Italians to shun the referendum on June 12-13 in the hope of keeping the turnout under 50 percent, which would in effect preserve the law.
Many in Italy, which is overwhelmingly Catholic, support the law and the church's engagement to protect it. But others worry that the church is making a disturbing intrusion into politics.
"You are committed to illuminate the choice of Catholics and of all citizens in the imminent referendum on assisted procreation," the pope told Italian bishops at a conference at the Vatican.
While Benedict did not address the referendum in detail, his willingness to step into the fray seemed to show that he would continue the activist stance of his predecessor, John Paul II, on issues important to the church.
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and in his six weeks as pope, he has spoken often about the church's strong advocacy of preserving human life, particularly the unborn, and about the need for the church to take a more muscular stance against secularism. Those issues are central to the referendum.
"The question is tied very much to what happened in Spain, which was seen as another moment of this challenge," said Sandro Magister, an expert on the Vatican who is generally supportive of Benedict.
He referred to a recent bill in Spain allowing gay marriage that Catholics have loudly protested. Earlier this month, Benedict wrote a letter to Spanish bishops saying, "The transmission of the faith and religious practices cannot remain confined to the purely private sphere."
Mr. Magister, who writes for the weekly L'Espresso, also noted the church's rallying in defense of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman who died in March after her husband won a long battle to detach her feeding tube. "The fact that these battles are fought over real-life cases shows the centrality of these themes, and on these themes the church hierarchy has decided to energetically commit itself to reawaken the church," he said.
In Italy, the church and activist Catholics sense a good chance to win the referendum fight, saying they feel invigorated in a way that was not the case when intensive church lobbying failed to prevent divorce and abortion from becoming legal here in the 1970's and 80's.
The reasons seem some complex combination: the global attention and momentum generated by the papal transition, the willingness of Catholics here and elsewhere to speak out on issues like the Schiavo case, and a sense that religion in general and Catholics in particular are under siege and that the faithful need to take a strong stand.
"The debate has been reawakened," said Luisa Santolini, a member of the executive board of Science and Life, an umbrella organization for groups that want to keep in place Italy's new and restrictive fertility law. "What's happened now is that the Roman Catholic world is united."
While Ms. Santolini and church supporters deny it, opponents say the church is aiming at something more fundamental: repealing Italy's abortion law, which was the subject of a hard-fought referendum in 1981. A key section of the new fertility law defines life as beginning at conception - an idea that opponents say opens the door, by definition, to repealing the abortion law.
"If an embryo is already a human being, then of course you cannot commit abortion," said Giovanni Sartori, a retired Columbia University professor and a political columnist in Italy. "So it's the beginning of a long fight."
At a minimum, the fight over the referendum has tied politics here into an exquisitely baroque knot. Many top politicians are avoiding a firm stand, for fear of angering the many voters guided by the church or the generally secular but often disengaged public.
The foreign minister, Gianfranco Fini, is an exception. He has advocated repealing parts of the law, prompting an open rebellion in his own party.
As is often the case here, the issues, strategies and processes are all complicated. But the starting point is the law on medically assisted fertility passed early last year, under heavy lobbying from the Vatican and Pope John Paul II.
To combat the law - which opponents say has sent a stream of couples to fertility clinics elsewhere - the referendum would repeal crucial sections: those that define life as beginning at conception, ban donated sperm and eggs and surrogate parenthood, prohibit all research involving human embryos, and require for couples seeking in vitro fertilization that no more than three eggs may be fertilized at a time and that they must be implanted in the uterus together.
Church officials, starting with Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar of Rome and a close aide to Benedict, are urging Italians to boycott the referendum because any referendum that does not attract 50 percent of voters automatically fails. Therefore, critics argue, the referendum will be decided less on a discussion of the issues than on a legal quirk.
Several polls show that Italian voters largely support repealing the sections in question, but also that less than 50 percent will vote.
"How can you say this is the great threat of the 21st century, it's a question of life and death - and then tell people to go to the beach?" asked Daniele Capezzone, secretary general of the Radical Party.
The church and its supporters disagree: The church, they say, has a right to try to influence laws, and to win the fight. "Abstention is a strategy, not an escape route," said Bishop Giuseppe Anfossi of Aosta, in northwest Italy, who has been urging people not to vote in the referendum.
But the referendum has stirred up many conflicting emotions, even among committed Catholics.
A bank employee in Milan who says he is a churchgoer estimates that he and his partner have spent $20,000 trying to get her pregnant after a tumor left him sterile. The man, who asked that only his first name, Paolo, be used, said they had been forced to go to Greece, spending about $3,750 plus expenses, because the Italian law bans both the use of donated sperm and fertility treatments for unmarried couples.
While he said he supported parts of the law, he has been disturbed by what he sees as excessive pressure from the church.
"I was at a confirmation Mass recently, and at the end the priest urged people to abstain from the vote, and outside there were people handing out pamphlets," he said. "It's very invasive, it's become very political. Even though I'm Catholic, I've become very angry with the church. I think it's important to give people a choice."
The risk for the church, some experts say, is that it could appear even less relevant, for all the effort it is expending, if the referendum passes. But Mr. Magister, the writer on the Vatican, said the church would probably see the fight as an important stand at a vital time.
"Should they lose, it won't be a drama because they have already billed this as a battle that will take a century to fight, and it won't end here," he said. "The capital importance of the referendum is that it's a small skirmish in a battle that's continuing."