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Opinions contained in The Iona Blog are not necessarily those of The Iona Institute. The Iona Blog is open to anyone who broadly shares the views of The Iona Institute. If you wish to post a comment on a relevant topic please email 200 – 400 words to email@example.com and it will be considered for inclusion in the blog.
Iona Institute Director David Quinn was on Newtalk’s Moncrieff programme last week talking about surrogacy. In a long interview, Moncrieff and Quinn discussed the differences between surrogacy and gamete donation on the one hand and adoption on the other. Quinn asked Moncrieff to consider some of the unintended consequences that could come about through legislation for assisted reproductive technologies: he pointed out that it would be perfectly possible for a single man to commission a child through egg donation and surrogacy.
Wow. That was, essentially, my reaction upon first reading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ speech on marriage a the Vatican’s Humanum Conference (or the Colloqium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage, to give it its full name). This is one of the deepest, most profound defences of the institution of marriage that I’ve ever read. In fact, to call it a defence would be to do it an injustice: as evangelical pastor Rick Warren said at the same conference “It's not enough to defend marriage. You have to celebrate it.”
The American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) recent report lends more weight to the argument that marriage is good for your pocket. It argues that “changes in family formation and stability are central to the changing economic landscape of American families, to the declining economic status of men, and to worries about the health of the American dream.”
The Italian Supreme Court has decided that a couple who used a surrogate mother in Ukraine to have a child should not be allowed to raise the child. The child will be placed for adoption instead. The case shows how strict some European countries are about surrogacy. Ireland should follow suit.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar was on Shane Coleman's show on Newstalk, and questions raised by Iona came up in the discussion. Coleman asked Varadkar if he had considered following Germany, France and Sweden in banning surrogacy, and if he thought that surrogacy made a child the subject of a contract.
So, the government have won their surrogacy case in the Supreme Court. Birth mothers will remain legal mothers for the moment and will have their names recorded on the birth cert, but the Oireachtas will basically have the power to define the term, “motherhood” as the court rejected the State's argument that the legal principle mater semper certa est or “the mother is always certain” was a part of Irish common law. Not that the government will be complaining: it's not every day that a parliament gets to define a crucial biological and social reality as it pleases. Are the government likely to change course? It might seem unlikely: but consider the example of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
November 4th is a big day. Alongside Congressional elections, it hosts the Colorado Definition of Person and Child Initiative (“Amendment 67”), an initiated constitutional amendment. If approved by voters, the measure would include unborn human beings under the definition of “person” and “child” in the Colorado criminal code. Amendment 67 was initiated by Heather Surovik, whose son, Brady, was killed whilst in the womb. Heather was in a car accident, struck by a drunk driver. According to Healther’s doctor, Brady was “days” from being born – and had already reached 8.5 lbs. I admit, when I opened the article, I thought the picture was of a sleeping baby – such was his level of development.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan recently said that reforming the tax code to make it less unfair to single-earner married couples and to take more account of dependent children was simply not on the cards. Once a fierce opponent of Charlie McCreevey's tax individualisation policy, on the post-budget Sean O'Rourke programme he went to bat for it. It's bedded into the system now, he said. Can't be undone. Besides, “society has changed” and while individualisation may “treat people unfairly as families” it treats them “fairly as individuals.” Changing it would be expensive. It would be impractical. Might even be a bit... illiberal. Well, Canada have just done it.
Iona Institute director David Quinn was on Newstalk's Pat Kenny show debating assisted suicide with Tom Curran, partner of the late Marie Fleming. Curran is supporting a bill sponsored by Independent TD John Halligan which would legislate for assisted suicide based on the model adopted by the US State of Oregon.
There is a big push on to get the Government to pay for additional free ‘pre-school’ places when finances allow. There are two big arguments in favour of this. One is that it benefits children educationally, the other is that will help more women into the workplace. Two new studies from the UK call both of these arguments into question. One, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the University of Essex found that for every six children given a free nursery place, five would have been put in the nursery anyway.
The debate over same-sex marriage could be summed up as a debate between those who think it will redefine the institution in a way that will undermine the rights of children, and those who think it will merely expand it. Many same-sex marriage supporters argue that nothing about the character of the institution will change, that bringing same-sex relationships under the umbrella of marriage won't do anything to alter the institution that hasn't already been done by opposite-sex couples. I totally accept the sincerity of their argument, even if I disagree with their conclusion, and so I hope they'll join me in being rather concerned at the latest news from Scotland.
A while ago, a large study came out which indicated, among other things, that having a big wedding was correlated with having a happier marriage with less chance of divorce. At Iona, we wondered at the time if it was splashing out that really made the difference, or was it the number of guests? Well, now we have an answer. A new study finds that spending more money on your wedding ceremony, reception, and even engagement ring, is correlated with a greater chance of divorce.
Look at any futuristic movie – say Star Trek or Blade Runner – and you find one reliable consistency: massive cities, packed with Frank Lloyd Wright-esque mile-high skyscrapers. Why? Why would we need such density of building? If the West maintains its current attitude toward procreation, the future will look very different.
The straw man is an all-too-common feature of contentious debates. On one level, this is understandable: why engage with your opponent's actual argument when you can create another, weaker version of it which can be easily defeated or dismissed? The problem, of course, is that you never actually get anywhere: neither side understands the other, there's little to no possibility of anyone changing their mind, and the victorious side in the debate is simply the one most successful at misrepresenting the other. The straw man's brother, the steel man (which involves deliberately trying to engage with the strongest arguments your opponents put forward), is much rarer, but leads to much more fruitful discussions.
The tragic case of Dhara Kivlehan, who died of organ failure several days after giving birth by Caesarian section, is the latest in a number of cases where Irish hospitals disastrously failed pregnant women, many of them non-nationals. But there's something strange about the degree to which the Irish media seem to cover each of these stories. None of the other women who died seem to have received anything like the same amount of coverage as did Savita Halappanavar.
The Synod on the Family, convened by Pope Francis, begins in Rome this coming weekend. The Synod will look at the totality of the Church's teaching on marriage and the family, the challenges facing the family in various parts of the world, and what the Church can do to help families and better communicate its teachings on this vital matter. An open letter on the state of the family, signed by marriage experts and marriage advocates all over the world, has been sent to the members of the Synod.
I was reminded of the Terry Schiavo case from a few years back when I read about a recent study from the University of Western Ontario. But more on her later. Patients in what doctors call a “persistent vegetative state” may be much more aware of their surroundings than previously believed. The researchers provided strong evidence for intact conscious experiences in a brain-injured patient who had remained behaviourally nonresponsive for 16 years. So, good news, right? Findings such as these help form a more powerful argument against euthanasia. But be careful. By engaging in a science-says argument, we can also fall into a trap.
Every so often, you'll hear about some kind of policy move so utterly ridiculous that it's a wonder its advocates don't burst out laughing. The recent decision by the Californian State University system (CSU) is such a move. What did they decide? To remove recognition from the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship because they required their leaders to be Christian. Yeah.
Developmental biologist Prof Lewis Wolpert, writing recently in the Daily Telegraph, describes how, from conception, genes affect our gender roles. It's not simply nurture at work. Wolpert’s principle examples are well worth a read. But the arguments around the issue are even moreso. Today, solid, objective research is not enough to merit publication. Good research might not get published because it violates the canons of political correctness. And Wolpert shows how this socio-political pressure is affecting some of the field’s biggest names.
Study after study shows that children benefit when their parents are married. Ah, say the sceptics, is that because they’re married, or it is because married couples usually have more money and better parenting skills? Share those same benefits with other family forms and all will be well. Sweden provides a sort of controlled experiment for this point of view. Sweden has pushed the welfare state to its outer limits and has done more than any other society to eradicate poverty and its effects. But there still remains a big difference in Sweden between child outcomes for children raised by single parents and married parents.
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