APRIL 27, 2008, Vol 58, No 9

WE ALREADY KNOW that human cybrids are embryos fabricated with enucleated animal eggs and the nucleus of a human body cell. Concretely the cybrids already produced in the U.K. are made with the nucleus of human cells inserted into cow’s eggs. These embryos will be terminated when their harvest of embryonic stem cells are removed for the sole purpose of research on the said cells. We also know that Singapore scientists want to make human cybrids and that the Bioethics Advisory Commission (BAC) is seeking a response from the Singaporean public to know what is their opinion on this issue.

What is striking is the passivity of Singapore people. The overwhelming response from the general public seems to be sheer ignorance on what is happening or condescending silence.

We do not have an official document of the church on this particular topic. The pope himself cautioned that the church’s teaching "should not intervene on every scientific innovation" (Benedict XVI, "Speech to the CDF", Jan 31, 2008).

However, we are not lost. We have some ethical landmarks that help us find our bearings in this uncharted ethical territory.

To begin with, we should acknowledge that cybrids are human embryos. The Catholic Church in the U.K. issued a letter to be read in all parishes protesting against the fabrication of this mixture of human DNA and animal life.

U.K. scientists accused the church of misinterpreting the scientific status of human cybrids. Cybrids are not, they said, as the church seems to understand, half-cows half-humans. Stephen Minger, a scientist, contended that cybrids are "devoid of an animal genetic identity".

"The resulting embryo contains only human genes," scientists said.

Actually, that is not scientifically accurate since these cybrids will still preserve part of the cow’s DNA present in the mitochondria of the cow’s egg. But what matters for us here, is that cybrids are a kind of "human embryos" and it is precisely because they are human that they are so coveted for scientific research.

Secondly, we also know, from previous interventions of the teaching of the church on bioethical matters, that cloning is immoral. We know that not all transplants are ethical, concretely: "organs which embody the characteristic uniqueness of the person, which medicine is bound to protect" may not be transplanted ("The Charter for Health Care Workers", 1995, # 88).

Finally, we also know that experimenting with human embryos is morally wrong: "I condemn, [John Paul II said] experimental manipulations of the human embryo, since the human being, from conception to death, cannot be exploited for any purpose whatsoever" (AAS 75 (1983) 37).

Since cybrids are also human embryos, we can conclude that the fabrication of cybrids is incompatible with the teaching of the church in similar matters because cybrids are…

a kind of human cloning, because it clones a human into an animal egg

a kind of experimentation in an embryo that is genetically human

a kind of transferring human material that is intimately linked to the genetic identity of the person into an animal egg

For some, the spontaneous reaction is that scientists are playing God. However, the ‘playing God’ argument needs to be used and understood properly. There is nothing wrong with using science and technology per se. But we are not absolute lords of the universe, only "stewards" of God’s creation. So, how do we know when we have trespassed into the forbidden territory of "playing God" or we are still being stewards of creation?

Playing God is simply stepping where God alone can step in: dominion over the human person. The human person can never be used as a means to an end?and must always be respected and considered an end in himself (Kant). This is not a religious conclusion but the most basic ethical concept without which civilization itself collapses.

Because all humans are equal in dignity, when a person becomes the lord of the destiny of another human being, he breaches this fundamental ethical norm and erects himself as superior to his equals. He plays a forbidden game, not only because he usurps God’s?perogative, but also because he creates a divide of masters and slaves. Making cybrids is "playing God", not because it is an artificial research project but because when scientists fabricate, use and dispose of human cybrids, they take a position of dominion, and not one of respect, over human life.

What the church should announce today is not a sectarian private truth accessible only to believers but simply that we are all equal in dignity and that even scientific research should halt before the forbidden fruit of using human embryos, cybrids or otherwise. - Father David Garcia n

TORONTO – Spirituality is a major contributor to a child’s overall happiness – even more so than for adults – according to a new study from the University of British Columbia.

The study tested 315 children aged 9-12, measuring spirituality and other factors such as temperament and social relations that can affect an individual’s sense of happiness.

"Our goal was to see whether there’s a relation between spirituality and happiness," said Mark Holder, associate professor of psychology and the study’s co-author. "We knew going in that there was such a relation in adults, so we took multiple measures of spirituality and happiness in children."

Past studies have shown that in adults, spiritual feelings and higher levels of religious behaviour typically account for about five percent of a person’s overall happiness, said a UBC statement.

The results of the UBC study came as a surprise: 6.5 percent to 16.5 percent of children’s happiness can be accounted for by spirituality.

"From our perspective, it’s a whopping big effect," said Holder. "I expected it to be much less – I thought their spirituality would be too immature to account for their well-being."

Children in the study were asked to rate statements such as "I feel a higher power’s presence", and answer questions including, "how often do you pray or meditate privately outside of church or other places of worship?"

Parents were also asked to describe each child’s apparent happiness and spirituality, and teachers rated each child’s happiness level.

The study’s authors plan to conduct the same research in India to see whether children score similar results in a country not dominated by Christianity. -By Ron Csillag,  Religion News Service

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md. – Welcomed by U.S. President George W. Bush and an array of church officials, Pope Benedict XVI began his first pastoral visit to the United States as pope Apr 15.

The papal plane landed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The pope was to spend the next two days in Washington before travelling to New York Apr 18.

Although the two spoke privately for less than 10 minutes in a building on the air base grounds, neither Bush nor the pope delivered any formal remarks at the air base. The pope’s official welcome was to take place the next day at the White House.

It was the first time in his presidency that Bush had gone to Andrews to welcome any head of state. The air base has hosted more than 300 arrivals or departures by heads of state since 2006.

Joining the president in greeting Pope Benedict were first lady Laura Bush and the Bushes’ daughter Jenna.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said at an Apr 15 briefing before the pope’s arrival that Bush would tell the pontiff at the White House that "the hearts of the American people are open to the Holy Father’s message of hope".

Pope Benedict "will hear from the president that America and the world need to hear his message that God is love, that human life is sacred, that we all must be guided by common moral law, and that we have responsibilities to care for our brothers and sisters in need at home and across the world", Perino added.

Perino admitted that the pope and the president disagreed on issues such as the war in Iraq and the death penalty but said that "there is much more agreement between these two leaders than there is disagreement".

After Pope Benedict spoke privately with the president, he and Archbishop Sambi boarded a limousine that was to take them to the apostolic nunciature, where the pope was to spend the night. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Owing to our printing schedule, we will only be able to cover the pope’s U.S. visit in detail in the next issue of CatholicNews. Below is a report of what the pope said in an early April statement about his visit to the U.S. and United Nations.

SHAH ALAM – The location for which the permit to build the Church of the Divine Mercy was granted (after 25 years), was questioned by a parishioner. The church as a place of worship deserves to not be in an industrial area amidst factories and a cross should be allowed atop the building too, he said.

YB Khalid Abdul Samad agreed that "churches (like mosques or temples) should be where Christians are living in a community. As a general rule, I see no problem with a cross being erected; after all it is a church," he reiterated. "But if there are other reasons, I will find out and see what I can do."

On the issue of processions, he said there is no reason why permits should be denied and if the issue is brought up in Parliament, he assured that the Barisan Rakyat will support the request for such processions.

Another parishioner told YB Khalid it was disheartening that Shah Alam being a "city", did not have land allocated for a Christian cemetery.

YB Khalid replied that he did not see why not. "This is an unfortunate situation with our ‘passed’ government," he said. "They just want to prove that they are staunch Muslims. You don’t become good Muslims by preventing other people from practising their religion."

He added that even Muslims have been victims of BN, like when they stopped giving each student RM60 in Islamic schools.

Another parishioner expressed his concern about the use of the word "Allah" being an offence.

YB Khalid said, "in Arabic, ‘Allah’ means God. ‘Allah’ comes from the word ‘Al Illah’. ‘Illah’ means something that you worship. ‘Al’ means ‘the’. Therefore ‘Al Illah’ (or ‘Allah’ for short) simply means ‘the item of worship’. Even before the coming of Prophet Mohammed, the word ‘Allah’ was used, simply because it means God".

"So if you ask me whether you can use the word ‘Allah’, I would say ‘yes’," he emphasized. "It is even not a problem for non-Muslims to use the word ‘Assalamualaikum’ because it simply means ‘Peace’."

He then spoke of a Christian priest referring to God by ‘Allah’ on TV when he was in Jordan.

"The problem here again is the ignorance within the Muslim community itself, thanks to BN. You have to give us some time to educate the Muslims. We have 50 years of ignorance to repair."

A parishioner suggested that open spaces in Shah Alam be gazetted as there was a lot of misuse of power by developers and local council members.

To this YB Khalid stated that people appointed to the local council must have a strong sense of responsibility to look after the public interest. "I can give you my assurance that these open spaces will be protected," he said.

On the Barisan Rakyat coalition government, YB Khalid said that the three parties working together will put their differences aside as the people have given them the responsibility of governing the state. "We are now a government by consensus... it is a very good opportunity for us to show... that Malaysians deserve a good, righteous and clean government. We have started on a basis of a lot of compromise and we will find a common ground that will keep us together."

On the issue of exposing rumours of corruption, YB Khalid stated that "it won’t be too much problem to expose the corruption, but hopefully we won’t get too bogged down going after them as we have to do our jobs as well".

On the issue of the segregation of race and religion, YB Khalid stressed that "one of our policies will be that there should be no attempts to discriminate against any community or individual because they are of a particular race or community".

The issue of public morality was raised by a parishioner who said it was "plain wrong for anyone to profess their moral values on other religions" referring to people being summoned for a public display of affection.

YB Khalid simply said, "There must be a level of public morality that needs to be upheld. If couples say that it is their right how they want to display their affections, then the public also has the right not to see how you display it." He added this issue will be further discussed as a fine line needs to be drawn.

On the economy, he assured that there will be no problems as Selangor is a rich state and that the people will see a difference in the next few months. On the media, he said, "we need an official media which is accurate, reliable and responsible.

"The Internet is not the solution as it lacks accountability," he said.

He said the issue of discrimination in universities and job opportunities is due to "mismanagement and political interference" and promised to look into the facilities of vernacular schools that are lacking behind others.

YB Khalid ended the dialogue session by saying that "we need a new vision for the country.

"Maybe, in Selangor we can show the way," he said. "We must show that the variety that exists in Malaysia is a blessing. This is the challenge for us… to achieve a multi-racial, multi-religious united nation." - By Jacelyn Johnson, Herald

SINGAPORE – Five Catholic Chief Commissioners of Scouts attended Mass at Church of St. Mary of the Angels and met the Franciscan Scouts, a Catholic Venture Scouts troop based in the parish. Venture Scouts are for young people from the age of 14 to 18.

The commissioners were among 150 Chief Commissioners from various countries who came to Singapore in March to see why Singapore would be a good place to host the World Jamboree in 2015.

Their visit helped to build up the spirit of the Franciscan Scouts and encouraged them to know more about the international scouts movement, said Keenan Tan, Director of the parish’s Youth and Young Adults Office.

The Franciscan Scouts troop at the parish is only two months old but the scouts have have been integrating themselves into the life of the parish. They led the procession for Easter Vigil Mass in full uniform and helped to start the Easter fire to light the Paschal Candle.

As the ministry grows, it is finding new ways to engage the community and to enrich the lives of the youth. n