From left to right: Joseph Philips, vice-president of the UOttawa Medical Students for Life, Sr. Nuala Kenny and president David D’Souza following a talk on the challenges of being pro-life in a commercialized world. Photo by Thien-An Nguyen

Commercialism’s negative impact on abortion

By  Thien-An Nguyen, Youth Speak News
  • December 7, 2011

OTTAWA - With Christmas and the commercialization of the holidays, it is easy to get depressed about the consumerism in the modern world, said Sr. Nuala Kenny.

“Pay attention to the notion of commercialization and commodification because that’s the world in which we find ourselves,” said Kenny, a Sister of Charity of Halifax whose resumé includes work as a pediatrician and bioethicist at Halifax’s Dalhousie University. She is also an officer of the Order of Canada.

Essentially, this commercialization has led to a mindset of “I own things, I control things and the value of the things is totally dependent in turn by the person who wants them,” she said at a talk on the challenges of being pro-life in a commercialized world hosted by the UOttawa Medical Students for Life Nov. 28 at the University of Ottawa.

This consumeristic approach has had a profound impact on abortion.

As noted by Joseph Philips, 23, a second-year medical student and vice-president of the UOttawa Medical Students for Life, the fetus-embryo has been increasingly referred to as the “products of conception.”

For Kenny, this commercialization threatens the sanctity of all life, not only the anti-abortion cause.

“I just want to describe to you that my approach to pro-life issues is what in the Catholic tradition Cardinal (Joseph) Bernadin of Chicago called the ‘seamless web of life,’ ” she said.

Drawing from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Kenny said the web-of-life approach means a consistent recognition of the sanctity of all life and an understanding that we are all connected. For example, she condemned the inconsistency of pro-lifers who are also pro-death penalty.

She said this approach also involves addressing “the justice issues that create the environment that make the choices that people make seemingly the obvious ones” such as poverty and lack of education. By using this practical, consistent “web of life” philosophy to promote pro-life issues, Kenny believes it would be more effective in implementing the pro-life agenda and speaking “to the pluralist space in which we find ourselves.”

At the same time, Kenny recognized this approach is very counter-cultural. For instance, the current discourse about assisted death and its desire to eliminate unwanted pain “is a flagrant example of the only way we think is as consumers.”

However, even in something as individual as death, she believes this sense of connectedness is nevertheless relevant, citing a line from the Epistles in the Roman Catholic funeral right: “The life and death of each of us has its effect on all of us.”

As a medical professional, Kenny has dealt with many end-of-life care issues.

She’s “seen lots of deaths and lots of complex deaths.” But, she added, “When you see a good death, I’m telling you, you want to get down on your knees. You know there’s a God when you see a good death.”

This concept of a good death resonated with third-year medical student and UOttawa Med Students for Life president David D’Souza, 26, whose grandmother recently passed away.

He said that despite her pain, “Grandma always had a deep faith in Christ and, in her own way, she was showing us that we need not fear death, and that dying can be a profoundly dignified part of life.” He added that surrounded by family and friends, “Grandma was able to live joyfully, even amidst great suffering. She showed us how dying could be the greatest act of living.”

For Kenny, unlike the commercialized way of thinking which imposes a price on everything, the web of life challenges us to recognize that some things are truly priceless.

“Why do we respect life? Why do we respect the dignity of life from conception?” Kenny asked. “Because it is this precious thing that we believe is beyond worth. It does not have worth. It is above all human estimable value.”

(Thien-An Nguyen, 19, is a history and political science student at the University of Ottawa.)

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