The Edges of Life

Grandpa and baby

The edges of life are controversial. On one side there are the debates about contraception, abortion and in vitro fertilisation. At the end of life the debates are about euthanasia, organ transplantation, and its cousin, brain death.

Trauma surgeon Peter Rhee is rewriting the rules on brain death. Normally when we see this, it’s someone wanting to declare people dead sooner so their organs can be harvested for transplantation into other sick patients. Peter Rhee is taking the definition in the other direction.

While Dr Rhee’s name might not be that well known, some of his patients are. He was one of congresswoman Gabby Giffords doctors. Dr Rhee knows about death. He’s a trauma surgeon who has seen mass shooting patients in the United States. He’s also been to Iraq and Afghanistan to save the lives of soldiers, even going behind enemy lines to treat the injured. He’s even been selected as a personal surgeon to the president of the US on an overseas trip.

But it’s patients in the US that might be rewriting the rules on when death occurs. He’s part of a team that’s been experimenting on ‘suspended animation’, to save trauma patients. The team has permission to start human trials on trauma patients who have gone into heart failure and can’t be resuscitated by current techniques. The team will rapidly cool the patient’s body to 10°C (50°F), where metabolic activity slows almost to a stop. In this state, the heart is stopped, there is no breathing, and no detectable brain activity. This would be normally be considered clinical death. But the surgeons have 2 hours to repair their patient’s injuries before slowly warming them up and reviving them. If their prior work holds up in human trials, up to 90% of patients could survive the cooling and rewarming procedure itself.

And that 2 hours is time the surgeons wouldn’t normally have for life saving surgery. This technique will only work if they are able to apply it to the patient in the minutes after heart failure before brain damage starts to take place. Previous work has so far shown no brain damage or impaired function from the cooling and rewarming procedure. The team will be following their patients closely to see if this is also the case in the human trials.

Some of Rhee’s comments on the research and his clinical work are telling, “Every day at work I declare people dead. They have no signs of life, no heartbeat, no brain activity. I sign a piece of paper knowing in my heart that they are not actually dead. I could, right then and there, suspend them. But I have to put them in a body bag. It’s frustrating to know there’s a solution”.

Dr Rhee is saying that the current definition of death is inadequate and often premature. We often see that definitions of life and death are based on what is convenient. Some organs can only be ‘harvested’ from a ‘dead’ person where there is a heartbeat. Some of these ‘dead’ people have woken on the operating table, moments before their organs were going to be harvested.

Definitions also chip away at the other end of life too. Many medical and legal organisations now define ‘established pregnancy’ as starting at implantation, not conception (fertilisation). Once pregnancy is defined at implantation, and abortion is defined as ending a pregnancy, then emergency ‘contraception’ doesn’t cause ‘abortions’. And if you jump through the same linguistic hoops, hormonal contraceptives don’t cause abortions either. Despite the words and definitions, human embryos are still being destroyed by so called ‘contraceptives’.

The extreme view of this is held by Australian ethicist Peter Singer, and Nobel prize winning molecular biologist James Watson, who have stated that new-born infants shouldn’t be declared alive straight after birth. These frightening ideas were put forward to allow new-borns to be left to die, or even directly killed. Pro-abortion organisations have even opposed regulations that protect the life of a child born alive after abortion.

Given these developments, we should applaud the efforts of scientist and doctors where they are true to their profession and work to save lives, especially when they are able to save the life that couldn’t previously be saved.


The Pope praises Humanae Vitae

ImageEarly this week an interview of Pope Francis was run by a major Italian newspaper. As is typical with Pope Francis, he is relaxed with the media, and shows a great deal of skill and honesty with his answers. He’s not afraid of the tough questions, and says he even welcomes them when it’s a chance for dialogue.

The interview didn’t avoid any tough questions, it covered the sexual abuse scandal, divorce, remarriage and civil unions, globalisation, Marxism and many other topics.

He also touched on several topics of interest to the pro-life movement, including contraception, and end of life treatment.

He was asked on non-negotiable values, he was adamant that these values are essential. He rejected the idea that these values are like trading cards, which can be swapped and traded, while keeping a few favourites. He compares these ‘values’ to parts of his own body. In his own words:

I never understood the expression “non-negotiable values.” Values are values and that’s that. I can’t say which of the fingers of the hand is more useful than the rest, so I don’t understand in what sense there could be negotiable values. What I had to say on the topic of life I have put in writing in “Evangelii Gaudium.”

The Pope expresses much about values and morals in Evangelii Gaudium. He says that individual doctrines of the Church must be understood as part of the gospel, and joyfully expressed. This links these values to the whole of the Church’s teaching and to the person of Christ himself. So these ‘values’ are no longer dry doctrines, but a living, breathing expression of a Christian’s joyful faith.

The Pope praised Humanae Vitae:

It all depends on how the text of “Humanae Vitae” is interpreted. Paul VI himself, towards the end, recommended to confessors much mercy and attention to concrete situations. But his genius was prophetic, as he had the courage to go against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to apply a cultural brake, to oppose present and future neo-Malthusianism.

Pope PauI VI certainly had the courage to go against the majority. With more than 40 years of experience with contraception, it’s now obvious the damage that it’s causes. When Paul VI wrote Humanae vitae, that damage was much less obvious. But the Pope predicted it accurately. And despite this bold and prophetic proclamation of the truth, document is very gently written, with the heart of a pastor. I think it’s this that resonates with Pope Francis.

Pope Francis reminds us of the need for confessors to show “much mercy and attention to concrete situations”. This is reminiscent of the much misrepresented comments of Benedict XVI on condoms. It’s not a dilution of the teaching, but working with people to bring them to a full understanding of the truth. In many cases, it will not be an instant conversion. We don’t need to change any teaching or approve of any sin.

Pope Francis is also asked about end of life care for the people in a ‘vegetative state’. The Pope reiterated the Church’s teaching on end of life care. He also acknowledged that he isn’t a bioethicist, and the need for palliative care.

In these answers, Pope Francis has demonstrated that he is a “son of the Church”. He follows and protects the doctrines of the Church, but more than that, he wants to show us that they all come from the person of Christ. He wants to make these doctrines or ‘values’ make sense and have a meaning and purpose in the faith of the Christian.

And one year on into his Papacy, the world is still watching and taking notice. Let’s hope that they truly hear the message he preaches.

40 Days for Life

40 days of hopeImage

I remember during my early years at university becoming friends with an exchange student from West Germany. When she left her home country, a wall divided it from the communist country of East Germany, and people had been killed for trying to cross that wall. By the time her year in New Zealand was over, Germans could freely travel across the border between the two Germanys, and official German reunification had taken place within a year.

When she came to New Zealand, the fall of the Berlin wall was a distant hope, with few people expecting it to happen within their lifetime. It seemed beyond reasonable for the wall to fall.

But it did.

The flame of resistance within the eastern bloc countries had been lit a decade before when Pope John Paul II visited his home country of Poland. His battle cry, “Be not afraid”, gave the people of Poland hope. A hope that spread throughout Eastern Europe, and contributed greatly to the eventual collapse of communism in Europe.

That same battle cry was also for the pro-life movement which was always so close to his heart. We have the Lord himself on our side. No matter how strong the opponents of the ‘Culture of Life” might be, they cannot endure. No matter how strong they seem, or how much they influence government policy, they are running on borrowed time. In fact, the war against them has already been won. It was won on the cross.

And victories are happening.

In the US, there have been a record number of pro-life laws being passed1,2, and it’s bringing abortion rates down. Spain is considering ending abortion on demard3.

So how might an end of abortion look? Especially here in New Zealand?

We have seen the numbers and rates of abortions drop here and New Zealand and in the US as well. And the greatest declines in abortion rates are in the youngest age groups. We can expect this to continue.

There are already shortages of staff willing to participate in abortion4. And this has affected abortion services5. The 40 days for life program includes prayer for medical staff involved in abortion, and has seen 88 workers leave abortion providers. This is something that could easily happen in New Zealand, and we know there are abortion staff in New Zealand who have doubts about their jobs6. They need our prayer.

I have noticed a change in public perception of the pro-life movement. We are now seen as the ones who are helping women. The opposition is still there, and they can still dominate the political process and the media. But the general public are more open to the pro-life message than ever before. I’m constantly surprised by the people who are genuinely enthusiastic about our work helping expectant mums. As in Eastern Europe during the last years of communism, hope is rising. And I can feel the change.

There is still more work to do. More prayer and pro-life work is needed. But slowly the public is seeing that abortion isn’t the solution that they thought it was. One day they will see that it isn’t a solution at all.

We need to hope. We need to pray. And we need to “Be not afraid”.



Get involved: 40 days for life


1.            Johnson, J. Pro-life laws and clinic closures lowered abortion rate: CDC | LifeSiteNews (2013). at <>

2.            Johnson, J. ‘Record number’ of pro-abortion laws being introduced dwarfed by pro-life gains, legal expert says | LifeSiteNews (2014). at <>

3.            Metaxas, E. Restricting abortion, Spanish style | LifeSiteNews at <>

4.            Board forced to bring outsiders to staff abortion facility -. CathNews N. Z. (2012). at <>

5.            Hill, M. Abortion clinic opens in secrecy to protect staff. (2012). at <>

6.            Whelan, M. A day at the clinic. The Wireless at <>

A Pro-life view of ‘Tolerance’

“Tolerance is the virtue of a man without convictions.” G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

Something about ‘tolerance’ has always made me uncomfortable. I’ve long been aware that the loudest preachers of tolerance are the ones who are the most intolerant of my own beliefs. I’m well aware of that, and the contradiction of it, but somehow it never really was the reason.

And those who preach tolerance are full of conviction. It’s their followers who they expect to abandon their convictions, or conform to what is politically correct. We all know plenty of them. I’ve also been aware of this for a long time, but it was never the whole source of what was bothering me about ‘tolerance’.

There was always something else that I could never put my finger on.

Then I was blessed enough to hear Fr Jim Brand from Vatican radio talking about ‘tolerance’, and my eyes were opened. “What might we tolerate?” he asked, “A fly buzzing around…”

Essentially he was reminding us all that when we only ‘tolerate’ something bad or irritating. When we declare our tolerance of a person, it’s actually a put down. And that’s a problem for a Christian. The worth of each and every person comes from them being made in the image and likeness of God. Whether it’s a ‘reproductive rights’ protestor, an expectant mum at a pregnancy centre, or her preborn child. Another human being is never a ‘thing’ to be ‘tolerated’, but a chance for us to practice our Christian vocation of love.

So tolerance is far below the standard required of a Christian. If an expectant Mum came into our centre, and I merely tolerated her because of her beliefs about abortion, then I have failed her, myself and our Lord.

Her, because she will pick up the difference between a ‘tolerant’ attitude and a true Christian attitude of unconditional love. It’s the reason that faith based crisis pregnancy centres have been so effective. I’ve failed myself because I’ve failed to live up to my Christian vocation, and it doing so, I’ve failed our Lord too.

But there is the call to be intolerant. Yes, Christians are called to be intolerant. Our Lord himself showed a great deal of intolerance towards the practice of ‘money changing’ in the temple.

While we are not to be intolerant of people, there is plenty we are called to be intolerant too: Abortion, contraception, poverty, human trafficking, violence and anything that robs people of their God given dignity.

It’s our mission and vocation to bring the Gospel of Life, a world where everyone experiences God given grace and dignity, from conception to natural death. And it’s our job to be intolerant to a culture of death that robs people of their God given dignity, and then so often, their lives too.

And in this, may we never be that man without a conviction!

“All men are equal as all pennies are equal, because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the King.” G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

With forty years of pro-life service in New Zealand, nineteen as the director of Family life International NZ, I have gained a little experience and, please God, just a little wisdom over the years as to the means the ‘dark one’ employs to cause disharmony and dissention amongst well meaning, good intentioned people who truly all want to serve God through working for a Culture of Life in this nation and beyond.

This year we have seen at least three priests from USA who have been or are deeply involved in the pro-life movement attacked and maligned . Some people think it their duty to join the frey, blogging and speaking about these priests and others whom they judge to have perceived weaknesses, often with little facts to base their accusations on. It is grossly unfair to all parties to spread gossip etc over the internet and further the grief already caused. Nobody knows the true facts and these matters are between the priests, their bishops and their Maker.

It is most unfortunate to read blogs from here in NZ showing photographs of the priests and writing as judge and jury. This causes more distress and concerns to an already hurting church.

It is timely I believe to reflect on the words of St Josemaria Escriva. (Christ is Passing By 72)

“And let us resolve never to become sad if our upright conduct is misunderstood by others. If the good which, with the continuous help of Our Lord, we try to accomplish is misinterpreted by others, who delight in unjustly guessing at our motives and accuse us of wicked designs and deceitful behaviour. Let us forgive always, with a smile on our lips. Let us speak clearly, without hard feelings, when in conscience we think we ought to speak. And let us leave everything in the hands of our Father God, with a divine silence- “Jesus was silent”- if we are confronted with personal attacks, no matter how brutal and shameful they might be. Let us concern ourselves only with doing good deeds. God will see to it that they “ shine before men”.”

Therefore my friends I implore each and everyone of us who aspire to promote the Culture of Life in this country to be firstly concerned with our own souls and then to try as best we can with the grace of God to serve our brothers and sisters. Do not waste precious time in being diverted by the unfortunate circumstances of others.

The daily post on this site throughout this pro-life month of October of pro-life quotes and encouragements are meant precisely for this purpose.

Think Locally: Act Globally … be a part of the global movement for Life!

We often think that the abortion problem rears its ugly head only on our own back doorstep. Naturally we are deeply concerned that here in God’s own we are witnessing the destruction of at least 48 babies through abortion every day … not to mention the hurt, pain and sorrow and the major changes that abortion brings to a woman’s life.

Did you know that beyond our waters the abortion and anti-life culture greatly influences what happens down here in regard to the consistent destruction of human life?  We are subject to the anti-life culture of the IPPF, FPA, the United Nations and the governments of all countries throughout the world. These are just some examples:

  • China’s one child per family policy results in forced abortion being performed day
  • India commits genocide by aborting female babies in the womb
  • Over 90% of children diagnosed with Down Syndrome are targeted for abortion in the UK and now NZ
  • Medical and chemical abortions are on the rise in Europe and other developed countries
  • Ru486 is pushed here in NZ
  • 115,000 babies are aborted daily worldwide! That’s 79 children per minute. Enough to empty around four kindy classes every 60 seconds

We need to join together and fight this holocaust at every turn with prayer and sacrifice as the basis from which we work. Grounded in these we are ready for action and FLI has great initiatives lined up for changing the culture here in God’s own and beyond, as we network and learn from the real experts around the globe.

2012 marks the 20th anniversary of Family Life International NZ. We will be celebrating throughout the year and working harder than ever to promote the Gospel of Life. We are lining up the very best presenters to address our huge conference on Life,  Faith and Family.  ‘Wisdom of the Ages’ will be at the Bruce Mason Centre 21-23 September 2012. MARK YOUR CALENDARS NOW!!! Spread the word.

You can Google some of the confirmed speakers:

John-Henry Westen from Life Site News. He is a most powerful speaker and a genuine person.  Fantastic!

Sister Paula Vandegaer of Life Services. Sister has many years experience and 44 crisis pregnancy centres throughout the States!

Barbara McGuigan, from Voice of Virtue.

We also have a fantastic line-up for the youth event, so come and be informed and inspired. Come together to be an integral part of the global movement for Life!

As our speakers are confirmed we will advise you. In the meantime if you have any great ideas for FLI’s conference please let us know. Our organising team will be really pleased to hear from YOU.

Together we can make a difference.

Eight Reasons to Consider Having One More Child

“Behold, children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Psalm 126 (127)

Many years ago, Fr Paul Marx, OSB, founder of Human Life International (and Family Life International NZ) wrote a booklet entitled “Eight Reasons to Consider Having One More Child.”  These wonderful reasons to consider if God is calling you to welcoming another child into your family are no less out of date today.

So I share today with you the eight reasons Fr Marx gave us with his own words:  “Is God calling you to have another child?  Please read this short message with an open and prayerful heart, then decide.”

  1. Love of God.
  2. Each child is an everlasting expression of the unselfish love you have for each other in the commitment of marriage.
  3. The Western world is dying out.  We are no longer replacing ourselves.  New Zealand’s fertility rate in 1999 was 2.0.  (2.2 children per couple is required, practically that means three children per couple).
  4. Your trust and faith in God and your true generosity can be seen in the size of your family.  (That is not to say that those who have small families do not trust in God or are not generous – they may show this in other ways).
  5. The Western world is “rich”, we have high standards of living.  Do we really need all that we think we need?  If you cannot afford to have more children, who can?
  6. Children raised in a truly Christian home are your real insurance against loneliness in old age.
  7. You are more likely to have Religious Vocations from your family.
  8. Children from large (or larger) families usually are more considerate, thoughtful and caring.  Great preparation for adult life.

“…the Church encourages couples to be generous and hopeful, to realize that parenthood is a privilege and that each child bears witness to the couple’s own love for each other, to their generosity and to their openess to God. They must be encouraged to see the child as an enrichment of their marriage and a gift of God to themselves and to their other children.” (John Paul II to US Bishops, September 1983). 

Will you consider having one more child?