Monday, March 31, 2008

Amy Julia Becker and Downs Syndrome of FT On The Square

A major annoyance of mine as a Catholic science teacher is when objections to certain kinds of research or medical procedures are brushed off as unscientific. The discipline of science has no internal means to judge the morality of any given experiment or treatment. Society can and certainly should limit unethical research. Indeed we do, which is why human trials are so difficult to conduct. There are lots of hoops to jump through to make sure it's relatively safe for the subjects involved. Amy Julia Becker shares a personal example at FIRST THINGS - On the Square:

I remember how I felt two hours after my daughter Penny was born, when I first found out that she had Down syndrome. I sifted through my brain for some scrap of information about this “thing” that had just happened to our family. All I could come up with was early death and mental retardation. The doctors didn’t help much. In the hospital, we received a list of all the things that might go wrong with our baby–heart defects, leukemia, Celiac disease, developmental delays. Despite the hundreds of thousands of people with Down syndrome in America, even the medical professionals didn’t seem to know much about it.


I heard a report on NPR about a new ethics recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG has stated that doctors unwilling to provide abortions have an obligation to refer their patients to another physician who will provide the procedure. In the words of the spokesperson on NPR, “if a physician has a personal belief that deviates from evidence-based standards of care . . . they have a duty to refer patients in a timely fashion if they do not feel comfortable providing a given service.” Studies show that women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 21 (the technical term for Down syndrome) terminate the pregnancy 85 percent of the time. Since new medical guidelines–“evidence-based standards of care”–suggest that all women, regardless of age, be screened for Trisomy 21, it is most likely that the number of prenatal diagnoses, and the number of terminated pregnancies, will increase. In other words, evidence-based standards of care result, more often than not, in the elimination of people like my daughter from our society.

As a result, I am somewhat skeptical about the standard of care offered to these mothers. I’m also skeptical when “personal beliefs” are pitted against evidence, therefore implying that a physician who is unwilling to perform an abortion has defied (“deviated” from) the evidence. I understand that many women face unbearably difficult choices in regards to the health of their babies. Some choose to terminate pregnancies because they have been given information about the near certainty of physical abnormalities leading to their child’s early death. And yet many women choose to terminate a pregnancy based upon probabilities, fear, and misinformation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Exult now O ye angelic throngs of the heavens

Fr. Zuhlsdorf has a beautiful recording of the Exsultet chant from Easter Vigil. This is my favorite chant of the year, stunning in its simplicity and strength.

Here is Fr. Z's translation. Download his podcast here.

Exult now O ye angelic throngs of the heavens:
Exult O ye divine mysteries:
and let the saving trumpet resound for the victory of so great a King.
Let the earthly realm also be joyful, made radiant by such flashings like lightning:
and, made bright with the splendor of the eternal King,
let it perceive that it has dismissed the entire world’s gloom.
Let Mother Church rejoice as well,
adorned with the blazes of so great a light:
and let this royal hall ring with the great voices of the peoples.
Wherefore, most beloved brothers and sisters,
you here present to such a wondrous brightness of this holy light,
I beseech you, together with me
invoke the mercy of Almighty God.
Let Him who deigned to gather me in among the number of the Levites,
by no merits of mine,
while pouring forth the glory of His own light
enable me to bring to fullness the praise of this waxen candle.

Deacon: The Lord be with you!
Response: And with your spirit!
D: Raise your hearts on high!
R: We now have them present to the Lord!
D: Let us then give thanks to the Lord our God!
R: This is worthy and just!

Truly it is worthy and just
to resound forth with the whole of the heart,
disposition of mind,
and by the ministry of the voice,
the invisible God the Father Almighty,
and His Only-begotten Son
our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who, on our behalf, resolved Adam’s debt to the Eternal Father
and cleansed with dutiful bloodshed the bond of the ancient crime.
For these are the Paschal holy days,
in which that true Lamb is slain,
by Whose Blood the doorposts of the faithful are consecrated.
This is the night
in which first of all You caused our forefathers,
the children of Israel brought forth from Egypt,
to pass dry shod through the Red Sea.
This is the night
which purged the darkness of sins by the illumination of the pillar.
This is the night
which today restores to grace and unites in sanctity throughout the world Christ’s believers,
separated from the vices of the world and the darkness of sins.
This is the night
in which, once the chains of death were undone,
Christ the victor arose from the nether realm.
For it would have profited us nothing to have been born,
unless it had been fitting for us to be redeemed.
O wondrous condescension of Your dutiful concern for us!
O inestimable affection of sacrificial love:
You delivered up Your Son that You might redeem the slave!
O truly needful sin of Adam,
that was blotted out by the death of Christ!
O happy fault,
that merited to have such and so great a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night,
that alone deserved to know the time and hour
in which Christ rose again from the nether world!
This is the night about which it was written:
And night shall be made as bright as day:
and night is as my brightness for me.
Therefore the sanctification of this night puts to flight all wickedness, cleanses sins,
and restores innocence to the fallen and gladness to the sorrowful.
It drives away hatreds, procures concord, and makes dominions bend.
Therefore, in this night of grace,
accept, O Holy Father, the evening sacrifice of this praise,
which Holy Church renders to You
in the solemn offering of this waxen candle
by the hands of Your ministers from the work of bees.
We are knowing now the proclamations of this column,
which glowing fire kindles in honor of God.
Which fire, although it is divided into parts,
is knowing no loss from its light being lent out.
For it is nourished by the melting streams of wax,
which the mother of bees produced for the substance of this precious torch.
O truly blessed night,
in which heavenly things are joined to those of earth,
the divine to the human!
Therefore, we beseech You, O Lord,
that this waxen candle, consecrated in honor of Your name,
may continue unfailing to dispel the darkness of this night.
And once it is accepted as a placating sacrifice,
may it be mingled with the heavenly lights.
Let the morning star meet with its flame:
that very star, I say, which knows no setting:
Who, having returned from the nether realm,
broke serene like the dawn upon the human race,
and now lives and reigns forever and ever.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Possible ocean under Titan's crust

Cool! (literally)

Last year, researchers reported that radar mapping of Titan by the Cassini spacecraft had found a peculiar shift in landmarks on the moon's surface of up to 19 miles (30 kilometers) between October 2004 and May 2007.

Now investigators say the best explanation is a moon-wide underground ocean that disconnects Titan's icy crust from its rocky interior.

"We think the structure is about 100 kilometers of ice sitting atop a global layer of water … maybe hundreds of kilometers thick," says Cassini scientist Ralph Lorenz of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

If confirmed, Titan would be the fourth moon in the solar system thought to contain such an internal water ocean, joining Jupiter's satellites Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. Researchers believe that heat from radioactivity in a moon's core or gravitational squeezing may melt a layer of frozen water.


Luckily, the group's model is testable. It predicts a quickening of Titan's rotation rate in the coming year or two followed by a slowdown—something that can be measured on succeeding Cassini flybys.

This last bit about the theory being testable makes this more interesting to me. It's a great example to share with students. My 6th grade class is beginning a unit on geology today after finishing a unit on astronomy. We'll be spending a good deal of time asking, "How do we know what is inside of Earth?" It's fascinating to observe scientists piecing together a model for another body in our solar system.