Toxic Legacy

WHY THE ENVIRONMENT IS A LIFE ISSUE

Catholics have not been shy about recommending policies to the Obama administration, especially policies related to the much-contested “life issues.” But one issue of great consequence to the lives of children, born or unborn, has been largely overlooked by the most vocal Catholic activists: environmental health. Indeed, the environment and children's health are still often treated by activists as separate concerns, despite growing evidence that environmental conditions have caused an increase in some serious childhood diseases.

In his message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, 1990, Pope John Paul II signaled the emergence of a “new ecological awareness.” “People everywhere,” he observed, “are coming to understand that we cannot continue to use the goods of the earth as we have in the past.” And following Renewing the Earth, its 1991 statement on the environment, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops established a program aimed at educating Catholics on environmental stewardship, informing political action on related issues, and encouraging research on the theological foundations for an ecological ethic. The bishops called for a special emphasis on the vulnerability of children to environmental hazards.

Ecological crises affect everyone, of course; yet there are good reasons to focus on the special implications for children's health. According to a 2002...

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About the Author

Maura Ryan is John Cardinal O’Hara Associate Professor of Christian Ethics and Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs in the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame. Her most recent book, Health, Development and Human Rights: New Directions for Christian Bioethics, will be published by Georgetown University Press.