Lisa Fullam

Lisa Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).

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Hobby Lobby and Science

The Hobby Lobby decision exempted the corporation from providing insurance coverage for contraceptives it believed to be abortifacients. But is that belief true? And should it matter, especially as Catholic institutions decide whether to raise similar objections?

First, a clarification: two different definitions of what counts as an abortion are in play. In medical terminology, a woman is not considered pregnant until the developing embryo implants in the uterine wall, approximately a week after fertilization, (so on average about 7-10 days after ovulation.) Since one can’t have an abortion until one is pregnant, by medical standards contraceptives that block implantation by changing the uterine lining are not abortifacient. Roman Catholic magisterial teaching, on the other hand, holds that the developing embryo should be treated as a person from conception. Anything that blocks implantation would be considered abortifacient by those who believe that personhood starts with conception. In short, in medicine, “pregnancy” is a term that refers to the woman, while for many pro-life people and groups, it refers to the presence of an embryo.

The Hobby Lobby case focused on 4 means of contraception: Plan B and Ella, both forms of emergency contraception (EC) for use after unprotected sex, and two forms of the IUD, the copper-coated IUD and a hormone-releasing IUD called Mirena.The literature is complex and developing, and I hasten to state at the outset that I'm not a pharmacologist or an MD. But here goes:

What Counts as "Unjust Discrimination"?

(This article is now featured in our collection of stories about Catholicism & Same-Sex Marriage)

Under the heading "You Shall Love Your Neighbor As Yourself," the Catechism of the Catholic Church considers homosexuality:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.(CCC 2357-8)

Clear enough, though one could quibble that "tradition" could not have "always" considered same-sex sex acts as "intrinsically disordered," since that language, as far as I know, originated with the scholastics, more than half-way into the Church's history. But I digress...

Over in Kansas City, Colleen Simon, pastoral associate at St. Francis Xavier parish, manages the food pantry that feeds 70 families a month. A few blocks away, Rev. Donna Simon, pastor of St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church, is also helping to revitalize the neighborhood

Happy Mother's Day!

Here's a fun Mother's Day classic from Arlo Guthrie. The young man who jumps out on stage in leather and chains with a heavy metal guitar solo is Abe Guthrie, Arlo's son, who still tours with his dad.

Note that the kids who'd have sung this "lament" of teenage angst at their hippie parents would now be in their mid-late 40's, having raised rebellious kids of their own...

And here's to all mothers today, both those who raised us and those who taught us, mentored us, and showed us the way.

Capital Punishment Watch, Cont'd--UPDATED

Last night marked another horrific chapter in our nation's practice of capital punishment. In Oklahoma, two executions were scheduled for last night, following a new three-drug protocol. The first drug administered was midazolam, already used as part of a botched execution in Florida. (see my previous post on this topic for pharmacologic details and links.)

About 10 minutes into the first execution, 38-year old Clayton Lockett was declared unconscious by a physician.  According to CNN, Lockett sat up and tried to speak 16 minutes into his execution. He was seen to be writhing or convulsing on the gurney, and about 20 minutes into the process, his vein "exploded," executioners said, causing them to halt the process. At that point, guards closed the windows so the witnesses could no longer see what was happening. 43 minutes into the process, Lockett apparetly suffered a massive heart attack and died. 

The legal battle centered around a prisoner's right to know the source of the drugs to be used to execute him or her. A stay on Lockett's execution was lifted last week when a judge ruled that there was no such right. After last night's experience, executions are again on hold in OK for at least 2 weeks.

The plan was to render Lockett unconscious with midazolam, then stop his breathing (and all muscular activity) with the paralytic drug vercuronium bromide, then stop his heart with potassium chloride.

What could have gone wrong? Of course, I wasn't there, and can't speak with certainty, but here are two possibilities. 

Benzodiazepines like midazolam can rarely have paradoxical effects: a drug that usually renders one deeply sedated and relaxed, and has anti-convulsant properties, can cause agitation, anxiety, aggression, talkativeness, rage, violent behavior, and delirium, often states not recalled by the patient upon recovery. The midazolam dose used for sedation is much lower than that used for execution, but since Mr. Lockett's vein "exploded," it's unclear what dose he actually received, or, from the information given, what his actual state of consciousness was. The effects of midazolam can be reversed with Flumazenil, (a benzodiazepine-receptor antagonist) but did the executioner have a reversal agent on hand? Reversal of midazolam with Flumazenil can cause seizures. When the execution was stopped, efforts were made to resuscitate Lockett, but details aren't clear.

UCC Files Religious Liberty Suit in NC

In a news release yesterday, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ announced its lawsuit protesting North Carolina's law prohibiting same-sex marriage, claiming that the state is violating ministers' religious liberty. 

As I (a non-lawyer!) understand it, since it is a crime for ministers to officiate at a marriage without making sure the couple has a marriage license, barring same-sex couples from getting licenses restricts the ministers' freedom of religion. Here's the explanation from the press release: 

In 2012, North Carolina voters approved Amendment One, which limited a domestic legal union to a covenant between a man and woman. Under state laws consistent with Amendment One, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor for a minister to perform a marriage ceremony for a couple that hasn’t obtained a license, and such a license may not be issued to same-gender couples. ...The UCC believes that this prohibition and penalties also apply to a minister performing a religious ceremony not intended to result in a legal marriage.

The UCC has embraced marriage equality since 2005, but of course the UCC doesn't stand alone on this. Plaintiffs in this case include "three UCC ministers, two Unitarian Universalist clergy, one Lutheran pastor, one Baptist minister, and one rabbi," along with the couples they married. A number of Christian denominations and other religious groups now allow same-sex marriage, so the question of religious liberty is an important one.

I would imagine that the crux of the legal issue here is the last sentence of the block quotation above: does the law apply to a religious ceremony that isn't intended as a legal marriage? 

Francis Hints About Same-Sex Civil Unions

In the same Corriere della Sera/La Nación interview referenced in Mollie's post below, Francis struck an ambiguous note on the topic of same-sex civil unions. Here's NCR's Joshua McElwee:

Asked about same-sex marriage, he responds: "Marriage is between a man and a woman."

"The secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of living together, driven by the need to regulate economic aspects between people, like ensuring health care," he states, saying he can't identify the ways different countries are addressing the matter.

"We need to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety," he states.

HuffPo reports on the same interview, including a brief overview of the good news and the not-so-good news from Francis on civil unions:

While he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2010 and Argentina was on the brink of legalizing gay marriage, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio support legalizing civil unions as a compromise. He also called same-sex marriage “an attempt to destroy God’s plan” and said gay adoption was a kind of discrimination against children. LGBT rights organizations and gay Catholics have hailed Francis' for making more positive statements on gay people during his papacy.


R.I.P. Pete Seeger

American folk music icon Pete Seeger passed away at 94, reports the New York Times. Money quote:

“My job,” he said in 2009, “is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.”

Update on Capital Punishment

Here’s an update on the practice of capital punishment in the US.

The objection of European Union and American drug companies to the use of the anesthetic sodium thiopental for capital punishment has caused a scramble for new means of killing people “cleanly.” The 3-drug protocol (usually sodium thiopental, the muscle paralytic pancuronium bromide and the heart-stopping potassium chloride,) was the most common technique for capital punishment in the US until 2010. The problem is that sodium thiopental is a commonly used anesthetic. Hospira, the only US company that manufactured the drug, was unable to assure authorities at the manufacturing site in Italy that the drug would not be used for capital punishment, so it stopped production in 2011. As supplies dwindled, last-minute sources were tried, one being a British company called Dream Pharma, run from a driving school in west London, but eventually these sources too were shut down. 

Oklahoma was the first of several states to switch to pentobarbital, a drug commonly used for euthanasia by veterinarians, and sometimes used for physician assisted suicide in Oregon. Pentobarbital is made by the Danish company Lundbeck, which rapidly ran into the same legal and ethical objections raised against the use of sodium thiopental. Even when Lundbeck sold manufacturing rights to Texas-based Akorn, Inc., they did so stipulating that they would follow the same distribution restrictions that Lundbeck had--no pentobarbital for executions. 

What's an executioner to do? 

Box of Books for Francis--Poll Results

In response to a call from Pope Francis for a "new theology of women," I invited people to nominate books to send to the Holy Father. Then, people were asked to vote for their top 10 of the more than 60 nominated. Here are the results (There are more than 10 books here because of a tie for 10th):

Johnson, Elizabeth. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. New York: Crossroad, 2002.

Farley, Margaret. Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006.

Talkin' Bout a Revolution

Here's Tracy Chapman performing at the 1988 London concert celebrating Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday. Mandela would be released from prison 2 years later. It strikes me as a great song both for remembering Mandela and for the season of Advent, when we anticipate that God will cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lift up the lowly. And that revolution sounds like a whisper...