Volume > Issue > Briefly: June 1993

June 1993

The Concentration Can: When Does Human Life Begin?

By Jerome Lejeune

Publisher: Ignatius

Pages: 207

Price: $12.95

Review Author: Maria Valencia Vree

The question of when hu­man life begins has been widely viewed as a moral judgment. Some say life begins at the moment of conception, others when the fetus is viable, and others at birth. None of these judgments is based pure­ly on science. In The Concentra­tion Can, Dr. Jerome Lejeune takes this issue out of the moral realm and into the scien­tific.

The difficulty of defining the beginning of human life is typified by those who say that the fetus becomes a person at the onset of the second trimes­ter. Does this mean that at the very last day of the first trimester the fetus is not a person?

It has been impossible to determine factually the begin­ning of life — until now, that is. Scientific research has led to astonishing discoveries that prove a unique person exists from the moment of concep­tion.

Lejeune is a geneticist who first discovered the genetic cause of Down’s Syndrome. In this book he outlines the recent discovery that “when the ovum is fertilized by the sperm, the result is ‘…the most specialized cell under the sun…’; spe­cialized from the point of view that no other cell will ever again have the same instructions in the life of the individual being created.” Thus, from the moment of conception a unique person exists. “This person…has never existed before and will never exist again.” Lejeune testified in the court case of Davis v. Davis, upon which this book is based, that “an early human be­ing…cannot be the property of anybody because he is the only one in the world to have the property of building himself. As soon as he has been conceived, a man is a man.”

In Davis v. Davis, where the fate of seven embryos con­ceived in an in vitro fertiliza­tion process and frozen in their “concentration can” was at issue, Lejeune, testified as an expert witness. The Circuit Court for Blount County, Ten­nessee, decided in September 1989 that “Human life begins at conception [and therefore] it serves the best interest of the child or children, in vitro, for their mother, Mrs. Davis, to be permitted the opportunity to bring them to term through implantation.”

In March 1993 the Su­preme Court confirmed the Tennessee Supreme Court’s overturning of the Blount County decision. Unfortunately, this decision was based on the right of Mr. Davis not to be a parent against his will rather than on the scientific evidence for the humanity of embryos presented by Lejeune. Hence, the court was not necessarily denying that the frozen embryos were human, it was confirming the right of a man not to have to deal with parenthood.

The Concentration Can, published in 1992, must not be tossed aside and deemed an­tiquated in the light of the re­cent court decision, for it con­tains little-known scientific evidence pointing to the humanity of the preborn. Lejeune reveals the hypocrisy of many in the medical field who are able to recognize the gender of the fetus, but refuse to admit his humanity. Why do so many fight for the rights of animals, yet turn a blind eye to the same or worse injustices when committed against humans still in the womb? Per­haps all this hypocrisy will cease when it is seen that it has been scientifically proven that a unique human exists from the moment of concep­tion. You, while still in your mother’s womb, were the same person you are now, just not fully formed, but still deserv­ing of the rights you now enjoy out of the womb.

Lejeune described Davis v. Davis as a new judgment of Solomon. A doctor in the case argued that the embryos in question should be allowed to die a passive death. But Mrs. Davis, the mother, pleaded with the court to see that in order to die, one must first live. Indeed, her contention was proven true by scientific evidence — but the Supreme Court decided the case not by Lejeune’s evidence, but by the individual rights of the father.

Latinos: A Biography of the People

By Earl Shorris

Publisher: Norton

Pages: 520

Price: $25

Review Author: Aaron W. Godfrey

Latinos are the fastest-growing minority in the coun­try — and the most misunder­stood. Despite various endur­ing stereotypes, the only thing Latinos have in common is the Spanish language and an abid­ing prejudice against them by many North Americans. When Earl Shorris was about to write this book, a friend advised: “Tell them that we are not all alike.” The caveat was heeded somewhat by the author, him­self of Latino (Mexican) back­ground, who writes from a middle-class experience, but with some understanding of the working and non-working poor. For my part, I was brought back to awkward gatherings many years ago of my own Latin American/Irish relatives from Chile, Cuba, Peru, and Nicaragua, who had little in common except the language, and didn’t like each other.

Latinos is a thought-pro­voking and lyrical effort to explain Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Mexican-American charac­ter and lifestyle through a series of vignettes and case studies. Shorris understands Cubans and Mexican-Amer­icans best — the former mostly Caucasian, the latter mestizo. Puerto Ricans (and Domini­cans) are treated less satisfacto­rily and sympathetically, per­haps in part because of the pervasive African influence.

Shorris shows how Mexi­cans, especially those who identify more with Indian (his designation) culture, differ from Cubans. The ability to aguantar, “to stand firm,” “to hang tough,” has enabled Mexicans to survive in the U.S. without making progress com­mensurate with their length of time in the economic system. Mexican-Americans succeed once they assimilate, at which time they often lose touch with their roots and culture. Most of the Cuban immigration came from the educated middle class fleeing Fidel Castro. The Cu­bans came without money, but with determination and some help from the CIA in settling in. They came broke, but did not think of themselves as poor, so became Republicans.

Latinos raises thoughtful questions about some inbred North American attitudes about Spain and those who speak Spanish. The attitudes were formed by such diverse influences as the “Black Leg­end” of Spanish cruelty in­vented by the English, Ameri­ca’s triumphalism (Manifest Destiny and the Mexican War), and the “big stick” diplomacy of Theodore Roosevelt. They must be changed, and at the same time we need to know more about the most recent immigrants who speak Span­ish, such as Central Americans.

Ignatius of Loyola: The Psy­chology of a Saint

By William W. Meissner

Publisher: Yale University Press

Pages: 528

Price: $35

Review Author: George W. Appleby

The relationship between psychology and faith has not been very amicable. Psycho­analysis, for example, has been inhospitable to the claims of religion, holding, in its most tolerant mode, to agnosticism, and, in its more usual stance, to reductionism. Indeed, Freud thought religious ideas to be “illusions.”

Given this seeming immis­cibility of psychoanalysis and religion, we are justified in having high expectations of William Meissner’s Ignatius of Loyola, for Meissner is a psy­chiatrist and professor of psychoanalysis as well as a member of the Society of Jesus, which was of course founded by Ignatius.

Ignatius was born into a powerful aristocratic family in Spain in 1491. His father was a man of military prowess and daring — proud, chivalrous, lecherous — who instilled in his sons the code of the hero. Ignatius grew up in an atmos­phere of conquest. He became a man of the world, a libertine, described by a contemporary as “ambitious, proud, self-confi­dent, fearing no danger, with sword at hand, and with a head filled with notions of romantic chivalry and libidi­nous adventure.”

How did such a man be­come a great saint? Unfortu­nately, the methods of psy­choanalysis will not yield an answer; nor does Meissner claim more than a modest goal: to provide a partial portrait, a unique perspective. His study achieves that goal. Moreover, it is sometimes fascinating to see a psychoanalytic sleuth pursue elusive motivations.

Meissner’s belief in psycho­analysis is implicit, but un­questioned. Yes, he discusses the difficulties of applying psychoanalytic principles out­side the clinical context, is cognizant of the dangers of interpreting data culled from biographies, recognizes the possibility of over-interpretation in psychobiography, and is clearly cautious throughout. But he does not question psy­choanalysis itself. While the scientific validity of psychoana­lytic principles is coming under increasingly critical scrutiny (Berkeley’s Frederick Crews calls it “the epistemic equiva­lent of a black hole”), Meissner gives scarcely a hint that his method may be flawed. Yet, psychoanalysis may only be a means of arriving at self-certifying interpretive insights. Even applying this minimal her­meneutic standard, however, does not seem to reveal Ignati­us in any truly useful way.

The central matter of in­terest in Ignatius’ life was his conversion from a vainglorious soldier to a mystic. This proc­ess began when Ignatius was hit by a cannonball during a battle with the French; he was about 30 years old. One leg was crushed and the other seriously injured, requiring a long period of inactivity and helplessness. His days as a soldier were over. During his recovery he read a four-volume Life of Jesus by a Carthusian and a volume on the lives of the saints. This spiritual read­ing apparently was the catalyst for a process resulting in an intense mystical experience in a cave at Manresa. Meissner speaks of a narcissistic trauma caused by a castration-like in­jury. The effect of this trauma was a “narcissistic disequilibri­um” which Ignatius resolved by “abandoning the phallic-narcissistic ego ideal of the past and replacing it with a new ego ideal based on spirit­ual values.”

Herein the disappoint­ment: Psychoanalysis is at best interpretive, not explanatory. Grace remains a mystery.

Works of Mercy

By Fritz Eichenberg

Publisher: Orbis

Pages: 109

Price: $24.95

Review Author: Dale Vree

If you have ever picked up a copy of The Catholic Worker, you were probably struck most, at least initially, by the art of Fritz Eichenberg, Ade Bethune, and others — so strong, clear, and meaningful. Works of Mercy collects the most significant art Eichenberg did for The Catholic Worker. Born of Jewish background in 1901, Eichenberg became a Quaker in 1940. He met Dorothy Day in 1949, and produced first-rate art for The Catholic Worker free of charge until his death in 1990. Ei­chenberg remained a Quaker among Catholics, even though, as he says repeatedly in these pages, he found the Catholic Workers practicing what the Quakers largely only aspired to practice. In the art of Fritz Eichenberg, a Christocentric Quakerism and a Franciscan Catholicism ineffably met. Mysteriously, the results “speak” louder and more lucid­ly than the proceedings of a hundred Catholic-Quaker dialogues.

The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East

By Kenneth Cragg

Publisher: Westminster/John Knox Press

Pages: 336

Price: No price given

Review Author: Achad HaSh'erit

Kenneth Cragg’s book is informative, sophisticated, and at times elegantly written. It is a good scholarly introduction to Arab Christians. But I do have some criticisms.

First, the author (a Protes­tant clergyman) is unduly critical of the Catholic Church, and attributes an importance and influence to Arab Prot­estants that strains the reader’s credulity. Secondly, Cragg’s discussion of Zionism and the State of Israel is flawed. He says that the partition mandat­ed by the U.N. in 1947 gave 52 percent of mandatory Palestine to Jews. This is true, but ig­nores the fact that earlier Brit­ain had lopped off from mandatory Palestine what is now essentially the Kingdom of Jordan. The author seems to want to create the impression that the “Zionists” have more than enough land. His stacking of the deck is unworthy of a man who, in this book, aims at evenhandedness and fairness. More substantively, he insists that, “Arab Christianity has…to detach itself from the more menacing parts of its Old Tes­tament heritage.” He is quick to add that this is not “re­pudiation,” but isn’t he just playing with words? He also avers that, “Whatever the mystery of Israel, biblically and since, whatever the warrant of Zion, they do not and cannot constitute for the Christian mind any deviation from equal divine justice and inclusive divine compassion.” Unfortu­nately, the author never really gives any positive meaning to the mystery of Israel in the present day. One agrees with the overwhelming importance of the justice and love of God: The question is, though, what does that mean? Does it mean lack of differentiation in all matters? This has to be proven, not assumed. One understands how difficult it has been for Arab Christians, given the ten­sions that have been intro­duced into the Middle East by the return of the Jews. (How many Canaanites welcomed Joshua?) Still, humility before the mysteriousness of God’s ways, a trust that His ways are best even if one does not see how they will accomplish good for mankind, and a positive the­ology (see Luke 21:24) concern­ing the Jewish people are what is called for. Cragg shows great empathy for Islam, but hardly any for the Jewish people and their election.

This book has a lot to offer anyone with a serious interest in Arab Christianity. But it should be read rather critically.

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