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U.S. Bishops' New Point Woman on Pro-life Issues

Interview With Deirdre McQuade

WASHINGTON, D.C., SEPT. 29, 2005 (Zenit) - The U.S. bishops' new spokeswoman for pro-life activities is no stranger in the battle to protect the unborn.

Deirdre McQuade, 37, the newly appointed director of planning and information at the bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, has seen a career already marked by study, activism and ecumenical dialogue.

The Parsippany, New Jersey, native co-founded Students for Life at Bryn Mawr and Haverford colleges, and went on to earn master's degrees in philosophy and divinity at the University of Notre Dame.

She counseled for four years at a pregnancy care center in South Bend, Indiana, and then worked for Bishop John D'Arcy in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend as director of pastoral research and outreach.

McQuade was also national program director at the Washington, D.C.-based Feminists for Life, and most recently worked as a grant program analyst at the Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health. She shared with us her ideas about her new post.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge in the struggles between the culture of life and the culture of death?

McQuade: Describing himself as the good shepherd, Jesus said, "The thief comes in the night to maim, steal, and destroy, but I came that they might have life and have it abundantly."

Proclaiming the Gospel of abundant life is a great calling today. Society urgently needs clarity on life matters. Too much is at stake -- thousands aborted daily in America alone; the walking wounded suffering after abortion; the exploitation of embryos and fetal tissue; the inexcusable neglect of the elderly, disabled and dying.

All of these reveal errors stemming from a bad root: the idolatrous worship of autonomy; the wedge between law and morality; and the slippery slope that values life merely in terms of productivity. Word games define away personhood, and so threaten our most vulnerable neighbors. Radical autonomy has its price. It is, ultimately, a lonely, isolating, and even destructive existence.

Signs of the culture of death surround us, but because Christ pledged to be with us "to the end of the age" I am also convinced there is hope if we remain grounded in prayer and the sacramental life of the Church.

Q: What do you see as key difficulties in dealing in the media with complicated issues such as embryonic stem cell research, genetic manipulation and euthanasia?

McQuade: The mass media does not allow much time to develop a subtle position or explain the implications of a teaching. The challenge is to provide clear responses that are also substantive.

Catholic communicators have the duty to help the media be aware of their ethical lenses, and to clarify our own. The prevalent, if unexamined, ethical philosophy shaping public debate on these matters is utilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number.

When it comes to cutting-edge medical research and technologies, its corollary -- the technological imperative -- comes into play, as well: "If we can do it, we should."

This summer, I was struck by a quotation by Rene Dubos displayed publicly at the National Institutes of Health: "In science as in other human activities, the speed of progress is less important than its direction."

When the human person is held in higher esteem than unqualified progress, then the dignity of life becomes the rate-determining factor. This quotation, properly understood, would actually question the ethos of labs throughout the country. In the media, any inquiry that challenges the technological imperative is often portrayed as anti-science and a step backward.

Medical researchers and reporters serve as modern-day priests, mediating the truth about health and life to the public. When they conduct their research with dignity, it is a great service to the common good. When they fail to do so -- as in illicit work with embryonic stem cells -- the healing arts suffer and many are misled.

Q: Where do you see the abortion issue heading?

McQuade: Public support of abortion on demand is declining. In one study, women placed abortion rights at the bottom of their list of priorities. Hundreds of thousands of young adults who have never known a day without legal abortion are standing up in the service of human life.

This is not surprising, as we are living with the wounds of 32 years of legalized abortion. Over 40 million infants, children, teens, and young adults are not among us who should be. They would have been our siblings, classmates, friends, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, great-grandchildren -- or even our uncles and aunts!

There is a clearer sense now that did not exist in the 1970s and '80s -- abortion is not just between a woman ...

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