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An Actual Buddhist

Peter J. Leithart does not know what he is talking about in his article “When East Is West” (April). Your printing of his work is a disservice to readers who might actually wish to know something about American Buddhism. Leithart has clearly not visited an American zendo to attend a sesshin . If he had, he would have seen that what goes on there is in no way “fused in the native goodwill, complacency, thoughtlessness, and optimism” of America. American Buddhists, in fact, practice exactly the same determined and unyielding set of meditation techniques that have been passed down for hundreds of years in China and Japan.

Leithart has not gone to a Tibetan-based dharma center like mine in Columbus, Ohio, which offers instruction in Buddhist practices. If he had, he would have encountered many religious traditions and teachings that stretch back through the full Buddhist history. He would have found plenty of rituals, icons, and devotional practices, too. He might have been uneasy with them when he found them, but he would not have been able to assert airily that American Buddhists have abandoned these things”not if he had any dedication to telling the truth about a religion that he does not practice.

I suspect that Leithart has not talked to an actual American Buddhist doing actual Buddhist practice under an actual Buddhist teacher. If he had, he would have discovered that there are tens of thousands of us who take our commitments in Buddhism seriously, make every effort to keep them in the traditional way, and have every hope of reaping spiritual benefits. Leithart concludes, “Westerners who convert to Buddhism are frequently attracted to a form of Buddhism that is the creation of the modern world.” That is claptrap.

Joseph Marshall
Karma Thegsum Choling
Columbus, Ohio

Peter Leithart replies:

Joseph Marshall is right about the limits of my research. In preparing the article, I neither visited a zendo, nor attended a sesshin, nor interviewed Buddhist teachers. But my article was largely a summary of the work of scholars of Buddhism who have devoted years to doing all those things, and the conclusions I draw are based on their research. Nowhere did I suggest that there are no traditional Buddhists in the West (I asserted quite the contrary, in fact), only that many modern Western Buddhists, including some high-profile ones, are more modern-Western than Buddhist. (For the record, I would say, and often do say, the same about modern Western Christians.) In the end, Marshall makes my point for me: That repeated “actual” gives him away, for if there are “actual” Buddhists, presumably there are non-actual ones, and I suspect that for Marshall the non-actual ones are those who have sold their inheritance for modern-Western claptrap.

Conscience and the Church

In “The Inconvenient Conscience” (May) Cardinal Pell forthrightly exposes the incompatibility between the individualistic ideology of modern culture and the Christian gospel. And yet, Cardinal Pell’s thinking is part of the problem. He begins with various moral issues that call for piecemeal moral conversions. But more important, though unmentioned by Cardinal Pell, is the lack of wholehearted religious conversion to Christ as Lord among many Catholics. Anyone who has accepted Christ as Lord or Master of his life will not seek personal autonomy through individualistic ideologies.

Paul VI noted in Evangelii Nuntiandi that many Catholics are sacramentalized before they are evangelized. And, we could add, before they make any commitment to Christ. In the early Church, it was not so. Baptism followed a decision to accept Christ as risen Lord. His power over sin and death was experienced in the Holy Spirit. This is what is lacking in the Church today. I love to baptize babies, and yet I wonder sometimes how parents can promise to bring up their children in the practice of the faith when they don’t practice it themselves. The same can be said for all the little children who come to First Holy Communion and Confirmation. Not being morally able to reject the faith is not the same thing as voluntarily and freely accepting it.

Christ said: “No one puts a new patch on an old garment.” In a sense, that is what Cardinal Pell is recommending: a patch here, a patch there. Actually, the whole fabric needs replacing. The bishops need to look at the way we initiate members into the body of Christ. Initiation must involve both a decision and an experience”in either order. If people do not experience the saving power of the living resurrected Christ, they will not be able to follow the narrow, winding road to life.

Paul A. Hottinger
Downers Grove, Illinois

Although there are many disturbing assertions in Cardinal Pell’s essay, the greatest flaw is the implication that the Church has never been wrong about “central moral teachings.” What about slavery? Usury? Religious freedom? The Church teaching concerning usury, for instance, has not, to the best of my knowledge, been abrogated and yet, today, the Vatican Bank has no qualms about charging interest to those who obtain loans through its auspices. Perhaps Cardinal Pell could explain what is going on here.

And, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason”selfish or ideological, commercial or totalitarian”lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity.” This, of course, would have been news to the slaves who toiled for popes, saints, and religious orders. Did we invent the seventh commandment in the mid-twentieth century? Should an abolitionist have followed his or her conscience against the teaching, and actual practice, of the Church? The issue of conscience and the Church is not as straightforward as Cardinal Pell would like.

The Rev. Bruce Downs
Corpus Christi Catholic Church
Phoenix, Arizona

George Cardinal Pell replies:

I agree wholeheartedly with Paul Hottinger on the fundamental importance of total conversion to Christ and his teaching. One problem is that total conversion is infrequently attained and the Church is not restricted to those who are wholehearted in their conversion. My essay focused on the area of moral choice as one specific topic within a whole life lived under Christ as Lord. I do, however, think that people can believe they are genuine followers of Christ yet carry on “doing their own thing” morally. I think the test of whether conversion is indeed total is willingness to follow the Gospel of Christ and the teaching of his Church, and that includes the moral teachings.

In reply to Fr. Downs, there was no claim in my article that “the Church” has never been wrong on moral issues. My awareness of such inadequacies by its leaders and errors by particular teachers lies behind my enigmatic reference to “central moral teachings.” For Catholics, however, “the most reliable authority is the Church.” Moral teaching (and doctrinal teaching) develops organically. Thus it was on the very principles of the New Testament and of Christian moral tradition that abolitionists came to see, slowly, that slavery was morally wrong. They did not invent new principles here, but came slowly to understand what the moral teachings of the Church meant in this area of public life.

That Catholics of every era have failed to see or live up to all the implications of Church moral teaching does not mean that these teachings are wrong but just demonstrates the need for a teaching Church and the unreliability of many a conscience. Slavery was abolished by Christians who appealed to Christ’s teaching, natural law and the Church’s own best tradition. They did not appeal to their own consciences, and it would not have advanced their cause if they did.

Ethics at the End of Life

In “Living Life’s End” (May), Gilbert Meilaender maintains “that if a possible treatment seems useless or quite burdensome for the patient, we are not under obligation to try it or continue it.” Yet he later states, “it is hard to believe that we could withhold feeding while simultaneously withholding the intention that the patient die.” In clinical situations, I have been with many families who withdrew feeding because it was useless, and did not have the direct intention of causing their loved one to die.

Kevin O’Rourke, O.P.
Neiswanger Institute for
Bioethics and Public Policy
Loyola University
Chicago, Illinois

In an otherwise excellent article, Gilbert Meilaender makes an unconvincing distinction between respiratory and nutritional support. Withdrawing respiratory support is distinguished from intending the patient’s death on the grounds that “one does not know for certain that a patient will be unable to breathe on his own.” In normal practice, patients are “weaned” from a ventilator as their arterial blood chemistry is monitored; unfavorable results preclude further weaning. In certain patients with severe respiratory acidosis, it is morally certain that complete removal of respiratory support will cause coma and death. That such a patient may have spontaneous, but shallow and inadequate, respiration during this process would not seem to be morally significant.

Mechanical ventilation”with the painful blood-gas monitoring that it entails”is certainly burdensome, and withdrawal may be justified on these grounds. But this justification is not strengthened by feigning ignorance of the sure course of untreated acidotic respiratory failure.

Jon Edwards, MD
Wadsworth, Ohio

I appreciated Gilbert Meilaender’s article very much, but I object to his use of the example of implanting a pacemaker for an Alzheimer’s patient who has suffered a Stokes-Adams episode. I think the illustration, admittedly borrowed from Leon Kass, is an unfortunate choice in support of an important principle. As a Christian clinical cardiologist who has walked with families and patients through this circumstance more times than I can remember, I would like to offer an alternative.

The term “Stokes-Adams attack” has traditionally described a transient, sudden, and complete loss of consciousness caused by a high-grade atrioventricular heart block. The patient usually collapses with no opportunity to protect him or herself. As Meilaender points out, death from cardiac arrest is a risk. A much more common result, however, is a lacerated scalp, smashed orbit, fractured femoral head, subdural hematoma, or some combination of these. In addition, further damage to brain function may result from the lack of cerebral blood-flow during the attack.

Apacemaker can prevent standard Stokes-Adams attacks and end the collapses. Today’s pacemakers can be implanted with only local anesthesia. Most pacemakers will last eight to twelve years before requiring replacement. While some may think pacemakers expensive, the cost must be considered in the context of the expense of the hospitalizations that follow a Stokes-Adams attack.

To relegate elderly people who experience Stokes-Adams episodes to repeated falls and injuries while we ponder the ethical dilemma of preventing versus permitting an easy exit via sudden cardiac death is naively sadistic. I know that is not Meilaender’s intent. In counseling families who are trying to decide whether to implant a pacemaker in a loved one with Alzheimer’s, I point out that our intent in such circumstances is not to prolong life aggressively, but to prevent the suffering caused by these terrifying episodes.

Amuch more fitting illustration of Meilaender’s point is the question of implantation of an internal cardioverter/defibrillator in an Alzheimer’s patient who has had a ventricular tachyarrhythmia (a fast heart rhythm). The goal here is to prevent the sudden cardiac death caused by a rhythm disturbance. After meeting with an understanding physician, families of patients such as those described by Meilaender frequently and appropriately decline such therapy. But by pressing the pacemaker illustration into service, Prof. Meilaender has obfuscated what is usually a straightforward clinical and ethical decision based on the legitimate goal of relieving suffering. He has promoted a misconception that creates mischief for families and physicians dealing with these difficult situations.

F. Earl Fyke III, MD
Mississippi Baptist Medical Center
Jackson, Mississippi

Gilbert Meilaender replies:

It will be easiest for me to reply in reverse order to these three letters. I take Dr. Fyke’s letter as support for the general position I developed, even though he thinks the Stokes-Adams example is not well chosen. And he may be right about that (though his own conclusion, that the pacemaker should be implanted, moves in the direction that I had myself supported). I had noted that the result of a decision not to implant a pacemaker would not necessarily mean death but, rather, might mean an increasingly (and unnecessarily) debilitated life. Fyke’s clinical experience enables him to provide further reasons for thinking so.

Dr. Edwards likewise makes a serious point, for which I thank him and about which I will think more. At the moment I’d note simply the following two brief points: The fact that an almost-certain result follows from an act does not in itself mean that this result was that act’s intention. And the fact that patients can and have lived for years after being weaned from a respirator, but cannot live even for weeks after nutrition is removed, suggests that we should not too quickly fold both acts into the same kind of analysis.

Professor O’Rourke’s brief letter is, I think, less helpful. When I wrote that “it is hard to believe that we could withhold feeding while simultaneously withholding the intention that the patient die,” I was discussing specifically the circumstances of many PVS patients. In considering the morality of human actions, we may not describe the intention of our acts in any way we please. Thus, the bomber cannot target directly the hospital while claiming no intention to kill the innocent. Likewise, family members (even when we feel great sympathy for their plight) are not at liberty to describe their intentions in whatever way they find most comforting. I would like to assume that O’Rourke knows this, but that would then seem to suggest that his letter is somewhat disingenuous. I am not sure, therefore, what the most charitable response would be.

Schiavo Under the Law

In “The Legal Death of Terri Schiavo” (May) Robert T. Miller may be technically correct that the courts did not violate any of Terri Schiavo’s constitutional rights, but I take exception to his defense of their findings. According to Miller, the judges involved followed current law in refusing to defend Schiavo. Apparently none of them found it unconscionable that Schiavo should be put to death in this manner. Could they not have followed the voice of conscience that so many other judges claim to hear when they override laws passed by the representatives of the people, as activist judges have been doing for the past thirty years? Why would anyone want to defend a lapse of moral conviction, as Miller does, choosing instead to put the blame on the culture of death? I am disappointed that someone who finds this judgment abhorrent would justify it in any way.

Marianne Linane, RN
Executive Director
National Association of
Pro-Life Nurses

I read with interest “The Legal Death of Terri Schiavo.” Unfortunately, Miller’s article only skims the surface of what is really a much more complex case than it seems. While I agree that Florida law permitted the result, the untimely termination of Terri Schiavo’s life was not a foregone conclusion, and any judge along the way could easily have reversed course to save Schiavo’s life if he or she had been so inclined.

Under the U.S. Constitution, persons are not to be deprived of life without due process of law. In the context of death-row inmates, due process has been interpreted to include representation by independent and competent counsel. Ms. Schiavo was never appointed independent counsel. Her family was of limited financial means and did not have full and timely access to her medical records, including a bone scan done in 1991 showing major trauma and broken bones. They were unable to protect their daughter’s interests fully during the 2000 trial.

At the time of Schiavo’scollapse in 1991, which resulted in her debilitating condition, the law in Florida permitted the removal of extraordinary means of medical care in the absence of a written directive upon a showing of evidence that this is what the person would have wanted. It wasn’t until 1999 that the law was changed to include artificial means of nutrition and hydration as a form of extraordinary medical care. Thus, even if Schiavo stated to her husband prior to her collapse that she would not want to be kept alive by artificial means, in 1991 such means did not include artificial hydration and nutrition. Ms. Schiavo had a right to life at the time of her collapse, which meant not being deprived of food and water. Applying an ex post facto law to cause someone’s death is certainly problematic under the Constitution.

Furthermore, while Mr. Schiavo was the preferred guardian under Florida law, nowhere was it mandated that he continue to serve as guardian if he developed a conflict of interest or if he failed to satisfy his duties as a guardian. Mr. Schiavo was living with his “fiancée” and fathered two children with her while seeking to remove his wife’s feeding tube.

The court could have granted a divorce and allowed her parents to take care of her. Moreover, Mr. Schiavo failed to file guardian reports as required under Florida law. The judge had the ability to remove Mr. Schiavo as guardian on that basis alone.

Another problem is that at least one of the so-called independent doctors upon whom the Court relied in concluding that Terri Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) was connected to the right-to-die movement. A factual determination that she was in a PVS was important, because if she was not then her feeding tube could not have been removed legally. The court accepted the right-to-die doctor’s medical opinion and discounted other doctors who claimed that she was not in a PVS.

Perhaps the attorneys for her parents did not make the best legal arguments before the various courts, which would be understandable since legal proceedings were extremely rushed in the last weeks before her death. But to imply that the Court was required to do what it did ignores due process and the many applications of judicial discretion that could have come down on the side of life.

April Ishak
Havre de Grace, Maryland

I applaud Robert T. Miller’s willingness to say that the action taken in the Schiavo case was murderous and that the outcome was substantively unjust. I also agree with him that the federal courts to which the case was appealed had very little precedent to support a ruling that Schiavo’s federal rights had been violated. But I think that some additions and clarifications to Miller’s comments about the legality of the action taken and the relevance of judicial usurpation to the case are in order.

First of all, there was not “clear and convincing evidence” that Schiavo would have wished to be dehydrated to death. This is the required legal standard under Florida precedent. The judge in the initial trial took a casual approach to the standard of evidence and directly violated the provision in Florida precedent that one was to “err on the side of life in dubious cases.” Miller only mentions the “clear and convincing” standard in connection with the Cruzan federal precedent, and he is correct in saying that Cruzan allowed but did not require the states to use this standard. But Schiavo’s parents were correct when they argued that, by not following its own requirements for such cases, Florida violated her federal due-process rights.

Moreover, there are several ways in which court action, rather than statutory law,caused Schiavo’sdeath. First, the Cruzan ruling, by using the infamous notion of “substantive due process” and setting as a matter of constitutional right the “liberty” to refuse food and water by proxy when one is unconscious, made it far more difficult for states to protect people like Schiavo and set the stage for killings based on dubious conclusions about what the person “would have wished.”

Second, the Browning ruling (1990) by the Florida Supreme Court required that the courts allow oral reports of oral statements by a now-unconscious person to count, at least in principle, as “clear and convincing evidence” of the person’s wishes.

Third, the Florida Supreme Court declared “Terri’s Law” (passed by the Florida legislature in 2003) unconstitutional on the questionable grounds that no legislative or executive action can reverse the effect of an earlier court order”that court orders must be “final” in their effects. That this is not jurisprudentially correct is demonstrated, for example, by the persistence of the governor’s power of pardon for convicted murderers in Florida, which reverses the effect of previous death sentences.

In addition, when Miller states that Schiavo’s killing was a private act by her husband and guardian despite its being “enforced by a court,” he misses an important point: Although Judge Greer granted a petition by Michael Schiavo to be allowed to withdraw his wife’s feeding tube in his original order in 2000, in 2005 Judge Greer ordered Schiavo to withdraw the tube. The importance of this order was underscored by a ruling by the Second District Court of Appeals in March of 2005, which said, “No matter who her guardian is, the guardian is required to obey the court order because the court, and not the guardian, has determined the decision that Ms. Schiavo herself would make.” In other words, the state courts of Florida viewed themselves as acting directly in the role of Schiavo’s proxy and requiring her guardian or guardians to carry out what the courts said were her wishes.

Lydia McGrew
Kalamazoo, Michigan

Robert T. Miller replies:

The correspondents and I all agree that when our courts permitted an innocent woman to be starved to death by those charged with her care, there occurred a catastrophic failure of civil society. We disagree as to the exact nature of that failure. In the article to which the correspondents are responding, I said that Terri Schiavo’s death occurred in accordance with the law; in particular, I said that the federal courts involved in the case did not usurp politics to enforce their own notions of morality. I stand by that conclusion.

Conceding that the courts involved did not engage in judicial activism, Marianne Linane argues that they should have. In particular, she thinks that the courts should have ignored the law in order to do substantive justice and save Schiavo’s life. The answer to this is obvious. The separation of the legislative and judicial functions is essential to protecting the safety and rights of individuals, for if judges go beyond the judicial function, then the outcome of cases will turn on the peculiar moral notions of individual judges, and we will have a government not of laws but of men. In a case like Terri Schiavo’s, the temptation to ignore the law is strong, but we need to keep our heads and remember that the fundamental principles of our system of government serve very large interests, interests larger even than the life or death of a single individual. This, incidentally, is why men have been willing to die for these principles.

April Ishak’s position is more complicated. She concedes that existing law permitted the result in the Schiavo case but says that many legal questions determined in the case were sufficiently close that, consistent with the law, a court could have resolved these questions in a way that would have changed the ultimate outcome. In other words, Ishak thinks that the law permitted Schiavo’s death but did not require it, and she blames me for taking this latter and stronger position.

We should distinguish here between the federal issues arising under the special act of Congress and settled in federal courts, and the state law issues earlier settled in Florida state courts. It was the federal issues that I discussed in my article, and these issues (including the ones Ishak rehearses in her letter) were all so plainly without merit that, consistent with the law, the federal courts had no choice but to rule as they did. Ishak may think otherwise, but I am confident she is mistaken.

Among the state law issues, however, there were undoubtedly some that the courts could have resolved otherwise than they did, thus changing the outcome of the case.

Moreover, there is no need to raise obscure issues about medical records or guardian reports or the qualifications of expert witnesses, none of which directly affected the ultimate result. Rather, the crucial issue in the state litigation was whether there was clear and convincing evidence that Schiavo would have wanted to be dehydrated to death. As I read the record, the evidence was not clear and convincing, and I think the Florida judge who held otherwise was mistaken. To this extent, I agree with Ishak.

But an error by a judge as to whether there exists clear and convincing evidence is not an imposition by the judge of his own moral values to override the law; it is an error in applying a legal standard to particular facts. Sometimes, a judge makes such an error because he is biased in favor of a particular result, and when this happens, the judge is guilty of especially poor judging.

Nevertheless, such an error is one made in carrying out a judicial function; it is not a usurpation by the judiciary of a legislative function. I never said that every ruling by every judge in every stage of the Schiavo litigation was legally unassailable, only that the final deadly result was not caused by that very special kind of miscreancy that is a judicial usurpation of politics. None of Ishak’s claims, even if correct, touches that point.

Lydia McGrew also raises several important questions. She too thinks that there was no clear and convincing evidence that Terri Schiavo would have wanted to be dehydrated to death, and, as I said above, I agree. But McGrew then says that when the trial court mistakenly found that there was such evidence, it violated Schiavo’s federal due-process rights. This is not the law. In general, the right to due process is just that”a right to certain kinds of fair procedures, not the right to a substantively correct outcome from such procedures. When the process has been correct but the result is mistaken, the disappointed party’s remedy is not to claim a violation of due process but to appeal the erroneous judgment to a higher court.

This, of course, Schiavo’s parents did. The Florida appellate court hearing their appeal was required under the law to determine not whether the lower court made the right ruling but whether the evidence was legally sufficient to support the ruling that court made. Although the lower court’s decision may well have been wrong, it was not so wrong as to allow an appellate court to conclude that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law, and the Florida appellate court so held. But even if the Florida appellate court had erred in doing so, Schiavo’s due process rights would still not have been violated. She would have received due process, albeit with a mistaken result. Such unfortunate possibilities are inevitable in any system run by human beings.

McGrew also correctly points out that Cruzan , Browning , and the ruling of the Florida Supreme Court that struck down Terri’s Law contributed to the result in the Schiavo case. This is true, but at least with respect to Cruzan and Browning ,the causation was rather remote.

Moreover, some of McGrew’s criticisms of these cases seem to me misguided. The opinion in Cruzan , for example, was authored by Chief Justice Rehnquist and joined by Justice Scalia; it is not an example of judicial activism. Although the case recognized a liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment in refusing artificial hydration and nutrition, nevertheless, even if the Court had held otherwise, the result would have been at most that states are constitutionally permitted to provide artificial hydration and nutrition to unwilling individuals, not that those states would have been required to do so.

Unless state legislatures passed laws requiring such hydration and nutrition, which is very implausible, the practical result would have been the same. Once again, the problem is not with our courts.

McGrew objects to Browning because it held that evidence about past oral statements by a now incompetent person may constitute clear and convincing evidence of the person’s wishes. She is right that there is a danger of abuse here, but the holding is consistent with established rules of law in other areas, such as civil fraud cases. As to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision striking down Terri’s Law, the act presented complex and novel questions about the separation of powers; while the decision may be wrong, merely pointing to the executive’s pardon power, which has been established in the law for centuries, does not begin to settle the issue.

Finally,McGrew says that the trial court’s order enforcing what it took to be Schiavo’s wishes was in fact state action (and thus subject to review under the Fourteenth Amendment) because the court’s order applied to any guardian Schiavo may have had, not just her husband, and because the court acted as finder of fact in determining Schiavo’s wishes. But this is not sufficient to constitute state action under the law.

An example will make this clear. Say that a man dies, leaving a will, the language of which is ambiguous. A court makes factual findings regarding the testator’s intent and holds that the disputed language creates legacies for only two of the testator’s three children. The court then orders the executor of the estate, whoever he may be, to distribute the property of the estate accordingly. The disappointed child complains that the result discriminates against him in violation of his equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. He loses, of course, because there was no state action here: The discrimination, if there was any, was the act of the testator, not the court that determined and enforced the testator’s wishes. The order in the Schiavo case was analogous, and so the federal courts were clearly right when they held that there was no state action subject to review under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Mormon Bioethics

I must point out that the quotation from Charles Colson in reference to Mitt Romney (While We’re At It, May) misrepresents the belief of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. LDS doctrine states that each human person existed as a spirit prior to the beginning of mortal human life. (There is no reincarnation; the premortal existence is as spirit only.) There is no official LDS doctrine on when the premortal spirit enters or animates the body, and contrary to Colson’s assertion there is no unified belief among LDS church members on this point.

For those of us of the LDS faith, the lack of doctrine on when the spirit unites with the body should not lead to a devaluing of the early stages of human life. In 1985, for example, LDS Apostle Russell M. Nelson (who, prior to his calling to the apostleship, was a physician) stated that “it is not a question of when ‘meaningful life’ begins or when the spirit ‘quickens’ the body. In the biological sciences, it is known that life begins when two germ cells [the sperm and the egg] unite to become one cell, bringing together twenty-three chromosomes from both the father and the mother.

These chromosomes contain thousands of genes. In a marvelous process involving a combination of genetic coding by which all the basic human characteristics of the unborn person are established, a new DNA complex is formed.

A continuum of growth results in a new human being. The onset of life is not a debatable issue, but a fact of science.”

It would be more accurate to say that some prominent LDS church members (most notably, Senator Orrin Hatch) have come to the conclusion that life begins at implantation. In taking this position, they are influenced by the many scientists who seek to justify research that is destructive of human embryos. Fortunately, Mitt Romney and other LDS church members understand the importance of respect for human life from its earliest stages.

Joseph B. Stanford, MD
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah

The NCC on TV

In “The Public Square” (May), Richard John Neuhaus gloats over some of the nonsense of the liberal left in past years. As one who identifies himself with the liberal left, I readily admit that it sometimes harbors nonsense, and Neuhaus (whom I regard as a long-time friend and who I hope still regards me as a friendly adversary) has a right to gloat over its misadventures. But surely he is mistaken when he takes satisfaction in 60 Minutes ’ negative coverage of the National Council of Churches in 1981.

In December of 2002, Larry King interviewed Don Hewitt, executive producer of 60 Minutes , and asked whether he had any regrets about his work. Hewitt replied: “Yes, we once . . . took off on the National Council of Churches as being left wing and radical, and a lot of nonsense. And the next morning I got a congratulatory call from every red-neck bishop in America, and I thought, Oh my God, we must have done something wrong last night.”

Neuhaus, like all of us in our polemics, has a right to ridicule the silly moments of his adversaries, but he seems unaware of the foolishness of the show he delights in and of its retraction by its producer.

Roger L. Shinn
Southbury, Connecticut

RJN replies:

I do count Roger Shinn as a friend but I don’tknow why he or I or anyone else should think Don Hewitt is an authority on the misadventures of the National Council of Churches.


In the June/July issue we mentioned a report on religion reporting by the “school of journalism at Northwestern University.” The report was from the Media Management Center at Northwestern, which is distinct from the school’s Medill School of Journalism.


The August-September issue included a spoof on reactions to the election of Pope Benedict in the form of a fictional account of reactions to the election of Jesus as Messiah. The spoof carried the byline of “Ian Fisher, Rome correspondent for the New York Times .” The spoof was not written by Ian Fisher, and we regret any confusion caused on this score.