Russell and Duenes

Archive for January 2014

So They Can Do Real Work?

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And before the Microsoft Surface came to classrooms everywhere, what were students doing? Obviously not learning. I am absolutely convinced that you could toss in the trash every single piece of “technology” that is used in our classrooms and it would have no negative effect on student learning. Indeed, it might have the opposite effect. We tell ourselves whoppers about education, and then stand appalled at the results we get. I agree with Neil Postman that teachers stand to lose the most from these technologies, but they don’t realize it.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

January 30, 2014 at 8:24 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

What Does Pregnancy Mean?

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During pregnancy, women experience dramatic physical changes and a wide range of health consequences. Labor and delivery pose additional health risks and physical demands.” U.S. Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood v. Casey

“The [Uniform Parentage Act] begins with faulty nomenclature. It identifies the gestational surrogate as the ‘gestational mother.’ The use of the term ‘gestational mother’ throughout [Article 8 of this Act] is inappropriate, as it fosters the false presumption that the gestational carrier is actually the child’s mother. She is not. . . .[I]n surrogacy, the body is merely the vessel through which the services are rendered.” Paul G. Arshagouni, Be Fruitful and Multiply, By Other Means, If Necessary, 61 DePaul L. Rev. 709 (2012).

Surrogacy is an interesting study. I was anticipating doing a research project on the topic this semester, so I did a fair amount of reading on it over the Christmas holiday. Also, my good friend, Jennifer Lahl, has been neck deep in the surrogacy policy arena for some time now, and she was just here in Kansas this week to testify before our state legislature on the subject. The reason I think surrogacy is interesting is that it hits pro-life Catholics, Protestants, and feminists in unique ways, setting surrogacy apart from the more traditional pro-life issue of abortion. As Jennifer remarked to me, aside from the pro-life Catholics, people aren’t sure which “tribe” they want to join up with yet, whereas with abortion, people are pretty well entrenched in their respective camps.

Not only that, but there are various types of surrogacy. In traditional surrogacy, the woman supplies her own egg and is simply inseminated by the man who wants the child. What is becoming more common, and what seems more problematic, is what’s referred to as “gestational surrogacy,” wherein the woman who will carry the child and give birth to the child has no genetic relationship to the child. The egg and sperm are provided by third parties, through the invitro fertilization process (IVF), and implanted in the surrogate’s womb.

But is this problematic? A ton of people don’t think so, many others aren’t sure, and it seems to be only a very few who think surrogacy should be outlawed entirely. We can easily understand people at the two opposite poles. Homosexuals and singles who want children are understandably in favor of surrogacy, particularly gestational surrogacy, as it allows them to have children without an unwanted sex act. Conversely, orthodox Catholics oppose surrogacy in all forms, for surrogacy is violative of the procreative, conjugal sex act which is the only faithful way of producing children, in their view.

Protestants, or the plain old non-religious, don’t generally have the Catholic qualms about contraceptives, and thus, may be more or less ambivalent about surrogacy. One of my friends exemplifies this ambivalence a bit, as he wonders what surrogacy has to do with abortion. And that’s probably a continuing question for lots of Christians. After all, abortion is the taking of life, but in surrogacy, the goal seems to be bringing wanted lives into the world. No one is being killed, are they? What could possibly be wrong with people using technology and surrogates to achieve that which would otherwise be so painfully denied them? No one can understand the pain of infertility save the infertile.

Then we have the feminists, for whom surrogacy poses an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, they want women to have the autonomy and authority to “choose” what to do with their own bodies and reproductive systems, even if that includes being a surrogate for someone else. Privacy, choice and equality trump all other values. Yet this means they have to downplay the way that surrogate mothers are treated, namely, as not being mothers at all, but mere “carriers,” or to put it crassly, “breeders.” So we find the schizophrenic feminist position whereby the feminist sponsors an anti-surrogacy film like the Center for Bioethics and Culture’s “Breeders,” while posting flyers at the showing of the film stating that they don’t take a position on surrogacy and don’t support legislation which would ban it.

Yet might surrogacy, particularly gestational surrogacy, be more connected to abortion than one knows? Do all, or even most, of the people engaging in gestational surrogacy through IVF create a single embryo each time they try it? Or do they rather create many embryos and implant more than one of them in the surrogate mother, hoping that some of the embryos will die, and if they don’t, they will be affirmatively aborted (“selectively reduced,” as the euphemism goes)?

And what about the surrogate mothers themselves? The big move now is to avoid categorizing them as mothers at all. The legal literature is fascinating, insisting in many instances that the pregnant surrogate be called a “gestational carrier.” No, we dare not call her a mother, for that would imply that she has some connection and right to the child she bears. But to treat women as mere “carriers” is to denigrate and objectify them. It is to treat their generative capacities as a mere “service” to be ambivalently rendered. Indeed, it’s best if the gestational carrier does what she can to avoid bonding with the child she carries, in anticipation of the child being removed from her at birth. Not only must the surrogate’s femininity be diminished, but the nature and beauty of pregnancy must be blunted and marred as well. Pregnancy is something that encompasses the entirety of a woman’s physical body. There is not one cell of her body that is unaffected by pregnancy. Her emotional and psychological life is also entirely engaged in a pregnancy, for better or for worse. There is a bonding that goes on between child and mother, and rightly so, whether the mother thinks so or not. All of this must be downplayed so that the surrogate can simply render her services and then get on with life.

And what of the children? Surrogacy seems rather adult-centric, catering to the yearnings of adults rather than the best interests of the children. And when money is changing hands, how can we escape at least some complicity with baby-selling? And these days, one fears to question – at least in public – whether creating children to be raised in homosexual households is a good thing. Moreover, when adults need these wombs, by and large, to whom are they going to go? What population of women are going to be called upon to be surrogates, or will it be spread evenly amongst the population?

At the end of the day, however, many people seem to take the position that: “Well, these people are just trying to do something good, namely, bring life into the world and to experience the joys of parenthood. Why not just leave them to it? And surely if a woman does not want to be “dehumanized” by being considered a “rent-a-womb,” well then she can just say ‘no’ to surrogacy, can’t she? What’s the problem? We’ve got bigger fish to fry, like sex trafficking, political oppression, poverty, genocide, economic inequality, abortion, war and the like. Freedom is good; fertility is good. Surrogacy can’t really be a big deal, can it?” And it may not be a “big deal,” relative to other concerns, but does that mean it’s not a “deal” at all? Does that mean we ought not try and ask good questions about it, about the nature and purpose of femininity, motherhood and pregnancy, about the purpose of conceiving and raising children, and about the purpose human sexuality? And if we wonder about what kind of people we are becoming when we go in for surrogacy, might we not at least think about what would make us better people, more the kind of people God intends us to be?

-D

More Black Babies Killed Than Born Alive

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Life News reports that “[a]ccording to the NY State Department of Health, for every 1,000 black babies born alive, 1,223 are aborted. No other racial/ethnic demographic aborts more of their children than are born alive.” Thus, New York, that historically great beacon of freedom . . . New York, whose Manhattanite population would boast of its racial bona fides in championing freedom for blacks . . . New York, a welcomer of the tired, poor, huddled masses . . . has now become New York, ridder of the black race. Andrew Cuomo and his minions haven’t quite caught on to Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. To tweak Winston Churchill’s words: “They had to choose between life and shame. They chose shame.”

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

January 21, 2014 at 6:00 pm

God Told Me to Move to Topeka

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Just finished with a jury selection class at school, and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. In my time at law school I have often thought: “If I had my first trial tomorrow and had to select a jury, I’d probably get sued for malpractice when we lose because I have no earthly idea how to conduct a jury selection.” I don’t know how much more I know about it now, but at least I know I could get up and do it, and learn a lot from it. I was also reminded, as I am in almost all of my legal skills practice classes, that practicing law seems to be about 10% legal knowledge, and 90% hard work, preparation, art form, and above all ethics and relationships. There is no law that can provide the internal motivation to do what’s right and to treat others with dignity and respect, rather than as utilitarian pawns to be manipulated for power, money and prestige. All professions require righteous character, but I think the legal profession requires it in a unique way, and the law schools are utterly unable to help inculcate and foster it, other than with rules that say, “You must not do this.” I imagine I could spend the next 50 years practicing law and still be trying to figure out what Jesus requires of me as a lawyer. His law, written on my heart, is the most important one for me to take into the courtroom.

No one can imagine the extent to which lies, darkness, and shadow pervade our nation’s discourse and thinking on abortion. We tell and believe lies about the history of abortion in our nation. See Marvin Olasky, Abortion Rites; see also Justin Dyer, Roe v. History. (arguing that “[t]he new histories are spun off from deliberately fabricated narratives, and rarely does anyone return to the primary sources”).¬†We tell and believe lies about what the unborn really are. We tell and believe lies about how many women have died in “back alley” abortions, about what goes on in our nation’s abortion clinics, about adoption, and about the spiritual, emotional and psychological effects that abortion has on the women who have them, and on the families of women who have them. We tell and believe lies about what abortion is doing to our African-American brothers and sisters. We tell and believe lies about what it means to be a woman. Every facet of abortion is a pack of lies. We believe and reinforce these lies because the truth is ghastly and terrifying, and because we have decided that giving in to our every sexual desire and wish must not be impeded in any way, and it also must not get in the way of our career, social and wealth aspirations. I wonder what we would be saying and doing if the one-million-plus abortions we inflict in our nation every year were inflicted one month after the babies were born, rather than months before they’re born. Would we be telling ourselves and believing the same lies while they go inexorably to slaughter? Would we be talking about “choice” and “reproductive freedom” and “every child a wanted child” and other such non-issues? Would we hear about this from our pulpits each week, or at least have congregational prayer about it? Perhaps not.

I observed something in church a couple of weeks ago, and I got to wondering. A man who had been a pastor in Florida was invited up to speak to us. He had moved from Florida to Topeka because he said that God told him to. He did not say how God told him to do this, but he had obviously moved in response to what he took to be God’s instruction. My point is not that this pastor was wrong about hearing from God; rather, my question is: Did this man offer to others what he took to be God’s instruction for them to evaluate in terms of its wisdom? Perhaps he did. I don’t know him. But I wonder if there isn’t a bit of the anti-authority, anti-hierarchy, pro-individual autonomy spirit in the “God told me to” position. I wonder if “God told me to” becomes an unfalsifiable thing, submitted to no one in authority for its veracity, wisdom or correction. And what if God’s ostensible message to me were submitted to the elders of my church, and they told me I was wrong about what God said? Should I submit to them? After all, God told me to. Yet, are not we in the church under proper churchly authority? Are we not to submit to elders and those who oversee us spiritually? I admit, I am not atuned to godly authority in my own church, clearly because I have imbibed the radical-autonomous individualism myself. I am not saying that God cannot speak to people directly today, though I think it is not the primary way that God guided people in the Scripture or guides us today. But I am saying that the “God told me to” position seems to fit well with our individualistic, anti-authoritarian spirit of the age. And this is not a spirit that comes from God.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

January 18, 2014 at 8:27 am

Posted in Duenes, Reflections

Foghorn Leghorn On Baseball

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-D

Written by Michael Duenes

January 13, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Posted in Duenes, Sports