Sunday, February 11, 2007

re: On naming and some personal updates

Well today I submitted a short story and my medical school personal statement (which I am proud to admit was once described by an interviewer as "The most literary personal statement I'd read in twenty years") to the Legible Script's medical student writing contest. Check them out at . The story is about the challenge of medical school. If it's published you can write to the kind people at the University of South Florida COM for a copy. Otherwise, assuming I retain publishing rights, I'll put it up here in the summer. On that note, this is an issue which continually confuses me. I mean, if I write something, should I at least have the right to use it as I wish?

At any rate, this week I'll be submitting an essay on Hippocratic medicine to the Francis A. Velay Humanism in Medicine Essay Contest sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation assuming of course my good, Catholic friend Blase Hennessy finishes editing it for me. He too is a writer and can be found at Check his writings out. He likes to write about politics and is quite good at it. Plus, the more hits he gets, the more likely he'll be to go national. At least that's what I'm hoping. Long story short, whether I win or lose, my essay on Hippocrates will be up if and when it's allowed.

Lastly, on a personal note. Any day now we are expecting the birth of our second child, a boy. My wife and I continually to be at odds regarding the name. In what can only properly be described as a burning bush experience or the guiding hand of Providence, since I was fifteen or so I have been utterly convinced that I should name my first son Augustine, after the great 4th century Church Father who was so influential in my own conversion to Catholicism. My wife on the other hand, does not like the name.

My dilemma is this. For me, there has never ever been another name. It was always Augustine. For her, she has a few picked out. I told her to name him what she wants to, fully knowing how awkward a position I would be placing her in. Problem is, to pick another name, in my mind, would be like Zechariah opting not to name his son John (cf. Luke 1:63). It's something I cannot as a matter of conscience do (wouldn't you like to be married to me?).

You see, I have good reasons for wanting to name him Augustine. When you name something, you "say what it is" in the words of Aristotle. Naming, in a way, is to define the essence of a thing. That is why the Jews of the Old Testament placed such a high premium on the naming process, and why every time a name is changed in the Scriptures it is for some theologically significant reason. Think Abram to Abraham, Saul to Paul, or especially Simon to Peter. Each of these says something about who the person is or ought to be.

Perhaps I sound pedantic, but this is something so important, it of necessity cannot be anything less than a well reflected upon choice. Moreover, a name is the first thing a father can give to his child. For a mother, things are different. She gives throughout the entire gestation while the father waits patiently (and admittedly more comfortably) in expectation of the day. That is why I want to give my son something important and significant: namely the name Augustine. By doing so, I would be saying, here is the legacy I want to leave you with, to carry on the work of our family begun in my life when I was received into full communion with the Church and to carry on the work of great saints like Augustine who is such a marvelous example of grace working in a human life. After all, he is know to the West as the Doctor Gratiae (the doctor of grace).

Since it is the father's task to prepare and present his children to the world, by giving a meaningful name, I would be giving him a way of being known by the world and a way of expressing himself to it. "Augustine" to those who hear it will first, stand out (laugh it ,if you must with tiresome jokes) and second intrigue and third reveal. It's unicity will spark questions. Oh what does your name mean? And immediately he would have the opportunity to share the story of one of this world's greatest saints. The name is also revelatory. It says, "I'm a Catholic" and not just any Catholic, a Catholic like St. Augustine of old, an intellectual powerhouse of fidelity and love.

All right, I'm rambling now. Any thoughts would be appreciated. I'll put up pics as soon as the little guy is born. For now, some wisdom from St. Augustine that has nourished my soul and guided my life as long as I have been graced to know it.

This is a prayer of St. Augustine's that I pray everyday:

O God, Full of Compassion,
I commit and commend myself to you
In whom I am, I live, and know
Be the goal of my pilgrimage and my rest by the way
and may my soul take refuge from the crowding turmoil of earthly thoughts
beneath the shadow of your wings.
And may my heart, this sea of restless waves, find peace in you O God.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Catholic Action!

One of the best things a Catholic student in the health care professions can do is become involved with a local Catholic organization such as Newman Club or the Catholic Medical Student Association. Most campuses have some type of Catholic student organization. It’s worth becoming active even if you disagree with the leadership, take issue with the lack of catechesis among the members, etc., the point is to find some people with whom you can forge potential friendships. The culture war is not going to be won by a lone ranger. Catholics from all sides—spanning the whole theological spectrum—must gather together to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, receive the sacraments, heal the sick, learn about the faith and support one another.

For those of us who might be described as doggedly orthodox, and are prone to having a certain higher-level of catechesis, “social justice” at the expense of profound mystery becomes quite frustrating and even more tedious. However, we must ever remember, as Pope Benedict reminded us near the beginning of his pontificate, truth without love is empty and love without truth is blind. These are two sides of the same coin, as it were. Pouring our heart into helping the helpless as an expression and efflorescence of our love for Christ (and our concomitant theological orthodoxy) will only inspire a greater commitment to the Church and fidelity to Christ in those around us.

Think of Blessed “Mother” Teresa of Calcutta. Is there any doubt among anyone about her love for the Church and wholehearted acceptance of its teaching? No. Such acceptance spurred her great advocacy for and acceptance of the indigent. Is there any doubt about her commitment to the poor? No. She is remembered internationally as a woman of selfless abandonment to the “poor in spirit.” Such a one satisfies the Catholic heart either liberal or conservative and reminds us all that our response to the poor and suffering must ever be a response to the love God has for us and a result of the great gift of grace bestowed on us by His son.

No doubt, small gestures of great love and devotion can have a profound effect on the theologically tepid. So there’s nowhere to kneel during the Consecration? Kneel anyway as the Church prescribes. It won’t hurt you to kneel without padded kneelers for one day. Imagine what cost it was for Our Lord to take nails to His hands and feet, and to have His fascia (er, flesh) ripped away from His Holy Body. Bow during the Creed when “He became man.” Make all you do a prayer and people will want to know what inspires your action, devotion, and happiness.

Getting involved with your local Catholic student organization is a way for you to make a difference. You might possibly be the catalyst for a resurgence in your school of Catholic life. Maybe your organization only holds the occasional Mass and a few lunch-time meetings. Become a leader, and next year plan to increase membership twofold and set goals: to educate non-Catholics about specifically Catholic medical practice and ethics; to educate Catholics about what we believe, why we believe it, and why we should believe it, practice it, and teach it; to teach, at least rudimentarily, about NFP so patients can have all the options; invite renowned speakers to discuss Catholic issues and advertise around your local and campus community; hold monthly Masses, invite many Catholics and non-Catholics alike and hold a liturgy in which Heaven really does reach down to earth and earth is graced with heaven as in Michealangelo’s Creation of Man. The point is to faintly hear the angels singing. In truth, we must remember, the Mass can never be otherwise than that and far more greater than we can possibly grasp: for in it, Christ presents His eternal condescension to us by becoming not a bloodied body on a Cross, but a real and living presence under the appearance of bread and wine.

For now join the Catholic Medical Association and the Catholic Medical Student Organization.

Both of these are great resources for all Catholic medical students. Perhaps, we’ll even be able to meet at the annual convention. In fact, I’ll count it: see you in Atlanta this October. Pax.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

IC Column: Stem Cells Done Right

Stem cells done right

Patrick Beeman

Posted: 1/29/07

Let's face it; I'm a bit of a nerd. I don't like to party. In fact, I don't party at all because if I did, I'd be the guy alone in the corner the entire time my friends and I were mooching free drinks and snacks from some poor soul we'd never met.

When I drink, I prefer to do so "Inklings-style," as part of good, intellectual conversation (The Inklings were a group of scholars, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who met weekly at a pub to read their unpublished works and do other uniquely Oxonian things). And I won't drink anything that might be sold at a NASCAR event, but that's another story.

In fact, I'm more comfortable with a pint of Guinness draught and Dostoyevsky's "Brothers Karamazov" than with a pitcher of Miller-Lite and a table of rowdy friends. If only more pubs were set up for the kind of high-adventure that is the intellectual life. Alas. But that's what coffee shops are for.

But even at Beaners, you'd spy me translating Saint Augustine's "Confessions" from Latin, and drinking a "skinny" latte. You might even catch me adjusting my glasses by pressing finger or thumb to the bridge of my nose. So it's official, I'm kind of nerdy, which explains why every Wednesday when I receive the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, I drop what I'm doing and read it from cover to cover. OK, maybe I just read the headlines and two or three articles of interest.

At any rate, one recent issue sported an exciting piece on stem cell research, which I, as a Catholic medical student, am all for. Interest piqued? Read on.

Stem cells are great. They have the uncanny ability to differentiate into many different cell types. And without a doubt, they display potential in treating an obscenely long list of diseases including breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, and Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Syndrome (the "bubble-boy disease"). This is precisely why we need to continue pouring money into researching them. Who knows what cures lie on the horizon?

But notice how I didn't us the word "embryonic?" Embryonic stem cell research is quite another thing, for that requires destroying the embryo whose cells are harvested - that's just downright evil.

The aforementioned JAMA article cites examples of adult stem cells, which have shown promise in turning into the type of cell that is defective in diabetes. And then we read, "many scientists believe the best potential lies in embryonic stem cells." Why?

Does anyone remember the debacle in South Korea when Hwang Woo-Suk reported in the world's most prestigious scientific journal, "Science," that he had generated a human stem cell line from a cloned human embryo only to have to retract - to his great shame and to that of the much ballyhooing scientific community - this fabrication in June 2005? Or does anyone recall that many embryonic stem cells produce teratomas (a type of tumor containing many different types of tissue such as hair, teeth, etc.)? That is, embryonic stem cells produce cancer and those treated with them can die of fatal tumors.

In the words of Maureen Condic, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Utah's medical school, reporting in last month's "First Things," "The assertion that embryonic stem cells in the laboratory can be induced to form all the cells comprising the mature human body has been repeated so often that it seems incontrovertibly true. What is missing from this assertion remains the simple fact that there is essentially no scientific evidence supporting it." How's that for succinct?

The fact is that channeling billions of dollars of public monies into some scientific will-o'-the-wisp seems ludicrous when these resources could be allocated to funding already promising and uncontroversial research into adult stem cells. Why not cast down the scientific hubris and search for cures that don't require adopting the moral principles of the Third Reich? Our society can only be better for taking the moral high road by not treating human persons like products for technological manipulation.

Certainly no one wants our world to resemble Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," in which, among other perverse things, the very word "mother" becomes profanity. Yet, we're on the brink. And the solution is simple: we can start by keeping in mind the words of the great philosopher Dr. Seuss, who observed, "a person is a person no matter how small." That includes embryos.
© Copyright 2007 Independent Collegian (