31 October 2013

Synergy: Working together for the Culture of Life

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This is a summation of the speech given by Anna Krohn, National Bioethics Convenor, at the recent 46th National Biennial Conference.

“Synergy” is a rather specialised 19th century word originally used in science. Its literal sense comes from two Greek terms meaning “substances or people working together.” The Oxford dictionary defines synergy as an effective cooperation which is “a combined effort which is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Synergy is produced when a really harmonious and happy combination of talents and ideas makes for a result which is greater and more dynamic than our expectations or individual best efforts. It is the type of energy that comes when a new horizon is made visible and when the contributions of different minds and hearts seen as part of the bigger picture.

A new type of working relationship was established between the Social Issues and Bioethics Convenors, the National International Secretary and the Research Officer in late 2012, which aimed to make better use of the social media and new communication methods in order to address the League’s response to the increasingly intricate context in which social and moral issues arise today.

We asked ourselves whether it was enough to declare ourselves “pro-life” in the bioethics area, if we are not also aware and engaged with the troubling economic, spiritual and relational issues which influence a person’s attitude to such troubling moral questions as euthanasia or abortion. Can we even begin to tackle the problem of the sexualisation of girls and children, without also being aware of the causes of the exploitation of women or the promising efforts to fight this social pathology which arise on international shores? How does the League find a voice in a world in which well-funded lobbyists and powerful interest groups seem to dominate the lime-light?

These complexities suggested to us that there was also a great deal of cross-over between the efforts of each National Convenor, and between the Convenors at the state and local levels.

The National Research Officer

The quality of the research undertaken by the National Research Officer has enabled the National Convenors to build upon Dr Brigid McKenna’s succinct and finely researched material and insights, the excellence and originality of which has been recently recognised by Parliamentary Committees and public figures. Thanks to League’s revamped social media and online presence, Member Organisations and branches can readily access material developed by the Research Office.

Dr Brigid McKenna combines her research work and submission preparation for the League with her lecturing to medical students, and her other advisory work to the Australian Bishops, in a way which keeps the League fully immersed in current and pressing ethical and social issues. Dr Brigid has also contributed an extensive range of gifts and skills to the Leagues public presence in the following ways:

Monitoring: A wide range of sources are scanned by Brigid, and the key ethical and social points are identified;
Compiling: Brigid had started developing a series of “Research Notes” some of which are available online; and
Organising: Working with local CWL groups to initiate new events which are formative, educational, encouraging, and able to disseminate vital ideas and strategies. 

The Social Issues Convenor

In a similar way our Social Issues Convenor, Marcia Riordan, brings an extraordinary range of experience and expertise to her role. Marcia has a Masters Degree in Bioethics and is trained as a scientist in immunology. She worked for a number of years at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. We are so fortunate to have Marcia as a Convenor since she is really the pioneer of a fresh wave of pro-woman and pastoral responses to ethics of life issues in this country. Marcia established the first Respect Life Office in Australia and is a very valued advisor to the other Life Offices which have followed her lead, and to the Australian Bishops and many others in the Church.

Over the past 12 months, Marcia has considered the following in her research, writing and pastoral work: violence against women and children, gendercide, post abortion trauma, pornography, the future of natural marriage, adoption, surrogacy, poverty, gambling, human trafficking and prostitution, childcare, homelessness, sexualisation of girls, treatment of refugees, and disability and many more topics.

The National Bioethics Convenor

As National Bioethics Convenor, I have been able bring to this co-operative team of convenors my experience in adult faith formation, bioethics and the education of healthcare professionals. The League is committed to informing and encouraging awareness of key bioethical and social issues at all levels—including parishes, schools, local communities and governments. We are aware that many good people are simply not informed or aware of the ways in which these issues may effect and touch upon each other. They may not be very familiar with the reasons the Church teaches on one matter or another. Our “League team” is developing ways in which the critical issues of our time can be “re-framed” so that they are communicated from a new angle or set against a different backdrop.

I have also being working with the Social Issues Convenor, the National International Secretary, the Research Officer and the League’s social media team to tap into the network of digital portals—linking them to the great work of the Research Office—and to highlight how the “culture of life” is made up of social, ethical, spiritual and legal dimensions. The use of social media has enabled us to become a potent voice.

The Convenors and the National International Secretary have been using Skype to consult with each other and the Research Officer on a regular basis. Our voice has been heard in a wide range of mediums. The League’s bioethics audience consists not only of hundreds but (without exaggeration) tens of thousands of younger men and women. The “culture of life” message has to be shared not only in text format, but in our visual and image-based age, also “shown” such as in the recent DVD project sponsored by the Life Council of the Australian Bishops’ Conference.

We have also been very conscious of the need to find very pastoral and sensitive ways to reach out to those who are fearful or harmed by the harsh experiences of abortion, reproductive technology or the pressures to accept a eugenic view of the human person. We have worked together to promote a holistic notion of the young and old, and particularly to highlight the role of women as leaders in this task.

The recent public hearings into child sexual abuse and other shocking revelations have brought us to humble recognition of our need for conversion and yet at the same time, the whole world has been touched by humility, leadership and authentic Christian presence of Popes Francis and Benedict XVI. Their life-giving teachings have provided our bioethical voice with their deep and touching humanity, and they have taught us to infuse our work by always returning to the simple heart of the Gospel pointers for the flourishing of a “new feminism” which Blessed John Paul II saw as the foundation for a moral and spiritual revival in our own times.

The different topics I have written about over the last 12 months include: “Future Care Planning” (and positive alternatives to end-of-life decision making); the controversial “post-birth abortion” (i.e. infanticide); the essentials of a fully human notion of human dignity (during Life Week at Australian Catholic University, Melbourne Campus); human tissue transplantation; the coerced sterilisation of the disabled; ethics in cyberspace and the expansion of reproductive surrogacy in Australia.

A culmination of this synergy between the Convenors, Jane Munro, Dr Brigid McKenna, and in future Catherine McGrath (WUCWO Board Member, Australia), can be drawn together into a successful seminar days such as that held by the Tasmanian Catholic Women’s League this year (see the MO News section for more information). This type of event could be translated into other states and regions.