By Elizabeth Bachmann
WASHINGTON (CNS) — A globetrotting warrior for life and human dignity has taken up a new gauntlet as president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, where he will use his global expertise and Catholic bioethics education to defend against what he termed life-degrading “science fictions” that are becoming reality.
Joseph Meaney, former director of international outreach and expansion for Human Life International, assumed the presidency of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, taking over from the former president of 22 years, John Haas. The new president earned his doctorate in bioethics from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.
In an interview with Catholic News Service, Meaney said he foresees helming a difficult and fast-paced battle against an encroaching “culture of death.”
“There are a lot of things developing at breakneck speed. We are at an unprecedented point in U.S. history. We have never seen this speed of scientific change,” Meaney said. “There are huge developments in robotics, movements to replace organs and limbs with robotic parts, artificial intelligence implants directly into the brain. These all were science fiction so recently. We are taking something you would talk about in a Hollywood film and turning it into reality.”
As president, Meaney will continue Haas’ work of overseeing and guiding the Philadelphia-based center’s primary functions.
These include working with bishops, Catholic health care centers, and the general public to outline and explain the church’s standings on existing and newly arising bioethical issues. The center offers to help Catholic health care facilities align their care with church teaching, especially with regard to end-of-life care, pregnancy and experimental treatments.
In emergency situations, the center makes an ethicist available 24/7. People can call (215) 877-2660 for consultation or guidance on church teaching on a bioethical issue. They do not provide legal or medical advice.
Meaney attributes his skill in these medical ethical areas to his hands-on study at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart.
“We would go and see patients, and see Catholic health care in practice,” Meaney said. “And it was wonderful to follow doctors around and see cases and not just have a theoretical view, but see patients and discuss with families end-of-life issues and extraordinary versus ordinary means issues.”
In addition to its practical support, the National Catholic Bioethics Center publishes over 50 titles, including a series of educational publications, public policy reports, and The National Bioethics Quarterly.
Meaney emphasized that at the core of all these Catholic bioethical teachings is the idea of a human person’s innate dignity from conception to death. He said that certain medical practices and experiments are stripping humans of their innate dignity all around the world through assisted suicide, embryonic stem-cell research, abortion, transgender body rejection, hormone therapy, contraception, etc.
“The vision of the human person is askew in so many places,” Meaney said. “Catholic teaching is so liberating and freeing. It is wonderful to be able to share that.”
He gave the example of assisted suicide, a practice growing in popularity as a “right” in America and the world, a practice he said grows out of a despair toward life and a desire to simply end suffering as painlessly as possible.
“A lot of despair comes from untreated pain or loneliness or untreated depression,” he said. “They need help, not a lethal injection — which is what the culture of death is offering.”
He heartily rejected the notion that the church’s moral sensitivities signal an aversion to science. Rather, he said that the church is pro-science, and acknowledges anything that can help humanity to overcome disease as a certain good. However, he proceeded with the caveat that the purpose and method behind a procedure or experiment often determines its ethicality.
“For instance, discovering ways to do prosthetic limbs is, in theory, wonderful. However, if it is going to be done in transhumanist way — taking the position that they want to enhance the human person beyond normal by amputating the healthy arm to replace it with a stronger, robotic arm — that’s not respecting dignity because they want to create a superhuman,” Meaney said. “There is a good and bad way to do it.”
As leader of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, he intends to keep the organization on the cutting edge of these advances, and to temper scientific excitement with moral caution. He and his team will study each breakthrough’s implications on human dignity and guide Catholics and non-Catholics alike to make moral decisions about how to participate in and utilize medical services.
“People turn to us because they see us as a faithful guide in morality,” Meaney said. “That’s the beauty of the church; our teachings continue in fidelity of the same tradition. A lot of people do turn to us and want to know what the church teaches as a guide to them.”