The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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November 2, 2001 Issue
Local News

Answer to life questions? Educate

Wisconsin Right to Life efforts pay off
across generational lines

By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor

When people are educated about life issues, they will support life.

That's the main point behind the on-going work of Wisconsin Right to Life (WRL), said Barbara Lyons, executive director.

For example, a new state poll, conducted the week of Oct. 15, showed that 67% of respondents believe abortion should never be legal except to protect the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.

"That's a 14-point increase (in support of life) in the past six to seven years," said Lyons. "We're very ecstatic." She credits the work of local branches of WRL, its education arm -- the Veritas Society -- and an increasingly life-conscious younger generation with the upward trend.

However, there's no time to sit back and bask in success. WRL sees many pro-life issues that Wisconsin residents need information about. To these ends, WRL is involved in new education efforts, a massive Internet campaign and information on pending legislation regarding abortion.

Action in legislature

State legislation of concern to WRL includes:

Assembly Bill (AB) 546. Prohibits any organization that counsels for or provides abortions from receiving state funding. WRL supports this ban. "It closes some loopholes in earlier state legislation," Lyons said, adding that 70% of Wisconsin residents polled favor the bill.

AB 296. Requires all insurance providers to cover contraceptives, something private insurers such as Catholic dioceses do not do. This, in effect, forces such private insurers to support contraception. WRL opposes this. Lyons adds that the bill, in effect, also mandates coverage of early abortions through medications.

AB 307. The pharmicists' conscience clause would allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense contraceptives based on their personal beliefs. While WRL supports this bill, Lyons noted that more encompassing is

AB 168, the healthcare provider conscience clause. This would prohibit employment discrimination and provide exemption for "physicians, nurses, pharmacists, other health care providers, and hospital employees who refuse to participate in sterilization, abortion, assisted suicide, and other procedures on moral or religious grounds."

The Human Protection Embryo Act. Would prohibit the destruction of embryos, as well as their sale, transfer and cloning. The embryo protection act is a response to the current debate over embryonic stem cell research, in which Wisconsin is at the forefront. WRL supports the bill and is also promoting adoption of current "excess embryos" that exist in fertility clinics.

SJR 46. UW-Madison researcher Dr. James Thomson has developed several embryonic stem cells lines currently in use for research. State Sen. Chuck Chvala is a co-sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 46 commending Thomson and asking that UW-Madison be named a National Center of Excellence for Embryonic Stem Cell Research. WRL opposes the resolution.

"Thomson is being held up as a pioneer and a hero," said Lyons. "The problem is he's starting from the wrong premise. No one objects to his goal of curing diseases. But he's destroying human life (to do it)."

Public information need

WRL sees stem cell research as an area needing massive public information. Lyons says most people are unclear of the issues and often unaware that embryonic stem cells have, to date, provided no cures and present a large risk of unchecked tumor growth. However, adult stem cells have already provided many cures and show increasing promise in various areas of medical research.

Lyons blames the mass media for the lack of public information. "The general media approach," she said, "is that, 'If we just have this embryonic stem cell research, we could all walk hand in hand into paradise, disease-free, today.' That's just not the case."

Stem cell research focuses on many areas, including some that are part of old age for many -- such as diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer diseases. And these can often lead people to consider the issues of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia.

"We still have concerns about attitudes toward euthanasia," Lyons said, "People need lots of education because they just haven't thought it through." She added that, when people have a chance to learn about pain management, the potential abuse of euthanasia and emotional support for the terminally ill, their attitudes solidify in favor of banning euthanasia.

Life on-line

To this end, WRL is embarking on a massive education campaign about end-of-life issues. The first phase will involve an Internet site -- intended to launch in January -- that "will be the so-called Bible on the issue," said Lyons.

The as-yet-unnamed site will be a joint venture by various groups including WRL, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, other state's Catholic Conferences and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutherans. The site will be targeted to provide information to church leaders, media, and members of various medical and health support groups such as the AMA and the ARC.

Since so many people need information, Lyons said, the decision was made to first provide information to "people who have the most opportunity to influence others."

Baby-boomers face issues

The second phase of the education project, she added, will involve TV and radio ads as well as educational videos aimed at the church-going public. WRL also intends to provide information for "baby boomer-aged women" who are now or soon will be "the decision-makers in the care of their aging parents."

Lyons noted that these women, as a group, appear more open to alternatives to euthanasia than do their male counterparts.

Gen Y knows why

Another group increasingly supportive of life issues is the future itself: Generation Y, those ages 17-22. Lyons sees them as great defenders of life issues in voting. She noted three strengths of Gen Y in the pro-life arena:

• They haven't "been brain-washed by the abortion rhetoric of the past 30 years";

• They approach issues with a more analytic stance;

• They see the unborn as persons of great potential.

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