Earlier this afternoon as I was running errands I caught a few minutes of Ira Flatow’s weekly NPR program “Science Friday.” I usually don’t listen to it—it is neither at a convenient time for me nor does it fit my interests—but as the engine turned over and the radio came on I heard
Professor Proton, I mean Ira Flatow, saying
something about experiments for a vaccine for chlamydia done several years back
which were done on people from the developing world, including children. Now, chlamydia is a sexually transmitted
disease and it strikes me as pretty exploitative on a number of levels to use
children in these experiments, but to be honest I was appalled that these
experiments for the benefit of us in the developed world were done on the poor
from the developing (aka “third”) world.
This is one of the issues that Pope Francis speaks about in Laudato Sii and it only goes to reinforce the import of his encyclical. People in the developed world see people less economically advantaged than we are as “tools” to be used for our benefit. Medical experimentation is particularly offensive but how many of the advances and even comforts we enjoy come at cost to the poor of Africa, Asia, the Pacific Rim, and Latin America? Whether it is in the trade of blood diamonds, the use of sweatshops to produce consumer goods, drugs (legal and illegal), cheap sources of food for our tables, the fur of endangered animals—how much of our lifestyle depends on the exploitation of others.
I am not quite through with the Encyclical yet—I have about twenty more pages to go, but what I have read has made me stop and think, or actually stop and look into my own conscience. It is a profoundly Christian document that draws on the writings of previous popes, Councils, Fathers and Doctors of the Church, our rich mystical tradition, as well as on science and common sense. Laudato Sii provides a profound challenge to so many of the things we take for granted and offers us the vision of what our world could be if we stood in solidarity with both the world’s peoples and the world itself.