National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Inside NCR
Issue Date:  April 16, 2004

From the Editor's Desk

An exit of great grandeur

Claire Schaeffer-Duffy spent seven years, a significant period of her childhood, in India. Her father worked for the U.S. Information Agency and she lived in India in the early to mid 1960s and again in the early 1970s. “I really consider it the land where I fully came to life, because it was such an impressionable time to be there,” she said. “All my senses fully awakened in India.”

That deep connection is evident in the almost poetic tone of her story on the Narmada River and the people -- mostly women and poor farmers – who are trying to save it from being transformed into an endless succession of dams to accommodate development.

It is an age-old story, this tale of one group exploiting another for the sake of power or financial gain. Some would say the story of the Narmada is about the inevitable march of progress, that those who live in rural India have as much right as anyone to electrical power and abundant water.

“Of course they deserve it,” Schaeffer-Duffy responds, but it also matters how they acquire it. “Do you acquire it literally, as in this case, at the cost of other people’s lives?”

Why bother to pay attention if it’s inevitable?

Schaeffer-Duffy said she came to realize that maybe the reason she was there as a reporter was simply “to witness what is perhaps a disappearing world. Maybe the best we can be is oracles on behalf of that. If it is an exit, they are exiting with great grandeur,” she said of the people of the Narmada Valley. “They are not exiting quietly or violently, which are often the two options that happen in this pattern of human experience. It is often either a cruel and bloody fight or a quiet extinction.” In this case it is neither, she said. “They’ve won in one regard,” she said. “They’ve made people reexamine how you develop and to factor in the human cost.” Throughout Asia development of dams will be a large issue for the foreseeable future. The example of the people in the Narmada Valley could be a major contribution to the discussion of how development should proceed elsewhere.

~ ~ ~

I have heard from quite a few people in the past two weeks who are concerned about the most recent papal statement on artificial nutrition and hydration. Advances in medical technology, while offering avenues of care and lifesaving possibilities that keep breaching old thresholds, also create new ethical nightmares.

It is the work of thinking Catholics to puzzle through these difficult questions, to apply historical church teaching and ethical principles to current challenges. We’re glad to have the help of two of the most distinguished Catholic ethicists in the United States, Thomas A. Shannon and James J. Walter, who address the question of artificial hydration and nutrition in a detailed essay (see story).

~ ~ ~

You will notice a new feature in this issue -- American Catholic. Week in and week out we receive dozens of tips about stories happening at the parish and diocesan level, often stories that we can’t give major attention to but that increasingly mark out the tone and texture of the church today. Our intent is to use the page to keep track of the comings and goings in the local church. We’ll also use that label to mark profiles of people whose lives and work are informed in ways obvious and not so obvious by their ties to Catholicism. If you have suggestions for stories or ideas for profiles contact Dennis Coday at

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, April 16, 2004

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: