The Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life recently awarded Richard Doerflinger with the Evangelium Vitae Medal for his work promoting the sanctity of human life. Doerflinger is the current associate director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
Doerflinger earned his BA and MA in Divinity at the University of Chicago before entering the PhD theology program at Catholic University of America. In 1980, while trying to complete his doctorate, he took his first job at the USCCB, where he “got taken up by these pro-life issues.” His passion for pro-life work led him away from finishing his dissertation, said Doerflinger in an interview with The Rover.
Doerflinger said that his passion for the pro-life cause also springs from his personal experience. When he was young, his brother Eugene was seriously injured in a car accident, and the doctors, declaring that his “vegetative” state basically rendered him deceased, failed to mend Eugene’s severely damaged body.
The Doerflinger family took Eugene home and provided the best care for him that they could. He emerged from that vegetative state, and, though confined to a wheel chair, regained the capacity to interact normally with others.
Doerflinger was strongly affected by his family’s experience, commenting that “It taught me something about not giving up on life. It taught me something about what we owe to each other.”
Citing Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in response to those who say that life issues are insignificant in comparison to other political issues, he said, “The most important and fundamental issue of all is who counts as a member of society.”
In 1984, Doerflinger promoted legislation on the protection of unborn children from experimentation. He also advocated for the Adolescent Family Life Act to help pregnant teenagers, the Hyde amendment, and the Dickey amendment, which stopped federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
“It’s been a great honor and gratifying to work on legislation and to have an effect,” Doerflinger commented. His current work involves lobbying, briefing congressional staffs, analyzing legislation, writing letters to Congress, and occasionally meeting with the legislators themselves.
Doerflinger’s legislative work is greatly influenced by scientific advancements. “The dominant ethic nowadays in science is utilitarianism,” he said. He also observed that “the advancements of recent years are beginning to render embryonic stem cell research obsolete.”
He confidently refuted any claim that the pro-life legislation has not been effective, and he contended that government funding of abortion “has an enormous impact on how many women have an abortion.”
Doerflinger looks forward to continuing his efforts in Washington, D.C., particularly given the newly-elected Congress. He draws much hope from his interaction with young people, particularly college students. He said he has seen “so many young people who are so idealistic and so enthusiastic,” laughing as he told The Rover that “[he looks] forward to being replaced.”