Papal Address to Catholic Pharmacists Congress
You "Must Invite Each Person to Advance Humanity"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 8, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of Benedict XVI's address Oct. 29 to participants of the 25th International Congress of Catholic Pharmacists, held in Rome.

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ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI TO MEMBERS OF THE INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS
OF CATHOLIC PHARMACISTS
Consistory Hall
Monday, 29 October 2007

Mr President,
Dear Friends,

I am happy to welcome you, members of the International Congress of Catholic Pharmacists, on the occasion of your 25th Congress, whose theme is: "The new boundaries of the pharmaceutical act".

The current development of an arsenal of medicines and the resulting possibilities for treatment oblige pharmacists to reflect on the ever broader functions they are called to fulfil, particularly as intermediaries between doctor and patient; they have an educational role with patients to teach them the proper dosage of their medication and especially to acquaint them with the ethical implications of the use of certain drugs. In this context, it is not possible to anaesthetize consciences, for example, concerning the effects of particles whose purpose is to prevent an embryo's implantation or to shorten a person's life. The pharmacist must invite each person to advance humanity, so that every being may be protected from the moment of conception until natural death, and that medicines may fulfil properly their therapeutic role. No person, moreover, may be used thoughtlessly as an object for the purpose of therapeutic experimentation; therapeutic experimentation must take place in accordance with protocols that respect fundamental ethical norms. Every treatment or process of experimentation must be with a view to possible improvement of the person's physical condition and not merely seeking scientific advances. The pursuit of good for humanity cannot be to the detriment of people undergoing treatment. In the moral domain, your Federation is invited to address the issue of conscientious objection, which is a right your profession must recognize, permitting you not to collaborate either directly or indirectly by supplying products for the purpose of decisions that are clearly immoral such as, for example, abortion or euthanasia.

It would also be advisable that the different pharmaceutical structures, laboratories at hospital centres and surgeries, as well as our contemporaries all together, be concerned with showing solidarity in the therapeutic context, to make access to treatment and urgently needed medicines available at all levels of society and in all countries, particularly to the poorest people.

Prompted by the Holy Spirit, may you as Catholic pharmacists find in the life of faith and in the Church's teaching elements that will guide you in your professional approach to the sick, who are in need of human and moral support if they are to live with hope and find the inner resources that will help them throughout their lives. It is also your duty to help young people who enter the different pharmaceutical professions to reflect on the increasingly delicate ethical implications of their activities and decisions. To this end, it is important that all Catholic health-care professionals and people of good will join forces to deepen their formation, not only at a technical level but also with regard to bioethical issues, as well as to propose this formation to the profession as a whole. The human being, because he or she is the image of God, must always be the centre of research and choices in the biomedical context. At the same time, the natural principle of the duty to provide care for the sick person is fundamental. The biomedical sciences are at the service of the human being; if this were not the case, they would have a cold and inhuman character. All scientific knowledge in the health sector and every therapeutic procedure is at the service of the sick person, viewed in his integral being, who must be an active partner in his treatment and whose autonomy must be respected.

As I entrust you as well as the sick people you are called to treat to the intercession of Our Lady and of St Albert the Great, I impart my Apostolic Blessing to you and to all the members of your Federation and your families.

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NaPro Technology: Moral and Better than  In Vitro
by Fr. Thomas Morrow

Attorneys Anthony and Stephanie Epolite married in their late thirties, and after trying for some time to have a baby, they were deeply disappointed. When Stephanie was approaching her birthday without any prospect for conceiving, they went to see their doctor. He referred them to a fertility clinic. When they asked their parish priest about pursuing in vitro fertilization (IVF) he told them "Do whatever you feel comfortable with." (Pray for that man!)1

So, off they went. They met with a doctor who did no tests, took no blood, and seemed very cold, very matter of fact. He told them they had only one option, what with Stephanie about to turn 39, IVF. Next they met with a kind of sales person to decide which "package" they wanted, one cycle, two or three. They weren't warming up to this whole thing but it seemed like their last hope, so they forged ahead.

They would remove several ova (eggs) from Stephanie surgically, and then introduce a sperm cell from Anthony in a Petri dish. They would observe under a microscope to see if fertilization would occur. If it did, she would be invited back in to insert the embryo into Stephanie's womb. For two cycles of work, the price was a cool $25,000, with no guarantee that there would even be a fertilization. During the two months of preparation, Anthony had to inject his wife with several drugs in several parts of her body.

When they completed their part of the procedure, they went home to await the call. The call they got was to tell them it didn't work. Their comment at the end of the consultation was, "You will probably never have a family." And, of course, the $25,000 was down the tubes.

Studies show IVF problems

Their story is not unique. CDC data for 2003 indicate that the success rate for Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), of which in vitro fertilization is virtually always involved in one form or another, was 32.3 % live births per cycle. Of that 32.3%, 12%, or slightly over 1/3 were "multiple fetus pregnancies."2 For those women in Stephanie Epolite's age category (ages 38-40) the success rate for live births was just 20.2 % per cycle.3 Quite a gamble at about $10,000 per cycle! A study in the New England Journal of Medicine discovered that ART babies had a 9% rate of birth defects, vs. the national average of 4.2 %. Other studies have shown an increase among these babies of cancer, low birth weights and other problems.4

The Church on IVF

The Church's teaching on artificial reproduction has been in effect since the pontificate of Pius XII, who taught in 1949:

    Artificial insemination outside of marriage [i.e., with single persons] must be condemned as immoral purely and simply.

    Artificial insemination within marriage, but by means of . . . a third person, is equally immoral.

    What of the liceity of artificial insemination in matrimony? . . . the desire for a child — a completely legitimate desire of the married people — does not prove] that artificial insemination is legitimate because it would satisfy such a desire . . .

    Though new methods cannot be excluded a priori simply because they are new, in the case of artificial insemination, one should not only keep a cautious reserve, but must exclude it altogether. This does not necessarily forbid the use of certain artificial means . . . either to facilitate the natural act, or to enable the natural act, normally carried out, to attain its natural end.

    Let it not be forgotten that only procreation of a new life according to the will and plan of the Creator, carries with it, to an amazing degree of perfection, the realization of intended aims. It is at the same time in conformity with the corporal and spiritual nature and the dignity of the marriage partners, and with the normal and happy development of the child.5

Pius spoke again on this subject, giving more reasons for his position, in 1951:

    [In our address in 1949] We formally rejected artificial insemination in marriage. The marital act, in its natural setting, is a personal action. It is the simultaneous and direct cooperation of husband and wife, which by the very nature of the agents and the propriety of the act, is the expression of the mutual giving which, in the words of Scripture, results in the union "in one flesh."

    There is much more than the union of two life seeds, which can be brought about even artificially, that is, without the cooperation of husband and wife. The marital act, in the order of, and by nature's design, consists of a personal cooperation which wife exchange as a right when they many.6

And, finally, the same Pius XII explained further his rejection of artificial insemination in a 1956 address:

    The Church has rejected the . . . attitude, which would pretend to separate, in generation, the biological activity in the personal relation of the married couple. The child is the fruit of the conjugal union when that union finds full expression by bringing into play the organic functions, the associated sensible emotions, and the spiritual and disinterested love which animates the union. It is in the unity of this human act that we should consider the biological conditions of generation. Never is it permitted to separate these various aspects to the positive exclusion either of the procreative intention or of the conjugal relationship. The relationship which united the father and the mother to their child finds its root in the organic fact and still more in the deliberate conduct of the spouses who give themselves to each other and whose will to give themselves blossoms forth and finds its true attainment in the being which they bring into the world.7

The Catechism of The Catholic Church covers this issue as well. First it condemns donor artificial insemination (involving sperm or ovum taken from someone other than the husband or wife) as violating the right of the child to be born of parents known to him within marriage (para. 2376). Techniques which involve only the couple are also morally unacceptable, because:

    They [separate] the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that "entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children."8 "Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses' union . . . Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person"9 (CCC 2377).

The Catechism goes on to say:

    A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The "supreme gift of marriage" is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged "right to a child" would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right "to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents," and "the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception."10 (CCC 2378)

NaPro saves the day

Returning to Anthony and Stephanie Epolite, in 2001 she called a longtime friend who was a certified instructor and practitioner in the Creighton FertilityCare system, a natural family planning method developed by Dr. Thomas Hilgers at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She was well qualified in natural procreative (NaPro) technology. Right away her friend taught Stephanie how to chart her fertility signs. This data would be analyzed by a NaPro doctor to determine just what was keeping the Epolites from getting pregnant.

According to Dr. Hilgers, developer of the NaPro method at the Paul VI Institute for The Study of Human Reproduction, "Most medical approaches today bypass the woman's problem or simply override her natural processes altogether. With NaPro we find out why the body is not functioning correctly, then apply treatments that work cooperatively with the body."11

Once the doctor evaluates the data, and discovers the problems, he can use one of the state-of-the-art medical procedures spelled out in Dr. Hilgers' 1300-page book, Medical and Surgical Practice of NaPro Technology (Pope Paul VI Press, 2004). In it, Dr. Hilgers explains some key advances in dealing with endometriosis, polycystic ovarian disease, blocked fallopian tubes, and hormonal disorders. These are often some of the problems that underlie infertility.

Once the Epolites had sent in their data, they went out to Omaha, to the Paul VI Institute, and they found it anything but the cold, impersonal environment of the artificial insemination clinic. The people treated them with, "respect, kindness, compassion and love." It was July 2001. They had been getting Stephanie's blood samples for several months on certain days near their home. In Omaha, Dr. Hilgers had some diagnostic tests done and determined that she suffered from endometriosis and blocked fallopian tubes. Anthony's sperm count was discovered to be low.

During their two weeks in Omaha, doctors performed NaPro surgery on Stephanie, and Anthony was given a list of nutritional supplements to take. They waited and waited. It seemed like forever. When they were invited to speak at a natural family planning conference in March 2002 about their IVF fiasco, they agreed, but were not enthusiastic about it.

By the time they got to the conference, they had more than their IVF misadventure to report. Stephanie announced that they were 7 weeks pregnant! They received a tearful standing ovation.

On October 31, 2002, Claire Marie Epolite was born. NaPro had succeeded where IVF had failed.

Wide-ranging healings

In July 2004, a NaPro conference was held in Omaha, Nebraska, attended by over 400 physicians, pharmacists, medical practitioners and patients. Several patients told their own stories of how NaPro had helped them.

One mother of eight was trying to home school her children while dealing with oppressive depression. She had already been treated successfully at the institute for repeated miscarriages. Her depression came up in a subsequent phone conversation, and a nurse picked up on that. She asked the woman to send in a blood sample, and they discovered her hormone level to be one-third the normal. She was treated for this and the depression disappeared.

A 19-year-old college student had such terrible cramps during her menstrual period that for days each month she was immobilized with pain. Doctors suggested either pain medication or the birth-control pill. The latter gave her slight relief. Her parents had heard about Dr. Hilgers, and called the Institute. Following a short period of charting, Hilgers discovered she had endometriosis. She had surgery and was vastly improved.

One mother suffered such post-partum depression she was beginning to feel as if having children was a huge mistake. Her doctors told her this feeling was normal and prescribed anti-depressants. She contacted Dr. Hilgers and he recognized this was way out of line. He prescribed progesterone treatment, and her heavy load was lifted. She quickly returned to her old, cheerful self.

One couple had six heart-breaking miscarriages, and the wife was pessimistic that Dr. Hilgers could help. Her attitude was, "If God wants you to have children he will give them to you." Dr. Hilgers commented, "If you have a clogged sink, are you just going to pray about it, or are you going to call a plumber?" He went to work with them and two babies later they beamed with joy, now firm believers in NaPro.12

Helpless in New York?

One woman who lived in New York City went to a highly recommended OB/GYN (obstetrician/gynecologist) there when she got engaged, to ask about possible fertility problems. She explained to him all her symptoms and wondered if he would explore the possibility of her having endometriosis. He didn't. He patted her on the back and walked her to the door, having prescribed some painkillers. She blurted out, "But I read [that] the only way this can be diagnosed is through laparoscopic surgery." (She was quite right)13

"Surgery!" he blustered. "You don't need surgery." He said she was in good health and had no reason for any concern. Well, 2 1/2 years into marriage and with no success at getting pregnant, Deborah was treated for Graves disease. When that didn't solve her fertility, her OB/GYN started blindly looking for problems in her reproductive system. He suggested she should think about seeing an IVF specialist.14

She had no use for artificial reproduction, so she went home and started researching other possibilities on the internet (smart woman). She found the Paul VI Institute, and called, hoping to get to see Dr. Hilgers. She was disappointed to learn that before seeing him she had to do two months of "NaPro tracking" in which she charted her monthly cycles, and a month-long series of hormone tests before she could get to see him. Of course, she later came to appreciate this delay for testing, as this is a scientific approach to the problem, which is at the heart of the Creighton Model fertility program. She was able to do these things locally.15

By the time she got to Dr. Hilgers, he already had a strong suspicion that she had endometriosis. And, she had low levels of pre-ovulation estrogen. He did the laparoscopy and discovered she did indeed have endometriosis, and he treated it with laser surgery during the laparoscopy (60% of the cases can be treated during the initial laparoscopy). He also treated partial blockages in her fallopian tubes (which had been declared "clear and normal" in New York).16 Also, by doing ultrasound tests during her two-week Omaha visit, they discovered that she had "premature follicle rupture."17

With all the data in, he recommended hormone treatment to deal with her low estrogen. She became pregnant within weeks of her treatment. Her baby, Olivia June Colloton was born April 21, 2004. So much for New York medicine.18

Just the facts

Some astonishing facts about NaPro are:

    * It is more effective than IVF. Success rates are said to range from 40% to 60% vs. the IVF rate of 32.3% per cycle.
    * It costs only a fraction of what IVF costs.
    * It is almost 80% effective in bringing about childbirth after several miscarriages.
    * It is 95% successful in treating premenstrual syndrome.
    * It is 95% successful in treating postpartum depression.
    * It cuts the rate of premature birth by almost 50%, thus lowering the frequency of birth-related injuries.
    * With NaPro, you can have more children after the first without paying the same large cost again.19

The list of benefits seems to go on and on. The only thing lacking now is getting the word out. NaPro has a great future.20

End notes

   1. Most of this article is based on "Agents of Change" by Chuck Weber, at www.catholicculture.org/docs/doc_view.cfm?recnum~6669.
   2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2003 Assisted Reproductive Technology Success Rates, published 2005 by US Dept. of Health and Human Services, p. 18.
   3. bid., p. 32.
   4. Weber, "Agents of Change."
   5. Pius XII, Votreprésence. 29 Sep 1949, To the fourth International Congress of Catholic Doctors, AAS 41 (1949) 557-561; English trans. in Liebard, 96-100. This quote from pp. 99, 100.
   6. Pius XII, Vegilare con sollecitudine. 29 Oct 1951, To the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives, AAS 43 (1951) 833-854; English trans., Liebard, 101-122. This quote taken from p. 118.
   7. Pius XII, Nous vous avez exprimé. 19 May 1956, To the Second World Congress on Fertility and Sterility, AAS 48 (1956) 467-474; English trans., Liebard, 173-179. This quote taken from p. 176.
   8. From Congregation for The Doctrine of The Faith, Donum vitae, 1987, II, 5.
   9. Whole paragraph from Catechism of The Catholic Church, para. 2377. Quote taken from: Congregation for The Doctrine of The Faith, Donum vitae, 1987, II, 4.
  10. From Congregation for The Doctrine of The Faith, Donum vitae, 1987, II, 8.
  11. Weber, "Agents of Change."
  12. All these stories from Weber, "Agents of Change."
  13. Jean Blair Packard, editor, In Their Own Words, Women Healed, Omaha, NE: Pope Paul VI Inst. Press, 2004, p. 63.
  14. Ibid., pp. 61, 62.
  15. Ibid. p. 62.
  16. Ibid., pp. 63, 64.
  17. Ibid., p.64.
  18. Ibid. pp. 65, 66.
  19. Weber, "Agents of Change."
  20. For more information on NaPro go to www.popepaulvi.com. Doctors who wish to learn more about NaPro technology may find detailed information in Dr. Hilgers' book, Medical and Surgical Practice of NaPro Technology, Omaha, NE, Pope Paul VI Press, 2004.

Reverend Thomas G. Morrow has a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. His book, Saints for Families (Emmaus Road), a compilation of 27 lives of saints appropriate for family reading time, appeared in 2002. He is a parochial vicar at St. Catherine Laboure Parish in Wheaton, Md. His published booklets and leaflets can be seen at www.cfalive.org. His most recent booklet is Achieving Chastity in a Pornographic World (New Hope Publications, 2006).


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The Fate of Frozen Embryos

DATE: October 02, 2007

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about StemLifeLine, a California company that has recently begun offering a unique service to couples who have created human embryos by means of in vitro fertilization (IVF). The company offers to take their remaining frozen (cryopreserved) embryos and "transform" them into "useful" stem cells.  The company's entire premise-to take these embryos, destroy them, and derive from them stem cells that would be "customized" for use by either the father or mother-is, as I pointed out, a complete sham: IVF Embryo Being Handledtissues developed from stem cells derived from these embryos, if implanted in either parent, would require life-long immunosuppression, lest the tissues be rejected by their bodies. So much for "customized" stem cells.  As I stated at the time, however, the very existence of this company-notwithstanding its phony advertising-is a powerful reminder that the age of embryo-based biomedicine is now upon us.

 For the past two years, we have also seen significant efforts in the U.S. Congress to press for legislation that would "free up" the existing population of frozen IVF embryos for research purposes.  In spite of these efforts, it is clear that under the present administration the current federal prohibition on using federal funding to destroy IVF embryos for research will stand.  (It may not in future administrations.)

 But such realities have brought to the forefront a difficult and disturbing moral question:  what can be done ethically with those IVF embryos judged unsuitable or no longer intended for transfer into the womb?

 In the survival-of-the-fittest world of IVF, multiple embryos are manufactured from the eggs and sperm of couples pursuing pregnancy by this means. Surplus embryos-those not implanted immediately-are placed in suspended animation, their initial cellular development arrested at the very outset of their existence, sometimes Frozen Embryoeven at the one-cell stage. Immersed in a soup of cryoprotectant chemicals, then sucked into straws, these embryos are then entombed in tanks of liquid nitrogen and instantaneously frozen.  Just under four hundred thousand such embryos are preserved in IVF clinics in the United States alone according to the most recent, reliable study produced in 2003 by the Rand corporation.

 The Catholic Church continues to teach that recourse to IVF as a remedy for infertility is morally illicit.  The Church rejects this as a morally viable option on the grounds that children have a right to be brought into the world, not through the dexterity of lab technician's hand, but through the unitive and procreative act of conjugal intercourse of a man and woman united in marriage.   Children brought into the world through IVF are not generated, but literally manufactured. .  While the Church endorses any number of licit means of assisting the marital act, we maintain that it is morally illicit to substitute that act with technical interventions-which is precisely what happens in the case of IVF.

 There should not be 400,000+ human embryos currently stored in tanks of liquid nitrogen. The entire IVF enterprise is to be credited for bringing about the stunning and absurd moral predicament.   The probing question that now faces so many IVF parents is:  what to do with the remaining embryos that they do not intend to gestate?

 Couples in this situation are forced to choose from the following options:  allow their offspring to be kept in frozen storage indefinitely; have the embryos removed from frozen storage and allowed to expire naturally or be "disposed of" as laboratory waste; give up the embryos to scientific research; or give up the embryos for adoption by another couple.

 I would suggest that choosing to keep the embryos in frozen storage indefinitely only delays the inevitable-eventual death through organismic decay while in the frozen state.  Noting that the thawing process itself often kills IVF embryos being prepared for transfer, some moralists object to the prospect of a couple choosing to thaw their embryos, allowing them to expire naturally.  I believe that a sound argument can be made for the removal of frozen embryos from their storage containers on the grounds that continued cryopreservation In Vitro Embryoconstitutes an extraordinary and ultimately futile means of continued existence-an absurd and tragic existence to be sure. Allowing the embryos to die is not the same as directly killing them. Directing lab technicians to "dispose" of the embryos is ethically unacceptable as this entails taking actions directly on the embryos with the intention of destroying them.  A recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania discovered that protocols for the disposal of excess embryos at American IVF clinics varies in surprising ways, including quasi-religious ceremonies. The study also suggests that such disposal creates serious problems of conscience for clinicians, many of whom opt out of involvement in the disposal procedure.

 Parents who decide to remove their embryos from frozen storage to allow them to die naturally should be encouraged to ask their pastor whether some blessing or other appropriate ceremony might be possible. The remaining embryos (though microscopic) should be treated with the degree of respect due to all human remains.

 Obviously, embryos should never be sacrificed upon the altar of biomedical research. Such a decision would constitute a grave affront to human dignity and a direct assault on innocent human life. No putative medical benefit can justify the direct killing of a human being.

 I would not exclude the possibility of donating cells from an embryo after its death. If a criterion for embryonic death can be established, it may be moral to donate cells from a deceased embryo just as one might from any child who dies.

 Catholic theologians continue to be of diverse opinions, however, on the question of embryo adoption:  the licitness, that is, of implanting unwanted IVF embryos into the wombs of women willing to gestate them to term with the intention of "rescuing" them from almost certain death, or even to adopt them outright. The Holy See has not expressed a definitive moral judgment on the matter.  Some theologians hold that such a proposition is not only morally licit, but even heroic. Others hold-at least in the case of married women-that such a prospect (which entails the woman's becoming pregnant apart from the intervention of her husband), though noble in its intention, would constitute a grave violation of the marriage covenant.

 Embryo Adoption BookAt a Westchester Institute Scholars Forum, held in October 2004 we engaged in a thorough examination of Catholic arguments for and against embryo adoption.  These arguments were later gathered and published in detail in a volume of essays entitled Human Embryo Adoption: Biotechnology, Marriage and the Right to Life.  Later this week, I will be speaking on this topic at a gathering of the Catholic Medical Association. 

 

My on-going exposure to the field of embryonic stem cell (ESC) research compels me to believe that the interest in embryo-based scientific research is growing-research we should remember that might have little or nothing to do with eventual cures to which such research might directly or indirectly contribute. I am convinced that today we stand on the verge of an era in which such embryo-destructive research could become common-place.  There are any number of grim indications that a majority of Americans are slowly being cajoled into endorsing such a barbarous plan. To avoid such a future, we must demand that lawmakers pursue a complete federal ban on the creation in vitro of human embryos for any purpose other than implantation in a human womb.  Surely Americans have not yet reached such a state of moral confusion as to fail to see the reasonableness of such a moral boundary line. But I have reasons to wonder...

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Ugly New World
A new company has innovative uses for your new or leftover embryos.

By Father Thomas Berg

People who have undergone in vitro fertilization (IVF) in order to have children face vexing moral choices about what to do with the remaining embryos that were not implanted. Now they have a new option: to develop personalized stem-cell lines from their unused, stored embryos. A new company called StemLifeLine has begun promoting this “service” for customers.

This is from the company’s website:

    Until now, individuals who have undergone in vitro fertilization have had only three options for their remaining stored embryos after individual childbearing needs have been fulfilled. They could be donated to research, given up for “adoption” to other couples or discarded.

    StemLifeLine provides a fourth option for these embryos — to generate personal stem cell lines that may, in the future, benefit you and your family. StemLifeLine is proud to offer this service to individuals with remaining embryos after in vitro fertilization.

The website, it must be said, is almost too much to believe. Is there really a market for parents to destroy some of their own offspring — the siblings to their own born children — for personal gain? My first reaction was to wonder whether it wasn’t some kind of a gimmick. For example, this is on the site’s “getting started” section — it reads like something right off the script for the movie The Island:

    As soon as the fertility clinic receives your completed information, StemLifeLine will make arrangements with your clinic to transfer your remaining embryos to our facility.

    During the derivation process, we will keep you informed each step of the way. You can also inquire about the status of your cells by contacting us at any time. Once we have derived and cryopreserved your stem cell line we will provide you with detailed documentation of the derivation process and stem cell characterization.

Apparently, the company is for real. Founded in 2005, StemLifeLine just received its tissue bank license in May of this year. So, only recently has it begun in earnest its one and only “service” of “developing” and “transforming” unwanted IVF embryos into “useful” stem cells. Such are the idyllic euphemisms employed on the website to smoke screen the reality of the company’s dedication to embryo destruction.

Slate’s William Saletan cut through the euphemisms when he recently blogged about StemLifeLine. It’s not “developing” [an embryo into stem cells], wrote Saletan, “it’s killing.”

But there is more deception here than mere language games. For starters the company promises to offer clients “personal stem cell lines” that will provide them and their families with their “own high quality, genetically-matched stem cells.” Experts have been quick to point out, of course, that this is scientific nonsense. In a recent San Franciso Chronicle op-ed, stem-cell biologists from the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology observed that left-over IVF embryos “are not genetically identical to the couple or their children, any more than siblings are to each other or children are to their parents.” Dr. Markus Grompe, director of the Oregon Stem Cell Center, and senior fellow of the Westchester Institute, noted that “if either parent were to use tissues derived from their own IVF embryos, full-fledged immunosuppression would be essential. Recourse to these tissues would give the parents no therapeutic advantage whatsoever.”

But I would argue the deception gets even deeper and more disturbing. Couples are encouraged to “commit at least ten remaining embryos to ensure high probability for the successful derivation of a personal stem cell line.” That’s a claim that should give us pause.

It takes a considerable number of cryopreserved IVF embryos to yield a line of embryonic stem cells. According to the 2003 Rand study — an analysis of the few published studies available — technicians (including those at StemLifeLine) would have to allow for the fact that: a) only 65 percent of frozen embryos will survive the thawing process; b) only 25 percent of those will then develop to the blastocyst stage (approximately 6 or 7 days of development, the point at which embryonic stem cells are harvested from the embryo); and c) based on the past ten years’ experience of deriving stem cells from frozen IVF embryos, arguably only 15 percent of those embryos will yield stem cell lines (this figure is consistent with recent studies).

Now, do the math yourself, but this tells me that 10 or even 20 frozen embryos will not suffice (outside of very rare successes) for StemLifeLine technicians to get a stem-cell line. By the most optimistic set of stats, couples would have to commit upwards of 40 cryopreserved embryos — a preposterous amount — to have a reasonable hope of obtaining just one “personal” stem-cell line. Smell fishy to you?

StemLifeLine currently “partners” with three IVF clinics, and doubtless has a waiting list of others ready to sign on the dotted line. Now, I don’t mean to sound cynical, but these clinics — in the business of creating embryos — most likely have some incentive for referring clients to StemLifeLine. And if the latter’s clients need at least ten “extra” embryos for a “personalized” stem-cell line, these clinics are surely ready to help: as in create more embryos. That way, patients just “happen” to have a large number of extra embryos to dedicate to the personal stem-cell line project.

Then what about potential customers who lack the requisite number of “spare” frozen embryos, but still want “personalized” stem cells from their own offspring? Current best estimates by stem-cell experts suggest that as few as three or four “fresh” human embryos — not frozen — can successfully yield one line of embryonic stem cells. Is it far-fetched to think that such customers would create fresh embryos for their stem cells or that StemLifeLine might just suggest that they do so as a matter of course?

And it won’t be an exaggeration to push this scenario a bit further. Perhaps customers will actually go to all the trouble of creating fresh embryos, and since an average round of IVF normally yields as many as six or eight embryos or more (at least double the number of fresh embryos needed for obtaining a stem-cell line), why not suggest that the couple donate the remaining embryos for scientific research? Heck, why be selfish, right? After having “benefited you and your family” with your own “personalized” line of stem cells, why not go the extra mile and donate those remaining embryos so that others can “benefit”?

Does the image of Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Children come to mind perhaps?

The very existence of this company — however gimmicky and deceptive in its advertising — is a new and powerful indicator that the age of embryo-based science, medicine and commercial emporiums is now upon us. New enterprises like StemLifeLine will continue to appear. Most, if not all, will fly under the banner of “cures” and of “benefiting you and your family.”

Those cures may never come; but all the while, these enterprises will be the conduits for a steady supply of fresh human embryos for the basic scientific research that thousands of developmental biologists are so anxious to engage in, much or most of which will have little or nothing to do with cures. We urgently need Congress to produce legislation prohibiting the deliberate creation of human embryos ex vivo — by in vitro fertilization, cloning or any other technique — for research or purely therapeutic purposes.

If the present generation of Americans simply blinks at the existence of enterprises like StemLifeLine, then we will have become mere spectators of Brave New World at its ugliest, and have guaranteed a horrific and monumental defeat for humanity.

— Fr. Thomas Berg is executive director of The Westchester Institute for Ethics & the Human Person.


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The Search for Perfection
Babies Eliminated as New Eugenics Gains Force

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JUNE 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The desire for perfect babies combined with the possibilities of biotechnology is taking an ever-higher toll. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), and other forms of screening enable the detection of genetic defects, leading either to embryos being eliminated before implantation when combined with in vitro fecundation, or to abortion in the case of pregnancies already in progress.

Philosopher Michael J. Sandel considered some of the ethical questions involved in this practice in the book "The Case Against Perfection," published in May by Belknap Press. A professor of government at Harvard University, Sandel starts his brief book by asking if, even when no harm is involved, there is something troubling about parents "ordering up a child" with certain genetic traits.

Sandel's approach is nonreligious and does not fully embrace the position of the Church. For example, he defends embryonic stem cell research. Nevertheless, the book provides a useful series of reflections which invite the reader to consider the implications of both eliminating individuals with genetic defects and also efforts to "improve" physical or mental capabilities.

This "drive to mastery," as Sandel terms it, runs the risk of destroying our appreciation of the gifted character of human powers and achievements. In other words, "that not everything in the world is open to any use we may desire or devise."

When it comes to parenthood, Sandel comments that unlike our friends, we do not choose our children. "To appreciate children as gifts is to accept them as they come, not as objects of our design, or products of our will, or instruments of our ambition."

Thus, he continues, the problem with wanting to choose children with or without certain genetic characteristics is in the hubris of the parents. Such a parental disposition, he adverts, "disfigures the relation between parent and child." As a result the unconditional love that a parent should have toward a child is placed at risk.

Sandel also warns that if we erode the sense of the gifted character of human powers and achievements we will damage three important elements in society: humility, responsibility and solidarity.

A school for humility

Parenthood is a school for humility, according to Sandel, in which we care deeply about our children, and also live with the unexpected. When it comes to responsibility, the more we become involved in determining our genetic qualities, the greater the burden we will bear for the talents we have and how we perform.

For example, once giving birth to a child with Down syndrome was considered a matter of chance. Today parents who of children with Down syndrome or other disabilities feel blamed for not having eliminated the child before birth.

In turn, this growth in responsibility could well damage solidarity, Sandel continues, because there is a very real risk that those who are less fortunate will come to be seen not as disadvantaged, but as simply unfit.

Sandel is not the only one to be worried over what happens to those who are less fortunate in the genetic stakes. A number of press articles over the last few months have taken up the matter of the elimination of embryos detected with Down syndrome.

On May 9 the New York Times published an article reporting that, following a new recommendation by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, doctors have begun to offer a screening procedure to all pregnant women, regardless of age, for Down syndrome. About 90% of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis normally choose to have an abortion, the article reported.

The article then went on to describe the efforts by some parents to educate the medical profession about the fulfilling lives that children suffering from disabilities can lead. Advances in medical treatment and appropriate attention means that, despite not inconsiderable difficulties, Down syndrome children can achieve much in their lives.

Morally wrong

The New York Times returned to the argument on May 13 with another article. Among other testimonies was that of Sarah Lynn Lester, a supporter of abortion rights, who nevertheless continued her pregnancy after learning her child had Down syndrome. "I thought it would be morally wrong to have an abortion for a child that had a genetic disability," she told the newspaper.

Earlier this year the Canadian Down Syndrome Society launched a public awareness campaign to counter the trend toward genetic testing, reported the National Post newspaper Jan. 10.

The campaign came just as the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada released a recommendation that all expectant mothers undergo screening for Down syndrome.

The article also quoted Dr. Will Johnston, president of the Vancouver-based organization Physicians for Life, who said his members find the move toward more fetal screening to be troubling.

"I think it shows our inability as a culture to be as inclusive and accepting of diversity as we would like to think we are," he said.

Italy is another country where genetic screening is increasing. According to a March 11 report in the national daily newspaper La Repubblica, by 2005 no less than 79% of Italian women were having three or more ultrasound examinations during pregnancy.

The tests, however, can sometimes have a tragic outcome. On March 7 the Italian news agency ANSA reported on the case of a 22 week-old fetus aborted because of a mistaken diagnosis of a defective esophagus.

After the ultrasound examination, which erroneously seemed to reveal a problem, the mother decided to abort. The baby survived the abortion, but the following day ANSA reported that it had died.

Cosmetic screening

As biotechnology develops, genetic screening seems destined to expand even further, with ominous consequences for babies. On May 6 the London-based Sunday Times reported that the Bridge Center Fertility clinic had received the go ahead from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority to screen a couple's embryos in order to create a baby without eyes affected with cross-eye, also known as a squint.

The article also noted that screening has now started for some forms of cancer and early-onset Alzheimer's.

"We will increasingly see the use of embryo screening for severe cosmetic conditions," Gedis Grudzinskas, medical director of the clinic, told the Sunday Times.

David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, was critical of the decision to allow such screening. "We moved from preventing children who will die young to those who might become ill in middle age," he noted. "Now we discard those who will live as long as the rest of us but are cosmetically imperfect."

Concern over such trends was also expressed by Benedict XVI in an address given Feb. 24 to members of the Pontifical Academy for Life. "A new wave of discriminatory eugenics finds consensus in the name of the presumed well-being of the individual, and laws are promoted especially in the economically progressive world for the legalization of euthanasia," the Pontiff warned.

In today's increasingly secularized world our consciences face increasing obstacles in distinguishing the correct path to take on these and other issues, the Pope added. This is due both to a growing rejection of the Christian tradition and also to a distrust of the capacity of our reason to perceive the truth, he explained.

"Life is the first good received from God and is fundamental to all others; to guarantee the right to life for all and in an equal manner for all is the duty upon which the future of humanity depends," the Holy Father concluded. A duty made increasingly urgent in the face of increased pressures to manipulate life.

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Faith, Reason and Bioethics
Interview With Director of Linacre Center

LONDON, JUNE 18, 2007- Rational arguments need to take priority in the debate on bioethical issues, says the director of the Linacre Center for Healthcare Ethics.

Helen Watt, of the only Catholic bioethics center in the United Kingdom and Ireland, recently spoke about the opportunity Catholics now have to engage modern Europe in an authentically grounded ethical debate.

The Linacre Center's International Conference is being held July 5-7 on the topic of "Incapacity and Care: Moral Problems in Healthcare and Research."

Q: How is the ethical debate on health care issues in Europe today different from 30 years ago?

Watt: Thirty years ago, in vitro fertilization was a new and shocking development -- as were the embryo experiments which paved the way for it. Now IVF is standard procedure for anyone who wants to have a child, and does not object to the manufacturing process and attitudes involved. The embryonic child resulting is treated more like a possession than like a new member of the family.

Often the debate is now between extreme libertarians, who defend a frankly consumerist attitude to medicine and parenthood, and those who want to set some limits, but lack the moral framework they need to do so in a credible way. This means that the principled approach offered by the Church often gets pushed to the sidelines -- though fortunately not always.

Q: Where are the main battle lines now drawn with regard to bioethical issues in Europe?

Watt: One battle line is euthanasia, by act and by omission. Another is respect for unborn life, in relation to abortion, IVF and embryo experimentation.

Another battle line is, of course, marriage and parenthood. This last area is closely linked to IVF -- as in, for example, the bid to expunge the requirement in British law that fertility doctors must take account of the child's need for a father.

While some in Britain hope to tighten abortion laws, other countries in the European Union are under pressure to "liberalize" restrictive laws on abortion. There is also a strong push for European Union funding of embryonic stem cell research.

The hope is that countries which have recently joined the European Union, such as Poland, will bring fresh insights to the rest of Europe, rather than be themselves caught up in the secular/consumerist drift.

Q: What are the signs of hope that the trend toward the legalization of euthanasia and stem cell research will be halted?

Watt: The Dutch experience has shown how close the link is between voluntary and nonvoluntary euthanasia, once some lives are deemed not worth living.

While Belgium followed its neighbor and legalized euthanasia, similar legislation was recently defeated in Britain by a coalition of pro-life and palliative care groups -- although there is certainly a need for vigilance with regard to euthanasia by omission.

On the stem cell front, there are wonderful advances being made with adult and umbilical cord stem cells -- ethical alternatives to the use of cells from destroyed human embryos. It's an exciting time for adult stem cell researchers, who can point to many actual treatments of human patients.

Italy is one country that has made huge strides in enacting laws protecting human embryos, showing that progress in this area can be made even after many years of permissive practice.

Q: The issues of IVF, human cloning and embryo screening all revolve around the status of early human life. Why is it so difficult to convince people of the humanity of the embryo, or even to keep it in the common consciousness as an issue?

Watt: It's a combination of pragmatism and a failure of imagination. On the one hand, people want to be able to keep doing embryo experiments and using abortifacient contraception. On the other hand, the embryo is challenging in its appearance, despite the powerful case for its continuity with the older human being.

We live in an image-led age. The embryo is small, and looks different from the adult -- which does not, of course, prevent it having human rights and interests, just like any other child.

The kind of emotional engagement that ultrasound makes possible for older unborn children is often not possible with the embryo. There is a need to appeal to reason rather than just to the emotions.

Q: How can the Church better educate Catholics about contentious ethical issues?

Watt: The Linacre Center specializes in providing arguments for the Catholic view of bioethics which do not require a prior acceptance of the Catholic faith.

We aim to show that the merits of this view can be recognized by anyone of good will using their reason. This approach encourages a robust realism that reaches out to people of other faiths and of no faith.

Recently, Benedict XVI spoke of the need to rediscover the natural law tradition, especially in an age of skepticism and relativism. He was, I think, encouraging the Church to speak out on issues affecting public policy in a way that uses reason to reveal the objective basis for her teaching.

It would be good to see bioethical issues given a little more priority in teaching from the pulpit. Many people are simply unaware that the Church opposes IVF, for example. Even those who know this may be quite unaware of the riches of Catholic theology on sex and marriage.

It is important to reach young people at school and university before they have committed themselves, in their work or personal lives, to secular ideologies. The Linacre Center hopes to do more in this area, funding permitting -- as well as providing information and support to health professionals under pressure to conform to an anti-life culture.

Q: Why do you think the Church's contribution to ethical debates is ignored so readily in modern Europe?

Watt: Ethical debates in Europe vary from country to country. In Britain the dominant philosophy is one of pragmatism coupled with scientism, and a suspicion that any reference to moral absolutes must be religiously grounded.

A result is that there is very little rational debate in bioethical areas. Debate is seen as merely a way of placating the public, or at best reaching a compromise between differing interests without articulating a coherent moral framework.

This is not the case in some other countries, where there are much stronger religious and cultural supports for moral reasoning of a kind that can enlighten our understanding of human life and its purpose.

All too often, the Church is ignored because she is seen as anti-science -- instead of anti-killing -- and as anti-freedom -- instead of anti-oppression of others and enslavement of oneself.

The media is often irresponsible in its portrayal of Church teaching and generally too shallow in its approach to allow people to see the rationality and beauty of the Church's message.

Moreover, it must be said that many of us, both clergy and laypeople, are far too timid when it comes to expressing Church teaching in these areas, and why it is true and good and leads to happiness.

It would be a good start if we began holding our governments to account -- and judging ourselves by the same yardstick by which we assess them. We have a wonderful message to convey, and should do so with confidence and enthusiasm.

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Papal Address on Stem-Cell Research
"A Good Result Can Never Justify Intrinsically Unlawful Means"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 4, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Sept. 16 to the participants in the symposium on "Stem Cells: What Future for Therapy?" organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life.

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Hall of the Swiss, Castel Gandolfo
Saturday, 16 September 2006

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I address a cordial greeting to you all. This meeting with you, scientists and scholars dedicated to specialized research in the treatment of diseases that are a serious affliction to humanity, is a special comfort to me.

I am grateful to the organizers who have promoted this Congress on a topic that has become more and more important in recent years. The specific theme of the Symposium is appropriately formulated with a question open to hope: "Stem cells: what future for therapy?".

I thank Bishop Elio Sgreccia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, for his kind words, also on behalf of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC), an association that has cooperated in organizing the Congress and is represented here by Prof. Gianluigi Gigli, outgoing President, and Prof. Simon de Castellvi, President-elect.

When science is applied to the alleviation of suffering and when it discovers on its way new resources, it shows two faces rich in humanity: through the sustained ingenuity invested in research, and through the benefit announced to all who are afflicted by sickness.

Those who provide financial means and encourage the necessary structures for study share in the merit of this progress on the path of civilization.

On this occasion, I would like to repeat what I said at a recent Audience: "Progress becomes true progress only if it serves the human person and if the human person grows: not only in terms of his or her technical power, but also in his or her moral awareness" (cf. General Audience, 16 August 2006).

In this light, somatic stem-cell research also deserves approval and encouragement when it felicitously combines scientific knowledge, the most advanced technology in the biological field and ethics that postulate respect for the human being at every stage of his or her existence.

The prospects opened by this new chapter in research are fascinating in themselves, for they give a glimpse of the possible cure of degenerative tissue diseases that subsequently threaten those affected with disability and death.

How is it possible not to feel the duty to praise all those who apply themselves to this research and all who support the organization and cover its expenses?

I would like in particular to urge scientific structures that draw their inspiration and organization from the Catholic Church to increase this type of research and to establish the closest possible contact with one another and with those who seek to relieve human suffering in the proper ways.

May I also point out, in the face of the frequently unjust accusations of insensitivity addressed to the Church, her constant support for research dedicated to the cure of diseases and to the good of humanity throughout her 2,000-year-old history.

If there has been resistance -- and if there still is -- it was and is to those forms of research that provide for the planned suppression of human beings who already exist, even if they have not yet been born. Research, in such cases, irrespective of efficacious therapeutic results is not truly at the service of humanity.

In fact, this research advances through the suppression of human lives that are equal in dignity to the lives of other human individuals and the lives of the researchers themselves.

History itself has condemned such a science in the past and will condemn it in the future, not only because it lacks the light of God but also because it lacks humanity.

I would like to repeat here what I already wrote some time ago: Here there is a problem that we cannot get around; no one can dispose of human life. An insurmountable limit to our possibilities of doing and of experimenting must be established. The human being is not a disposable object, but every single individual represents God's presence in the world (cf. J. Ratzinger, "God and the World," Ignatius Press, 2002).

In the face of the actual suppression of the human being there can be no compromises or prevarications. One cannot think that a society can effectively combat crime when society itself legalizes crime in the area of conceived life.

On the occasion of recent Congresses of the Pontifical Academy for Life, I have had the opportunity to reassert the teaching of the Church, addressed to all people of good will, on the human value of the newly conceived child, also when considered prior to implantation in the uterus.

The fact that you at this Congress have expressed your commitment and hope to achieve new therapeutic results from the use of cells of the adult body without recourse to the suppression of newly conceived human beings, and the fact that your work is being rewarded by results, are confirmation of the validity of the Church's constant invitation to full respect for the human being from conception. The good of human beings should not only be sought in universally valid goals, but also in the methods used to achieve them.

A good result can never justify intrinsically unlawful means. It is not only a matter of a healthy criterion for the use of limited financial resources, but also, and above all, of respect for the fundamental human rights in the area of scientific research itself.

I hope that God will grant your efforts -- which are certainly sustained by God who acts in every person of good will and for the good of all -- the joy of discovering the truth, wisdom in consideration and respect for every human being, and success in the search for effective remedies to human suffering.

To seal this hope, I cordially impart an affectionate Blessing to all of you, to your collaborators and to your relatives, as well as to the patients who will benefit from your ingenuity and resourcefulness and the results of your work, with the assurance of my special remembrance in prayer.


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The Physician's Relationship With Morality
From President of World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations

ROME, DEC. 2, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of a document released by the World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations.

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Letter to Catholic Physicians Worldwide on
"The Physician's Relationship With Morality"

By Dr. José María Simón
President
World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC)

Dear Colleagues,

Relations between the physician and the moralist have not always been easy. Numerous colleagues from different countries are asking for reflections to help them to practice the medical profession with moral security. One of the requirements of this moral security is frequent consultation with experts to enlighten the professional conscience. In order to be truly human, it must be well trained and correctly informed and must be frequently refined in its permanent search for the truth. In recent times, given the nature of the answers of the experts, it is worth offering certain clarifications on the quality and scope of these answers.

The natural law exists

The natural law is the ability of straightforward human reason to know and to stick to the truth. There is no other profession that appreciates the existence of this law as much as physicians.

Although the natural law does not coincide with biological law, we are perfectly aware that if we underestimate human physiology, for example, our patients will be sick. No one can, for example, eat stones without transgressing the laws of our body and, therefore, falling ill. This can help us to understand that there is also a law which helps us to value human dignity. We all "know" that it is bad to kill an innocent human being. Or that it is bad to steal. We know that if we do not consider the human being also as a psychological, spiritual, family and social being, our duty to transform suffering into well-being (as physicians we are like Nazarenes, like Cyrenaics, who help to withstand the weight of the disease and the pain) will never fully attain its objectives.

Although the absolute majority of the inhabitants of planet Earth believe in a Supreme Being, in many Western societies many thinkers and opinion creators do not. We can also give them natural reasons for what is good or bad for the human being. Furthermore, it will sometimes be with these reasons that they will perceive how sublime our thinking is.

In view of the existence of the "natural law," given its complexity (although some rules are very simple), and as it is obvious that we human beings have suffered from serious limitations since the times of Adam, we can wonder whether there is some ultimate authority which can interpret this law correctly. Numerous intermediate jurisdictional levels help or hinder the perception of this law.

Our ultimate personal authority is our personal professional conscience, which will trigger the decisions on medical acts. Indeed, each of us just with our own reason can go far in the search for the truth. But there is a safe, genuine and objective, and therefore useful and good authority for a general interpretation of the law, something which prevents us from making glaring errors with the human being and which moreover seeks the transcendental happiness of people.

God is the Creator of the universe and of man. And, as some political constitutions say, God made man free. Free to choose the truth and good. But also free to choose evil. Experience tells us that good and evil are entwined in countless shades inside our health-care structures. If evil exists, confusion and error also exist. Both blameworthy and blameless error (we must fight against both!). Moreover, it is possible that some people are particularly determined to spread the confusion. And evil can establish real "sin structures," places, establishments or laws which do not serve the human being.

The Church interprets the natural law

Our Creator stipulated that it is the Church that should interpret the "natural law" in an authentic manner. It moreover looks after everything that he revealed and which is not in nature. As human beings we are only passing through this world as a test, to a certain extent isolated from God but not at all forsaken. In the Lord's Prayer we say "Our Father, who art in heaven," which already shows that we are on another level, not in Heaven. "Thy kingdom come" and "deliver us from evil" clearly show us that there is a better condition which can come and which has not yet fully come and that the Creator can do everything. The teachings of the Catholic Church can help us on not leaving us alone. The Church speaks with human language (and in different languages) about everything that happens to man.

Another truth that our own and historical experience perceives is the reality of the progress of medicine, irrespective of the fact that there have also been advances, backward movements and asymmetries in different countries and cultures. As human beings we have numerous surprises to discover in nature itself and we are capable of inventing and of building no end of things, which makes living a passionate and never complete experience.

Progress should be made using both sides of the coin: science and ethics. In recent years the name and contents of a supposed new discipline, bioethics, have made a fortune. Personally, I believe that many years ago as physicians we already had equivalent disciplines. I recently read books on medical morals and on professional ethics from the beginning of the last century and they are treatises on bioethics …

The teachings accompany the progress of medicine

The progress of medicine is also accompanied by a deployment of the teachings of the Catholic Church. New techniques, new discoveries, call out to physicians, who find support in the teachings. Support is security. Moral security is necessary in order to practice our profession. The [Church] teachings enlighten the professional conscience in order to practice with good, adapting to the times and moments of progress. The teachings intervene after considering the data obtained by the experimental sciences. They do not save us from the effort of studying the world by ourselves. On the contrary, they impel us to do this de facto and de iure.

Ecclesiastic common sense tells us that, although all of us who are baptized are the Church and we all do our bit for it, it is the Pope and the bishops in communion with him who exercise the teachings of the Catholic Church. It could not be otherwise. The Almighty became one of us and left representatives, acting as they want and how they want, but adapting to the logic written by himself. It is not reasonable for anyone, in any way, to produce teachings or to try to interpret the "natural law" authentically.

Therefore, when a papal or episcopal document appears on a subject of interest to the profession, the Catholic physician should be critical with the legion of moralist theologians who interpret and reinterpret it in the media. As if the Pope did not write clearly. As if as Catholic physicians we could not understand it by ourselves! They should not offend the intelligence of professionals or of the population in general. I know that some theologians have the backing of numerous publications, have been prestigious university lecturers for years or are linked to us by friendship. Emotivity can turn heads that are well screwed on and, on the other hand, also make people understand by other means what they do not understand through reason.

Any ordinary person understands the saying "What the boss says goes." This should be enough to silence anyone who shamelessly takes over someone else's duties.

It is essential to take into account that, as in the case of personal appearances or revelations, the public aspect of the Catholic Church takes precedence over private teachings. The public teachings of the Catholic Church on the subjects which affect us thus always have priority and truth. The private teachings of theologians must always be rejected if they contradict the teachings of the Catholic Church. And even if they appear to contradict them.

One of the principles of communication in the Catholic Church is that of clarity and non-contradiction. There are no secrets in the Catholic Church. The major truths are public and are clear (they can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church). When a mystery is proclaimed, it is clear and it is classified as such.

The life of people on this Earth is aimed at their eternal destiny. Man cannot be measured in just two dimensions. The third dimension, the one that points upward, is the one that gives our lives volume.

An exemplary case

This is a case of a declaration of experts on the possible legality of the transfer of an altered nucleus to an egg to obtain stem cells. The genetic material from one cell would be altered in such a way that the product resulting from the insertion of this material into an egg and its activation would not give rise to a human being. It would be something like the hydatidiform mole, which also comes from an altered egg and spermatozoid, although in this case naturally.

The exemplariness of the case comes from the intelligence of considering the possibility, from the way of prudently expressing opinions, from the sincerity of the signatories admitting that each is an expert only in one area and that they are not speaking in the name of their Church or work institution, and from the fact that they propose beginning the research with animals.

When making decisions the problem should be framed

On many occasions as Catholic physicians we come across moral dilemmas and have to make decisions. It is therefore important to know how to distinguish between good and evil, which it is impossible to do on the fringes of the Church (this is the way things are).

When making decisions, it would be good to take into account the ancient principle of "primum non nocere" (first, do no harm) and the evangelical principle "no more burdens than necessary." Also, that of working with an overabundance of good. This allows us to go much further on facing problems with humanity.

Although we are not usually responsible for the evil that third parties do or for finding ourselves working within sinful structures, we should never lose the strength of the ideals of youth, the freshness of wanting to change things, however deeply rooted they appear to be, or the conviction that we are never alone.

Before making decisions, the physician takes stock of the situation on facing a specific problem. It is good to fit things into the big picture (the frame) and from a healthy anthropology. I remember the time I was invited to one of the mass media for a debate on artificial insemination in lesbian couples. The different opinions were supposed to be balanced. The guests, however, were a gay activist, a lesbian, a bisexual, a libertine and a heterosexual. Moreover, the presenter and the supporting reports were light-years from the thought of the heterosexual minority. On asking the program editors about such a coarse manipulation, I had to hear that everything had been designed to ensure the strictest equality of opinions …

In this case, the frame of the issue is not whether or not this kind of couple has a right to insemination or whether there are heterosexual couples who ill-treat their children. The broader perspective can help the fertility professional to be a conscientious objector. Because what is ideal, with the millions of couples and children who are and have been happy, is for children to be born naturally in the family, to a man and a women. This is where we should take the debate because this is where it really lies.

Can you do harm to do good?

Although in general the problems in medical decisions do not tend to be presented as harm which does good, the truth is that this is the key to the issue on many occasions. And the principle of never doing harm to do good (the end does not justify the means) is essential.

Medical decisions are moral acts. Life's routine often means that we do not see them as such. Maybe one day we considered the morality of a procedure or protocol, we decided that it was fair, and we applied it to our different patients without thinking any more about it. Automatisms form part of nature and help us to live without wasting huge quantities of mental energy. However, on some occasions -- not just in extraordinary cases -- the moral act should be studied with care.

The traditional dissection of the moral act into object, aims and circumstances is useful. A good act requires the simultaneous goodness of these three elements which constitute the morality of human acts. Sometimes we have to sharpen our wits to put everything in its place and to clearly detect what object we are assessing. In short, what we are really talking about.

For example, can you get drunk (an evil act) in order to have decayed teeth removed (a laudable aim) in the absence of medicines (a setting favoring the act)? Is this not accepting that the end justifies the means or that harm can be done (getting drunk) in order to do good (health)? The answer to this apparent dilemma, which can be applied to many other cases but not to all, is that we have classified the act as "getting drunk" whereas really it is an "anaesthetic" act. Alcohol is an anaesthetic, although of a secondary category. Our practical reason, with a little training and practice, will help us to classify the moral act correctly.

There are behaviors whose choice, because of their nature, is always wrong. For example, in the case of abortion, it cannot be stated that sacrificing the child to supposedly favor the mother is a good act. However you look at it.

The double effect

The double effect theory has a bad reputation in Europe due to the discredit of the so-called collateral damage in recent wars. You bomb the enemy and, unintentionally, your action injures innocent civilians. This is terrible.

However, medicine holds firm because we accept the theory. Chemotherapy is intended to eliminate cancerous cells while also damaging healthy cells. We remove a sick uterus despite the fact that the woman will be infertile forever. We vaccinate thousands of children despite the fact that some will die from the side effects.

Obviously we must do everything possible to minimize side effects, just as we should do everything possible to prevent a war. With the double effect, it is not a question of doing bad to achieve good. The bad is not wanted. It appears like an unwelcome and persistent guest.

With so-called therapeutic or eugenic abortion, to make it clear that here there is no double effect and that what is being fought first here is the embryo, John Paul II himself stated that the death of an innocent can never be legitimized.

With indirect abortion, although it is right to treat a mother even if we expect the side effect to be the death of the embryo or fetus, some people have given us a solution to moral problems with an excess of good. This is the case of Dr. Gianna Beretta, who refused treatment so as not to harm her pregnancy. She died and her son lives.

The lesser evil

It has become fashionable to talk about the lesser evil as if it were something desirable. But no. You can never do bad, however little it may be or you may consider it to be. Bad is always bad. The theory of the lesser evil does not refer to doing but rather to tolerating. The lesser evil is decided by one or more third parties without us intervening. We have to tolerate certain evils because we are not Quixotes who must fight against everything and moreover the human being is free even to use this freedom badly. Our obligation is never to do bad. Always to do the most good possible. What we should not get used to is to tolerating the bad inflicted on innocents. These are never lesser evils!

Collaboration with evil

With the current state of the world, we often have to consider whether to avoid collaborating with those people and structures which go against the dignity of the human being. Although they may find others who will collaborate with evil, they will not find us. It should not be attributable to us, and, if possible, we should try to lead these situations down the correct paths.

On some occasions we have doubts, especially if the collaboration is remote. Remote collaboration, although effective, is not attributable to us if we do not want it to be. It is good to avoid scandal and not to become contaminated by it. But we cannot isolate ourselves in a glass bubble and stop being a good substance in the world around us.

Freedom and moral security

The Catholic physician has broad freedom to practice the profession. We have intelligence and we need to make it perform to the maximum. Moreover, the security that we are acting correctly (moral security) can be achieved with a minimum ethical training, accepting the [Church's] teachings and consulting certain cases with senior colleagues or with a priest who knows the correct doctrine. Thousands of physicians worldwide practice daily with the peace of mind that they are acting correctly.

As Catholic physicians we have great models on which to base our actions. They have simply identified themselves perfectly with the principle of ethics: "Christus medicus." St. Luke, St. Cosme, St. Damian, St. Joseph Moscati, St. Gianna Beretta, St. Richard Pampuri, Father Pere Tarrés, Dr. László Batthyány-Strattmann, and many more, have preceded us and have become the giants of medicine. Curiously, patients often venerate them more than us, the physicians …

Some reflections on specific issues

Condoms

The "affaire" of using condoms to prevent infection with AIDS or unwanted pregnancies is another of the things that drives activist Catholic physicians mad. But we should not let ourselves be led to territories which are not ours. Sexuality is one of the gifts of marriage and within marriage it is expressed to the maximum. As Catholics, and in marriage, we live sexuality to the full. Sexuality outside marriage, between males or polygamous sexuality, does not form part of our anthropology. The Church cannot be accused of spreading AIDS (the other 29 sexually transmitted diseases are almost always forgotten) when it preaches abstinence, faithfulness and patience. This is useful to prevent diseases or teenage pregnancies. But the main purpose of chastity is not to prevent an epidemic but rather to promote virtue and to provide happiness.

It is obvious that Catholic physicians, who work in a world in which there is a bit of everything and in which the same health structures are often perverted, will come across people who will want to continue practicing sequential polygamy or homosexuality. It will not be ingenuous, in an environment of good physician-patient relations, to present them with our proposals. If the person insists implicitly or explicitly on continuing with their practices, the physician will talk to them about the condom as the more or less imperfect "barrier," without presenting it, and especially not recommending it, as something good. And, finally, if the person is infected, they will treat them with affection and professionalism.

It is important to take into account that the Catholic Church's mission is not to promote solutions so that the human being can continue to carry out improper behavior. And as far as possible we should prevent the media from using us to promote unworthy conduct.

There is scientific knowledge which is not obtained from reading the science sections of the media. Thus, knowing that hermaphrodites exist, that post-abortion syndrome is frequent and painful, or that homosexuals can often change, is learned in specialized journals or from experienced teachers.

It is good to always bear healthy anthropology in mind and to think that the mass media understand what is simple better, that they are obliged to have striking headlines and that they can rarely hold a good moral debate.

Euthanasia: dying is not the same as being killed

We cannot abandon a terminal patient, we cannot be cruel to them and we cannot kill them. The only decent thing that we can do is to provide them with quality palliative health care. This should take into account the biopsychosocial, spiritual and family dimensions of the person. This is the path that we should take.

Euthanasia kills freedom. It is a supposed free decision which means that the person will not ever again make free decisions. Not even the very human decision of rectifying. Euthanasia, its popularization or legalization, are on the dark side of the profession, whoever promotes it.

Cases of consultations on whether or not the treatments for the terminally ill are proportional are extremely frequent. Medicine can never refuse hydration, nutrition, hygiene, oxygenation, basic medicines. Recently, an elderly man presented cardiac insufficiency and the ethical committee of his hospital recommended only a treatment with morphinic drugs, while awaiting his death. But the physician dealing with the case solved it with a diuretic, oxygen and digoxin. The true sage was the ordinary physician.

Oral contraceptives

As human beings we were deliberately created incomplete by God. Man needs woman to be fulfilled and woman needs man to be happy. Furthermore, man and woman also need children to complete their plenitude as a family. Husband and wife have all the children that they can maintain and bring up. The number of children depends on many factors and should be decided on with generosity. Large families are a joy for society and for the Church. In my personal opinion, it would be unnatural for the mature human to do without the other sex, unless it becomes a supernatural good, as with celibacy for the Kingdom. There are of course causes of "force majeure" [greater force] or imponderable causes which mean that a person cannot be fulfilled with a partner.

The sex act holds such a sway that it leaves no one indifferent and always has consequences. It unites man and woman in an incomparable manner. It should take place in a context of maturity, commitment and exclusivity: marriage. Man and woman give each other everything, including the ability to generate new human lives. This is good.

There are times when, objectively, for medical, social or family reasons, the responsibility of the parents leads them to avoid a new birth. This possibility is already foreseen in the "natural law." Women are only fertile for a few days a month. Natural fertility regulation methods (Billings, sympto-thermal, etc.) allow these infertile periods to be used for man and wife to remain in communion with sexual relations and thus overcome the unhealthy attraction of other flesh.

Pope Paul VI, in the encyclical "Humanae Vitae," warns that physicians and health care personnel should consider it their professional duty to obtain all the science necessary in this field in order to be able to give the married couples which consult us wise advice and healthy guidelines which they are fully entitled to expect from us.

Contraceptives infringe several human rights: the right to life (in the case of the abortion or morning-after pill), the right to health (they have side effects, unlike natural methods), the right to education (people are entitled to know about their own fertility) and the right to equality between the sexes (the contraceptive burden always tends to fall on the woman).

In July 2005, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (Lyons, France), of the World Health Organization, reported on the carcinogenicity of oral contraceptives with combined estrogen and progestogen, based on the conclusions of an "ad hoc" international work group. They were classified as Group 1 carcinogens.

Regrettably, dear colleagues, at present we are unable to provide natural methods for all those who need them. The low fertility rates in countries with a Catholic majority (Spain, Italy), together with the low knowledge of these methods, means that many married couples use artificial methods. If we take into account that they are relatively rich countries, it cannot be said either that they are especially generous with the number of children. We have an immense challenge here. We should never put out the torch that has been lit in favor of natural methods.

Unfortunately, contraception is not the only challenge of Medicine and of society. Also, we are unable (us and nations in general) to provide means against malnutrition, malaria and the vertical transmission of AIDS. We have the knowledge and some means but we cannot make them available to the needy. There is therefore no lack of work.

Without judging married couples who use artificial contraceptives -- our job is not to judge -- we should never forget this professional duty to offer natural means and to dissuade from using artificial means. It is a sign of progress to understand nature well and to help it as far as possible. The world is incomplete. We have work to do. And, when we do it, the progress can be seen.

Abortion

Is there anything worse than dragging a child out of its mother's womb? Can abortion be explained to a 5-year-old child? Does a woman who loses a child through miscarriage not weep as if she had lost a child? Do we as physicians do everything possible to transform the suffering of parents with problems in pregnancy into happiness and joy? The Catholic physician practices the preferential option for mothers. Not sole or exclusive but preferential.

Evolutionism

We know very little about the physical beginning of the human race. Without falling into scientism, we will need to wait decades until science enlightens us more on this subject. It is not known how or when one species changes into another, if this occurs at all. A large part of what has been written on this subject is provisional and incomplete.

Amniocentesis

As you know, except in extremely exceptional cases, amniocentesis is performed to provoke abortion if a fetal malformation is suspected. Therefore, as this practice is not carried out for the good of the fetus and the mother, it cannot be considered as a correct medical procedure.

Artificial reproduction

The physician can and must help infertile couples, but cannot substitute them. This principle is very useful to understand that, despite the popularity of so-called assisted reproduction techniques, we cannot give in to easy, profitable, temptations. All efforts should concentrate on improving the fertility studies for couples and on treating what can be treated, which is a lot. Given the obsession that many clinics have with in vitro fertilization, it would be good to explain to couples that the medical function is not to replace them, that amniocentesis is almost always performed to abort defective children, that surplus embryos are often eliminated, that children are frozen.

Catholic gynecologists are the heroes of present-day medicine. Their care and promotion are a top priority for the associations of Catholic physicians and for the FIAMC. General practitioners and other specialists can also contribute wise advice on matters of fertility.

Respect for the embryo: stem cells

I sincerely believe that the most coherent position with the knowledge that we have on the embryo is scrupulous respect from the moment of conception. And that this is the position that avoids the most problems. Our coherence is highlighted when defenders of whales and seals, death penalty detractors, human rights activists and different sorts of philanthropists accept the destruction of an embryo without batting an eyelid (always with therapeutic aims, of course).

Conception lasts for some time, but the process has already been triggered and respect for the wholeness of the embryo starts much earlier: it starts with respect for the union of a man and a woman, avoiding in vitro conceptions. Human beings should not introduce chaos into the bios.

To make a comparison with the beginning of the Gospel according to St. John, we can say that in the beginning is the genetic message, and the genetic message is in life and the genetic message is life. When there is a complete genetic message, which can be expressed and which is expressed in a continuous, coordinated and gradual manner, unstoppable if it were not for adverse external factors, then there is a unique and unrepeatable human being which must be respected. It comes to us and its family (us) must accept it and welcome it.

It is understood that, although any cell, for example from our skin, contains the complete human genetic message, it is not a human being in itself. The expression of this message, which is partial, means that it is not a human being. It is the fertilized egg which is already acting like a human! In the beginning, we are a single and unrepeatable message surrounded by some membranes, RNA, energy reserves and other services. To date, no researcher has "created" life. Human beings are only capable of transmitting it, correctly or incorrectly.

Embryonic stem cells exist to give rise to the embryo. And adult stem cells exist to regenerate tissues. It is that simple.

Strictly speaking, the human being does not have any right to life. Life is a gift that we receive. Before existing we were nothing and we were not therefore subject to rights. What we are entitled to is to not having our life taken away by another human being!

Dear Colleagues,

Our profession is perhaps the most admired profession in the world and the one that people expect the most from. I would recommend that you never stop studying, that you bear in mind the physician's promise and prayer (www.fiamc.org), that you do not fall into the temptation of venerating the god Mammon (money) and that you consider the possibility of bringing colleagues to the already existing associations of Catholic physicians.

Yours sincerely,

José María Simón
December 1, 2006

P.S. I am grateful to Monsignor Maurizio Calipari, ecclesiastic assistant of the FIAMC, for the advice that he has given me for the final version of this letter. Although under the supervision of the hierarchy, the Code of Canon Law gives widespread autonomy to the international Catholic organizations such as the one that I chair. The FIAMC is a public-law organization in the universal Church, and therefore "speaks and acts in the name of the Church." This is a clear sign of ecclesiastic trust in lay people.

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Tony Blair's Bioethical Legacy
Interview With John Smeaton of SPUC

LONDON, FEB. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The United Kingdom is exporting anti-life and anti-family values, says John Smeaton, director of an organization campaigning for pro-life laws.

Smeaton, the national director of the U.K.-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, spoke with ZENIT about the present and the future of bioethics in Britain.

Q: Tony Blair expects to step down as prime minister this year. How has the bioethical landscape in Britain changed during his tenure?

Smeaton: Under Tony Blair's leadership, the government and parliament have plunged Britain into an ethical abyss, in which there is no right or wrong but simply administrative and technical questions to be resolved by the implementation of new anti-life evils.

Two of the first things Tony Blair did in office was to establish a strategy on teenage pregnancy and to revive proposals to change the law on end-of-life treatment.

The former involves supplying abortion and birth control drugs and devices to schoolgirls as young as 11 without parents' knowledge or consent; the latter has led to a law -- the Mental Capacity Act 2005 -- which allows, and in certain circumstances requires, doctors to starve and to dehydrate to death vulnerable patients.

The Blair government exports abortion-on-demand to the developing world under the guise of the Millennium Development Goals and it has increased funding for population control agencies -- such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Population Fund -- complicit in China's one-child policy.

Tony Blair has personally championed destructive experiments on cloned human embryos. In general, there is virtually no area of pro-life or pro-family ethical concern which has not been made worse by the Blair government.

In addition, the U.K. is a major influence within the European Union and in many other parts of the world in support of anti-life, anti-family policies.

Q: How does the level of bioethical debate in Britain compare to the rest of the world? The United States, for instance? Or Australia? Or Germany?

Smeaton: The level of bioethical debate compares badly with the rest of the world.

The mass media in Britain, led by the so-called quality media, such as the Times and the BBC, present the debate on bioethical issues such as human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and abortion, in an almost entirely one-sided way.

Scientific and ethical considerations which suggest why human embryonic stem cell research is ethically irresponsible are either not included at all in such media coverage, or they are presented in a totally inadequate way. Also, the government of the day appears to have an infinite capacity to manipulate the terms of bioethical debate.

For example, the government succeeded in enshrining euthanasia by neglect in law in April 2005 while simultaneously successfully assuring politicians and church leaders that they were completely opposed to legalizing euthanasia.

Q: Christian leaders in Britain in recent years have lamented the state of religion, as witnessed in low church attendance. Has that affected culture-of-life issues?

Smeaton: Whatever the fundamental cause of low church attendance, the situation is worsened by the lack of clear teaching on culture of life issues.

Tragically, in Britain, induced abortion and birth control drugs and devices are provided to children at school, including Catholic schools, under the age of 16 without parental knowledge or consent.

Last year, a teacher at a mixed Catholic school in Kent, in England, spoke out publicly about the sex education given to her class of 13- to 14-year-old children. The teacher, a Miss McLernon, said: "I think people should be aware of what is going on in schools. I witnessed the nurse using a plastic model to show these children how to put on what she said was a chocolate flavored condom."

Miss McLernon said: "Every child in the class was given a card explaining where you could get free contraceptives and the abortion-inducing morning-after pill. The card also gave details of a website for young people explaining how a surgical abortion could be arranged. This is a Catholic school where you would expect children to be protected from this sort of thing."

Sadly, more and more Catholic parents are approaching the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children with terrible experiences in Catholic schools, both at the secondary and primary school level. Protests on the part of Catholic parents and teachers seeking to protect young people do not appear to be heard.

Furthermore, the British and European Union governments have enacted a body of law on the equal employment rights of male and female homosexuals and bisexuals and transsexuals which is to be enforced with the threat of severe legal sanctions.

Q: Does debate in Britain have the philosophical and theological language necessary to handle bioethical issues well?

Smeaton: Britain has not only lost its moral compass. For the most part, it has also lost both the language and the capacity to think in a morally rational way.

For most, morality is primarily connected with a curious mixture of self-interest, compassion, and the desire to avoid pain, suffering and inconvenience. This explains the capacity of the British to be both pro-choice about abortion while at the same time feeling a moral unease about it all.

Even the word "discriminate" has been appropriated as a word with wholly negative connotations when in the not-so-distant past to be called discriminating was a compliment.

Thus has the distinction between just and unjust discrimination disappeared from the moral lexicon. There is no objective language to categorize moral rightness or wrongness where sexual conduct is concerned, but at the same time there is a moral Stalinism in the legal insistence that all employers employ a person irrespective of their declared sexual orientation and personal living arrangements.

Q: If things stay on course, what will Britain look like -- culturally, ethically -- in 25 years?

Smeaton: The answer lies in Rome and in the appointment of courageous bishops. If the Catholic Church begins to provide an unambiguous lead in defense of life and the family and, in particular, on the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual intercourse, the work of lay secular movements like the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children which have been working for over four decades will bear fruit and things will improve.

A peaceful pro-life and pro-family movement, increasing in numbers, sharing its values with their fellow-citizens, will have a growing influence in society.

[If not,] lay people who seek to defend life, marriage and the family may be imprisoned. The Mental Capacity Act 2005, in certain circumstances, already criminalizes doctors who insist on giving patients food and water.

Legislation promoting homosexual rights is becoming ever more draconian.

Health professionals who refuse to refer patients for abortion will become unemployable as will teachers who refuse to obey the government's secret abortion policy for children.

Parents who provide their children with traditional Christian teaching regarding homosexuality may have their children taken into care by the state. Authentic moral values will be taught in secret or not at all.

Britain will continue to be a major influence in the European Union and other parts of the world in support of abortion, embryo research, human cloning, euthanasia and homosexual "marriage."

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Christopher Pearson: Ethics and the embryo
   (July 29, 2006)

LAST week I had occasion to praise Bob Carr for his love of history and his role in restoring it to a place of honour in the curriculum in NSW. This week, after an ill-judged entry into the debate on stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, it's time to focus on some of his limitations.

The particular defects I have in mind are his populist boosting of highly questionable research, his vulgar utilitarianism and a surprisingly low-brow, relentless secularism.

When it comes to embryonic stem cell research and its possibilities, Carr is an uncritical, born-again believer. He says it has "the most remarkable potential of any scientific discovery ever made in human health". He expects it will have an effect on all the lives "invaded by cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's, motor neurone disease, severe burns", not to mention Alzheimer's.

The rhetorical strategy is plain to see. This is a short list of the commonest causes of death and some of the most debilitating afflictions of old age. According to Carr, opposing research that may hold out the prospect of cures for them is pointless self-denial based on superstition. Worse, it cruelly denies people already suffering those diseases the chance of a cure.

As for therapeutic cloning, the notion that it may be a matter of any moral complexity strikes Carr as preposterous. "No sperm. No fertilised egg. Nothing returned to the womb. No human reproduction. The 'embryo' we are talking about? It's something smaller than the full stop at the end of this sentence. That resembles something from any species, even a sea urchin. Weigh that against the living human being you love."

Putting inverted commas around the embryo, as if to call its existence into question without quite saying so, is a nice touch. So is the suggestion that something the size of a full stop (as we all once were) is inherently inconsequential, and that human and non-human embryos have a great deal in common. What Carr never quite comes to grips with is that therapeutic cloning involves the deliberate production of a human embryo for experimental purposes.

Instead he introduces us to a friend dying of motor neurone disease. "Paul and his wife, parents to two girls, know that somewhere in embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning lies the most promising prospect of cracking the code of this awful disease. I joined Paul and others in the 2002-03 battle to legalise embryonic stem cell research. The objections are derived from the same notions of medieval science - outdated since Galileo - that generated opposition to birth control. Now the sufferers and their families will have to win the debate all over again. Medical science will provide the only miracles they will ever see."

In professional rhetoric, this is what's called a sucker punch. It aims to overwhelm reason with a tug at the heartstrings and an appeal to our common humanity. It's an anthem to modernity and a fearless repudiation of any old mumbo-jumbo that stands in the way of progress.

It's also quite disingenuous. For example, Paul and his wife may think they know that embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning are the most promising prospects for curing motor neurone disease. However, this is much more a matter of faith than empirical knowledge. The most important breakthroughs in recent science have relied on adult stem cells and umbilical cord stem cells, which raise no comparable ethical dilemmas.

If he has done his homework, Carr should know that and have the intellectual honesty to say so. But, then again, this is an argument short on detail and long on militantly atheistic flourishes. It's not true, for example, to say that the objections to experimenting with human embryos rely on medieval science where, at least in Thomas Aquinas's view, life began at the quickening of the fetus in the womb. On the contrary, the concern with the inviolability of the embryo is based on a contemporary understanding of the earliest stages of human reproduction.

Why does Carr say the science in question has been outdated since Galileo? Not because Galileo is relevant or contributed anything to the sum of knowledge about reproduction but because the Catholic Church mistakenly forced him to recant his heliocentric discovery and, by implication, the church is once again on the side of ignorance and superstition. Just to reinforce the point, there's a disparaging - and quite gratuitous - reference to anyone old-fashioned enough to be opposed to contraception.

Through the last years of his premiership, Carr often struggled to contain his loathing of Christianity in general and in particular the tribal Catholicism of his faction, the NSW Right. His performance at Hillsong was, for many observers, all the more mesmerising on that account. But now that he has left politics, he's free to air his dismissive attitude to religion with the in-your-face line: "Medical science will provide the only miracles they will ever see." Face facts, there is no other kind, is what he's telling us.

As a distinguished Dominican scholar once remarked: "The only difference between front-bar atheism and the senior common-room variety is in the quality of the port. Atheists on the whole aren't interested in sophisticated elaborations of a position. They just believe they're right and that it's all self-evident."

I think that sums up Carr's mind-set nicely. He thinks an open-slather, utilitarian attitude towards medical research is the only conceivable approach.

It never seems to have occurred to him that Western philosophy, Christian and otherwise, has devoted vast time and intelligence to the ethical questions surrounding human life. Like many a patchily educated autodidact, he's unaware of the nuanced conversation he has blundered in on.

Nor, despite his disdain for the beliefs of others, does he have enough self-knowledge to discern his deep-green environmentalist convictions and uncritical attachment to catastrophist greenhouse science for the pagan pieties they are.

An article on the ethics of stem cell research by John Martin, a former professor of medicine at the University of Melbourne, appeared in the Fairfax press last week.

He argues: "In all of medicine and related research, when undertaking a certain procedure requires that ethical barriers be surmounted, the more formidable the barrier, the greater must be the benefit of the proposed work."

It's a utilitarian approach that pays some heed to community attitudes and makes no mention of metaphysics, but it's much subtler and more qualified than Carr's.

Discussing the progress of research undertaken using surplus in-vitro fertilisation embryos, he reaches conclusions very different from Carr's. "Since the licensing system was introduced in 2002 there have been no discoveries through this work to support arguments for an urgent need for somatic cell nuclear transfer, often called therapeutic cloning." It's a far cry from the former premier's assessment of "the most remarkable potential of any scientific discovery ever made in human health". It almost makes you wonder whether he, or perhaps his employers at Macquarie Bank, have underperforming shares to talk up in some of the new medical technology corporations.

Martin poses the question of whether there has been sufficient evidence to warrant therapeutic cloning and concludes: "Proof

of this as an approach has never been obtained from any experimental model of disease in animals."

He cites the various diseases where cloning is thought to hold great promise and notes: "For several of these conditions there are experimental models that can be studied in animals, but embryonic stem cells have never yet been shown in animal research to provide a cure sufficiently prolonged and free of complications to warrant human studies. To accept the urgency of work on embryonic stem cells in the face of the ethical barriers, then at least one experimental example of safe, prolonged and substantially effective treatment better than any existing treatment should be provided."

Martin also gives the lie to the argument "that an embryo is not an embryo unless it is implanted in the uterus, that it is something quite different if it stays in the laboratory and is used for research". As he says: "This is pure sophistry."

His verdict on human therapeutic cloning is: "If and when it happens, the question will still need to be asked: is there a compelling reason to do this work? On present evidence there is none."

Even if the signs from animal experimentation are encouraging, in company with most of the respectable philosophers during the past 300 years, he cautions against "the questionable utilitarian principle that the end always justifies the means".

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Europe Bishops' Statement on Stem Cell Program
"Risk of Promoting the Destruction of Human Embryos"

BRUSSELS, Belgium, JULY 26, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the statement issued today by the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community on the implications of the European Union's 7th Framework Research Program for the period 2007-2013.

The program provides for the financing of research and consequent elimination of human embryos. The statement, slightly adapted here, is entitled: "Setback for the Protection of Embryos: The European Union Faces a Major Bioethical Challenge."

* * *

The Secretariat of COMECE has followed the preparation of the 7th Framework Research Program for the period 2007-2013. It expresses its profound [disappointment] regarding the decision of the European Council of Ministers on July 24, 2006.

The Catholic Church recognizes the importance of developing an economy based on knowledge, research and innovation in the European Union. To this end the 7th Framework Research Program is an essential instrument to support research and innovation at the European Union level. The COMECE plenary session in November 2005 acknowledged that: "Science and research make major contributions to the quality of life, especially in the area of health where new therapeutic options are available. They are also an important factor for economic development."

Like the preceding program, in its current form the 7th FPR continues to promote research on stem cells from human embryos with the support of the European Parliament. This is the present situation notwithstanding the opposition of certain Member States which were not able to achieve better guaranties for the respect of human dignity in the negotiations at the European Council of Ministers on Monday, July 24.

In order to complement the agreement reached in the Council of Ministers, the European Commission added a 12-point declaration which foresees in particular that the 7th FPR will not fund the destruction of human embryos, but will fund research on embryonic stems cells resulting from such destruction.

This declaration is most unsatisfactory because European funding of research on embryonic stem cells entails the risk of promoting at the level of the Member States the destruction of human embryos. Therefore the Secretariat of COMECE reiterates its objection to EU funding of research which implies directly or indirectly the destruction of human embryos. In this respect, it recalls the statement of the Executive Committee of COMECE, May 31, 2006: "Treating the human embryo as an object for research is not compatible with human dignity."

The use of human embryos for research purposes (i.e., their destruction or the research with stem cells derived from these embryos) is not acceptable. Furthermore there is no necessity to undertake this research; according to experts, adult stem cells and stem cells from the umbilical cord, offer an alternative path with interesting and real perspectives for therapy.

The Secretariat of COMECE is perplexed by the contradiction between this decision which is an attack on human dignity at the beginning of life and the objective of the European Union to promote therapies aiming to save human life. This decision contradicts also the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU which states in Article 1: "Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected."

Therefore we draw the attention of public opinion to the gravity of this decision. We underline once again the fundamental importance of the social-ethical and bioethical dimensions of this debate for Europe and its future. We invite our fellow citizens and especially Catholics to recognize the anthropological significance of this debate regarding human dignity. We call on them to do all in their power to foster such a debate at the level of the European institutions, in the Member States and in civil society. This is vitally important in view of the second reading in the European Parliament in autumn.

Bishop Adrianus Van Luyn, bishop of Rotterdam, president
Monsignor Noël Treanor, secretary-general

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3 Million IVF Babies
Concern Over Ethical Implications

LONDON, JULY 1, 2006 (Zenit.org).- More than 3 million babies have been born as a result of in vitro fertilization treatment. News on the IVF numbers came from Jacques de Mouzon, of the International Committee for Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ICMART), reported Reuters on June 21.

The announcement came during the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, held June 18-21 in Prague, Czech Republic. The ICMART report, which includes data from 52 countries, covers two-thirds of the world's IVF treatments.

The report noted the uneven distribution of IVF births. Nearly 56% of all IVF treatments are in Europe. And almost half of the techniques are performed in four countries -- the United States, Germany, France and Britain.

The news on the numbers of babies born through IVF was well received by the secular media. But other reports from the conference were not so positive. A June 19 press release by the organizers reported on research presented at the meeting warning that the conditions in which embryos are cultured in the laboratory during IVF could be causing genetic errors. These errors are associated with developmental syndromes and other abnormalities in growth and development, such as low birth weight.

The fears come from research on genetic imprinting in mouse embryos. That research has shown that certain culture media and concentrations of oxygen altered the _expression of several imprinted genes. Imprinting is the process by which some genes are activated or inactivated depending on whether they have been inherited in chromosomes from the mother or the father. The results, however, are only preliminary, cautioned Paolo Rinaudo, a scientist at the Center for Reproductive Sciences, University of California, San Francisco.

Another problem treated at the meeting was that embryos conceived using IVF have a higher chance of being male, the Australian newspaper Sun-Herald reported June 25.

Australian embryologist Jean Scott told the conference that this phenomenon took place when the embryos are grown for a longer period of time before being implanted. When the egg and sperm are mixed outside the body, and the embryo is grown to a blastocyst before being transferred back to the woman, there is a 56% chance the child would be a boy.

IVF Australia director Dr. Ric Porter said this occurred due to the fact that doctors would select the embryo that was dividing fastest and these tended to be male, reported the Sun-Herald.

Fraud warning

The conference also heard of the need to be on the guard against identity fraud. Dr. Luca Sabatini, from the Center for Reproductive Medicine at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London, said that research had shown that many clinics in the United Kingdom felt they did not have sufficient safeguards to properly check patients' identities.

The St. Bartholomew's Hospital team surveyed 70 licensed clinics in the United Kingdom. Of these 45 responded, and 37% reported they had experienced or suspected cases of patient identity fraud.

"Our overwhelming feeling is that there are insufficient measures to protect the unit, the patient's legal rights, and most importantly the future welfare and well being of the unborn child," said Sabatini.

Fraudulent behavior can involve attempting to obtain public funding that would normally exclude the patient. It can also occur when the couple in the process of being treated splits up and one of them tries to continue the treatment with a different partner. Or there can be cases when sperm from a younger man could be substituted for an older one, while maintaining the pretense that the older man will be the legal father.

Weeding out the "unfit"

The most controversial theme raised during the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference was over genetic screening. British doctors announced they had developed a new test to detect genetic disorders in embryos, Reuters reported June 18.

Instead of searching for an altered gene linked to an inherited illness, the new test looks for DNA fingerprints, or markers, near the gene. In this way the problematic embryos are excluded and only healthy ones are used for implantation during the IVF process.

The test was developed at Guy and St. Thomas' National Health Service Foundation Trust in London. So far it has been used on seven women, five of whom are now pregnant.

Criticism of the new test was immediate, reported Britain's Daily Mail newspaper the next day. "It is not about taking an embryo and curing it," said Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, "but about diagnosing and then throwing away."

Simone Aspis, of the British Council of Disabled People, warned: "Screening out autism would breed a fear that anyone who is different in any way will not be accepted. It would create a society where only perfection is valued."

The Daily Mail also published an opinion article alongside the news report, by Virginia Bovell, mother of an autistic 11-year-old, Danny. After declaring she was "appalled" by news of the test, Bovell explained that she well understood the difficulties of having a child with autism.

But, she added, "the 'problem' lies not with autism itself but with the way in which our society responds to it." For a start, the government could help couples with handicapped children a lot more, Bovell contended.

"Yes, caring for him can be draining and isolating, but I can unequivocally say that Danny is the best thing that has ever happened to me and the idea that we might have somehow been 'better off' if he had never been born is intolerable," she concluded.

Others, however, welcomed the announcement of the new test. Sunday Times columnist Minette Miriam, writing on June 25, described the new technique as almost "godlike" and called it the best news she had heard for years.

She rejected the criticisms that getting rid of embryos with problems was playing God. "But what on earth is wrong with humans playing God?" wrote Miriam. "I am all for it, especially as God doesn't seem to be doing it." She concluded: "What a piece of work is a man and partly, now, it is the work of godlike humankind."

Valuing life

Earlier this year Benedict XVI defended the value of life in its first stages, offering a notably different interpretation of how God values life. His comments came in a Feb. 27 address to participants in a congress titled, "The human embryo in the pre-implantation phase," organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life.

We can find a number of references in sacred Scripture, the Pope noted, that show God's love every human being, even before they are formed in the womb. In Jeremiah 1:5, God told the young prophet: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you."

"God's love does not differentiate between the newly conceived infant still in his or her mother's womb and the child or young person, or the adult and the elderly person," the Pontiff explained. The human person, he continued, is endowed with a very exalted dignity, rooted in the bond with the Creator. This exists in every person, in every stage of life. For this reason the Church defends human life as sacred and inviolable from the moment of conception until its natural end. That inviolability is under increasing threat these days.

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Harvard's stem cell misstep
By Michael Cook  
Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Harvard University has given the cause of therapeutic cloning the backing of its immense prestige. A stem cell scientist tells MercatorNet that this is based on inflated hopes and bad science. ?

Earlier this month, world-renowned Harvard University announced that it would become the first non-commercial institution in the US to attempt human embryo cloning. All funding is to come from private donations because of restrictions imposed by US President George W. Bush. The decision was made after two years of discussion amongst eight institutional review boards at five institutions. Like many other observers, the New York Times praised the decision as "bold moves made after intense soul-searching". However, not all stem cell researchers approved of the decision. James L. Sherley, of near-by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Harvard graduate, explains why in this exclusive MercatorNet interview.

MercatorNet: How soon could human embryonic stem cells be used for cures? Harvard is telling potential donors to its stem cell institute that "in as little as a decade" there will be treatments for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and diabetes. It also suggests that the names of many incurable diseases will be eliminated from our grandchildren's vocabularies. Are these predictions realistic?

James L. SherleySherley: The question "How soon," is pre-empted by the question: "Could human embryonic stem cells ever be used for cures?" When the errant biological properties of human embryonic stem cells are considered, it is difficult to foresee them ever being used directly as cures in children or adults. This promise was the earliest misleading misinformation from proponents of human embryo research. Because many factors that guide the normal development of embryonic cells are absent in mature tissues, embryonic stem cells placed in adult tissues produce malformed tissues that are cancerous. So, figuring out how to use human embryonic stem cells directly by transplantation into patients is tantamount to solving the cancer problem.

Human embryonic stem cell scientists, who lacked sufficient knowledge of the cell biology of mature tissues, naively promised to develop new therapies with mature cells produced from embryonic stem cells. These scientists overlooked the fact that mature cells, which lack the renewal capability of stem cells, cannot be used for long-term treatment in mature tissues, which require continuous renewal.

There is one strategy by which embryonic stem cells might be used to develop therapies for the tissues of adults and children. If embryonic stem cells could be used to produce tissue-specific adult stem cells, the adult stem cells could be tried for mature tissue therapies. However, since natural adult stem cells are available from informed consenting adult donors, this possible embryonic stem cell-dependent strategy is not absolute, as has been suggested by proponents of human embryo cloning.

Moreover, if derivation of specific adult stem cell types from embryonic stem cells is found to be possible, the derivation process will take longer than using natural adult stem cells and may still produce defective and possibly tumour-forming adult stem cells. However, more to the point, why pursue this uncertain path that requires destruction and exploitation of human embryos, when adult stem cells can be used instead?

Recent articles in the Boston Globe and the Harvard Gazette report that Harvard scientists are claiming two future advances from research with embryonic stem cells derived from cloned embryos. Their first claim is for new cures based on using human embryonic stem cells. Clearly, this will not occur. Their second claim is trumpeted above their now admitted misgivings about the first.

By studying embryonic stem cells derived from human embryos cloned from the cells of individuals with particular chronic diseases, Harvard scientists claim that they will obtain new knowledge about how chronic human diseases develop. It is amazing that such words come out of the mouths of noted developmental biologists who have known for years that simple embryonic stem cell culture is an inadequate model for human development.

MercatorNet: Is there a lesson to be learned from the Hwang debacle? Is fraud an inherent danger in human cloning research -- or was this a unique case which is unlikely to happen again?

Cloning an embryoSherley: There will be few who are immune to the temptations of the potential for significant personal gain from hyping the value of human embryo research. In the current unsettled moral and ethical climate around human embryo research, in the minds of many scientists, being first to clone human embryos guarantees a Nobel Prize and bronze statues in their likeness. When such motivation for fame and fortune is combined with the fragmentary, variable, and overall uncertain regulatory environment surrounding human embryo research, the risk for ethical misconduct is high and pervasive.

This danger is already evident in the "ethical guidelines" that have been developed by Harvard scientists and national scientific organisations like the US National Academy of Sciences. These guidelines and recommendations ignore the fact that the US public is still wrestling with the moral status of human embryos. In the current void of a federally legislated policy, they are racing ahead with human embryo research and announcing obtuse so-called ethical recommendations that ignore the issues of the humanity, right to life, and right to privacy of human embryos. An incorruptible scientific body would self-impose a moratorium on such research until the public debate was resolved. Instead, human embryo research scientists are racing ahead without regard for human life, before the public discovers all the truth and begins to protect human embryos as worthy human beings.

MercatorNet: After four years of debate, do you think that the public is more aware of the difficulties involved in cloning embryos and stem cell research?

Sherley: The public is somewhat more aware of the challenges because significant time has passed without the major breakthroughs that were promised. The investment community has also pulled back, too, upon greater appreciation of both the societal concerns and technical risks involved. However, because feasibility is implicit in most reports on promised human embryonic stem cell therapies, the public largely believes that developing therapies from human embryonic stem cells may be difficult, but not impossible. If the public understood that no wonder therapies were likely to come from embryonic stem cells, the discussion would be over, and human embryos would be safer.

Many who support human embryo research do so because they were told that many IVF embryos were discarded anyway and the death of human embryos would benefit themselves or their loved ones. The first excuse turned out to be a misleading statement by promoters of human embryo research that has now been discredited in several recent newspaper articles. The second excuse pits "a greater good" against "the destruction of embryos for the gain of others," and this is a moral dilemma for sure. However, if the public were fully informed that "a greater good" was extremely unlikely and perhaps impossible, the racers to clone human embryos would be disqualified overnight.

MercatorNet: Harvard reached its decision after two years of consultation with eight institutional review boards and stem cell oversight committees at five institutions. Do you think that the fundamental ethical issues were deeply studied in this process?

Sherley: Recent reports on the outcome of the process indicate that much time was spent on important ethical issues like how to recruit, treat, and compensate women who donate eggs for cloning procedures. However, like the deliberations of the US National Academy of Sciences, the fundamental moral questions of the humanity, right to life, and right to privacy of human embryos seem to have been largely evaded.

MercatorNet: Obtaining eggs from women volunteers is essential for Harvard’s experiments. Do you foresee any problems?

Sherley: Very knowledgeable human endocrinologists, bioethicists, and women's rights advocates have provided prescient warnings regarding the potential for exploitation of women in meeting the demand for egg donors that may be created by human embryo cloning research. There is already an active unregulated service economy based on provision of human eggs for IVF in the US. Currently, women receive significant financial compensation for undergoing an invasive procedure for harvest of their artificially hormonally-matured eggs. The US National Academy of Sciences has recommended that women who donate eggs for human embryo cloning experiments receive no compensation beyond the costs they incur for participation. This is the policy to which Harvard reports that its scientists will adhere.

Even Economics 101 is not required to realize that this is plan may potentially reduce the plight that cloning experiments pose for human embryos. Harvard scientists are likely to find that they cannot recruit sufficient women who will volunteer their eggs to make embryos that will be killed for cloning research, when instead they could receive as much as US$15,000 for eggs that will be used to conceive babies for infertile parents.

MercatorNet: As a world-renowned university, Harvard prides itself on the calibre of its cutting-edge academics, not only in science, but also ethics, theology and politics. But has the desire to maintain Harvard's reputation affected its ethical judgement?

Sherley: The public should demand to hear this question addressed by Harvard professors of ethics, politics, history of science, and economics and also by Harvard professors who have a dissenting view. They may be silent, muted, or unreported on the issue. The public needs to know which is the case. Surely, this revered faculty of original and independent thinkers, who recently cast out their President for his regressive prejudicial ideas, is not monolithic in its view on the moral status of human embryos and their treatment by Harvard scientists.

MercatorNet: You suggested recently that stem cell researchers at Harvard and elsewhere are making contradictory promises. On the one hand, they were saying a couple of years ago that they would never allow cloned embryos to mature. But now they need more developed embryos to study diseases. What do you mean by this?

Sherley: Embryonic stem cells are an artifact of cell culture. The cells from which they originated in early embryos have different properties in the embryo. Many of the diseases proposed for targeting (eg, diabetes, Parkinson's) emerge in the context of many precise interactions among different types of cells that are not present in embryonic stem cell cultures. If these diseases do emerge during embryonic development (which is a proposal, not a certainty), studying them will require that the embryos be matured until the point of their emergence. Human embryo scientists have tacitly agreed that cloned embryos should not be matured beyond an arbitrary early stage of embryo development. (This agreement highlights the deception of their feigned uncertainty on the question of whether human embryos are living human beings.)

However, it is very likely that diseases of adult life, if they show any manifestation in embryos at all, will do so well after this arbitrary stage of maturation. The public can be sure that Harvard's and other scientists, like camels in a tent, will keep inching this boundary forward with newly-crafted, misleading excuses for doing so.

MercatorNet: You seem pretty convinced that human embryos are human beings. Can you explain briefly why?

Sherley: My answer is, "What else could they be -- aliens?" Scientists who want to conduct experiments with human embryos are quick to say what human embryos are not. I challenge them to tell the public what human embryos are. There is only one answer to this question, "living human beings."

MercatorNet: But why can't you convince your colleagues at Harvard and MIT of your point of view? What's the stumbling block?

Sherley: When scientists arrange their own press conferences to announce promises for the future that involve significant self-gain, let the public beware. The stumbling block is non-scientific motivations.

MercatorNet: Stem cell research is an exciting field. As a professor at MIT, do you find that the brightest and best students are entering it? How does a younger generation of scientists view the ethical debate?

Sherley: I do not presume to know the answer to how younger scientists view this issue. The leadership of professional scientific organizations like the American Society for Cell Biology and the International Society for Stem Cell Research have been unwilling to poll their memberships electronically to evaluate such questions. Even for the undergraduate students, graduate students, and post-doctoral associates with whom I work, who are aware of my position and ideas on the subject, I do not know their views.

This being said, many of them are considering or planning careers in adult stem cell research. There is so much exciting science to be done and so much potential for biomedical applications from stem cell research that does not require the death and exploitation of human embryos, that I am absolutely confident that the best and the brightest minds will continue to be attracted to this remarkable field of investigation and application.

James L. Sherley is an Associate Professor of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Michael Cook is Editor of MercatorNet.

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Polish Bishops on Funding Human Embryo Research
"Human Dignity Is Inviolable. It Must Be Respected and Protected"

POZNAN, Poland, JUNE 29, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the statement published Sunday by the episcopal conference of Poland on the European Parliament's decision to finance research on human embryos and embryonic stem cells.

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On June 15, 2006, the European Parliament in the first reading voted on the seventh Framework Program on scientific research and development, and called for the European Union funding of research on human embryos and embryonic stem cells. Given the nature of this decision which clearly has its ethical dimension, the episcopate of Poland gathered at the 336th plenary session in Poznan, wish to present their opinion on this matter.

We are in favor of scientific development in the European Union and we advocate greater funding for scientific research. We respect and support the right to freedom of research, each man's right to health and treatment, and the duty to assist those who are ill. We are aware of the fact that research into human stem cells holds great promise from a cognitive and therapeutic point of view.

Nevertheless, the result of the vote in the European Parliament gives rise to our grave ethical objections since research into human embryonic stem cells undertaken out of concern for some people's health and life is done at the expense of destroying other human beings. Such objections cannot be passed over in silence and therefore, we must express our determined opposition to the financing of research by the European Union which leads to the destruction of human embryos. Research into embryonic cells is carried out at the expense of human embryos who from their very beginning, that is from the moment of conception, have the right to that unconditional respect which is morally due to the human being ("Evangelium Vitae," no. 60).

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights contains a provision that says: "Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected" (art. 1). Such dignity is due to every human being from conception to natural death. Treating a human embryo as an object of experiments and, thus its instrumentalization is a flagrant violation of this dignity.

The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Poland ruled that such activities are incompatible with the principle of a democratic state governed by the rule of law: "A democratic state governed by the rule of law holds man and his most precious weal as a supreme value. By this weal, we understand life which in a democratic state governed by the rule of law must enjoy constitutional protection in each stage of its development" (Ruling by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Poland dated May 28, 1997).

The decision of the European Parliament also raises serious objections in view of the fact that the EU fundamental principle of subsidiarity is not respected in this case. The European Union is expected to provide funding for research which is incompatible with national legal systems in place in many member states, including Poland. The area that provokes such controversy: The regulation of ethical questions belongs solely to the competence of member states.

Following the decision of the European Parliament, research which is unlawful under national law should be financed from the EU budget, and in this way, also from the contributions of the states where such research is illegal. The promotion of such a practice in the European Union would be detrimental to its cohesion, subjectivity and would clearly lead to unnecessary conflicts. This is why we are outspokenly against such solutions.

The Polish bishops attending the 336th plenary session of the conference of the episcopate of Poland fully endorse the position taken by the commission of episcopates of the European Community, as expressed during its plenary session in November 2005. It was later reiterated by the COMECE bureau in May this year. It is our conviction that the European Union should focus its research on many other promising areas also involving stem cells but the ones procured from adult persons.

As it was expressed in the position of the Permanent Council and the Scientific Council of the conference of the episcopate of Poland, Feb. 26, 2004: "such a form of therapy does not raise any ethical doubts and is a genuine hope for those ill and suffering, unlike the creation and use of embryonic stem cells."

We urge the European Parliament to revise its decision on this issue. It does not promote the cause of respecting dignity of the human being nor does it serve the common weal. Such a mistaken decision which fails to take into account a fundamental value, i.e. that of human life, undermines confidence in the European Union and its decision-making processes.

We call on all people of good will, on the Council and on the European Commission, to take all measures in order not to allow the implementation of the decision taken by the European Parliament on the financing of research on embryos and embryonic stem cells.

Signed: Polish cardinals, archbishops and bishops attending the 336th plenary session of the conference of the episcopate of Poland

Poznan -- Gniezno, June 25, 2006


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"Assisted Dying" Defeated, for Now
British House of Lords Rejects Proposal

LONDON, MAY 20, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Britain's House of Lords sidelined an attempt to facilitate assisted-suicide for those seriously ill. Lord Joel Joffe, who has made other similarly defeated attempts in the recent past, proposed for consideration the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill.

The bill had divided opinions over the last few months, culminating in a seven-hour debate and vote in the Lords on May 13. The next day's Times newspaper reported that the House of Lords was packed as on few other recent occasions for the debate. There were even three baronesses present, in motorized wheelchairs, to oppose the bill.

In the end the Lords voted 148-100 to delay the bill for six months. Afterward, Joffe pledged to continue his campaign for legalizing assisted suicide.

Churches and pro-life groups had carried out a well-organized campaign to defeat the proposal. On March 16, Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff sent a letter to all parish priests in England and Wales explaining how the Catholic Church was organizing to defeat the bill.

The archbishop, who is chairman of the Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship of the bishops' conference of England and Wales, also sent out for use in the parishes a leaflet explaining what individuals could do to defeat the proposal. The leaflet was produced by the Care Not Killing Alliance, which is formed by medical groups, organizations representing disabled people and churches, including the Catholic Church.

In April, leaders of various faith groups wrote an open letter to all members of Parliament and the House of Lords. The groups, which ranged from Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Jews, to Muslims and Sikhs, expressed their concern at the attempt to change the law and added that they "hold all human life to be sacred and worthy of the utmost respect."

Palliative care

The letter also commented that palliative care is advancing very rapidly, both in relieving suffering experienced by those with a terminal illness, as well as in providing support for their families. The leaders called upon politicians to take steps to ensure adequate training is given to doctors and nurses to adequately treat such patients. They also asked that more centers of specialist palliative care be established.

"The argument that assisted suicide or euthanasia is necessary to deal with the suffering of terminal illness is false," they argued. Moreover, they added that in countries where assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalized there are serious concerns over how it is applied. In the Netherlands, for example, 1 in every 32 deaths arises from legal or illegal euthanasia. As well, Dutch pro-euthanasia groups are campaigning for further relaxations of the law to extend it, for example, to people with dementia.

The faith leaders also noted that most doctors oppose assisted dying. In fact, medical opposition has actually intensified in recent years.

Just prior to the parliamentary debate, some of the leaders wrote another letter, published May 12 in the Times. It was signed by Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster, and Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

"We urge legislators to withhold support for this Bill," the leaders wrote, "so as to ensure that British law continues to safeguard the principle that the intention to kill, or assist in the killing, of an innocent human being is wrong."

"Compassion for the terminally ill is incumbent on all of us," they stated. But this does not mean there is any "right to die." Such a "right" would, for the vulnerable, soon become "a duty to die," the religious leaders warned.

The danger that Joffe's bill would lead to more and more widespread euthanasia was one of points highlighted in a briefing paper prepared by the Care Not Killing Alliance.

The bill contained within it the seeds of its own extension, the paper explained: "If we are allowing assisted dying for reasons of compassion, then why deny it to patients who are suffering unbearably but not terminally ill?" The paper warned that legal challenges under the Human Rights Act would very probably, and quickly, lead to a situation where assisted suicide would be established as a therapeutic option for anyone.

Autonomy's limit

The briefing also dealt with the question of autonomy, since supporters of assisted suicide often push their proposals under the justification of allowing people to take charge of their own lives. "Autonomy is important," stated the paper, "but we have laws because autonomy is not absolute."

Moreover, the paper continued, the plea for personal autonomy must be weighed against other factors, such as the following:

-- Most people who ask for euthanasia do not actually want it. Terminally ill people often suffer from depression which can foment suicidal thoughts. In most cases this can be effectively treated. What is needed, therefore, is better care.

-- Vulnerable people will feel pressure to request euthanasia. People who are dying might often feel they are a burden on relatives and society short of resources. A law allowing euthanasia would put pressure on them to consider assisted suicide as a therapeutic option.

-- Euthanasia cannot be controlled. Experience in the Netherlands clearly shows that there is a progression from assisted suicide to voluntary or involuntary euthanasia.

-- Euthanasia would change the nature of medicine. Euthanasia would split the medical profession, leading many doctors who conscientiously object to be excluded from specialties where euthanasia becomes part of the normal range of services.

Not a civilized option

The campaign leading up to the parliamentary vote also saw many personal testimonies by handicapped people or those who had suffered serious illnesses, warning against the temptation to make it easy for people to choose suicide.

In the Observer newspaper on May 7, David Williams, now 51, told how when he was 35 he was diagnosed with a tumor and was given only a few years to live. Williams said if doctor-assisted suicide had been available he would have considered it, "purely on the basis of the suffering my wife was going through." Instead he was treated for the pain and later the cancer went into remission. Moreover, a few years after his recovery, his wife died suddenly from liver cancer. Had Williams chosen suicide his children would have become orphans.

Writing in the May 9 issue of the Guardian newspaper, Jane Campbell, a Disability Rights commissioner, explained how she suffers from a severe form of spinal muscular atrophy.
"Many people who do not know me," she commented, "believe I would be 'better off dead.'"

This sort of view is based mainly on ignorance, or even prejudice, argued Campbell. In fact, she noted, Joffe's bill failed to get the endorsement of a single organization of disabled people. Groups representing the terminally ill and disabled, frightened by what the bill seeks to achieve, formed a coalition, Not Dead Yet, to fight the proposal.

"The defeat of Lord Joffe's Bill is very important and welcome," commented Archbishop Peter Smith in a press release Tuesday. He warned, however, that the issue will return to Parliament in the future. The archbishop recommended that the Care Not Killing Alliance continue to press for improvements in palliative care. "Assisted suicide and euthanasia," he concluded, "cannot be the way forward for a civilized society."

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Tactics to Promote Euthanasia
Interview With Dr. Margaret Somerville of Montreal

MONTREAL, MAY 19, 2006 (Zenit.org).- In the battle for the legalization of euthanasia, two tactics used by proponents are redefinition and confusion -- and these point to a larger societal issue, says a Catholic pharmacist-ethicist-lawyer.

Dr. Margaret Somerville, founding director of the Center for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University in Montreal, spoke at the recent annual Seminar on Bioethics sponsored by the Catholic Organization for Life and Family. The seminar focused on euthanasia and end-of-life issues.

In this interview, she speaks on the ethical issues at hand and the wider social-cultural implications.

Q: Why is there such pressure to redefine euthanasia, and what would such a new definition entail?

Somerville: Redefinition is a particular strategy to promote euthanasia. It confuses euthanasia with other medical interventions that are acceptable, such as consenting to withdrawal of life-support treatment.

The pro-euthanasia advocates are using the term "physician-assisted death" -- we can all agree we want physicians to care for us when we're dying -- and saying that physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia are just different modes of all such treatment. The common "neutral" phrase is euthanasia's just a "last act of good palliative care" which sounds fine, and many people are buying it as a viable option.

In fact, those who argue for euthanasia are proposing to make a continuum of all end-of-life interventions, and arguing they are all of the same kind, just different in degree. Thus to be consistent we must either accept all of them or reject all of them. No one wants to do the latter -- it could mean not having access to necessary pain relief -- so the only option is to choose to accept everything.

The people who take the other side of the debate state that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are different in kind, not degree, from other end-of-life measures.

As to why there are these pressures, at one level it is personal belief in rights to self-determination, a need for control, a reaction after having seen a terrible death, fear of many things, terror management and so on.

Q: What is the implication of the proposed legalization of euthanasia on the greater society?

Somerville: At a more general societal level it is an important battle. In these culture wars we are experiencing, there is a battle about the nature of the societal cultural paradigm, the worldview that should govern us in the future, which new values we should adopt and which older values we should reaffirm as part of it.

There are, I propose, three competing possibilities for this new worldview, each of which has a very different relationship to the new science.

The first is the ''pure science'' view, which takes a position that science does or will be able to explain everything, including those characteristics such as altruism and morality, that we regard as distinguishing us from other animals and most clearly identifying us as human.

It seeks meaning in human life mainly or only through science and, likewise, seeks to exercise control through this. There is no recognized space for the spirit. It supports the view that one's own death is a purely personal matter involving only individual values and preferences.

In contrast, the second view, the ''pure mystery'' view, often decries science or is expressly anti-scientific. This view adopts an intense sanctity-of-life stance, which can be compared to respect or reverence for life, and most importantly, to respect or reverence for death.

For instance, many people who hold this view believe that all medical treatment must be continued until no vestige of life remains. These same people could also have difficulties with providing necessary pain-relief treatment that might shorten life.

The ''science-spirit'' view, the third view, seeks a structure to hold both science and the human spirit. For some people this view is expressed through religion, but it can be, and possibly for most persons is, held independently of being religious at least in a traditional sense.

It recognizes that human life consists of more than its biological component, wondrous as this is. This worldview includes a sense of a space for the human spirit and of the secular-sacred.

It recognizes that human life consists of more than its biological component, wondrous as this is. This worldview includes a sense of a space for the human spirit and of the secular-sacred. Most importantly, it's a bridge between all people who care about being moral and ethical whether or not they religious.

This view experiences our new science as eliciting wonder at both what we know, and, as a result of this, what we now know that we do not know. It seeks meaning through a combination of science and spirit, which could create a different reality from the other two views.

Q: How would legalized euthanasia change the way we understand ourselves and the meaning of human life?

Somerville: We come closer to being disposable products: The attitude taken by some who support euthanasia is, "When we are past our 'best before' or 'use by' date we should be checked out as quickly, cheaply and efficiently as possible."

Q: What elements in Canadian culture contribute to the present conflict over legalizing euthanasia?

Somerville: We run into trouble due to the sole reliance on reason -- especially when we see science as the only way to know, not just one way; intense individualism; loss of a shared religion; and secularism.

Our Parliament and highest courts are the new high cathedrals, while the media in general is expressing approval of euthanasia and disapproval of resisting it. I speak at length on this subject in my book "Death Talk: The Case against Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide."

Q: What suggestions would you make to the average lay person, faced with this issue? Would you encourage people to make a fundamental decision about where they stand on euthanasia?

Somerville: Yes. Ask yourself how you want your great-great-grandchildren to die if we legalize euthanasia now. It radically affects the values, especially of respect for life, that we pass on to future generations.

For those who want to stand up against it, they must make a secular case against euthanasia. They must talk to the people who are not convinced it is a bad idea, not just reassure each other they are correct to be against it, as I find most anti-euthanasia Christians do.

Q: How is confusion used as a means of making a case for euthanasia?

Somerville: If the word "euthanasia" is redefined to contain everything within a continuum of options for dying people, then many will think that everything, including real euthanasia, should be accepted and legal.

People are asked questions in euthanasia surveys that make a clear answer impossible -- for example, Are you for or against euthanasia for dying people who are in terrible pain?

The answer "I'm for all necessary pain relief treatment and against euthanasia" is impossible. Most people will answer "for" -- thereby supporting euthanasia -- because they do not want to be left without pain-relief treatment.

Q: Would you say then that it is a fear of suffering that motivates support for euthanasia?

Somerville: Yes, but to seek control over suffering is also a natural response to it.

We know that suffering is reduced when we feel we have control over it. We look for suffering reduction mechanisms or terror management devices; I think euthanasia is seen as both.

We have intense free-floating anxiety in our societies. We focus on death as the source of our fears. We seek control over those fears by seeking control over death, and that feeling of control reduces our experience of suffering.

What we really need is to search for other ways to reduce fear of dying and death and give a sense of control to people.

What motivates people to consider assisted suicide? Fear of pain, abandonment and being a burden. Sometimes people see physician-assisted suicide as a rational response to those fears.

Sometimes it is depression. But some well-conducted research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found it was a condition the research psychiatrists called hopelessness -- nothing to look forward to -- a condition they differentiated from depression.

Dying people need hope, a sense of connection to the future. They can have this sense even with a very short future to connect to -- for example, looking forward to seeing the sun come up or hearing the birds sing the dawn chorus tomorrow.

As I wrote in "The Ethical Canary": "Hope is the oxygen of the human spirit; without it our spirit (which encompasses the will to live) dies."

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Lots of Data Point to Fewer Births
Pope Cites a Problem That Few Would Argue With

ROME, MAY 6, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI cited an "urgent need" for reflection in the area of demography, in a message he sent April 28 to participants in a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Experts agree that an increase in life expectancies is being met with a drop in birthrates, the Pope noted. Societies are aging and "many nations or groups of nations lack a sufficient number of young people to renew their population," he wrote.

Attention has increasingly focused on the social and economic consequences of too few babies. Last Sunday the New York Times commented on the case of Ogama, a village in rural Japan that has declined to only eight elderly residents. Town members have decided to pack everything up and sell the site to a company that will turn it into a landfill.

Sixty years ago the village had around 30 households, each with eight to nine people. Ogama belongs to the municipality of Monzen, which has 140 villages, 40% of which have fewer than 10 households, mostly composed of elderly people, the article observed.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the Japanese government is considering allowing TV ads for matchmaking agencies, in the hope of encouraging marriage, and more children. Data from Japan's Health Ministry show that the average age of women on their first marriage is now 27.8, compared with 25.8 in 1988.

On Wednesday the Guardian newspaper of Britain reported on the plunging birthrate in Europe. The report came the day after the German government decided to increase financial incentives for couples to have more children. Measures include tax breaks, more nursery places and government funds for men to take time off after a baby's birth.

But more money may not be sufficient to solve the problem, the article commented. Germany already spends 3.1% of its gross domestic product on families and children, well above the 2.1% average for countries in the European Union.

All downhill

The increased funds came after opinion was shocked by official figures published in March. Those figures showed that last year between 680,000 and 690,000 babies were born in Germany. This was less than in the final year of World War II, commented Rolf Wenkel in an opinion article published March 16 by Deutsche Welle.

"[W]e've completely failed to react to the fact that Germany's birthrate has been galloping downhill for the last 30 years," contended Wenkel.

On Tuesday the Guardian published the results of a poll carried out in Britain showing that people feel forced to delay family life by career pressures and the growing difficulty of finding a partner. Around 20% of British women reaching the end of their fertile life are childless, according to the British Office of National Statistics. This compares with 10% in the 1940s. And in 2004 the fertility rate in the United Kingdom was 1.77 children per woman, well down from the 1960s peak of 2.95 children.

Commenting on the poll, Libby Brooks noted that another key reason cited for the low birthrate is that couples do not stay together in the same way as in the past. The "modern absolutes of autonomy and independence" may well be hindering the formation of stable marriages and childbearing, according to Brooks.

By contrast, France is doing relatively well. Reuters on April 26 reported that France's average of 1.9 children per woman is the second-highest rate in the European Union (after Ireland's level of 1.99). Even so, none of the 25 countries in the European Union meet the 2.1 level needed to maintain current population levels.

The French government wants a further increase in numbers of children. Last September Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the birthrate was insufficient to ensure a stable population and announced new incentives for having babies.

Long-term projections

Not surprisingly, population is forecast to decline in Europe. Details recently appeared in the bulletin Statistics in Focus (3/2006), a publication of Eurostat, the EU statistical agency.

The bulletin contains a diversity of forecasts, depending on how fertility levels evolve and how many immigrants are allowed into EU countries. Nevertheless, "in all variants deaths will outnumber births and positive net migration will postpone the population decrease only temporarily," the publication states.

The population will be notably older. In 2004 there was one elderly non-working person for every four persons of working age. By 2050 there would be about one inactive person for every two of working age. And the number of persons aged 80 and over is expected to nearly triple, rising from 18 million in 2004 to about 50 million in 2051.

Even relatively high levels of immigration will not solve the problem. Assuming positive net migration of around 40 million people over the period up to 2050, by that date the working age population of the European Union would have decreased by 52 million. The total population would have dropped by 7 million.

A recent book examined some of the implications of these changes. "The Baby Bust: Who Will Do the Work? Who Will Pay the Taxes?" (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) is edited by Fred Harris.

In their chapter on Europe, Hans-Peter Kohler, Francesco Billari and Jos? Antonio Ortega observe that the demographic changes will have profound social effects. Fewer siblings and increased childlessness diminishes the potential of family networks to provide social and economic support.

After a detailed analysis of the causes of low fertility, the authors express doubts over the success of government incentives to encourage more births. There is a positive relationship between reproductive behavior and a range of policies, but it is weak and takes time to have an impact.

Shrinking Russia

Low fertility is not limited to the European Union. In the first half of 2005 the Russian population shrank by 400,000, the London-based Financial Times reported April 21.

The number of children per woman plunged from 2.19 in 1986-7, to 1.17 in 1999. It has since risen to 1.3. The situation is worsened by a drop in marriage rates, and increased divorce. As well, Russian men have a life expectancy of just under 60 years. As a result, some forecast the population of 146 million in 2000 could fall to only 100 million by midcentury.

Even countries with historically high numbers of children are seeing birthrates drop dramatically. A few decades ago Mexican women on average had families of almost 7 children, but this is down to just above 2 nowadays, reported the Wall Street Journal on April 28.

Among other consequences, this fall in natality could reduce in the future the numbers of Mexicans entering the United States. Right now there are millions of Mexicans in their 20s and 30s looking for work. By 2050 the median age of Mexico's population, now 25, will rise to 42, reported the Journal, citing data from the U.N. Population Division. The United States now has a median age of 36, set to rise to 41 by midcentury.

In his message Benedict XVI noted that the causes of low birthrates are multiple and complex. But, while they are often economic and social, the "ultimate roots can be seen as moral and spiritual." There is, he added, a "disturbing deficit of faith, hope and, indeed, love." That's a deficit not readily fixed by economic policy.

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Use of the condom within marriage to protect against AIDS

The ABC reports on the mixed international responses to Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini's interview in Italian weekly magazine  L'Espresso last month, which sparked off the debate over condom use in AIDS-infected conjugal relationships, including the views of Martin Rhonheimer, an Opus Dei priest and Professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy at the Opus Dei University in Rome.

Fr Rhonheimer told the ABC that the Church does not teach how to render intrinsically immoral behaviour - such as sex outside marriage - less immoral.

But "somebody who is not ready to change behaviour, he at least shows a kind of responsibility if he tries to prevent infection [AIDS]," he said. "I think that's commonsense."

Fr Rhonheimer said that the position of the Church has not changed on the issue. But that "the position of the church has to be clarified in these issues, and that in consequence, certain theological approaches to it should be modified".

"Many theologians believe that the norm of contraception told by the encyclical Humanae Vitae, Paul VI, has already settled the question, but I think this is not true," he said.

"Humanae Vitae specifically tackled the problem of responsible parenthood and contraception, that is, the question of intentionally separating one's sexual behaviour from its meaning of serving the transmission of life.

"From the moral point of view, using a condom to prevent infection simply has nothing to do with contraception, it's another question," he said.

"So while the good and normal way of preventing infection is to abstain from the act which might transmit the disease, of course, that's abstinence. This perhaps is not always possible," he said.

"It's clear that a married man, for example, who is infected and uses a condom to protect his wife from infection, is not actually to render procreation impossible, so he's not doing a contraceptive act."

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2 Key Threats to the Family
According to Theologian Father Michael Hull

NEW YORK, APRIL 2, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of an address Father Michael Hull of New York delivered at a theologians videoconference last Tuesday. The Congregation for Clergy organized the international videoconference.
* * *

Threats to the Family
By Father Michael Hull

The family is the beginning and the basis of all human society. Thus has it been from creation: "Then the Lord God said: 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him'" (Genesis 2:18).

Aristotle has a sense of this when he describes the family as the fundamental community between men and women ("Politica" I.2). St. Augustine speaks of marriage as "the first natural bond of human society" ("De bono conjugali" 1.1).

Threats to the family are those that imperil this bond, especially when it is sealed as a sacrament. Perhaps the two gravest threats to the family are divorce and artificial birth control. The former destroys the family by tearing it asunder; the latter frustrates natural expansion of the family and the human community.

Civil divorce has become de rigueur in many developed countries and is on the rise all over the world. In most countries these days, divorce is a simple civil matter, easily obtained and no longer socially stigmatized. The breakup of families is common and carefree, with little concern for Our Lord's solemn admonitions against divorce (Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; cf. 1 Corinthians 7:10-16).

In the United States of America, for example, surveys place the current divorce rate at about 40% among the general population and 20% among Catholics. Interestingly enough, these rates are significantly lower, approximately 10% to 15%, than they were 10 years ago.

The reason? Marriage has fallen into such disfavor that many couples elect to live in sin, either temporarily or permanently. Many young adults engage in a number of short-term or even long-term relationships before they marry -- if they ever marry at all.

Many younger and older couples decide specifically against marriage and opt to live their lives in so-called common-law marriages. Surely the Church must minister to the divorced -- as is illustrated so well in Pope John Paul II's "Familiaris Consortio" (see Nos. 83-84) -- but the Church must continue to speak out vociferously against the breakup of marriages and, therefore, families.

Like divorce, artificial birth control seems to be the order of the day. On the one hand, it is utilized by those who are married, frustrating or limiting God's plan of procreation. On the other hand, it contributes substantially to the contemporary malaise of sin by eradicating many of the consequences of immoral sexual intercourse.

Both Pope Pius XI in "Casti Connubii" (Dec. 31, 1930) and Pope Paul VI in "Humanae Vitae" (July 25, 1968) put a special emphasis on artificial birth control as a principal threat against the sanctity of marriage and the family in modern times.

Pius was clear: "Any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin" (CC, No. 56). Paul was prescient when he noted that artificial birth control would "open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards" (HV, No. 17).

There is no doubt that such unfaithfulness is on the rise as moral virtue declines. Indeed, artificial birth control has opened the way so wide and facilitated such a lowering of moral principles that Paul's words seem but modest and understated.

In order to defend the family, the Church must be vigilant in proclaiming the sanctity, inviolability, and permanence of marriage, as well as the importance of leaving the marital act open to life. The aforementioned threats to the family are best met by remembering what the family is, namely, the cornerstone of society and the domestic Church ("Lumen Gentium," No. 11; FC, No. 21), without which man is bereft of his natural and supernatural community.

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Benedict XVI's Address on the Human Embryo
Congress Convoked by Pontifical Academy for Life

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 9, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of Benedict XVI's address to the participants in the 12th General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which focused on the topic "The Human Embryo in the Preimplantation Phase."

* * *

Clementine Hall
Monday, 27 February 2006

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate
and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

I address a respectful and cordial greeting to everyone on the occasion of the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the International Congress on: "The human embryo in the pre-implantation phase," which has just begun.

I greet in particular Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragáán, president of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, as well as Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, whom I thank for the kind words with which he has clearly presented the special interest of the themes treated on this occasion, and I greet Cardinal-elect Carlo Caffarra, a long-standing friend.

Indeed, the study topic chosen for your Assembly, "The human embryo in the pre-implantation phase," that is, in the very first days subsequent to conception, is an extremely important issue today, both because of the obvious repercussions on philosophical-anthropological and ethical thought, and also because of the prospects applicable in the context of the biomedical and juridical sciences.

It is certainly a fascinating topic, however difficult and demanding it may be, given the delicate nature of the subject under examination and the complexity of the epistemological problems that concern the relationship between the revelation of facts at the level of the experimental sciences and the consequent, necessary anthropological reflection on values.

As it is easy to see, neither sacred Scripture nor the oldest Christian Tradition can contain any explicit treatment of your theme. St. Luke, nevertheless, testifies to the active, though hidden, presence of the two infants.

He recounts the meeting of the Mother of Jesus, who had conceived him in her virginal womb only a few days earlier, with the mother of John the Baptist, who was already in the sixth month of her pregnancy: "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leapt in her womb" (Luke 1:41).

St. Ambrose comments: Elizabeth "perceived the arrival of Mary, he (John) perceived the arrival of the Lord, the woman, the arrival of the Woman, the child, the arrival of the Child" ("Comm. in Luc." 2: 19, 22-26).
Even in the absence of explicit teaching on the very first days of life of the unborn child, it is possible to find valuable information in Sacred Scripture that elicits sentiments of admiration and respect for the newly conceived human being, especially in those who, like you, are proposing to study the mystery of human procreation.

The sacred books, in fact, set out to show God's love for every human being even before he has been formed in his mother's womb.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you" (Jeremiah 1:5), God said to the Prophet Jeremiah. And the Psalmist recognizes with gratitude: "You did form my inward parts, you did knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for you are fearful and wonderful. Wonderful are your works! You know me right well" (Psalm 138[139]:13-14).

These words acquire their full, rich meaning when one thinks that God intervenes directly in the creation of the soul of every new human being.

God's love does not differentiate between the newly conceived infant still in his or her mother's womb and the child or young person, or the adult and the elderly person. God does not distinguish between them because he sees an impression of his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26) in each one.

He makes no distinctions because he perceives in all of them a reflection of the face of his Only-begotten Son, whom "he chose ... before the foundation of the world. ... He destined us in love to be his sons ... according to the purpose of his will" (Ephesians 1:4-6).

This boundless and almost incomprehensible love of God for the human being reveals the degree to which the human person deserves to be loved in himself, independently of any other consideration -- intelligence, beauty, health, youth, integrity, and so forth. In short, human life is always a good, for it "is a manifestation of God in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory" ("Evangelium Vitae," No. 34).

Indeed, the human person has been endowed with a very exalted dignity, which is rooted in the intimate bond that unites him with his Creator: a reflection of God's own reality shines out in the human person, in every person, whatever the stage or condition of his life.

Therefore, the magisterium of the Church has constantly proclaimed the sacred and inviolable character of every human life from its conception until its natural end (cf. ibid., No. 57). This moral judgment also applies to the origins of the life of an embryo even before it is implanted in the mother's womb, which will protect and nourish it for nine months until the moment of birth: "Human life is sacred and inviolable at every moment of existence, including the initial phase which precedes birth" (ibid., No. 61).

I know well, dear scholars, with what sentiments of wonder and profound respect for the human being you carry out your demanding and fruitful work of research precisely on the origin of human life itself. It is a mystery on whose significance science will be increasingly able to shed light, even if it will be difficult to decipher it completely.

Indeed, as soon as reason succeeds in overcoming a limit deemed insurmountable, it will be challenged by other limits as yet unknown. Man will always remain a deep and impenetrable enigma.

In the fourth century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem already offered the following reflection to the catechumens who were preparing to receive baptism: "Who prepared the cavity of the womb for the procreation of children? Who breathed life into the inanimate fetus within it? Who knit us together with bones and sinews and clothed us with skin and flesh (cf. Job 10:11), and as soon as the child is born, causes the breast to produce an abundance of milk? How is it that the child, in growing, becomes an adolescent, and from an adolescent is transformed into a young man, then an adult and finally an old man, without anyone being able to identify the precise day on which the change occurred?" And he concluded: "O Man, you are seeing the Craftsman, you are seeing the wise Creator" ("Catechesi Battesimale," 9, 15-16).

At the beginning of the third millennium these considerations still apply. They are addressed not so much to the physical or physiological phenomenon as rather to its anthropological and metaphysical significance. We have made enormous headway in our knowledge and have defined more clearly the limits of our ignorance but it always seems too arduous for human intelligence to realize that in looking at creation, we encounter the impression of the Creator.

In fact, those who love the truth, like you, dear scholars, should perceive that research on such profound topics places us in the condition of seeing and, as it were, touching the hand of God. Beyond the limits of experimental methods, beyond the boundaries of the sphere which some call meta-analysis, wherever the perception of the senses no longer suffices or where neither the perception of the senses alone nor scientific verification is possible, begins the adventure of transcendence, the commitment to "go beyond" them.

Dear researchers and experts, I hope you will be more and more successful, not only in examining the reality that is the subject of your endeavor, but also in contemplating it in such a way that, together with your discoveries, questions will arise that lead to discovering in the beauty of creatures a reflection of the Creator.

In this context, I am eager to express my appreciation and gratitude to the Pontifical Academy for Life for its valuable work of "study, formation and information" which benefits the dicasteries of the Holy See, the local Churches and scholars attentive to what the Church proposes on their terrain of scientific research and on human life in its relations with ethics and law.

Because of the urgency and importance of these problems, I consider the foundation of this Institution by my venerable Predecessor, John Paul II, providential. I therefore desire to express with sincere cordiality to all of you, the personnel and the members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, my closeness and support.

With these sentiments, as I entrust your work to Mary's protection, I impart the apostolic blessing to you all.

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Jews and Catholics on Respect for Human Life
Final Statement of the Bilateral Commission

ROME, MARCH 2, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the final statement of the Bilateral Commission Meeting held in Rome, from Feb. 26-28 (Shevat 28-30, 5766) by the Delegation of the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel's Delegation for Relations with the Catholic Church.

* * *

1. At the sixth meeting of this bilateral commission held in Rome, we have addressed the subject of the relationship between human life and technology -- conscious of the far reaching advances in medical science and the challenges as well as opportunities that these present.

2. We affirm the principles of our respective Traditions that God is the Creator and Lord of all life and that human life is sacred precisely because, as the Bible teaches, the human person is created in the Divine Image (cf. Genesis 1:26-27). Because life is a Divine gift to be respected and preserved, we perforce reject the idea of human ownership of life and of the right of any human party to decide its value or extent. Thus we repudiate the concept of active euthanasia (so-called mercy killing) as the illegitimate human arrogation of an exclusive Divine authority to determine the time of a person's death.

3. We give thanks to the Creator for the capacities which He has given to humankind to heal and preserve life and for the remarkable achievements facilitated in this regard by contemporary science, medicine and technology. Nevertheless we recognize that these blessed achievements bring with them greater responsibilities, profound ethical challenges and potential dangers.

4. In this regard we reiterate the teachings of our heritages that all human knowledge and capacities must serve and promote human life and dignity and thus be in harmony with the moral values that emanate from the aforementioned principles. Accordingly there must be limits to the application of science and technology in recognition of the fact that not everything which is technically feasible is ethical.

5. Respect and care for human life must be a universal moral imperative guaranteed by every civil society and its laws, thereby promoting a culture of life.

6. While rejecting human assumption of the Divine prerogative to determine the time of death, we affirm the obligation to do the utmost to alleviate human suffering.

7. We urge medical practitioners and scientists to engage with and be guided by the wisdom of religion in all matters of life and death. Therefore we recommend in such matters, in addition to due consultation with the families concerned, that this always take place with the relevant religious authorities.

8. The conviction that we share, that life on earth is but one stage in the soul's existence, must only lead us to a greater respect for the vessel -- the human form -- in which the soul resides in this world. Accordingly we totally reject the idea that the temporary nature of human existence on earth allows us to instrumentalize it. In this regard we strongly condemn any kind of bloodshed to promote any ideology -- especially if this is done in the name of Religion. Such action is nothing less than a desecration of the Divine Name.

9. Therefore we seek to advance the common good of humanity through promoting respect for God, religion, its symbols, Holy Sites and Houses of Worship. Abuse of any of these must be rejected and condemned.

10. At the same time such abuses and the current tensions between civilizations demand of us to reach out beyond our own bilateral dialogue which has its unique compelling character. Thus we believe that it is our duty to engage and involve the Muslim world and its leaders in respectful dialogue and cooperation. Furthermore we appeal to world leaders to appreciate the essential potential of the religious dimension to help resolve conflicts and strife and call on them to support interreligious dialogue to this end.

Rome,
February 28th, 2006 -- Shevat 30th, 5766

Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen
(Chairman of the Jewish Delegation)

Chief Rabbi Ratson Arussi
Chief Rabbi Yossef Azran
Chief Rabbi David Brodman
Chief Rabbi David Rosen
Mr. Oded Wiener
Ambassador Shmuel Hadas

Cardinal Jorge Mejíía
(Chairman of the Catholic Delegation)

Cardinal Georges Cottier, O.P.
Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo
Monsignor Pier Francesco Fumagalli
Father Norbert Hofmann, S.D.B.

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"Quality of Life" -- Its Bioethical Downside
Interview With Philosopher José Serrano

MADRID, Spain, JAN. 9, 2006 (Zenit.org).- "Quality of life" is not the same as "dignity of the person," a juridical challenge that bioethics must elucidate, says a philosopher of law.

José Miguel Serrano Ruiz-Calderóón has written a book on this subject entitled "Juridical Challenges of Bioethics" (Eunsa), in which he addresses the moral challenges posed by biotechnology.

The author is professor of philosophy of law at Madrid's Complutense University and academic director of the Institute of Marketing Studies. He was an adviser of the Spanish Ministry of Justice and a member of his country's delegation to the U.N. agreement on cloning.

Q: What is bioethics greatest juridical challenge today?

Serrano: Perhaps the greatest challenge is to articulate a juridical answer to bioethical questions that guarantees the values of our common tradition.

It is a question of keeping the essence of law as object of justice that guarantees human dignity -- avoiding the use of man as a means -- and equality -- preventing definitions of person that distinguish some human beings from others.

In this connection, over the last 30 years the radical agenda has made an enormous effort to impose laws that do not recognize that all men are persons in the juridical sense. They quickly forget the lessons of the past, just 20 years after the end of World War II.

It is well known that contrary to what happened with totalitarianism, the "deconstructions" of human dignity to reverse this acquisition make use of alleged subjective rights. Thus every deed carried out against a human group is justified by a subjective right and a liberation.

Abortion was imposed given the mother's "privacy," the reduction of the embryo to an object given the desire for paternity-maternity, the homicide of the defective given the autonomous desire for a dignified death, the systematic destruction of embryos given the hope of alleged groups of patients and so on.

Q: The sacredness of human life is called into question. Is it possible to come to an agreement on this point with the hardest scientists?

Serrano: No. I doubt that such an agreement ever existed. In all ages there are ideological currents that deny the sacredness of human life. In the 20th century itself, the greater part of the world was dominated by ideologies that expressly denied it.

Of course, there is a common tradition that expresses this principle in a very adequate way and, in postwar legislations, precisely through the juridical recognition of the notion of dignity, it was forcefully affirmed.

However, it is well known that every time there has been a strong interest in denying this right to some group, generally through a restrictive definition of humanity, false argumentations have been made with this end in mind.

We can say that there is a combination between the two causes of corruption of justice that St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out: the false prudence of the wise man and the abuse of the powerful. At present a radical scientific spirit along with a certain utilitarianism are the theoretical positions that more forcefully threaten the sacredness of human life.

A moral absolute, such as "you shall not kill the innocent," cannot be understood from a consequential ethic. This, we must clarify, is not a "defect" of the formulation of the moral absolute but a proof of the incapacity of consequential ethics to account for human action.

Q: What is the distinction between quality of life and dignity of the person?

Serrano: Every person is really worthy and cannot be reduced to the condition of a means, as a carrot is that is life.

The claim of some is that not every human being has a personal condition; that is why they say that human rights must be replaced by the rights of the person. What is important is to affirm that every human being, members of the species, no matter what his degree of development or qualities, is worthy and is entitled to juridical protection.

The height of cynicism is found in the tendency to deny the "rights of man" to affirm the "rights of the person," another change of terms that has ideological intentions.

Q: Why is the term "quality of life" destructive, bioethically speaking?

Serrano: It is the instrument used to deprive dignity of meaning. In the beginning the term referred to the surpassing of certain standards of living, seeking a way that was more in keeping with human nature which was not merely productive.

Reinterpreted by a certain bioethics it means that whoever does not comply with certain minimums of productive capacity and enjoyment -- let us not forget that we are in brutally hedonist societies -- does not have a worthwhile life.

It allows for distinctions in the unborn, the newborn, the sick, the dying and, consequently, denies the strict right to life. It is carried out cynically for the good of the one eliminated.

It is very revealing that to redefine the concept of lives lacking vital value, which appeared in the brutally eugenic work of Binding and Hoche, this apparently more sophisticated concept is constructed but which leads to the same conclusion: Under certain levels the "quality" of human life is not worth living nor -- let us not forget it -- is it worth respecting.


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Umbilical Cord Stem Cells Are Curing Patients

Interview With Two Pioneer Scientists

ROME, JULY 27, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic works with an international network to make umbilical cord stem cells available to patients with acute leukemia, thalassemia, lymphomas and congenital immune-deficiencies.

The clinic runs a bank for umbilical cords, and any patient, from anywhere in the world, who is genetically compatible with one of the units of blood of the umbilical cords stored, can receive a unit of blood from the umbilical cord for transplant purposes.

An international network to identify donors has been operative since 1995, thanks to a computer file which has data on marrow and placenta blood donors worldwide.

The bank's activities are coordinated by professor Giuseppe Leone, director of the Institute of Hematology of the Catholic University of Rome, and professor Salvatore Mancuso, director of the Department for the Protection of Woman and Nascent Life.

In this interview with ZENIT, Leone and Mancuso discuss the present state of stem cell research.

Q: What is your response to those who say that using embryonic stem cells, and not those from the umbilical cord, is the answer for illnesses such as leukemia, or of the blood in general?

Leone: First of all, let's speak from a clinical point of view: Cells from embryos have never been used and they have certainly not demonstrated therapeutic capacities.

On the contrary, adult stem cells, and those of the umbilical cord, have demonstrated their validity in marrow transplants, for example, in the case of patients with thalassemia, or children with leukemia. At present, there is no patient who has been cured with embryonic stem cells. This must be clarified.

To those who say that ethics removes a "possibility" of cure, one should say that at most it removes a "hope." But if we want to speak of hope, then we can experiment with animal embryos. Once we have studied animal embryos we will be able to say something on the subject, we will have understood a bit more. I do not see any reason why at present human embryos should be used. Ethical problems to one side, animals must be studied first.

Q: Are women told about the possibility of donating the umbilical cord to one of these banks?

Mancuso: Increasingly. When they come to give birth in our department, they request that the blood of the umbilical cord be donated because of the spirit of solidarity that is increasingly spreading. However, not all umbilical cords can be collected and kept for donation, as there are certain minimum requirements on the family history of both spouses.

It is necessary that the pregnancy come to its termination, as there is a whole series of counter-indications. We can collect for donations between 30-35% of the umbilical cords from births that take place in our department. But much of the blood collected from umbilical cords is useful for research.

At present, there is great interest in research, not only in our department, but also in hematology, cardiology and neurology, as adult stem cells have an extraordinary versatility and, in fact, are restorative.

Q: How long can these cells be stored?

Mancuso: I would dare to say that they can be stored for an infinite amount of time. Today there are cells that have been stored for 30 years and that, to a large extent, maintain their capacity to be used. At present, the scientific community in several research centers is seeking to store and multiply them in vitro, as the amount of stem cells that can be collected from a cord are not that many.

Leone: They have been used, above all, to patients with acute leukemia, thalassemia, lymphomas, or congenital immune-deficiencies. These sicknesses are benefiting at present the transplant of stem cells from the umbilical cord. Research, obviously, tries to go further. The blood of the cord can give us hope for other pathologies. Now there are hopes for heart disease.

Q: When you say that sicknesses "are benefiting," what do you mean?

Leone: In the case of acute leukemia, there is a certain number of patients that are cured, in the case of thalassemia, the percentage is higher. In the case of immune-deficiencies, 70-80% are cured. In the case of leukemia, it is 35-40%. We are talking, that is, of cures.

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(Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference)

A Discussion Paper on Ethics, Law & Medical Research CLONING & STEM CELLS:A CONTRIBUTION TO THE NATIONAL DEBATE

20 Sep 2001  Printable Version

Introduction

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has reported on the regulation of cloning in Australia. The recommendations of this Committee come after a lengthy process of consultation with the scientific community, relevant interest groups, and the general public. This brief paper seeks to contribute to the critical on-going debate in Australia and overseas concerning, on the one hand, cloning and related matters such as the harvesting and attempted use of embryonic stem cells, and on the other, the formulation of public policy and the framing of legislation to regulate these scientific developments.

The Australian community will continue to be confronted by the wide range of scientific, legal and ethical dilemmas posed by cloning. At the level of public policy and the formulation of laws with respect to artificial reproductive technology ("ART") of which cloning is simply a topical and prominent part, it is essential to recall basic principles of long-standing with respect to human dignity, ethics and the rule and role of law.

While our religious tradition is consistently strong with respect to the protection of all human life,1 we are mindful that there is a significant legal and human rights tradition from which all may draw. It is from that tradition that the following points are primarily taken.

Human Dignity & the Rule of Law

1.    . .        The High Court has stated often enough that "human dignity is a value common to our municipal law and to international instruments relating to human rights." The Court has also commented on the responsibility of the law to "protect equally the dignity of the hale and hearty and the dignity of the weak and lame; of the frail baby and of the frail aged; of the intellectually able and of the intellectually disabled. ...Our law admits of no discrimination against the weak and disadvantaged in their human dignity."1 The human embryo is a member of the human family but rarely, if ever, does it have any "voice" in the formulation of laws which determine whether this most vulnerable member of our community will prosper or perish. Laws with respect to cloning are laws of this kind, and we are honour bound to be a voice for this particular group within the Australian community.

1.    . .        In addition to protecting the vulnerable and regulating against the unscrupulous, a long-standing feature of law is that it should educate citizens for their common good.2 As Archbishop Hickey said in his Opening Statement to the House of Representatives Committee on 29th March 2000, "Through their regulative, educative and symbolic effect, our laws will reflect the parliament's regard for the inherent dignity of all human life both in its generation and in its existence."3

2.    . .        The inherent dignity of all members of the human family is commonly proclaimed in the preambles to international instruments relating to human rights to which Australia is a signatory.4 In keeping with this tradition, the UNESCO Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights (1997) provides that "the human genome underlies the fundamental unity of all members of the human family, as well as the recognition of their inherent dignity and diversity. In a symbolic sense, it is the heritage of humanity."5 The Declaration continues, "Everyone has a right to respect for their dignity and for their human rights regardless of their genetic characteristics. That dignity makes it imperative not to reduce individuals to their genetic characteristics and to respect their uniqueness and diversity."6 These principles relating to (a) human dignity and (b) that no member of the human family is reducible to the utility or combination of their genes, require also that no human embryo is exploitable because of the unique "embryonic stem cells" they contain.7

3.    . .        The Council of Europe has added its voice against those who seek to exploit the human embryo and to advance an unfettered right to clone. In the Additional Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity of the Human Being with Regard to the Application of Biology and Medicine, on the Prohibition of Cloning Human Beings (1998), the Council states that `considering the aim to protect the dignity and identity of human beings' "any intervention seeking to create a human being genetically identical to another human being, whether living or dead, is prohibited." 8 We support laws which unequivocally ban cloning in all of its forms.

4.            The inherent dignity of all members of the human family, and the responsibility of the law to protect the most vulnerable members of our communities, leads us to claim the protection of the law for all human life from its first moment of existence. It follows from this claim that no part or aspect of human life should be exploited for commercial gain. Nor should any human life be regarded as expendable or used for the sake of others. Accordingly, human embryos, who are always without voice and often without the protection of the law, must never be created in order to harvest from them any cells, including embryonic stem cells. Our laws should also protect embryos already created but who, as members of the "frozen generation", are usually doomed to languish in a frozen wasteland.
Law & Ethics

5.    . .         Our legal tradition is supported by broad and venerable ethical principles. For example, the Hippocratic tradition is predicated upon the fundamental principle of "first, do no harm." Applying this ancient principle to research involving ART generally and cloning in particular, no embryo should ever be created so that embryonic stem cells can be harvested. The harvesting of these cells ensures the destruction of the embryo. Equally, the use of so-called "spare embryos" from IVF programs for "research", which will ensure their destruction, violates every principle known to God and man concerning human dignity.9

6.    . .        The Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights says that "practices which are contrary to human dignity, such as reproductive cloning of human beings, shall not be permitted."10 Our laws must reflect this growing international view that cloning is inimical to principles of international law concerning the dignity of the human person.

7.    . .        The Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights also makes plain that "research, treatment or diagnosis affecting an individual's genome shall be undertaken only after rigorous and prior assessment of the potential risks and benefits pertaining thereto...."11 Consistent with this time-honoured principle of scientific research, and in keeping with the recommendation of the National Health and Medical Research Council - Australian Health Ethics Committee to similar effect,12 research in relation to cloning should always be carried out not on embryos - whatever their source - but on appropriate animals prior to the application of that research to humans. Our laws must promote ethical research in this regard.

8.    . .        The Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights also states unambiguously that "the human genome in its natural state shall not give rise to financial gains."13 It is essential, both as a principle of law and of ethics, that conflicts of interest should be avoided. It is well known that many scientists who conduct research on embryos, in the context of cloning and otherwise, hold significant financial stakes in biotechnology companies who invest in, and stand to gain financially from, this research. Just as our laws proscribe this kind of financial conflict of interest in, say, the field of company law, so too in relation to research involving human life, it is essential that there be appropriate regulation to proscribe such conflicts.

9.            There is another important aspect arising out of the inevitable conflict between the financial investment by researchers in their own research involving human life. That is that human life is not, and never can be, a disposable or commercial commodity. Already there is significant evidence that embryonic stem cells have been purchased both in Singapore and the United States and imported for the purpose of research. In the former case, this was to avoid existing State legislation which prohibits destructive embryo research.

10.    . .        A final aspect needs to be noted and emphasised. Embryonic stem cells is but one, selective source for stem cells. There is a growing body of scientific evidence to confirm that adult stem cells is both a medically more useful source of such cells (because it avoids immuno-suppressive problems which would inevitably arise from the use of embryonic stem cells) and an ethically unproblematic one.14

Conclusion

11.             For the above reasons, we are strongly of the view that appropriate regulation of cloning is essential in Australia. In keeping with the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights cloning should be banned. It makes no difference that, in some self-interested circles, cloning is distinguished between "reproductive" and "therapeutic" cloning.

Both involve the destruction of nascent human life and, therefore, is contrary to the consistent and universal injunction that all human life must be protected and accorded rights in keeping with its inherent and inviolable dignity.

12.            Cloning, however executed and for whatever goals, distorts the human meaning of procreation. Cloning must not be allowed to disfigure the dignity of all human life, nor to pervert the intrinsic beauty and goodness of human procreation between a man and a woman in marriage. Cloning in a laboratory is no substitute for human, married love.

13.            Appropriate regulation must also prohibit commercial gain and commercial trafficking in human life. Human life is neither expendable nor exploitable.

References

1 E.g. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) paras.2258-2296; Evangelium Vitae (1995); Reflections on Cloning (Pontifical Academy for Life) (1997).
1 E.g., Secretary, Department of Health and Community Services v JWB and SMB (Marion's Case) (1992) 175 CLR 218 at 266 per Brennan J.
2 E.g. Institutes of Justinian, Bk.I,I "On Justice and Law;" Cicero, On the Laws; Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics Bk.V (on the virtue of "justice") and Politics Bk.III; Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II qq.58 ff on the virtue of "justice."
3 ACBC Opening Statement of Archbishop B.J. Hickey to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Inquiry into scientific, ethical and regulatory aspects of human cloning, 29th March 2000, par.4. The Archbishop also spoke about the requirement that respect for human life must always take precedence over market forces and academic/scientific freedom.
4 See, for example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).
5 Article 1.
6 Article 2.
7 For an overview and discussion of the various ethical theories current in bio-medical discourse, such as utilitarianism, see the Submission from the ACBC Research Department to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on cloning, 14th March 2000 and the literature there referred to.
8 Article 1.
9 It is also a fact that "imperfect embryos" are discarded as a matter of course in laboratories because they are deemed "unsuitable" even for experimental purposes.
10 Article 11.
11 Article 5(a). This principle is consistent with other medical research protocols, such as the Nuremburg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki: Recommendations guiding physicians in biomedical research involving human subjects, as adopted by the World Medical Assembly and amended at its respective Assemblies. The text used is that dated September 1989 (Hong Kong).
12 See the AHEC Advice to the Commonwealth Minister for Health and Aged Care, NHMRC-AHEC Scientific, Ethical and Regulatory Considerations Relevant to Cloning of Human Beings, 16 December 1998, Appendix 1, "Primate Resources for Research in Embryology and Developments in Australia."
13 Article 4 (emphasis added).
14 See the Pontifical Academy for Life's recent Declaration on the Production and the Scientific and Therapeutic Use of Human Embryonic Stem Cells (25 August 2000) and the scientific literature there cited.

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Same-Sex Marriage Bringing Chills in Canada
Catholic Church Intensifies Its Opposition

OTTAWA, JULY 16, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The approval of legislation allowing marriage by same-sex couples in Canada has been strongly criticized by the country's bishops. On June 28 the lower house of Parliament, the Commons, passed the bill, which is now before the Senate. This non-elected chamber is controlled by a majority of members appointed by the ruling Liberal Party, and approval of the law is expected shortly.

In a statement released on the same day the Commons voted in favor of the bill Archbishop Brendan O'Brien, president of the bishops' conference, expressed regret for the "unfortunate step toward eliminating civil and social recognition and appreciation for the unique importance of the committed relationship of a man and a woman in marriage."

He insisted that by allowing same-sex couples to marry the government is placing at risk "the future of marriage as a fundamental social institution, together with the importance that society accords the irreplaceable role of a husband and wife in conceiving and raising children."

Archbishop O'Brien also noted that there is a "dangerous deterioration" of communal values in Canada, with high rates of marriage breakdown and abortion, and a declining number of births.

Politicians warned

Following the vote in Parliament there is also renewed controversy over the issue of support by some Catholic politicians for same-sex marriage.

The Ottawa Citizen newspaper on July 6 reported that Charles Angus, a member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay, has been denied the possibility of receiving Communion by his parish priest. Father John Lernire had warned Angus some months ago that this would happen if he continued to support the same-sex marriage bill, the article said. The priest's decision was supported by Archbishop Paul Marchand of Timmins.

Another Catholic parliamentarian, Joe Comartin, a member for Windsor-Tecumseh, has been barred from teaching marriage classes in his local parish, the National Post reported July 9. The article quoted Sylvain Salvas, director of communications for the bishops' conference, who said there are no national guidelines on how each diocese should deal with politicians.

But Salvas observed: "We have made our national position on the issue quite clear. The conference has intervened almost 30 times before the Supreme Court and the Senate opposing same-sex marriage."

Bishop Ronald Fabbro of the London Diocese, in which the parish is located, distributed a letter to parishioners explaining the decision.

The Vatican has made clear that Catholic politicians should not vote for same-sex marriage. On July 31, 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a statement entitled "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons."

All Catholics, the document stated, "are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions" (No. 10). It added: "Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way." Regarding legislative proposals on the matter, "the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral."

Witness to truth

The Vatican document also asked that if legislation recognizing same-sex marriages is approved, "the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible for him and make his opposition known; it is his duty to witness to the truth."

All Catholics, in fact, are asked to oppose such laws, once in place. "One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection" (No. 5).

Another question in play is if the ruling Liberal Party will suffer a backlash from Catholics over its push for same-sex marriages. A commentary by Jeffrey Simpson in Wednesday's issue of the Globe and Mail newspaper pondered the phenomenon of Catholic support for the ruling Liberal Party.

Simpson noted that in elections since 1965 Catholics outside Quebec have preferred Liberals in Ontario and Atlantic Canada by an average of 18 points over other parties. In Ontario, Catholics make up 30% of the electorate, and 40% in the Atlantic provinces. "Without the big lead among Catholics, the Liberal lead would evaporate in both regions -- and, with it, the party's grip on power," commented Simpson.

The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has been hearing evidence on the bill to allow same-sex couples to marry in past days. On Wednesday Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec and primate of the Church in Canada, and Hélène Aubé, a lawyer and mother from Gatineau, presented a brief outlining the Church's opposition to the proposed law.

The Church's submission noted: "Neither the state nor religions invented marriage nor determined its natural components. They merely institutionalized a reality that existed well before them, thereby recognizing that the inherent characteristics of this reality -- the stability of the couple, as well as the procreation and education of children -- would assure the common good of society."

Equality?

The decision to give legal recognition to same-sex couples is, the brief said, based on a false understanding of what equality between persons means and on the question of human dignity and minority rights.

The brief also explained that marriage is more than just a relationship between two consenting adults, aimed at mutual fulfillment. "It possesses another constituent element, namely, the procreative potential of the man and woman who are making the commitment."

And concerning the question of children: "It must also be added that with regard to education of children, the same values cannot reasonably be attributed to both types of union. The principal right of children is to be born of an act of love and to live in complete communion with a father and mother."

Given this situation, discrimination is not suffered by homosexuals who cannot marry each other; rather, same-sex marriage would be unjust and discriminatory toward heterosexual couples. The brief contends, "The state must accord special treatment to a man and woman who marry, not because of the exclusivity, dependence, duration or sexual nature of their union, but because of its vital function of procreation and its function of socialization that encourages complementarity between man and woman for the greater good of their children."

The submission explained that promoting same-sex marriage on the grounds of "equal rights" is based on a misunderstanding of what human dignity means. "The equality and dignity of persons do not depend on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation or marital status," it said. "Their dignity and equality are based on the simple fact that they are members of the human race. To respect their dignity, neither the state nor society is obliged to legally accept their 'lifestyle' that has no reason to be publicly recognized as a social value."

The submission also expressed fears over what will happen regarding Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage. While the bill affirms that freedom of religion is protected and that those who perform marriages can refuse to marry same-sex couples, much will depend on how willing the provinces are to guarantee this right.

In recent years, opposition to same-sex marriage has been described as homophobic. "Once the state imposes a new standard affirming that homosexual sexual behavior is a social good, those who oppose it for religious motives or motives of conscience will be considered as bigots, anti-gay and homophobes, and then risk prosecution." The stage seems set for further controversy.

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On Feminism, Eugenics and "Reproductive Rights"
Interview With Journalist Eugenia Roccella

ROME, JULY 12, 2005 (Zenit.org).- "Reproductive rights" are a means to wield demographic control in poor countries and to destroy the experience of being a woman, says journalist Eugenia Roccella.

A 1970s leader of the women's liberation movement, Roccella is the author of essays on feminism and women's literature. With Lucetta Scaraffia, she has just published the book "Against Christianity: The U.N. and European Union as New Ideology," published by Piemme.

In this interview with ZENIT, Roccella talks about the anti-birth ideology of international institutions such as the United Nations and European Union.

Q: You maintain that so-called reproductive rights are a deception to foster family planning and genetically selective births. Can you explain the evolution of "reproductive rights" and how opposition to births has been transformed into eugenics?

Roccella: What must be clarified in the first place is that so-called reproductive rights are in reality rights not to reproduce oneself, and they have been made concrete in governments' control over feminine fertility by a worldwide policy of dissemination of abortion, contraception and, above all, sterilization.

It is generally believed that the adoption of these rights by international organizations has been a victory of the women's movement. But from the documents one can see that this is not so.

Historically, the right to family planning arose from the pressure of powerful international anti-birth lobbies -- for example, the Rockefeller Foundation -- helped by the West's desire to exercise demographic control over the Third World.

Suffice it to consult the excellent documentation in the book provided by Assuntina Morresi, which demonstrates how much associations of a eugenic vein have influenced U.N. policies, through NGOs such as, for example, the IPPF [International Planned Parenthood Foundation].

Anti-birth attitudes and eugenics have been closely intertwined from the beginning: The idea of building a better world through genetic selection was very widespread at the start of the 20th century, and enjoyed great credibility even in learned circles. The objective was to prevent the reproduction of human beings regarded as second-class, namely, genetically imperfect, even through coercion.

The adoption of eugenic theories by the Nazi regime discredited the theories and elicited international condemnation. But associations born for this purpose -- among them, precisely, the IPPF -- have survived, changing their language and using, in an astute and careless way after the '70s, some slogans of the women's movement, such as "free choice."

In reality, international conferences on population, that is, on demographic control, have always preceded conferences on women, and have prepared their code words. For example, it was at the Cairo Conference of 1994 on population and development that the old "family planning" was replaced by the new definition of "reproductive rights."

The following year, the definition was uncritically accepted and appropriated by the Women's Conference in Beijing, without changing a comma.

Feminism has been, paradoxically, an easy mask to implement control practices that are often savage and violent on women's bodies, especially in Third World countries.

In the book, among other things, we illustrate some cases by way of example, such as the anti-natal policies adopted in China, Iran, India and Bangladesh, where poverty and the absence of consolidated democratic mechanisms have made women easy victims of experimentation, contraceptives dangerous to health, massive sterilizations and forced abortions.

Q: It is a widespread opinion that the feminist movement has contributed to the obtaining of women's rights. You maintain, instead, that there are ambiguities and mistakes. Could you explain what these are?

Roccella: Feminism is a galaxy of different movements and philosophies which is absolutely not homogenous.

International organizations have adopted a rigidly emancipating version which tries to equate men and women as much as possible. This is translated, for example, in the idea -- never explicitly stated but always present -- that maternity is an impediment to women's fulfillment, and not a central element of the gender's identity which must be valued and protected.

Thus, in the U.N. and the European Union an institutional feminism has been created based altogether on individual rights and parity, which has chosen reproductive rights as its own qualifying objective.

There is, instead, a feminine philosophy of an opposite sign -- the so-called philosophy of difference -- which maintains that the myth of equality prevents women from thinking of themselves autonomously, and that the sexual difference, rooted in the body, is not only a biological fact, but something that encompasses the whole experience of being woman. With this feminism, the Church has had an open dialogue for a long time; suffice it to read Pope Wojtyla's letter on the feminine genius, and especially the most recent one addressed to bishops and signed by the then Cardinal Ratzinger.

But at present, at the international level, it is the feminism "of rights" which has prevailed, imposing reproductive rights as a flag that must be flown always and everywhere. Instead, women's priorities, in the various geographic areas, are different: In Africa, there is the urgent and dramatic problem of containing birth and postnatal mortality. There is also the problem of sexually transmitted diseases and malnutrition.

In the Muslim theocracies the objective for women is legislative equality and liberation from the oppressive control over public behavior -- for example, the use of the burkha. In Europe, the problems are altogether different, and so on. The U.N. resolutions stem from the assumption that the offers of abortion and contraception are, in any context, elements of emancipation, including empowerment, that is, the enhancement of women's power.

But the concrete cases analyzed in the book show that this is not the case. In Iran, for example, programs for the dissemination of control of fertility have been very successful, but women continue to be regarded as second-class citizens, subject to masculine authority.

Q: On the great topics regarding the defense of life and of the natural family, the Holy See has often confronted the international organizations, particularly the United Nations and the European Union. You entitled one of the chapters in the book "Europe Against the Vatican." Could you explain the essence of the controversy?

Roccella: The prevailing cultural plan in Europe is a secularist extremism that regards religions as potential bearers of fundamentalist demands.

The European Union, however, adopts many precautions, both political as well as verbal, in the face of the Muslim world. They are precautions that would be comprehensible if they did not create a visible imbalance vis-à-vis the Vatican, which instead is attacked with perfect serenity every time it is possible.

The result is that Catholicism appears as the bitterest enemy of woman in the international realm, because it is opposed to the ideology of reproductive rights and demographic control.

This cultural operation is resolved in a sort of suicide of identity, as has already occurred with the mention of the Christian roots in the European Constitution. ... It must not be forgotten that, from the beginning, Christianity has had an extraordinary idea of woman, and it is no accident if the fight for sexual equality has developed essentially in the Christian area.

Among all the religions, the Christian religion is the only one, for example, whose rite of initiation, baptism, is open to both sexes. Within the Catholic realm there is a strong feminist philosophy, and the two last papacies have given great cultural dignity to this philosophy.

But all this is silenced by a plan that favors the anti-religious element. The EU, even if it maintained the same policy, could modulate in a different way its attitude to the different religious creeds, fostering motives for agreement.

For example, it would be easy to find instances of unity with the Holy See on the protection of maternity, on international policies against maternal and infant mortality and on feminine schooling, or even on the recognition of women's political and economic rights.

Instead, preference is given to putting all religions in the same bag and pointing to the Vatican as the enemy par excellence of feminine emancipation.

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Who Invented Marriage?
Interview With Canonist Juan Ignacio Bañares

PAMPLONA, Spain, JUNE 27, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Who invented marriage? Can the law "meddle" with something as personal as marriage?

These are some of the questions answered in this interview with ZENIT by Father Juan Ignacio Bañares Parera, a canon lawyer from the University of Navarre.

Father Bañares has just written a book on "The Conjugal Dimension of the Person: From Anthropology to Law," published by Rialp and the Library of the Institute of Sciences for the Family of the University of Navarre, of which he is a director.

Q: What is the conjugal dimension of a person?

Father Bañares: The human person exists fashioned as a feminine or masculine person. Both are persons, but they are so in a different way.

Despite the popular _expression "to find my other half," woman and man are not "halves of anything": because a half is only half of something; because half is identical to the other half; and because half of anything does not interact with the other half: it contributes more of the same.

Instead, this differentiation between a feminine and masculine person, which is established in the very structure of the personal being, comprises the whole person -- in the physical, psychic and spiritual dimension -- and implies a potential of enrichment for each one, which constitutes complementarity.

From whence arises the possibility to communicate, to love, and to give oneself to the other specifically "insofar as man or woman," that is, in what is conjugable.

We might call the character or generic dimension of being woman or man "spousalness," as a dimension that soaks the whole personal structure of the human being, and conjugal dimension the possibility that this complementarity offers to constitute oneself woman or man in a union in nature: the conjugal partnership. United here are the truth of nature, the sovereign strength of freedom and the grandeur of the ends.

Q: According to the book, a person is led naturally to marriage. But there are other options in life, such as yours, the priesthood. Can you explain this?

Father Bañares: I would prefer to say, not that a "person is led naturally to marriage," but that the person is naturally structured to be able to enter marriage: the anthropological assumptions exist in all human persons.

However, although marriage is "possible" for all, it is up to each one to decide freely to exercise this fundamental right of the citizen and faithful.

In turn, the decision to remain single can have many reasons, some very worthy and of great nobility. But I understand that, not only the priesthood, but all apostolic celibacy is neither a form of bachelorhood -- no matter how worthy the latter may be -- nor an initiative of the individual: It is always a gift of God and a response of man.

In this connection, and in keeping with John Paul II's thought, it can be said that in celibacy as a vocation, man or woman gives him/herself totally to God, also according to the structure of his masculinity or her femininity. So, the spousal dimension of the human being can be the basis for making oneself a gift to God through the gift to the other -- and that is to constitute the conjugality, marriage -- or giving oneself directly to God, without the mediation of a creature.

Let's be clear: This does not mean to minimize marriage. On the contrary, it means to underline that marriage is not only an option of two people but the will of God through the other in the personal journey of sanctification and evangelization, and in the contribution to the Church and to civil society.

Q: Who invented marriage?

Father Bañares: Marriage was designed by God's love. It is offered by the reality of nature, it is constituted by the freedom of the man and woman and it is "received and witnessed" by society, as an inherent relationship of justice.

Q: Can the law "meddle" -- these are your words -- in something as personal as marriage, you ask in your book, and you argue that it can. Why?

Father Bañares: In fact, it's not that the law "meddles," but that marriage has within itself relations of justice.

Conjugality is established in the order of being -- one "is" husband, as one "is" father, mother or daughter -- but in making a gift of oneself in all the masculine or feminine dimension, the future is being committed. That is, one gives oneself not only for an instant, but for all time.

That, obviously, is the consequence of love, which wills to give itself totally and without drawing back. But at the same time it is a relationship of justice.

After "being" spouses, the conjugal and family behaviors are "due." Given that the "being" has been given -- in that dimension -- in view of some ends, the "doing" is equally given, which is the opening proper of the free human being in his historical dimension, in his temporality.

The role of society through the law consists in regulating the exercise of the fundamental right of the person, in recognizing -- in an appropriate way -- the sovereignty of the spouses, and in protecting the truth of the institution itself.

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Problems With Artificial Reproduction
European Conference Reveals Flaws

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, JUNE 25, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A flurry of news stories on in vitro fertilization techniques emanated from the 21st Annual Meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. The conference, held from Sunday to Wednesday in Copenhagen, heard from speakers about the latest research developments.

A press release posted Monday on the conference Web site explained that scientists in the United Kingdom have proved that human embryonic stem cells can develop in the laboratory into the early forms of cells that eventually become eggs or sperm. This opens up the possibility that eggs and sperm could be grown from stem cells and used for assisted reproduction, cloning and the creation of stem cells.

Behrouz Aflatoonian, from the Center for Stem Cell Biology at the University of Sheffield, stressed that there was still a lot of work to be done before the early laboratory results could be translated into reality.

A report on the experiments at the University of Sheffield published last Sunday by the Associated Press noted that some experts expressed concern over ethical issues. "It opens new and challenging possibilities," said Anna Smajdor, a medical ethicist at Imperial College in London. "Because the technique can be used to generate eggs from a man's [adult] cells, gay couples could have children genetically related to both."

Another press release by conference organizers on Monday announced that scientists in Belgium have discovered how to clone human embryos from eggs that have been matured in the laboratory. Previously, attempts at human cloning have had to use naturally matured eggs taken from women.

The research carried out at Ghent University Hospital could make it easier for scientists to create embryonic stem cell lines from cloned embryos. Researcher Bjorn Heindryckx warned, however, that there were still many problems to overcome. "None of these early embryos developed to the blastocyst stage, and failure to do so could reveal some problems in gene activation, especially in cloned embryos," he explained.

"Tourism"

The conference also heard that the number of European couples who have difficulty in conceiving children could double over the coming decade, reported the London-based Times newspaper on Tuesday.

There are four main factors causing a decrease in fertility, explained Bill Ledger, of the University of Sheffield. These are: the rising age at which couples first try for a baby; the increase in sexually transmitted diseases; rising levels of obesity; and declining male fertility.

One way in which couples are responding to fertility problems is by traveling to countries where laws governing IVF treatment are less stringent. This "reproductive tourism" was welcomed by Guido Pennings, professor of ethics and bioethics at the University of Ghent, Belgium, according to a press release Monday.

He explained that there is a general move to Eastern European centers, due to the lower costs. Spain is also attracting more people, as the law allows payment for egg donation. Pennings said he preferred a situation where liberal laws prevailed, and was critical of the restrictions in Italy, where voters recently rejected an attempt to repeal the law via a referendum.

Health concerns

But not all of the conference presentations were so positive in their portrayal of IVF techniques. A Reuters report on Tuesday noted the difficulties associated with babies born through these methods.

Babies conceived by means of IVF are usually born earlier than naturally conceived babies. As a consequence they have a lower birth weight, leading them to spend more time in hospital after the birth.

Diane De Neubourg, of the Center for Reproductive Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, said that the cause of the earlier births is in the number of embryos transferred into the woman's womb during IVF treatment. "We believe that our work shows clearly that single embryo transfer is best for both the mother and child," she told the conference Tuesday.

Anja Pinborg, of the University of Copenhagen, added that the difference in the health of babies following single- or multiple-embryo transfers could be competition in the womb. Multiple embryos vie for the nutrients and blood supply. And, even if only one of two embryos survives, it will not have had the same early advantage as a child from a single-embryo transfer.

According to Reuters the average number of embryos transferred during IVF varies widely. The average number of single-embryo transfers is 12% in Europe. But dual-embryo transfers rose from 46.7% in 2000 to 51.7% in 2001, according to data presented at this week's meeting. Triple-embryo transfers dropped from 33.3% in 2000 to 30.8% during the same period, while four-embryo transfers fell from 6.7% to 5.5%.

An Associated Press report last Tuesday noted that a study presented in Copenhagen showed that women who become pregnant with donated eggs are more likely to suffer miscarriages and dangerous high-blood pressure than those who undergo fertility treatments with their own eggs.

SunHwa Cha of Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine in Seoul, South Korea, explained that the risk was even higher if the donated egg came from a woman who was not related to the patient. The greater risks are thought to be due to the fact that donated eggs, like transplanted organs or tissue, are not genetically identical to the recipient and probably awaken the immune system.

Another presentation at the meeting warned of the dangers to women of a pregnancy later in life, the Scotsman newspaper reported Wednesday. Michael de Swiet, of Queen Charlotte's Hospital, London, said that the ideal age to have a baby was between 20 and 30.

He explained that a woman over 35 who already had more than one child had nearly a hundredfold increased risk of dying from a blood clot in her lung compared to the risk to a first-time mother aged 20. And a woman over 40 in Britain had the same mortality risk as an expectant mother in Eastern Europe -- that is, about three times as high as the continent's average. Moreover, by the time women reached the age of 42, more than half of all pregnancies resulted in the loss of the baby.

"Women need to be better informed. I'm not really saying that I think women shouldn't have babies over the age of 40," he said. "I just think they ought to be aware of the risks."

The ethics

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in Nos. 2373-9, briefly outlines the ethical principles involved in considering IVF techniques. After expressing compassion for the plight of couples who are unable to conceive, the text explains that the Church is in favor of research to help them overcome this problem. But it also warns that such efforts must be placed in the context of serving the human person and respecting human rights.

Techniques that use eggs or sperm from someone outside the married couple are unacceptable as they do not respect the marriage bond and also deny the child the right to be born of a mother and father known to him.

The Catechism also expresses serious reservations about techniques involving only the married couple, in which the sexual act is dissociated from the procreative act. Furthermore, the text explains that "A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift" (No. 2378). It is not a mere piece of property, and, likewise, there is no "right to a child." Points that provide a useful orientation in the midst of constant scientific developments.

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Seeking an Ethical Option to Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Interview With Father Thomas Berg of Westchester Institute

NEW YORK, JUNE 13, 2005 (Zenit.org).- There might be an ethically acceptable alternative for obtaining embryonic stem cells, says a bioethicist.

Legionary of Christ Father Thomas Berg, executive director of the Westchester Institute, a Catholic ethics think tank located in suburban New York, sees hope for a process known as altered nuclear transfer. He gave an overview of the status of stem cell research in this interview with ZENIT.

Q: What is the ethical problem with embryonic stem cell research?

Father Berg: The problem is that the methods currently used to obtain these cells -- pluripotent stem cells -- require researchers to kill living human embryos in the process.

In the case of so-called therapeutic cloning, which has been accomplished twice and recently streamlined by a group of South Korean researchers, it requires the intentional creation of human embryos precisely for their destruction in the course of harvesting stem cells from them.

Q: Are not human adult stem cells sufficient for all the therapeutic purposes we could want?

Father Berg: We really can't say enough in praising and promoting the inroads that have been made in developing therapies from adult stem cells.

Decades of research have yielded some 70 diverse therapies and clinical applications in treating diseases and disorders, including heart damage, spinal injury and several kinds of blood diseases.

By contrast, the research on deriving therapies from human embryonic stem cells is more nascent; it has only been going on in earnest for the last four or five years. Will it yield therapies? Quite possibly -- that's what scientists on both sides of the life issue tell me. It's too early to tell.

So, we should be guarded in our optimism with regard to the potential of adult stem cells.

Q: Can you explain again the difference between kinds of stem cells?

Father Berg: In the case of embryos, we distinguish between pluripotent and totipotent.

Pluripotent cells can give you -- to use an analogy with painting -- all the colors on the palette, but not the whole picture. That is to say, they give you all the human tissues.

Totipotent cells, on the other hand, can give you the whole picture -- a whole human being. It's the pluripotent cells that are of interest to the researchers.

Human adult stem cells are normally referred to as multipotent. There is ongoing debate as to whether certain kinds of adult stem cells -- for example, MAP-Cs, or multipotent adult progenitor cells -- can be coaxed to give rise to all tissue types. There are some reports that scientists are perhaps on the right trail, but no conclusive studies yet.

Q: How does cloning relate to stem cell research?

Father Berg: Cloning is the creation of a unique human individual through a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer.

A donor donates a body cell from which the nucleus is taken and then transferred into an enucleated human egg. Factors in the cytoplasm of the egg are responsible for literally reprogramming the inserted nucleus to a pristine state, that of a one-cell human organism or zygote.

When coaxed with electrical stimulation, this clone begins to undergo the normal process of cell division which leads to the various stages of otherwise normal embryonic development. So the link with stem cell research is the following.

Cloning has been proposed as the ideal means of creating tailor-made embryonic stem cell lines. The DNA of the clone is an exact match of the donor's. The clone is developed to the blastocyst stage, about 6 days, at which point, its inner cell mass is extracted -- killing the human clone in the process.

From the inner cell mass of the clone are then derived in culture a new line of pluripotent stem cells which are a perfect genetic match to the donor. These lines of stem cells could be used to develop tissue replacement therapies for the donor -- should he or she eventually need them -- with no risk of immune rejection because the tissue is perfectly matched.

Q: Has anyone yet cloned a human being?

Father Berg: Yes. The South Korean team led by Woo Suk Hwang reported, in February 2004, the first successful creation of cloned human beings.

In 2004 they created some 30 embryos and allowed them to develop to the blastocyst stage. They were then destroyed in order to create lines of embryonic stem cells. On May 19 of this year, they reported that they have now honed their technique and claim to have created 11 new lines of human embryonic stem cells.

Q: Do you defend the Bush policy on funding of embryonic stem cell research?

Father Berg: While I am open to better arguments, I continue to defend the policy as the best prudential judgment President Bush could have made at the time.

You will recall that it was his decision on Aug. 9, 2001, to allow federal funding of research using lines of human embryonic stem cells created prior to Aug. 9. The president clearly demonstrated his moral condemnation of the evil of embryo destruction which was entailed in the creation of those lines. By this policy, he assured that no federal money would contribute to any new killing of embryos.

I think in hindsight we can make the case that by allowing a trickle of funding, he was able to forestall the evil that is now coming up on us. Had he completely banned federal funding, there would have been an extreme reaction from the scientific sector which would have provoked perhaps considerably more state and private funding. That's what is finally happening now.

Q: Are there morally acceptable means of obtaining human embryonic stem cells?

Father Berg: If it were shown to be feasible to obtain pluripotent stem cells by ethically acceptable means, I would support and encourage scientific exploration of their potential therapeutic value. The President's Council on Bioethics recently released a white paper exploring several possible alternative means.

Q: Can you briefly explain these alternative means for obtaining human pluripotent stem cells as described recently by the President's Council on bioethics?

Father Berg: That paper reported on, and gave an initial ethical evaluation of, four proposals for obtaining pluripotent stem cells without killing human embryos. The proposals are as follows in simple terms.

The first was proposed by Dr. Don Landry and Dr. Howard Zucker, both of Columbia University. They would seek to obtain embryonic stem cells from embryos that have been determined to be clinically "dead" in IVF [in vitro fertilization] clinics and that are about to be disposed of.

The second would perform a biopsy on an eight-cell embryo to remove an early forming stem cell, presumably without harming the embryo.

The third, called altered nuclear transfer, ANT, and proposed by Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford University is to create a non-embryonic biological artifact akin to a tumor that would nonetheless produce the equivalent of pluripotent stem cells.

And the fourth proposal would endeavor to convert adult cells into pluripotent stem cells by reprogramming the nucleus of the adult cell to a pluripotent state. While the bioethics council could not endorse the "biopsy" proposal, it did encourage the pursuit of research on the other proposals using animal models.

Q: Why pursue these alternative means for obtaining embryonic stem cells?

Father Berg: I think in light of the fact that we now live in Brave New World, in which embryos are being created en masse, and in which there will be a growing demand for new embryonic stem cell lines, I believe we have a moral obligation to look seriously at alternate routes to obtaining them through non-embryo destructive means.

Q: Is there a down side to pursuing any of these proposals?

Father Berg: Potentially, and that's what makes them complicated from the moral perspective and that's why we need to see the animal studies done for these proposals.

With ANT, we have to be able to arrive at the moral certainty that the product of ANT is not an embryo; it may also run the risk of indirectly fomenting whole new avenues of human engineering.

The Zucker-Landry proposal may risk opening up a new market for the IVF industry, since it proposes removing intact embryonic stem cells from IVF embryos about to be discarded. But again, we may well have sufficient reason to tolerate the chances of any of this happening.

Q: You are on public record as supporting Dr. Hurlbut's proposal, ANT. Is that correct?

Father Berg: Yes. I, along with several other ethicists, have recently endorsed pursuing ANT on animal models -- not with human cells -- especially in a more recent and very specific rendition of ANT called oocyte assisted reprogramming.

Q: How did you get involved with Dr. Hurlbut?

Father Berg: When I thought carefully about what he was proposing, I felt we had almost a moral obligation to study his proposal seriously, so I contacted him about the possibility of getting some scholars together to look at the moral side of the proposal. That was last December.

Q: Explain altered nuclear transfer and new version you referred to called oocyte assisted reprogramming.

Father Berg: ANT is a broad conceptual proposal and could be accomplished in many different ways. The steps involved in oocyte assisted reprogramming would be the following.

First, a cell is removed from a donor and the DNA in the nucleus of that cell is "altered" in an effort to change the instructions that this nucleus would be giving to the cell, keeping in mind that a cell's nucleus essentially determines what kind of cell it will be.

Then, the nucleus is removed from an oocyte, or egg cell, and this enucleated oocyte, now essentially a sack of cytoplasm, is fused to the donor cell with the altered nucleus.

This process of cell fusion -- also called nuclear transfer -- is the same has used in cloning, but the product would be radically different in this case. This newly constituted cell would neither be an egg, nor an embryo, nor would it any longer be the cell it once was.

Rather, it would now be a hybrid that would show or express the properties programmed into it by the changes made to the nucleus. The way the scientist in our working group have conceived of it would suggest that the new cell would be programmed to essentially act like and produce pluripotent stem cells.

These stem cells would be genetically identical to the donor and could conceivably be used for research and therapeutic purposes. So essentially, it would mean going from an adult cell to stem cells, bypassing the creation and destruction of embryos in the process.

So, the long and the short of it is that a growing number of scientists are quite confident that ANT-OAR would actively and immediately convert adult cells directly into pluripotent stem cells without generating embryos.

Q: So what exactly does the egg do in this process?

Father Berg: The egg's cytoplasm will strip the cellular type of the adult cell nucleus, reverting to an undifferentiated, more plastic, and virginal state as it were.

Yet, unlike cloning, the adult cell nucleus will not be converted to a totipotent state -- a state that could generate a whole human embryonic organism. Rather, should the ANT-OAR proposal work, the alterations made to the donor nucleus will ensure that the cell produced is not an embryo, and will immediately be able to multiply itself, producing a new line of pluripotent stem cells.

Q: Some people would wonder if ANT does not entail complicity in the evil of human embryonic stem cell research. They might ask: Why mess with human eggs and genetic material?

Father Berg: We all share a sense of profound veneration and respect to be owed to those elements -- human eggs, sperm, human genetic material -- that are the essentials of human life.

Nonetheless, their use for human benefit is not something intrinsically evil. In other words, while we don't go at it lightly, we have to recognize that there can be legitimate and morally unproblematic uses for them.

As long as in using human eggs, human genetic material does not in itself cause us to transgress some absolute moral norm, such as the norm prohibiting the creation or destruction of embryos, and as long as it is pursued in light of some substantial and probable benefit, then such research could proceed.

Could there be some foreseeable downside of doing this? For example, does it contribute to a thinning out of our respect of life? That is hypothetical, but even were that the case, I think in light of the fact that we now live in Brave New World, in which embryos are being created en masse, and in which there will be a growing demand for new embryonic stem cell lines, we have proportional reason to pursue this research and to tolerate the potential negative consequences.

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Scientific Basis for Doubts About Stem Cell Research

Embryology Points to Humanity of Nascent Life

WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 4, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The bioethics debate has heated up with the recent approval by the U.S. House of Representatives of funding for stem cell research on human embryos and the combined announcements of human cloning in South Korea and England. The cloning experiments in both cases were designed with the end of producing stem cells for medical research and eventual treatments.

A common argument used by researchers is that the stem cells used in their research are not really human life anyway, but just a collection of cells. Moreover, many supporters of allowing these experiments dismiss opposition as being anti-scientific and an attempt by moralists to impose their views on society.

After U.S. President George Bush threatened to veto any additional stem cell financing approved by Congress, a New York Times editorial of May 26 said: "His actions are based on strong religious beliefs on the part of some conservative Christians, and presumably the president himself. Such convictions deserve respect, but it is wrong to impose them on this pluralistic nation."

On the same day Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen also criticized opposition to stem cell research saying: "I grant you that we are embarking on a wondrous and scary intellectual and ethical journey, but we are doing so to save lives, to make them bearable, to mend the broken and cure the sick. What is wrong with that?" He also condemned those he termed "religious conservatives" who "have imposed their religious convictions on the rest of us."

Good for all

Attacking religion could just be a rhetorical trick used to willfully ignore the validity of the arguments raised by opponents of cloning and stem cell research. But it does raises questions about the basis of opposition to these techniques.

Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, archbishop of Milan, Italy, provided an answer to these questions in an article published in the Vatican daily newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, on May 25. Titled, "The Good of Life is a Good of All and for All," it was written in the context of the Italian referendum over the law on in vitro fertilization which will be held on June 12-13.

The archbishop started with some reflections over the legitimacy of defending human life in its initial stages. He raised the following arguments.

1. Human life is always a good. In fact, it is the most precious good that exists and is the foundation of all other goods that a human can possess. Moreover, the life of every person has such a high value that it cannot be compared to the worth of the life of other living beings.

The cardinal clarified that he was not only talking as a believer in God. He was also making an appeal to human reason, in the sense that the value of human life is something that can be grasped through the use of reason and is, therefore, a principle that can be appreciated by all.

2. Protecting human life is a duty that falls upon every one of us, to be taken up with responsibility and decision. It is, in fact, a civic duty given that the protection of human life is an irreplaceable condition for ensuring the common good of all.

3. The Church and the Christian community is united with those who defend human life from the moment of conception until death. The fact that certain rights and duties are defended by the Church does not, however, cancel out their civil legitimacy or their authenticity from a secular point of view.

It should be clear, stated Cardinal Tettamanzi, that defending human life is a prerogative of all, not just of Christians. Moreover, it would be a grave case of ideological intolerance if civil activity, legitimate in itself, were marginalized merely because it comes from Christians. Democracy itself would be the loser if this were to happen.

4. Caring for human life during its beginnings is particularly important, given its vulnerability at this stage of development. Neglecting this protection, either at the individual or social level, carries the risk of creating irremediable damage, or even the destruction of the life itself.

Concerning the debate over how to relate morality and law, Milan's archbishop explained that they are connected in the sense that morality can illuminate our conscience, while the law codifies how we should act. It is important to remember, he added, that the state does not create human rights, and likewise cannot destroy them.

Moral norms and civil law are, indeed, distinct one from the other. But the civil law does have the important role of promoting the common good of all, even if it cannot pretend to abolish all imperfections.

Harrowing harvest

If, then, it is legitimate for Christians to have a say on laws governing human life, is it the case that in the early stage we are dealing with something that is human? This point was debated in a number of articles in the fall/winter issue of New Atlantis. The magazine is published by the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center.

In their contribution, Robert George and Patrick Lee replied to arguments in favor of stem cells research advanced by two members of the President's Council on Bioethics, Paul McHugh and Michael Sandel. George is a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and a member of the bioethics council. And Lee is professor of philosophy at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

The two said that there would not be any objection to using embryonic stem cells for research or therapy if they could be obtained without killing or harming embryos. "The point of controversy," they noted, "is the ethics of deliberately destroying human embryos for the purpose of harvesting their stem cells."

Both contemporary human embryology and developmental biology "leave no significant room for doubt" about the human status of embryos at the initial stage of their life, argue George and Lee. "Each of us developed by a gradual, unified and self-directed process from the embryonic into and through the fetal, infant, child and adolescent stages of human development, and into adulthood, with his or her determinateness, unity and identity fully intact."

We value human beings precisely because of the kind of entities they are, and they point out "that is why we consider all human beings to be equal in basic dignity and human rights." This dignity is intrinsic and does not depend on any accidental characteristics. For this reason we do not kill retarded children to harvest their organs.

While no one claims that embryos are mature human beings, at the same time it is correct to argue that human embryos are human beings, "that is, complete, though immature, members of the human species."

Embryology, they explain, shows the following:

-- The embryo is from the start distinct from any cell of the mother or the father, and grows in its own distinct direction, with its growth being internally directed to its own survival and maturation.

-- The embryo is human, since it has the genetic constitution characteristic of human beings.

-- The embryo is fully programmed, and has the active disposition, to develop himself or herself to the next mature stage of a human being. And unless prevented by disease, violence, or a hostile environment, the embryo will actually do so. None of the changes that occur to the embryo after fertilization, for as long as he or she survives, generates a new direction of growth.

There are, naturally, ample religious and theological grounds on which to oppose sacrificing embryos for research. But many objections are based on science and a rational ethical analysis, and are, therefore, no imposition on pluralism.

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Human Cloning: the Ongoing Battle

Some Scientists Reject Limitations on Research

LONDON, OCT. 23, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Limitations on the manipulation and destruction of human life are looking shaky in the face of sustained efforts in a number of countries to extend human cloning. At the international level the question of cloning is once more under debate in the United Nations. A proposal by Costa Rica to ban cloning was shelved last year, but is once more on the agenda.

The president of Britain's Royal Society, Lord May, criticized efforts to promote a ban on all forms of human cloning, Reuters reported last Sunday. Last month U.S. President George Bush spoke in favor of the Costa Rican proposal in a speech to the General Assembly. But Lord May favors of a proposal made by Belgium that would outlaw cloning for reproductive purposes, but allow it for therapeutic ends.

The renewed effort to obtain a worldwide ban comes after scientists in South Korea announced earlier this year that they had cloned humans and extracted embryonic stem cells. The experiments were carried out at the Seoul National University, reported the New York Times on Feb. 12.

The United Kingdom may be the next in line to clone humans. Cloning for therapeutic purposes was made legal in 2001, but the first permission was given only recently. On Aug. 11, BBC reported that the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority gave the go-ahead to scientists at the University of Newcastle to clone human embryos. According to BBC it is believed this is the first time such a license has been granted in Europe.

After this first approval, a team led by the scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep also applied for a license to clone human embryos, BBC reported Sept. 28. Researchers at Edinburgh's Roslin Institute, led by professor Ian Wilmut, hope to develop a cure for motor neurone disease through experiments using the cloned embryos.

Harvard's move

In the United States, scientists from Harvard University are also attempting to gain permission to clone human embryos, the Boston Globe reported Oct. 13. According to the report, two separate teams of researchers want to use cloning to produce embryonic stem cells that match the genetic material of patients with juvenile diabetes, Parkinson's disease and other illnesses. The teams are part of the recently formed Harvard Stem Cell Institute, established by the university earlier this year.

Cloning is legal in the United States, noted the Globe, but the scientists must first receive approval through an institutional review process, which could take months.

In another recent move, Singapore has opened up the possibility of cloning, Reuters reported Sept. 2. Parliament passed a law that bans human cloning for reproduction, but allows it for research purposes. The law will allow scientists to clone human embryos and keep them alive for 14 days to produce stem cells.

Japan is also moving toward allowing cloning. The country's supreme science council has voted in favor of policy recommendations that would permit human embryos to be cloned for scientific research, the Associated Press reported July 23.

Japan banned human cloning in 2001, although it does allow researchers to use embryos that aren't produced by cloning. After the vote in favor, the science council, headed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, will now ask government ministries to come up with guidelines for research using clones.

"Medieval bigotry"

Human cloning is often defended on the grounds of compassion for those suffering serious illnesses. Typical of the claims advanced was a comment reported in the Scotsman newspaper on Sept. 29, following the application by the Roslin Institute for permission to clone. Dr. Brian Dickie, from the UK's Motor Neurone Disease Association, said the research would be a breakthrough and patients could be benefiting from it within 10 years.

A more extreme statement in favor of cloning was that of Terence Kealey, a clinical biochemist and vice chancellor of the University of Buckingham in England. In an opinion article for London's Times on June 17, Kealey stated: "Human cloning is almost magical in its potential."

Opponents of cloning were dismissed as "traditionalists" or as suffering from "medieval bigotry." "Since our only obstacle to exploring these nascent sciences is the traditionalists' invocation of mystical texts, a future of universal good health awaits us," he concluded.

Defending human life

The moves in favor of human cloning have not gone unanswered by pro-life forces. The approval by authorities in England was criticized by Dr. Helen Watt, director of the Linacre Center for Healthcare Ethics. "Therapeutic cloning creates a human life in exactly the same way as 'reproductive' cloning does," she stated in an Aug. 11 press release. "The only difference is that the embryo is intended not for birth but for laboratory destruction."

She also called into question the approval "at a time when adult stem cells are already used to treat a whole range of diseases." By contrast, "Cells from early embryos are difficult to control and have not so far produced a single treatment," added Watt.

The German Medical Council also condemned the approval, Deutsche Welle reported Aug. 13. The association called for a ban on all forms of human cloning. "We can't allow embryos to be harvested like raw materials," said association president Jörg-Dietrich Hoppe.

Germany's National Ethics Council has also called for a ban on cloning humans for research, Deutsche Welle reported Sept. 13. The body, set up in 2001 by the federal government to offer advice on ethical issues in the life sciences, announced its opposition after more than a year of study. The German Parliament voted in 2002 to outlaw cloning.

"Crescendo of hyperbole"

John Paul II commented on cloning, and research in general, in a message sent to a meeting organized by the movement Communion and Liberation in Rimini, Italy, last summer. In the text dated Aug. 6 the Pope spoke of the risk that progress in scientific knowledge and technical means "would become an absolute value, even the source itself of every value."

The result of this tendency is that "Truth and justice would no longer be superior instances, criteria of justice which man must follow in directing the actions that fuel progress itself, but would become a product of his research activity and manipulation of reality."

The Holy See also issued a declaration, dated Sept. 27, concerning the renewed U.N. debate over human cloning. The statement explains that the Holy See is in favor of research in the fields of medicine and biology.

But, continues the document, "The Holy See opposes the cloning of human embryos for the purpose of destroying them in order to harvest their stem cells," as it is "inconsistent with the ground and motive of human biomedical research, that is, respect of the dignity of human beings."

As an alternative the statement noted the proven results already obtained with adult stem cells. By contrast, "Embryonic stem cell experiments have not yet produced a single unqualified therapeutic success, not even in animal models." In fact, the declaration cited a number of scientific sources that detail the risks involved with the use of embryonic cells. In this context the text criticized "the crescendo of hyperbole" extolling the use of human clones.

In terms of a moral judgment the declaration notes that therapeutic cloning is ethically worse than when it is undertaken for reproductive purposes. In the latter case at least the human life has a chance of surviving, instead of being used "as mere laboratory material." Attention is now focused on the United Nations to see if it will step in to defend innocent human lives.

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Spare Parts or Human Life?

Embryos Sacrificed for Research

LONDON, FEB. 12, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority has given the go-ahead for the cloning of human embryos. BBC reported Tuesday that the creator of Dolly the sheep, Ian Wilmut, obtained a license to clone embryos in order to study motor neurone disease (MND). This is the second time the fertilization authority has given approval for human cloning since it was made legal in the United Kingdom in 2001.

Wilmut, together with researchers from Kings College London, plans to clone embryos that have the disease in order to study how it develops in the early stages, and to try out new drugs to see how they work. Some patient groups, including the MND Association, have supported the proposal.

Not everyone welcomed the announcement, however. In a press release Tuesday from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, the group's political secretary, Anthony Ozimic, assailed Wilmut's research. "Any 'license to clone and kill' strikes at the very heart our society's basic rule for living together in peace, which is 'do not kill the innocent,' because the cloning process kills many embryonic human children at their most vulnerable stage of life," Ozimic said. "All of those killed are unique, never-to-be-replaced, totally innocent human individuals."

Another press release, issued by Julia Millington, political director of the ProLife Alliance, stated: "All human cloning is intrinsically wrong and should be outlawed. However, the creation of cloned human embryos destined for experimentation and subsequent destruction is particularly abhorrent."

Moreover, Millington questioned the approval to use embryos at a time when much greater scientific progress is being reported using ethically acceptable adult stem cells, and cells taken from the umbilical cord of newborn babies.

In the United States, meanwhile, the Christian Medical Association also took Wilmut's plan to task. In a Tuesday press release, David Stevens, executive director of the 17,000-member association, said: "It's dressing a wolf in sheep's clothing to claim that you're somehow helping humanity when in fact you're killing living human beings." He continued: "So-called therapeutic cloning is hardly therapeutic for the living human subjects destroyed in the process."

Spain's shift

There was bad news for embryos in Spain, too. On Tuesday, Health Minister Elena Salgado announced a new proposal to govern in vitro fertilization. The measure could be in force by year-end, and would represent a substantial relaxation of the norms approved by the previous government in 2003, the Spanish daily ABC reported Wednesday.

Among the changes announced by Salgado would be one that allows parents to choose embryos that can help to cure existing children, by using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. The legislation would prohibit cloning for reproductive purposes, but is silent as to whether it will be allowed for research purposes.

The legislation would also allow research on the "leftover" embryos from IVF treatments. This would be a change from the 2003 legislation which only permitted research with those embryos frozen at the time the law came into force.

"Pre-embryo"

Coincidentally, this past Tuesday also saw the publication of an article by Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, on questions related to the human embryo. Writing in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Bishop Sgreccia noted that many researchers justify using an embryo during the first days of life by denying it has reached a stage when it is truly human. Thus, during the first 14 days, the researchers often refer to the "pre-embryo" stage of development.

The Vatican official, however, observed that from a purely scientific point of view it is perfectly evident that from the moment the ova is fertilized by the spermatozoa, there is a distinct form of life with its own genetic identity and biological unity. Moreover, after the initial fertilization there is no subsequent qualitative change that affects the process of development of the new life.

Bishop Sgreccia added that from the moral viewpoint it is sufficient to merely suspect the possibility that in the embryo we find a human person, in order to justify prohibiting its use in scientific research. Thus the Church has insisted on an absolute respect for life right from the moment of conception.

Struggling to define life

The human status of the embryo is also being debated in legal tribunals, with some positive results. Last week a Cook County judge in the state of Illinois allowed a Chicago couple to sue a fertility clinic that destroyed one of their embryos. A Feb. 5 report in the Chicago Sun-Times explained that Alison Miller and Todd Parrish had gone to the Center for Human Reproduction for help in conceiving a child, but that one of the fertilized ova was discarded in an error by a clinic worker.

In his decision, Judge Jeffrey Lawrence II said "a pre-embryo is a 'human being' ... whether or not it is implanted in its mother's womb." As a result, the couple may seek the same compensation awarded to other parents whose children are killed. Commentators noted that the judgment will almost certainly be appealed.

Another recent legal case involving unborn life was that of the murder of Laci Peterson, who was pregnant when her husband killed her. The lengthy legal process finished last November, when Scott Peterson was declared guilty by the jury. The jury convicted Peterson of first-degree murder of his wife and second-degree murder of his 8-month-old unborn son.

In an article published Nov. 13 by the Christian Post, an analyst for Focus on the Family, Carrie Gordon Earll, explained that "the murder conviction of Scott Peterson in the death of his wife and pre-born son, Conner, is further evidence of the growing shift in U.S. law regarding protection for all human life, including young humans who still reside in their mother's wombs."

Earlier in the year, the California Supreme Court had ruled that a 1970 state law could be used to charge assailants with the death of a fetus when a pregnant woman is attacked. Charges regarding the murder of the fetus can be brought even if the aggressor did not know the victim was pregnant, the Los Angeles Times reported April 6.

Another victory, albeit limited, for the embryo came with the decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court. The court ruled that murder charges can be brought if the fetus at the time it was killed would have been viable outside the mother's womb. The court thus overturned a 21-year-old decision that had barred homicide charges against someone accused of killing a fetus, according to a report June 18 in the Courier-Journal newspaper of Louisville.

With its decision, the Kentucky Supreme Court defined a fetus as a person at the point of viability. The ruling did not however decide the constitutionality of the new "fetal homicide" law passed last year by the Kentucky Legislature. The law allows homicide charges to be brought when a fetus is killed -- regardless of whether it is viable.

Another 2004 case saw Quenten Qortez Thompson convicted of feticide by a jury in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported June 11. Thompson was found guilty of first-degree intentional homicide of Nicole Blake and first-degree homicide of an unborn child, under a 1998 law.

Meanwhile, during its first stages of development the embryo remains under threat from scientific researchers who seem to regard it as a source of spare parts.

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"A Patient in a Vegetative State Is a Human Person"

Interview With Dr. Gian Luigi Gigli, of a Catholic Federation

ROME, FEB. 28, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The vegetative state is a "pejorative term" which implies lack of humanity, warns Dr. Gian Luigi Gigli, president of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations.

Gigli is co-author with Dr. Nathan Zasler of the book "Life-Sustaining Treatments in Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas," reprinted in a special issue of the Neurorehabilitation review, published by Iospress. The book is the result of a congress on this topic.

Q: What does it mean to be in a vegetative state and what is the Church's position?

Gigli: A vegetative state is verified in some patients when they come out of a coma, and it is characterized by a prolonged condition of wakefulness without apparent awareness on the part of the patient either of himself or of his surroundings.

The physiotherapy for this disorder is not yet clear, and the cerebral lesions that can cause it are of different types and in many areas.

The patient, alternating sleep with wakefulness, does not give answers that seem to make sense. It is not a terminal illness and does not require machines to guarantee vital functions.

However, the patient needs care, in particular, to be hydrated and fed, sometimes with patience through the mouth, more often with a probe or a tube in the abdominal wall, the PEG [percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy].

For the Church, the patient in a vegetative state is a human person, in need of affectionate care. The discussion that has taken place between moralists and Catholic health institutions in past years has focused on indefinite continuation of hydration and nutrition, even if hopes for a resumption, though partial, of consciousness seem to be diminishing.

Some have seen in the prolongation of hydration and nutrition aggressive therapy; others have interpreted it as euthanasia by omission of the suspension of care, considering the mortal consequences that inevitably derive.

From outside the Church, the pressures of scientific societies, magistrates and some family members are very strong, as is occurring in the Terri Schiavo case in the United States, in favor of the suspension of hydration and nutrition. They are pressures based on the attribution of the little value of life, when its "quality" is greatly reduced.

However, resistances are also very strong by those who see in such procedures a surreptitious method to authorize, in fact, euthanasia in countries where it is prohibited, extending it later, as is already occurring, to other conditions such as dementia, mental retardation or acute ictus.

Q: Up to what point is the vegetative state "vegetative"?

Gigli: Beyond the term, which should be reformed because of its pejorative character -- referring to a condition of the patient's lack of humanity -- it must be acknowledged that a rudimentary perception of pain cannot be excluded, as there are studies that prove the persistence of rudimentary processes of recognition and discrimination of stimuli.

An indirect proof that there are doubts of a neuroanatomic and neurophysiological order on the total lack of perception of pain in these patients is the common practice of subjecting them to pharmacological sedation during the 15 days in which the death of the patient is effected after the suspension of hydration and nutrition.

The vegetative state is diagnosed too often with excessive speed, with a high percentage of mistaken diagnoses, including within qualified health institutions. In particular, it must not be confused with other neurological conditions in which there is a state of prolonged reduction of the levels of consciousness.

Q: What did John Paul II say that was new in the treatment of patients in vegetative state in his historic address last March 20?

Gigli: The Holy Father, in as you say his "historic" address, pronounced words that serve to clarify misunderstandings among Catholics, avoiding -- for example -- suspension of hydration and nutrition in cases in which it should not be done, as unfortunately has occurred in some North American Catholic hospitals.

Despite the fact that there are many attempts by moralists and Catholic health institutions to reduce the scope of the Pope's words, his message was very clear. For the Pope, judgment on the quality of life and on the costs of care cannot prevail over the respect due to the patient's life.

Hydration and nutrition must be considered as ordinary and proportionate means for the objective that they intend, i.e. to nourish the patient. As such, they are morally obligatory, even if they are administered through a tube.

For the Pope, the fact that there is a high probability that the patient will not recover consciousness cannot justify the interruption of basic care, including hydration and nutrition. Otherwise, there is euthanasia by omission.

Moreover, the Pope called for the raising of our societies' level of civilization, supporting with attentive solidarity the families of patients in vegetative state.

After the Pope's words, I believe that for a doctor, a nurse or a Catholic health institution nutrition and hydration may only be interrupted if they no longer achieve their effect, or impose grave burdens on the patient -- who on the other hand appears to tolerate them in an admirable way over many years -- or family members, something which should not occur in civilized countries, in which basic care should not be a luxury.

Q: You wrote the book with Dr. Nathan Zasler, a Jewish doctor. Is there a meeting point between Catholics and Jews on the topic of nutrition and hydration in the vegetative state?

Gigli: The Jewish world is very diversified. Rabbi E.N. Dorff's article, which forms part of the work, clarifies adequately that for the majority of Orthodox rabbis and for many Conservative rabbis the doctor has the obligation to do everything possible to maintain the life of the patient in vegetative state.

Other rabbis allow treatments not to be established, but prohibit their suspension once begun.

Instead, the Reformed and secularized Jews tend to decide according to their conscience.

In general lines, however, it seems that we could say that the Jewish tradition is hesitant when it comes to suspending treatments such as hydration and nutrition, on which the life of a patient in vegetative sate depends.

The congress and the volume that derived from it certainly demonstrate great respect for the Catholic position on the part of famous Jewish scholars.

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Gauging What "Quality of Life" Means

Vatican Conference Considers Ethical Principles

ROME, MARCH 5, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The much-bandied term "quality of life" was the theme of the annual meeting of the Pontifical Academy for Life. The Feb. 21-23 general assembly of the Vatican body brought together Church dignitaries, along with experts in medicine and bioethics, to reflect on the subject of "Quality of Life and the Ethics of Health."

In his presentation, the president of the academy, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, observed that the terms "quality of life" and "health" have become a sort of absolute, "to be pursued to the point of a sort of divinization of health."

The terms, he noted, reflect a strong influence of the utilitarian philosophy so widespread in English-speaking societies. This has led to a widespread belief that "the human being who does not possess the desired minimal 'quality' does not deserve to be kept alive -- hence, the proposal of eugenic parameters for the purpose of selecting those who do deserve to be accepted or kept alive and those who are to be abandoned or suppressed via euthanasia."

Trying to understand what the concept quality of life means was dealt with by A. Gómez-Lobo, professor of metaphysics and moral philosophy at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. The idea that lives can be judged according to their quality goes back to the ancient Greek philosophers, he noted.

It is a concept that covers diverse dimensions of life, but in the area of health the expectation of a low quality of life has become a standard rationalization to justify euthanasia, Gómez-Lobo explained. However, claiming to benefit a person by intentionally killing someone with a low quality of life is "deeply wrong," he argued.

A person suffering from health problems "is still enjoying the basic good of life, a good that is distinct from any evil the person may be undergoing," the professor said. Moreover, for an external observer to judge that the patient is a life "not worth living" is "an intolerable presumption," he added.

The prohibition against killing an innocent person, Gómez-Lobo continued, is based on respect for the dignity of the person, "and human dignity is logically independent of, and not reducible to, the quality of a person's life because dignity is an intrinsic property that does not admit of degrees." In fact, he added, "The suffering and the weak have a special claim on us." And the quality of life of the patient should not affect this obligation.

"Vegetative state"

The question of what to do with persons who are in a vegetative state was addressed by Gian Luigi Gigli and Mariarosaria Valente. They are, respectively, the president of the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, and director of the Department of Neurosciences at the Santa Maria della Misericordia hospital in Udine, Italy.

In analyzing the current situation they observed in a statement: "Faith in the omnipotent power of technology of being able to ameliorate the quality of life and lack of moral principles combine together." This technological approach considers every action ethical if it is the result of free choice, and every action legitimate if it is socially useful.

Regarding the vegetative state they explained: "This condition is still affected by important clinical uncertainties, leading to frequent misdiagnosis." It is difficult to distinguish between the vegetative state, and the persistent, also called permanent, vegetative state. In the latter case no recovery is expected, but the point of division between the two is not clear. They added that there are well-documented cases of patients who have recovered consciousness even after the criteria for permanence have been met.

So-called right-to-die advocates argue that once a vegetative state is diagnosed as permanent there should be a presumption against assisted feeding. In addition, the provision of food and water is redefined as a medical treatment, rather than the provision of basic needs. "According to this view, the ensuing death by dehydration and starvation should be regarded as a natural death," Gigli and Valente wrote.

However, they explain, in this situation patients do not die because of the vegetative state, but of malnutrition and renal failure. "The outcome (death) is fully intended."

The two explain that understanding how we have arrived to intending the death of someone in this state is linked to considerations about the quality of life. Often, in measuring the quality of life, the concept is reduced to the ability to produce and to be useful. It follows, then, that using health resources for people who cannot return to a productive life is considered wasteful.

The withdrawal of nutrition and water from persons in the permanent vegetative state can lead to a dangerous attitude in the medical profession, Gigli and Valente warned. "Withdrawal of nutrition and hydration could be the key to open the still strong existing barriers which oppose the legalization of euthanasia in the majority of countries," they added. As well, in the long term, having doctors hastening death could destroy the relationship of trust between patient and physician.

The newborn

Another set of questions regards the quality of life for newborn babies. This was dealt with in the paper presented by Patricio Ventura-Juncá, director of the Center for Bioethics of the pontifical University of Santiago, Chile.

Newborn babies are highly vulnerable as well as quite incapable of evaluating their situation or expressing preferences. In the last few decades, neonatal care has made enormous strides, explained Ventura-Juncá. Many of the immature functions of prematurely born infants can be temporarily replaced by mechanical means. But the ethical problem that exists is judging whether to withhold or withdraw treatment.

She explained that many parents have difficulty in understanding the medical information they are given and to make a decision. In general, however, parents are more in favor of intervening to save the infant than are health care professionals. In this situation the opinion and the values of the doctor in charge have a great influence on the parents.

The situation of persons suffering from mental handicaps was addressed by professor Wanda Poltawska, a psychiatrist from the school of theology of the University of Krakow, Poland. "A human being is always human irrespective of the stage of his or her physical or mental development," she stated.

Families burdened with a mentally diseased person are often divided over the best way to cope with this problem. In order to affront the burden, family members need a deep understanding of the sense of suffering.

In deciding what to do when confronted with this situation Poltawska stated: "The life of a human being, its beginning and its end are in the hands of the Creator -- when we try to manipulate human conception or human death we transgress our authority."

Handicapped persons are a challenge to society, she added, and our own value as persons can be assessed by examining our attitudes toward the ill, the old and the disabled.

In a letter dated Feb. 19, directed to Bishop Sgreccia on the occasion of the congress, John Paul II drew attention to "the essential quality that distinguishes every human creature as that of being made in the image and likeness of the Creator himself" (No. 3).

This dignity and quality of the person "endures through every moment of life, from the very moment of conception until natural death," the Pope stated. "Consequently, the human person should be recognized and respected in any condition of health, infirmity or disability."

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Infertility Treatments, in Accord With Church Teaching

Interview With Dr. Thomas Hilgers of the Pope Paul VI Institute

OMAHA, Nebraska, JULY 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Many Catholic couples who experience infertility can achieve pregnancy without resorting to immoral medical treatments, says an expert in natural procreative technology.

Dr. Thomas Hilgers, director of Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, explained to ZENIT some of the fertility methods he has developed that are in accord with Church teachings.

Q: What are the main causes of infertility?

Hilgers: Infertility is due to many causes. It is often called multifactorial, but unfortunately the medical profession only usually focuses on one issue at a time.

The main causes of infertility include endometriosis, polycystic ovarian disease and pelvic adhesive disease, along with a variety of underlying hormonal dysfunctions and ovulation-related abnormalities. Tubal disease and obstruction is also a cause of infertility, but not as common as the others.

Q: Among the causes, how important is the role of sexual diseases contracted through premarital relations; past use of certain kinds of contraception; and the decision to delay having children?

Hilgers: It is difficult to say exactly how often these are linked. Certainly, sexually transmitted diseases can cause pelvic adhesive disease and tubal obstruction.

My own concern is with the incompleteness and unsatisfactory nature of premarital relationships when sexual intercourse is involved. I think that, in many cases, women who have premarital sex use contraception so that they do not become pregnant; later, when it is difficult for them to become pregnant, they can experience resentment and anger.

This makes it very complex, and the chronic stress that develops from this may be another underlying factor to infertility.

Q: What is the institute's success rate in overcoming infertility?

Hilgers: Our approach to the evaluation and treatment of infertility is one that looks at the underlying problems -- the diseases -- that cause infertility and then treats those diseases successfully.

This is the primary approach that we use in "NaProTechnology," or natural procreative technology.

NaProTechnology is a new women's health science that has been described in the new medical textbook, "The Medical and Surgical Practice of NaProTechnology" [Pope Paul VI Institute Press].

In this situation, our success rates are statistically much better than the artificial reproductive technologies. In fact, they average about two to three times more effective. Generally speaking, we will see effectiveness rates in the 50% to 80% range, depending upon the problem and the extent of the abnormality.

Q: Briefly, what fertility methods are in accord with the teachings of the Catholic Church? Which are not?

Hilgers: Those approaches that do not separate love from life are the methods that are in accord with the teachings of the Catholic Church. These do not include such approaches as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization.

Those that are acceptable are the approaches that are used in NaProTechnology. This scientific method looks for the basic underlying medical problems that are associated with infertility and then corrects them.

Q: Why is it so important for Catholics to use fertility methods that do not contradict what the Church teaches?

Hilgers: The Church has been extremely wise in its teaching relative to reproductive-related issues.

It teaches, first of all, that marriage is a sacred relationship and that children are the supreme gift of marriage. It does not treat children as commodities. The Church's approach makes good psychological and spiritual sense, as well as good medical sense.

Unfortunately, over the years, only artificial reproductive technologies have been available. Because of the breakthrough research that has been ongoing at the Pope Paul VI Institute, methods are now available that are very effective, medically authentic and completely consistent with the teachings of the Church. In many ways, it proves the validity of what the Church has been teaching all of these years.

Q: How can Catholics find doctors in their area who can help treat their infertility but not compromise their beliefs?

Hilgers: I would personally refer them to a Web site where one can find a teacher of the Creighton Model FertilityCareTM System -- the system that has been developed at the Pope Paul VI Institute. The teachers trained in that system are allied health professionals who can guide them toward physicians who have training in these areas.

Q: The desire to have children is very strong. What do you say to couples who cannot conceive using those methods approved by the Church?

Hilgers: No program of infertility treatment is universally or 100% successful. In fact, there is no program for the treatment of infertility that even comes close.

If one watches the news or morning television programs, one gets the mistaken impression that the artificial reproductive technologies are almost the only alternative available to women with infertility problems.

What they do not tell you is that they are extremely expensive, the dropout rate in their use is extraordinarily high, and that, overall, they help less than 1% of women with fertility problems in any given year.

Physicians who are involved in the provision of Catholic reproductive health care do not have to apologize for the services they have to offer. In fact, they can be extremely proud of the good record they have and the ability to help women and married couples in a way which is morally consistent.

At the same time, adoption is a very fulfilling way of family building for many couples.

In our program at the Pope Paul VI Institute, 90% of the couples who come to us either have a biological child of their own or have an adopted family. This is an incredible success rate and we are very proud of it.

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Is Marriage a Form of Discrimination?

Commentary by R.M.T. Schmid of Oxford

ROME, JULY 12, 2004 (Zenit.org).- This commentary on same-sex unions appeared in the weekly edition of the English-language L'Osservatore Romano, by R.M.T. Schmid, of St. Hugh's College at the University of Oxford.

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Justice requires that equals be treated equally and unequals unequally. Discrimination is a distinction or the differential treatment based on such a distinction. Whether discrimination is justified depends on the answer to what Aristotle calls "the difficult question": equals and unequals in what? Unjust discrimination either fails to ask the right question or fails to act on the right answer.

In contemporary political discourse the term discrimination itself has come to signify injustice. While this reflects the truth that all human beings have equal dignity simply in virtue of belonging to the human species, it can obscure the fact that human dignity also requires recognition of the truth that, though equal, not everyone is the same.

To deny driving licenses to the blind does not assume that they do not deserve equal respect and consideration as persons, but that they are different from other persons in respects relevant to driving.

Some countries have introduced, and others are considering, the extension of the legal recognition and social benefits of marriage to persons in homosexual relationships, in order to "put an end to discrimination".

Are homosexual relationships equal to marital relationships?

The first and most ambitious argument from discrimination proposes that homosexual relationships are equal to marital relationships in those respects that justify the privileged treatment of marriage.

Exclusivity, dependence, duration and sexual nature are not the relevant aspects why marriage is privileged by the State. They are only the conditions of those aspects that make marriage unique: the vital function of procreation and the socializing functions of bridging the male-female divide and raising children.

When the State uniquely privileges marriage it takes the position that it is in the best interest of society for children to be born and raised in a community where they experience the cause of their biological and historical identity as a loving union preserved by each parent placing the needs of others over their own. By promoting marriage to be the exclusive union between one man and one woman, the State not only protects the rights of children but encourages the values of commitment, restraint and diversity that are needed to preserve community at large.

One objection to this is that not all marriages lead to children. Of course, the State cannot anticipate whether or not couples will have children, but it is clear that only one man and one woman together can be the biological parents of a child and can raise it with the complementarity of motherly and fatherly love. Marital acts are procreative in character, even if non-behavioural conditions do not allow for conception.

The other objection is that marriages fail, to the detriment of children, spouses and families at large. But if individual marriages are in crisis, the correct inference cannot be that social policy should institutionalize this failure rather than counteract it. Through marital benefits the State promotes rather than rewards ideal conditions for procreation and socialization.

Are legal recognition and governmental support justifiable?

When the State uniquely privileges marriage, homosexual relationships are in no way singled out for "unequal treatment". There are any number of relationships that do not qualify for the benefits of marriage. The question then is why homosexual relationships should be treated as uniquely analogous to marriage.

The aspect that differentiates homosexual unions from other non-marital relationships of dependence and duration is their particular sexual nature, and it is not clear why this should single them out for governmental support. Preferential treatment of this sort would discriminate against all those in dependent relationships of a non-sexual nature: an unmarried woman who cares for her aging mother or two widowed sisters who share a household could not claim privileges and protection from the State.

In France the perception of this problem has led to a more liberal model of civil unions, open to any two citizens. Even this model discriminates against some, as it provides no justification why groups or singles should be financially and socially disadvantaged.

Crucially, in an open-to-all policy marriage loses the uniquely privileged position it deserves for practical and symbolical reasons. The extension of marriage privileges to non-marital unions inevitably diverts resources, dilutes meaning and diminishes status of marriage as traditionally understood. Rhetorical efforts to maintain some distance between marriage and homosexual unions cannot hide this fact.

A minimalist version of the argument for homosexual unions suggests that with "legal recognition" nothing more is at stake than the formal registration of a social phenomenon. In most cases, though, such "legal recognition" does in fact confer to homosexual relationships privileges previously reserved to marriage. This involves a re-evaluation of what contributes to the common good, how social benefits should be distributed and what the rights of children are.

But even if no benefits and privileges were involved, to single out the social phenomenon of homosexual relationships for formal registration is either arbitrary or it suggests an analogy to the only other legally recognized relationship, which is marriage.

In an attempt to justify this analogy, proponents resort to the category of "committed relationships" to describe both homosexual and marital relationships. This falsely suggests that commitment in relationships is worthy of privileges for its own sake, while in fact the privileges promote the vital and social functions of marriage, for which commitment is only the condition.

Consequently, for the State to promote a homogenized vision of "committed relationships" amounts to the decision no longer to encourage ideal conditions for procreation and socialization.

Conferral of marital status to homosexual unions?

The second argument from discrimination takes a different approach. Now the contention is not that homosexual unions are equal to marriage in relevant aspects but that the disadvantages homosexual persons suffer in society ought to be compensated for by conferring marital status to homosexual unions.

Because only homosexual persons are disadvantaged in this particular way the question whether the State should extend the privileges to other non-marital relationships does not arise. The burden of proof then no longer lies with homosexual unions and their contribution to society in comparison to marriage, but with individual homosexuals and the disadvantages they suffer.

Naturally, the argument will encounter less sympathy if these sufferings are in any way self-inflicted - hence, the importance of shifting responsibility away from those who share the homosexual identity to others who by their actions allegedly make it oppressive.

The argument from identity often assumes a unique advance in knowledge and understanding of human nature and elevates contemporary perceptions and practices to a normative status. Different perceptions, such as the traditional heterosexual model of marriage envisaged by Plato and Aristotle, are explained by their relation to an inferior understanding of the "facts" about homosexuality. Their objection to homosexuality, based on the notion that homosexual persons engage in unnatural and therefore immoral acts, now can be dismissed because we "know" that homosexuality is a "natural condition" and ought to be treated as an "identity".

But are these established facts?

While so far there is no empirical evidence that homosexuality is biologically predetermined and unchangeable, there seem to be biological factors that can contribute to the development of homosexual inclination, just as there are in the case of aggressiveness or athleticism. However, the claim of a biologically determined and clearly delineated homosexual identity is rendered problematic in theory by Foucault's sexual constructivism and in practice by the bisexual and paedophile fringes of the category.

Regardless of whether sexual orientation is chosen, biologically determined or psychologically enforced (as it seems to be the case with many victims of abuse), no account of the origins of homosexuality can establish that the inclination must constitute an identity.

Next to the identity claim, the argument for compensation has to rely on the perception that the disadvantages homosexual persons face are substantial.

In this regard there can be no doubt that the feeling of being ostracized or persecuted among many homosexual persons is real, even if the truth of the feeling is increasingly difficult to establish as a truth of fact. Homosexual persons enjoy the full protection of the law, and in many countries additional antidiscrimination laws are in place that single out sexual orientation for particular protection. They enjoy above average professional success and financial power (in the U.S. almost twice the average household income) and are present in high proportion in politics and among opinion-shaping elites.

This is not to say that they do not face very real problems, but so far it has been impossible to show that they are related to societal discrimination. The significantly higher rates of mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide among homosexual persons seem to be independent not only of HIV status, but there is no reduction in these rates among those who live in a social milieu where homosexuality is widely accepted and legally recognized.

If social acceptance does not affect these problems, it is unclear how increased social status could remedy them.

Opposition to homosexual unions does not mean lack of respect

Thin evidence for societal discrimination weakens the compensation argument, as the discrimination for which marriage is supposed to compensate appears to consist mostly in the fact that homosexual persons cannot marry. Because this is true for any number of relationships, the question returns why homosexual persons should be singled out for preferential treatment.

Here emerges the perhaps most problematic aspect to the compensation argument. If it turns out that the discrimination to be compensated for consists not so much in acts that unjustly discriminate against homosexual persons but simply in the fact that homosexual behaviour is morally controversial, this raises questions of freedom of conscience.

Is the introduction of homosexual unions ultimately to symbolize that there is no right to freedom of conscience on the matter of homosexual acts and that conscientious objectors are to be marginalized in public life?

Already the appeal to conscience in any matter pertaining to homosexuality risks being dismissed as "homophobia". Understood as a pathological fear, this disqualifies the position of opponents as an entirely irrational stance.

Beyond that, it has also come to imply an indifferent or even hostile attitude. Because the condemnation of homosexual behaviour objects to acts, not to persons, the conclusion that any opposition to homosexual unions indicates lack of respect and care for people is a blatant non sequitur.

If the line of reasoning is that homosexuality is so central to the human person that it is impossible to morally disapprove of homosexual acts and not thereby discriminate against the person, then by the same token conscientious beliefs central to the human person could not be contradicted without discriminating against the person.

The exhortation that "religious belief must not lead to the discrimination of homosexual persons by refusing them the right to marry" sets up a false problem. Not all arguments made by religious believers can be reduced to their religious beliefs or are justified on the basis of their beliefs alone, and not all the reasons why the State should uniquely privilege marriage depend on the immorality of homosexual acts.

The contribution of religious believers to the public debate on homosexual unions cannot be dismissed as inherently irrational and biased without denying them equality as citizens.

Moral objections to sexual orientation are not necessarily irrational, and it is only unjust to discriminate on the basis of these objections in areas where the sexual orientation of the individual is irrelevant. It cannot be allowed that in political discussion pathological irrationality, bad motives or even hatred are freely ascribed to opponents of homosexual unions, disregarding basic rules of evidence.

The same is true for the voice of the Catholic Church: Scripture and Tradition are unequivocal in the condemnation of homosexual behaviour, but the difference between homosexual relationships and marriage has not been invented by Christianity, nor is it upheld only by Catholics.

If in the name of truth rational arguments can be dismissed because they accord with conscientious beliefs, and in the name of justice conscientious belief can be silenced, then freedom is not for all.

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Christian Personalism's Place in Bioethics

Interview With Bishop Elio Sgreccia

VATICAN CITY, JULY 6, 2004 (Zenit.org).- In the face of approaches that diminish man and even attack respect for life, Christian personalism "reveals itself as an indispensable basic option," explains Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

It is, moreover, a cultural platform that has given origin in Rome just over a year ago, at the initiative of the Center of Bioethics of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, to the International Federation of Centers and Institutes of Bioethics of Personalist Inspiration (FIBIP).

On June 21-22, the federation held its second congress at the university. To understand Christian personalism and the FIBIP better, ZENIT interviewed its president, Bishop Sgreccia.

Q: What is understood by Christian personalism?

Bishop Sgreccia: When, 20 years ago, the School of Medicine of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart decided to establish the Institute of Bioethics, a choice was made of constructive and solid content, namely, to put at the center of bioethical reflection the dignity of the human person, recognized in every human being from conception until natural death, in all conditions of life, sickness, proximity of death, handicap.

This idea corresponds to the position of Christian personalism, especially from the ontological point of view, which refers to the human being, who must be valued and promoted. This choice has revealed itself increasingly as a basic, indispensable and distinctive option.

Q: There are other schools of bioethics that describe themselves as more oriented to freedom ...

Bishop Sgreccia: Freedom does not subsist without responsibility. For example, a family that builds itself in freedom without responsibility means that it is open to divorce, abortion, de facto unions and even homosexual unions.

There is no freedom without responsible commitment toward other human beings; for this reason the freedom of personalism is true freedom, charged with responsibility.

Q: There is also a current of thought that defines itself as utilitarian.

Bishop Sgreccia: Utilitarianism is oriented to the solution of problems, to cancer sufferers or terminal patients, only insofar as they are useful, and thus proposes euthanasia and no access to certain treatments or surgical interventions for the elderly.

Utilitarianism values persons and treatments according to their economic viability. Therefore, it proposes taking human embryos as they might be useful to produce medicines, to produce cellular lines, all this without respecting human dignity.

We are also opposed to so-called contractualism where ethics follows the majority. Executing a contract between social agents results in attacking those in society who are voiceless, namely, children, the sick, the elderly, the mentally ill, the disabled.

These are persons who cannot enter into a contract, while there are persons who negotiate for them to their detriment. This varied and diverse cultural scene calls for dialogue with personalism which is a strong concept, for a committed dialogue which appreciates the whole man and all men, and the common good, which is not only the good of the majority, but the good of all through the good of each without neglecting anyone, especially the neediest.

Q: What place does personalism have in the Federation of Bioethics Centers?

Bishop Sgreccia: Personalism is the cultural platform on which different bioethics centers have found themselves, among which are the School of Bioethics of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, and other centers of Argentina, Chile, the United States, etc.

It was born from their spontaneous desire to be together. Established last year, then made official as the Federation of Centers and Institutes of Bioethics, it assumed Christian personalism as its fundamental philosophy. The federation has the formal affiliation of 31 centers in five continents. We have received new requests for affiliation which we are studying.

Besides this organization, we organized two days of study to see how, through personalism, we could address certain problems, not only those of biomedicine, which perhaps are many, but also those of health education, health, ecology, and bio-law.

The European Constitution has just been launched and, especially on the concept of family and the mention of the Christian roots, it doesn't seem to move in the direction of Christian personalism. What is your opinion in this regard?

Bishop Sgreccia: I think that this Constitution does not respect the European reality. From the objective point of view, it is culturally lacking and does not reflect the truth. Europe has a multi-century and multi-generational relationship with the Christian tradition. To deny this is a historical and cultural falsehood.

Moreover, not to pronounce oneself on decisive values such as those relating to the family, which is the fundamental cell of civil and social coexistence; not to stress respect of life from procreation to natural death; not to make reference to these strong values -- means to prefigure a Europe that will be lacking in adequate cultural instruments for its construction.

It is known, for example, that in demographic terms, Europe is committing suicide. The percentages of fertility are very low; growth is under zero. We are witnessing the phenomenon of empty cradles. It is clear that children are born from families. To destabilize the family means to undermine the process of procreation, not to defend the family and life means not to prefigure a Europe of the future.

It is well known that even the economy cannot make do without solid families and many children. Several Nobel Prize recipients have demonstrated that an economy is solid when there is a sufficient number of children born in solid families.

Immigration is helping us, but the European population is moving backward. Europe must choose if it wants to be an old continent in which only the ruins remain, or if it wishes to be a Europe in continuity and confront its human capital with other cultures.

It is obvious that the loss of Europeans would be a loss for the whole world. The cultural and civil qualities of Europe were developed thanks to the interior cement of the Christian faith. It is a real shame to see the Constitution born under the wind of secularization, a wind which I hope is passing away.

Q: The Earth Charter is mentioned in the European Constitution, which some Catholic scholars like Michel Schooyans define as neo-pagan. What do you think?

Bishop Sgreccia: I think analogously that the Earth Charter suffers from a biocentric approach, where man is no more than one element among others, defined in fact as the most harmful of the biosphere.

However, I think that to safeguard the earth and maintain its great heritage it is important to exalt human responsibility, because the only being responsible for the other beings is man. Nothing less can come about from his humanity and his responsibility. To wish to reject man's activity in the universe means to allow the patrimony of all the several forms of life to drift.
 

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