Michael Cook

Not with a bang, but a whimper: the quiet demise of embryonic stem cell research

Michael Cook
By Michael Cook
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June 4, 2013 (Mercatornet.com) - Let’s wind the clock back to 2003. In January wheelchair-bound quadriplegic actor Christopher Reeve visited Australia to promote the legalisation of “therapeutic cloning”. This was absolutely necessary, he said, or patients would die needlessly. Scepticism about the potential of embryonic stem cells was utterly unwarranted. "That's a myth,” he told his Australian audience. “That's not true. Don't let anyone tell you it is a pipedream."

In July that year the New England Journal of Medicine, the world’s leading medical journal, published a review article about the “promise of universal healing” in embryonic stem cells. “The Promethean prospect of eternal regeneration awaits us, while time's vulture looks on,” the hyperventilating author wrote.

In short, people were excited. So excited, in fact, that in 2005 Australia passed legislation enabling “therapeutic cloning” for research purposes.

It’s hard to recapture the intensity of that debate, in Australia and elsewhere. The cause was urgent. “We have lost so much time already, and I just really can't bear to lose any more,” said former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Scientists became political activists.  They lobbied politicians and insisted that therapeutic cloning would lead to cures for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. "I have never seen in my career a biological tool as powerful as the stem cells. It addresses every single human disease," said Hans Keirstead, of the University of California, Irvine.

Dissenters contended that adult stem cells already offered ethical avenues to cures and that embryonic stem cells would never work. Embryos were human beings and that it was moral madness to treat human life as a research tool. Women would be victims, too, as therapeutic cloning would require huge stocks of eggs. And besides, for a number of reasons, it just would not work.

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The stakes were immense and the dissenters lost. Ethics had to take a back seat to science. Bioethicist Ruth Faden and stem cell scientist John Gearhart, both leaders in their field, spoke for many: “We believe that the obligation to relieve human suffering binds us all and justifies the instrumental use of early embryonic life.”

But the cures never came.

In the past ten years the single most memorable event in embryonic stem cell research has been setting a world record for scientific fraud. In 2004 and 2005 Science published two papers by Hwang Woo-suk, a South Korean scientist. He claimed that he had successfully isolated human embryonic stem cells. Korea printed stamps in his honour and he was feted as an international celebrity. But he was a charlatan, his results were bogus and he had obtained human eggs unethically.

Press releases continued to gush from stem cell institutes, but they were always about promising developments rather than proven cures. In 2011, after many false starts and a year after launching a human trial for spinal cord injuries to cure people like Christopher Reeve, the California-based biotechnology firm Geron pulled the plug on all of its embryonic stem cell research to focus on cancer drugs. It had to: it was going broke.

The reason why stem cell research with embryos has faded from the headlines is that it has been superseded by “induced pluripotent stem cells”. In 2007 Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka showed that it was possible to create stem cell lines from skin cells without destroying embryos. Almost immediately leading stem cell scientists abandoned embryonic stem cell research. Yamanaka – a man who had spurned embryonic stem cell research as unethical -- won the Nobel Prize in Medicine last year.

For various reasons some scientists continue to champion the cause of hESCs. Earlier this month researchers at Oregon Health and Science University announced that they had cloned human embryos and successfully extracted embryonic stem cells. The study was published in the journal Cell after a lightning peer review. It was a “tour de force” and “an unparalleled achievement”, said George Daly of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

His jubilation was short-lived.

The main effect of this paper was to evoke the nightmare of the Hwang scandal. Sharp-eyed readers noticed that some images had been duplicated.  Clouds began to gather over the results. “It's a degree of sloppiness that you wouldn't expect in a paper that was going to have this high profile,” an expert told Nature. “One worries if there is more than meets the eye and whether there are other issues with the work that are not as apparent.”

So this is the sputtering end of the greatest bioethical battle of the 21st century: just another a blip of embarrassment in the 24/7 news cycle. As the Boston Globe has pointed out, “The emergence of reprogrammed stem cells, the difficulty of the involved method, and the obstacles to obtaining donor eggs for the procedure all make the advance more an important technical feat than a game-changer for stem cell scientists or a platform for new therapies.”

Isn’t it about time to establish a Stem Cell Truth and Reconciliation Commission? To get government funding so that they could play God with human embryos, scientists and bioethicists barnstormed, fibbed, exaggerated, hyped, and caricatured. It was a brutal battle in which truth came second. "People need a fairy tale," said Ronald D.G. McKay, another leading stem cell scientist.

Foes of embryo research were called troglodytes and religious fundamentalists. Their scientific credentials were questioned. They were accused of being callous and indifferent to the suffering of patients with chronic illness.

And yet they were right.

Not one person has been cured with embryonic stem cells. Not one. There is still a long way to go before Yamanaka’s cells can be used to treat patients. But the solution, when comes, will not require the destruction of embryos.

Isn’t anyone prepared to say, “Sorry”?

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. Reprinted under a Creative Commons License. 

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Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
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Vatican pressing forward with reform of US feminist nuns: Cardinal Müller

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says the Vatican is pressing forward with plans to reform the U.S.-based Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

In an interview published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, the cardinal said that the reform of the LCWR, which was undertaken after an assessment of the group found serious doctrinal problems, will be carried out with the goal of helping them "rediscover their identity.”

“Congregations have no more vocations and risk dying out," Müller said. "We have first of all tried to reduce hostility and tensions, partly thanks to Bishop Sartain whom we sent to negotiate with them; he is a very gentle man. We wish to stress that we are not misogynists, we are not women gobblers! Of course we have a different concept of religious life but we hope to help them rediscover their identity.”

Moreover, the cardinal said that problems specific to the LCWR are not a reflection of all the women religious in the US.

"We need to bear in mind that they do not represent all US nuns, but just a group of nuns who form part of an association,” Müller said.

“We have received many distressed letters from other nuns belonging to the same congregations, who are suffering a great deal because of the direction in which the LCWR is steering their mission.”

Cardinal Müller's remarks confirmed the assertion he and the Holy See’s delegate to the LCWR, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, made in an address to LCWR officials in Rome on April 30, that the theological drift the feminist nuns are taking constitutes a radical departure from the foundational theological concepts of Catholicism.

The Holy See “believes that the charismatic vitality of religious life can only flourish within the ecclesial faith of the Church,” Müller said in the address.

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“The LCWR, as a canonical entity dependent on the Holy See, has a profound obligation to the promotion of that faith as the essential foundation of religious life. Canonical status and ecclesial vision go hand-in-hand, and at this phase of the implementation of the Doctrinal Assessment, we are looking for a clearer expression of that ecclesial vision and more substantive signs of collaboration,” he stated.

The LCWR has openly defied the mandate of reform intended to bring their organization into line with basic Catholic doctrine on the nature of God, the Church, and sexual morality.

Among the CDF’s directives, to which LCWR has strenuously objected, is the requirement that “speakers and presenters at major programs” be approved by Archbishop Sartain. This, Müller has explained, was decided in order to “avoid difficult and embarrassing situations wherein speakers use an LCWR forum to advance positions at odds with the teaching of the Church.”

The LCWR has invited speakers to their Annual Assembly such as New Age guru Barbara Marx Hubbard, and Sr. Laurie Brink, who is particularly noted for flagrantly denying the Divinity of Christ and telling the sisters that to maintain their “prophetic” place in society they need to “go beyond” the Church and even “go beyond Jesus.”

In one of the first public statements of his pontificate, Pope Francis affirmed that the investigation and reform of the LCWR must continue.

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Brian Fisher

Birth mothers: real heroes of the pro-life movement

Brian Fisher
By Brian Fisher
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What does it mean to be brave? Is it the doctor who dedicates himself to improving the health of a third-world nation? Is it the woman who faces her third round of chemotherapy to fight the progression of cancer? Is it the teacher who forgoes the comforts of a suburban school to reach minorities in the inner city? All of these are examples of bravery demonstrated in exceedingly challenging circumstances. And our society longs for stories of bravery to inspire us and fill us with hope.

As someone who works day in and day out with those on the front lines of helping rescue babies from abortion, I’m no stranger to stories of bravery. I see courage every day in the eyes of the men and women who sacrifice their time and energy to help women facing unplanned pregnancies. I see it every time a young mom — despite being pressured by her parents or significant other to get an abortion — chooses LIFE. And perhaps more profoundly than in any other situation, I see it when an expectant mom with no relational support, job, or income chooses to place her baby for adoption rather than abort her son or daughter.

This was Nicky’s situation.

When Nicky found herself pregnant with her boyfriend’s child, her life was already in shambles. During her 26 years, Nicky had already given birth to and surrendered sole custody of a little girl, committed several felonies, lived in her car, lost several jobs, and barely subsisted on minimum wage. So when she met up with an old boyfriend, Brandon, Nicky believed she was being given a second chance at happiness. “Our first year together was beautiful. We were getting to know each other and deciding if we would stay together forever.” Unfortunately, a positive pregnancy test result changed everything.

“When I told him I was pregnant, Brandon sat down on the bed, looked me in the eyes, and told me to ‘get an abortion’.” Nicky says those three little words changed everything for her. “I became depressed living with someone who wanted his child ‘dealt with.’”  Like thousands of women every day, Nicky began searching online for information on abortion, hoping her boyfriend would eventually change his mind. Through our strategic marketing methods, Online for Life was able to guide Nicky to a life-affirming pregnancy center where she received grace-filled counsel. “The woman I sat with was beyond wonderful. She helped me to just breathe and ask God what to do….And so I did.”

Nicky left the pregnancy center that day with a new resolve to choose life for her child, even though she still wasn’t sure how she’d financially support a child. “I was alone with just $10 in my pocket…and without any type of plan for what I was going to do.” So Nicky relied on the support of the staff she met at the life-affirming pregnancy center. With their help and through a chain of fortunate events, Nicky was put in contact with the couple who would eventually become her daughter’s adoptive parents.

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After meeting this couple face to face and coming to terms with her own desperate situation, Nicky conceded that the best thing for her unborn child would be to place her in someone else’s loving home. She told Brandon about her plans and he agreed that adoption would give their child the best chance at a happy and secure future. He even returned home to help Nicky prepare for the birth of their child. “The weeks leading up to my delivery were filled with a mixture of laughter, tears, protectiveness and sadness,” Nicky recalls. But one sentiment continued to be shared with her. “Brave…so brave.” That’s what everyone from the life-affirming pregnancy center to the adoption agency to the birthing center kept calling Nicky. “The nurses kept coming up to me and telling me they were honored to care for and treat someone like me.” After several weeks of preparation, Nicky finally gave birth to a healthy baby girl, and she made the dreams of a couple from the other side of the country come true.

Nicky’s adoption story continues to be riddled with a strange combination of pain and joy. “I cry every day, but I know my baby, who came out of a very bad time, ended up being loved by people from across the country.” When asked what message she’d like to share with the world about her decision to give up her child for adoption, Nicky responds, The voice of the mother who gives up a baby for adoption isn’t heard. We need to change that.”

To learn more about Online for Life and how we’re helping to make stories like Nicky and her daughter’s story a possibility, please visit OnlineforLife.org.

Author, speaker, and business leader Brian Fisher is the President and Co-Founder of Online for Life, a transparent, metric-oriented, compassion-driven nonprofit organization dedicated to helping rescue babies and their families from abortion through technology and grace.

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New York farmers stop hosting weddings after $13,000 fine for declining lesbian ceremony

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By Dustin Siggins

New York farmers Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who were ordered last week to pay $13,000 for not hosting a same-sex "wedding," say they are closing that part of their operation.

"Going forward, the Giffords have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their farm, other than the ones already under contract," said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) lawyer James Trainor. ADF represented the Giffords in their legal fight against New York's non-discrimination law.

Last week, the Giffords were ordered to pay a $10,000 fine to the state of New York and $3,000 in damages to a lesbian couple, Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, who approached them in 2012 about hosting their "wedding." The Giffords, who are Roman Catholic, said their religious convictions would not let them host the ceremony, but that McCarthy and Erwin could hold their reception on their property.

Unbeknownst to the Giffords, the lesbian couple recorded the two-to-three minute conversation. After declining to hold the reception on the Giffords' farm, on which they live and rent property, the lesbian couple decided to make a formal complaint to the state's Division of Human Rights.

Eventually, Judge Migdalia Pares ruled that the Giffords' farm, Liberty Ridge Farm, constitutes a public accommodation because space is rented on the grounds and fees are collected from the public. The Giffords argued that because they live on the property with their children, they should be exempt from the state law, but Pares said that this does not mean their business is private.

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Trainor told TheBlaze that the Giffords' decision to end wedding ceremonies at Liberty Ridge “will hurt their business in the short run," but that was preferable to violating their religious beliefs.

“The Giffords serve all people with respect and care. They have hired homosexual employees and have hosted events for same-sex couples,” he said.

However, "since the state of New York has essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions," Trainor explained to LifeSiteNews. "No American should be forced by the government to choose between their livelihood and their faith, but that’s exactly the choice the state of New York has forced upon the Giffords."

"They will continue to host wedding receptions," said Trainor.

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