Hilary White

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Pro-life world debating Nobel Prize for adult stem cell breakthrough

Hilary White
Hilary White
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October 22, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Pro-life advocates are debating the awarding of the Nobel Prize for medicine to Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, the discoverer of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, with some outright condemning the work and others calling it a boon that will advance ethical medical technology.

In 2007, Yamanaka, a researcher at Kyoto University, published a paper in the journals Nature and Stem Cell announcing that his team had created embryo-like stem cells from the skin cells of mice. The process he developed, using a set of four genes to re-program the cells, was hailed around the world as a possible solution to the unethical use of living human embryos to obtain “pluripotent stem cells” – i.e. cells that can be induced to become any type of tissue in the body.

Until this discovery, the scientific world was largely convinced that adult stem cells were limited and only embryonic stem cells could be malleable enough to produce the many different tissue types needed for medical applications. 

At the news of the announcement from the Swedish Nobel Prize committee, on October 8th, American Life League (ALL) were quick off the mark with a press release condemning the award. The pro-life organization touted the virtues of adult stem cells, while raising concerns about the source of the genes that are being used to re-program the cells. Some pro-life critics have observed that Yamanaka’s team used the now infamous HEK 293 cell line, which was cultured from the kidney cells of a child aborted in 1971, in their research.

“With such complex subject matter, we call for vigilance,” said ALL. “Technical language and prestigious prizes will not hide the truth. To encourage the murder of preborn human beings in order to facilitate scientific research is unethical and criminal.”

Pro-life opinion, however, appears to remain divided, and with Yamanaka’s work being the most cutting-edge of the day, is likely to remain so for some time. While American Life League was condemning the work, E. Christian Brugger, the Stafford Chair of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, wrote in the National Catholic Register, “Most any science can be used wrongly, especially if it’s used in ways that harm or destroy human life.

“But since the production of pluripotent stem cells from somatic cells by reprogramming need not involve bringing into existence, experimenting upon or destroying human embryos, iPSC research in itself seems to me to be morally unproblematic.”

Dr. David Prentice, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, and former professor of Life Sciences at Indiana State University, also came out in support of Yamanaka’s research, while adding the caveat that the “gold standard” is still adult stem cell research, with adult stem cells already being successfully used in a variety of treatments.

Meanwhile, some pro-life bloggers strongly criticized Yamanaka for using HEK 293, a stem cell line sold by biomedical suppliers and used widely in the field of biotechnological research. Although the use of the cells in medical research is condemned as unethical by pro-life ethicists, some have argued that the principle of “remote cooperation with evil” by can be applied to the use of treatments and vaccines developed with HEK 293 cells. In February 2009, Bishop Robert Vasa, a strongly pro-life Catholic bishop in Oregon, issued a statement saying that the use of vaccines developed with HEK 293 can be permissible for Catholics to use with the right intention, given the distance in time, or “remoteness,” between their development and the abortion of the child.

Rebecca Taylor, a Technologist in Molecular Biology MB(ASCP), who writes the pro-life Mary Meets Dolly bioethics blog, condemned the use of HEK 293 in Yamanka’s research, but added that she believes “iPSCs themselves are not inherently immoral.”

“Cell lines of illicit origin have been used in developing this technology (and unfortunately are used ubiquitously in many areas of research), and it is the use of those cell line to which we should object, not the iPSCs themselves,” she said.

Dr. Yamanaka’s work has long been welcomed in the broader scientific community as both a major scientific advance, and a way to move beyond the contentious debate over embryonic stem cells. Dr. Ian Wilmut, the cloning expert who created Dolly the world’s first cloned sheep, told British media in 2007 that the discovery would put an end to attempts to create cloned embryos to obtain stem cells which had been problematic for both ethical and practical reasons. He said he would be giving up cloning experiments and instead following up on Dr. Yamanaka’s work

Some pro-life experts were cautiously supportive at the time, saying that more time was needed to examine Dr. Yamanaka’s methods to ensure that unforseen problems did not develop. Dr. Dianne Irving, a bioethics expert at Georgetown University, told LifeSiteNews.com in 2009, “If it can be shown that the research is truly accurately performed and does not involve the use of embryo DNA or foetal material at any stage, then it should be at least given a chance.”

Further examination of the techniques, she said, was required to ensure that the iPS technique does not result in the creation of totipotent stem cells, that is, those that can develop into an embryo. She also was cautious about the use of HEK cells.

Yamanaka’s own explanations of his motives have apparently been mixed. At the time his discovery was published in the journals Nature and Stem Cell, Yamanaka urged other researchers not to stop using embryos for research. However, at the same time, he told the London Times in an interview, “Neither eggs nor embryos are necessary. I’ve never worked with either.”

In a New York Times interview in 2007, he described looking at an embryo through a microscope at a fertility clinic, “When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters. I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”

Professor Yamanaka said in 2006 that it was the ethical question that most motivated him to discover the secret to creating pluripotent stem cells from a differentiated cell coming from a patient, a technique that also resolved the immune response problem.

His achievement was hailed this month by Julian Savulescu, director of Oxford University’s Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and a utilitarian bioethicist who has vehemently supported the use of living human embryos for research. Savulescu told National Public Radio in the US, “Yamanaka has taken people’s ethical concerns seriously about embryo research and modified the trajectory of research into a path that is acceptable for all.”

“He deserves not only a Nobel Prize for Medicine, but a Nobel Prize for Ethics.”

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Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Vatican's Apostolic Signatura Steve Jalsevac / LifeSiteNews
John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry

Breaking: Sources confirm Cardinal Burke will be removed. But will he attend the Synod?

John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry
By John-Henry Westen

Sources in Rome have confirmed to LifeSiteNews that Cardinal Raymond Burke, the head of the Vatican’s highest court, known as the Apostolic Signatura, is to be removed from his post as head of the Vatican dicastery and given a non-curial assignment as patron of the Order of Malta.

The timing of the move is key since Cardinal Burke is currently on the list to attend October’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family. He is attending in his capacity as head of one of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, so if he is removed prior to the Synod it could mean he would not be able to attend.

Burke has been one of the key defenders in the lead-up to the Synod of the Church's traditional practice of withholding Communion from Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried.

Most of the Catholic world first learned of the shocking development through Vatican reporter Sandro Magister, whose post ‘Exile to Malta for Cardinal Burke’ went out late last night.

If Burke’s removal from the Signatura is confirmed, said Magister, the cardinal “would not be promoted - as some are fantasizing in the blogosphere - to the difficult but prestigious see of Chicago, but rather demoted to the pompous - but ecclesiastically very modest - title of ‘cardinal patron’ of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, replacing the current head, Paolo Sardi, who recently turned 80.”

At 66, Cardinal Burke is still in his Episcopal prime.

The prominent traditional Catholic blog Rorate Caeli goes as far as to say, “It would be the greatest humiliation of a Curial Cardinal in living memory, truly unprecedented in modern times: considering the reasonably young age of the Cardinal, such a move would be, in terms of the modern Church, nothing short than a complete degradation and a clear punishment.”

On Tuesday, American traditionalist priest-blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf also hinted he had heard the move was underway. “I’ve been biting the inside of my mouth for a while now,” he wrote. “The optimist in me was saying that the official announcement would not be made until after the Synod of Bishops, or at least the beginning of the Synod. Or at all.”

“It’s not good news,” he added.

Both Magister and Zuhlsdorf predicted that the controversial move would unleash a wave of simultaneous jubilation from dissident Catholics and criticism from faithful Catholics. The decision to remove Cardinal Burke from his position on the Congregation for Bishops last December caused a public outpouring of concern and dismay from Catholic and pro-life leaders across the globe.

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Both men speculated on the reasons for the ouster. 

Magister pointed out that Burke is the latest in a line of ‘Ratzingerian’ prelates to undergo the axe.

“In his first months as bishop of Rome, pope Bergoglio immediately provided for the transfer to lower-ranking positions of three prominent curial figures: Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, and Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, considered for their theological and liturgical sensibilities among the most ‘Ratzingerian’ of the Roman curia,” said Magister.

He added: “Another whose fate appears to be sealed is the Spanish archbishop of Opus Dei Celso Morga Iruzubieta.”

Fr. Zuhlsdorf observed that Pope Francis may also be shrinking the Curial offices and thus reducing the number of Cardinals needed to fill those posts. He adds however, “It would be naïve in the extreme to think that there are lacking near Francis’s elbows those who have been sharpening their knives for Card. Burke and for anyone else associated closely with Pope Benedict.” 

“This is millennial, clerical blood sport.”

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Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

New York mother who killed newborn given 12 years in prison

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By Dustin Siggins
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Maria Guaman-Guaman

An Ecuadorean mother who pled guilty to killing her newborn baby in New York has been given 12 years in prison.

Maria Guaman-Guaman, an illegal immigrant who will be deported after she is released, was convicted on first-degree manslaughter for strangling her son to death. She originally faced a second-degree murder charge, but after two psychiatrists found that she was not fully mentally capable, the charge was lowered, per existing law.

That changed the potential prison time from 25 years to life for second-degree murder to 5-to-25 years for the lesser charge. She pled guilty on June 23, where it was expected she would be sentenced to 15 years in prison.

However, during the sentencing phase of her trial, state Supreme Court Justice William Kelly said that the case was not simply a matter of what Guaman-Guaman's actions entailed. He noted that psychiatric reports said she suffered brain damage from being kicked by a horse, as well as a small level of mental retardation. The accident left her disfigured, and with only one eye.

Kelly said that the modern stresses in Guaman-Guaman's life, such as being poor and isolated, as well as long hours doing menial factory work and caring for a three-year old daughter, made for an "extreme emotional disturbance" when her son was born. According to her defense attorney, Guaman-Guaman was also paying off a $10,000 debt that allowed her to come to the U.S.

"I don't think this was a deliberate, conscious decision," Kelly said. He settled on a 12-year sentence with a five-year supervision period, as well as deportation.

Guaman-Guaman said that she considered giving up her son for adoption, including to a church, but "the devil entered her body" and she killed the baby. She put him in a recycling bin at a convenience store, and he was later found at a recycling center. Police nicknamed him "Baby Angel" as they worked to identify him.

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Msgr. Charles Pope

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Homosexual acts cannot be approved or celebrated by the Church – Here’s why

Msgr. Charles Pope
By Msgr. Charles Pope

In recent years, homosexuality has frequently been in the news. An increasingly nationwide effort to make homosexual acts something to celebrate has gained great ground and sowed serious confusion even among those who describe themselves as Christian and Catholic. Hence, it is necessary once again to instruct on this matter and to reassert what Scripture plainly teaches and why the Church cannot affirm what the world demands we affirm.

An essential fact is that the Scriptures are very clear in unambiguously, uncompromisingly declaring homosexual acts as a serious sin and as disordered. “Disordered” here means that they are acts that are not ordered to their proper end or purpose. Sexual acts are, by their very nature, ordered to procreation and to the bonding of the mother and father who will raise the children conceived by their sexual intimacy. These ends or purposes have been intrinsically joined by God, and we are not to separate what what God has joined.  In the Old Testament, Scripture describes the sinful and disordered quality of homosexual acts by the use of the word “abomination,” and in the New Testament, St. Paul calls homosexual acts “paraphysin” (contrary to nature).

Attempts by some to reinterpret Scripture to mean something else are fanciful, at best, and  use theories that require twisted logic and questionable historical views in an attempt to set aside the very plain meaning of the texts.

Likewise in the wider culture, among those who do not accept Scripture, there has been an increasingly insistent refusal to acknowledge what the design of the human body plainly discloses:that the man is for the woman, and the woman is for the man. The man is not for the man, nor the woman for the woman. This is plainly set forth in the design of our bodies. The outright refusal to see what is plainly visible and literally built into our bodies is not only a sign of intellectual stubbornness and darkness (cf Rom 1:18, 21), but it also leads to significant issues with health, even to deadly diseases.

And we who believe in the definitive nature of scriptural teaching on all aspects of human sexuality are not merely considered out-of-date by many in our culture, but are being increasingly pressured to affirm what we cannot reasonably affirm. Cardinal Francis George recently expressed the current situation in this way:

In recent years, society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered “sinful.” Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The “ruling class,” those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone. We are told that, even in marriage itself, there is no difference between men and women, although nature and our very bodies clearly evidence that men and women are not interchangeable at will in forming a family. Nevertheless, those who do not conform to the official religion, we are warned, place their citizenship in danger [1].

Whatever pressures many may wish to place on the Church to conform, however they may wish to “shame” us into compliance by labeling us with adjectives such as bigoted, homophobic, or intolerant, we cannot comply with their demands. We must remain faithful to scriptural teaching, to our commitment to natural law, and to Sacred Tradition. We simply cannot affirm things such as fornication and homosexual acts and reject the revelation of the body as it comes from God.

What some call intolerance or “hatred” is, for us who believe, rather, a principled stance wherein we see ourselves as unable to overrule the clear and unambiguous teaching of Holy Scripture. And this teaching exists at every stage of revelation, from the opening pages right through to the final books of Sacred Writ. The Church has no power to override what God has said; we cannot cross out sentences or tear pages from the Scripture. Neither can we simply reverse Sacred Tradition or pretend that the human body, as God has designed it, does not manifest what it clearly does.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church announces this principled stance with eloquence and with an understanding of the difficulties encountered by those with same-sex attraction:

Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. 

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection (CCC 2357-2359).

We can speak no other way. We do not detest those of same sex-attraction, but we as a Church owe them the same truth we have always proclaimed as coming from God, and out of respect we must  hold them to the same standards of chastity by which all must live.

There can be no sexual intercourse for any who are not in a valid heterosexual marriage. We cannot give approval for it; we do not have the power to do this, no matter how insistent, forceful, or even punitive the demands that we do so become. This will not change because it cannot change.

Homosexuals are not being singled out in this matter. As we saw in yesterday’s post, fornication (pre-marital sex) is also set forth by scripture and tradition as a very serious mortal sin (cf Eph 5:5- 7; Gal 5:16-21; Rev 21:5-8; Rev. 22:14-16; Mt. 15:19-20; 1 Cor 6:9-20; Col 3:5-6; 1 Thess 4:1-8; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Heb 13:4). It cannot be approved no matter how widespread its acceptance becomes. One standard of sexual norms applies to all people, whatever their orientation.

Sadly those of unalterable same-sex attraction have no recourse to marriage. But all of us bear burdens of one sort or another, and not everyone is able to partake in everything life offers. For the sake of holiness, heroic witness is necessary, and many of those with same-sex attraction do live celibately and give admirable witness to the power of grace.

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God must have the final word in this. And so I present to you here some selections from Sacred Scripture that clearly teach against homosexual acts. The witness of Scripture in this regard is very consistent across all the ages of biblical Revelation. From the opening pages of Holy Writ to the final books, homosexual acts, along with fornication and adultery, are unambiguously forbidden and described as gravely sinful. In addition, homosexual acts, because they are contrary to nature and to the revelation of the body and the nature of the sexual act, are often described as acts of depravity or as an “abomination.” Some consider such words unpleasant or hurtful. I understand, but they are the words that Scripture uses. Here is a sample of Scriptural teaching against homosexual acts:

  1. You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (Leviticus 18: 22).

  2. If a man lies with a male as with a female, both of them have committed an abomination (Lev 20:13).

  3. Likewise, the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah depicts, among other things, the sinfulness of homosexual activity. It is too lengthy to reproduce here in its entirety, but you can read about it in Genesis 19.

  4. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them…in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct (Romans 1:18ff).

  5. Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanders nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6-9).

  6. The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, for those who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1: 8-11).

And this is the testimony of Sacred Scripture. To these could be added other passages, along with a long list of quotes from the Fathers and from Sacred Tradition, with Councils and other teaching documents from the earliest days of the Church until today.

To those who like to object that Jesus himself never spoke of homosexual acts, I would give these three responses:

  1. It was not a disputed matter among the Jews to whom he preached.

  2. Jesus said to his apostles, “He who hears you hears me.” And therefore Jesus does speak through St. Paul and the other epistle writers.

  3. The same Holy Spirit that authored the Gospels also authored the Epistles. There are not different authors or levels of authority in Sacred Writ. What St. Paul says is no less authoritative or inspired than what the evangelists recorded.

The teaching of the Church regarding the sinfulness of homosexual acts, fornication, and adultery cannot change, attested to as they are in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. The Church can only offer the truth to all the faithful and to all in this world, along with her promise of God’s mercy to those who seek repentance and who now desire to live chastely. To those who refuse, she continues to give warning and to pray both for conversion and for rescue from the deceptions of the world and the evil one.

Cardinal George summarized well both the reason we cannot approve homosexual acts and the solution of celibacy for those of same-sex attraction: The biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations [2]. Clear and concise. Thank you, Cardinal George.

For more information and support for those who have same-sex attraction, see here: Courage

Reprinted with permission from the Archdiocese of Washington.

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