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 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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