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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Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus

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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus
By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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