Kathleen Gilbert

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Trouble in Vatican: Pontifical Academy members upset with ethics deficit at infertility conference

Kathleen Gilbert
Kathleen Gilbert
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VATICAN CITY, February 27, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A gathering of the Vatican’s own academy for promoting respect for life was met with palpable discontent from its own members and other registrants after presenters on the topic of infertility alluded to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and other artificial reproduction technologies as “natural” and legitimate for treating patients, despite their conflict with Catholic moral teaching.

In addition, one prominent Catholic doctor who noted the link between the birth control pill and breast cancer was told by the moderator that his claim was false.

The Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) on Friday took up the topic of managing infertility at its 18th General Assembly

A press packet included an interview with PAV President Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula emphasizing the Assembly would not be “dealing with ethical considerations of artificial fertilization” because “that’s a different subject”. The bishop, who in 2010 publicly criticized the awarding of a Nobel prize to a pioneer of in vitro fertilization, said that the February 24 Vatican workshop’s concern was to utilize a “rigorously medical and scientific” approach to divulge insufficiently known methods of fertility treatment to couples.

While some attendees said much of the conference offered helpful insights into the causes of infertility, such as delaying pregnancy and environmental factors, and presented some excellent new research on treating infertility causes,  the majority of speakers also discussed such procedures as IVF and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) as viable alternatives for couples having difficulty conceiving. The speakers were selected by the PAV leadership.

At least three of the four morning speakers, according to witnesses, referred to IVF as an appropriate option for some female sufferers of infertility. And although witnesses say moderators distanced the PAV’s views from the presenters’, the assurance fell short for audience members who gave vent to frustration during the day.

During the lunch break, one prominent member told LifeSiteNews that the morning sessions were “the best case you get for amoral science.” Another called the conference “a disaster” and another “a tragedy”.

In the afternoon session, Eberhard Nieschlag of the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Andrology at the University of Münster noted that artificial insemination “can be tried if there are not enough sperm” and, after showing a video of a needle forcing a sperm into a human egg, described the process as “not really artificial.”

Pressed on the point by an audience member during a later Q&A (see audio file below), Nieschlag defended the remark by saying that “the actual fertilization process is completely natural.” “The way to bring the sperm and the egg together [is artificial] but the fertilization is not artificial,” he said. “That’s what I mean. But I think it’s mainly a semantic problem.”

Listen to brief audio of notable excerpts from Q & A session at the end of the conference:

The audience responded to the last remark with a growing clamor, including some rapping on their chairs in protest.

“I think from the audience’s reaction it’s clearly not,” chairperson Prof. Angelique Goverde interjected, adding that she would not enter “a theoretical or philosophical or religious debate” but the audience response indicated “we have a different point of view in this concern.”

The teaching authority of the Catholic Church has stated that artificial reproduction is morally objectionable, not only because techniques such as IVF regularly dispose of human embryos and “reduce” multiple pregnancies with abortions, but because children have a right to be conceived naturally in the marital act and not as a consumer product.

On its website, the PAV describes itself as existing “for the promotion and defense of human life, especially regarding bioethics as it regards Christian morality.”

Another conflict arose after several audience members challenged the morning speakers for emphasizing beneficial effects of the hormonal birth control pill on women’s health, to the exclusion of its detriments. Thomas Hilgers, Director of the National Center for Women’s Health at the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, took to the microphone to point out that this tack fell in line with “a major marketing component of the oral contraceptive for the last ten years.”

“They’ll raise things like, once raised this morning, that you can cut the ovarian cancer rate in half [by taking oral contraceptives]. Well that’s good, but what if you increase the breast cancer rate in the process, or the cervical cancer rate?” he said. “It’s given as a health benefit without looking at the health implications, and that’s an unbalanced view, but it’s being sold that way, and it’s on purpose.”

Chairperson Goverde interjected asserting to the contrary that oral contraceptives did not increase the breast cancer risk but did agree that it increased the cervical cancer risk. Hilgers interjected to refer Goverde to a 2006 meta-analysis by the Mayo clinic showing the pill’s clear link to breast cancer. Hilgers later pointed to Ortho Tri-Cyclen’s own documentation showing the breast cancer link.


IVF industry eclipses real science: expert

Hilgers’ half-hour talk outlined the significant success of NaPro technology, a cost-effective method for discovering and treating underlying causes of infertility, and one that is not “built on a foundation of destroying life.” However, he said, these gains have been largely eclipsed by the IVF industry, particularly in the United States: had it not been for the race to create children artificially, said Hilgers, “we probably would have had a cure for infertility by now.”

The NaPro expert’s presentation that was fully in line with Catholic moral ethics was met with sustained applause far exceeding that given for any of the other speakers of the day.

In later remarks to LSN, the doctor expressed concern that the crowding-out of real infertility treatment by the IVF mindset was reflected at the conference itself.

Hilgers, a member of the PAV since 1994 and an international leader in his field, said the science of the day’s speakers “wasn’t good at all” and named several experts who could have offered insights into authentic fertility treatment, but said the conference didn’t approach him for suggested names. According to the PAV website, topics and speakers are chosen from a pool of submitted professional papers by a Governing Council currently composed of four lay experts and four clerics who include the President and Chancellor or the PAV.

Not all PAV conferences have been so controversial: Hilgers pointed out that last year’s conference on the psychological effects of abortion featured “really good” experts and information. However, he said, like a similar fertility conference by the academy over a decade ago, Friday’s was problematic for featuring “one IVF person after another.”

“[This year’s conference was] a huge disservice to Catholics everywhere for the Pontifical Academy for Life, which is the major Catholic pro-life organization you could say, to come into formal cooperation with a group of people who are diametrically opposed to the Church’s teaching,” he said.

Others told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) that at a follow-up meeting Saturday morning for official members, several members expressed their discontent regarding the selection of speakers and the lack of ethical context throughout most of the day. One PAV member called it a “pile-on”. It was said that more wanted to express similar comments but were not recognized by the PAV leadership.


‘The arrogance of taking the place of the Creator’

The following morning, the speakers, PAV members, and others at the conference attended a special PAV audience with Pope Benedict XVI in the Apostolic Palace.

In contrast to the conference’s avoidance of Catholic ethical concerns, a notably subdued pontiff emphasized the moral roots of reproduction in the conjugal act and warned against the fertility industry’s lure of “easy income, or even worse, the arrogance of taking the place of the Creator,” quoting his own words from 2008. “The human and Christian dignity of procreation, in fact, doesn’t consist in a ‘product’, but in its link to the conjugal act, an expression of the love of the spouses of their union, not only biological but also spiritual,” said Benedict.

The pope also warned that the “indifference of conscience to what is true and good represents a dangerous threat to genuine scientific progress,” as “scientism and the logic of profit” now dominate the field “to the point of limiting many other areas of research.”

“The humility and precision with which you study these issues, considered obsolete by some of your colleagues before the allure of the technology of artificial insemination, deserves encouragement and support,” he said.

One member said the pope’s remarks were a saving grace for the troubled conference.

“If it weren’t for the pope’s speech, the conference would have been a devastating blow to truth,” the member said.


Contact information:

pav@acdlife.va

See list of staff and members of PAV

 

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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 more than $400 million 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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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
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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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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