Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

Pontifical Academy for Life back on track: tackles umbilical blood research, post-abortion syndrome

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, February 28, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The mood was decidedly chipper on Friday at the most recent gathering of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV). The Academy is recovering, many said, from more than a year of scandals and difficulties, and is back on its normal track, discussing issues related to the sanctity of life and the dignity of the person. Praise was particularly reserved for the new president, Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, who, it was said, was bringing the Academy balance and a strong pro-life direction.

The meeting this year focused on ethical and medical issues surrounding umbilical cord stem cell research and post-abortion trauma, a topic that still gets little play in the mainstream of either the media or psychological field. Academy members told me that they have high hopes that the Academy’s confidence is restored and that more meaty issues will be covered in discussion over time.

Christine Vollmer, a founding member of the Academy and the head of the Latin American Alliance for the Family, said that it is “nice to have things back to normal,” to be finished with the scandals and upset caused by the Academy’s previous president. “This is how the Academy is supposed to be,” she said.

I asked several people if they thought the topics chosen were somewhat tame, particularly the issue of umbilical cord research, but I learned that the issue is not so straightforward, in terms either of ethics or of medical benefits, as the media may have led many of us to believe.

One presentation made a strong case for the banking of umbilical cord blood to be carefully re-thought. One researcher pointed out that much of the blood that is in an umbilical cord at the time of birth is needed for the baby. Various possible medical consequences were mentioned of depriving the child of this blood, including aenemia, respiratory illness and even cerebral palsy.

“Clamping” was an issue brought up by many who warned that cutting off the umbilical cord too close to the baby’s body would deprive the newborn of much-needed blood and immune system boosters found in the blood.

All of this raises issues of consent. Dr. Paul Byrne, an American neonatologist, pointed out that parents “do not own their children” and that any consent given for experimental treatment must be intended primarily for the child’s good. Parents, he said, must be informed fully of any possible medical consequences of collecting and banking umbilical cord blood immediately after birth for unknown future needs.

Another issue was the proliferation in the developed world of for-profit umbilical cord banks, and the possibility of market forces overtaking purely medical motives. Some members spoke of parents being pressured to bank cord blood, even if a child has no sign of genetic or other illness, at a cost of sometimes thousands of dollars. Another member warned that the profit motive will drive up costs far beyond the means of those parents in the developing world, leaving umbilical cord blood banking a phenomenon of the wealthy west.

The prospect of treatments developed from umbilical cord stem cells was also discussed, with some pointing out that despite the media hype, few “standard treatments” have been developed and most are not past the experimental stage. One member warned that the media does little to help the public understand the difference between a tried and tested treatment and the various, and inevitably slow, stages of medical research. Umbilical cord blood stem cells, one medical researcher said, are intended biologically for the child and using them as a substitute for another patient’s own stem cells is as yet a dubious medical prospect.

However, Msgr. Jacques Suaudeau, the PAV’s Scientific Director, said that umbilical cord blood, correctly monitored and regulated, can be the answer to the phenomenon of “saviour siblings,” the creation of a child in order to harvest its tissue to treat a previous child. He also pointed out that although the media often fudges the details in search of a story, medical research needs publicity in order to generate grants.

After these discussions, at the tea break, I was pleased to be able to congratulate in person Fr. Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life, who was inducted into the academy on Thursday. There’s no doubt that Fr. Pavone’s presence on the Academy membership roster is a good sign for the direction and priorities of Bishop Carrasco.

Before his notorious L’Osservatore Romano article, the former head of the PAV, Archbishop Fisichella, had already caused pro-life people around the world grave concern when he made the PAV a co-sponsor of an international organ transplant conference in 2009, at which no mention was made of any ethical worries. On that occasion, the situation was left to the pope himself to correct. Benedict’s address to the multi-million dollar transplant conference brought the problems of “brain death” and other death criteria into the fore, a move that was seen as an indirect rebuke. 

However, Dr. Byrne was at this year’s conference seeking advice on how to bring the matter to the attention of the PAV under its new leadership. He was advised that Bishop Carrasco would almost certainly grant him a fair hearing and bring his concerns to the membership.

Mrs. Vollmer said that more meaty issues such as brain death criteria are likely to be on the roster in coming years. We must not be too hasty, she told me, pointing out that the Vatican is not a place where things happen quickly. She also affirmed her confidence in the new PAV president, who has a strong academic background in the bioethics issues and track record of staunchly defending the Church’s position.

Joseph Meaney, the interim director of the Rome office of Human Life International was also at the meeting and said he also had the impression that the mood was positive: “There was a lot of lively participation in the discussions and debates, which is good considering they weren’t exactly controversial topics,” he said.

Those who had fought to have Fisichella removed as head of the Academy, Meaney added, “seem to feel vindicated.”  “They’re happy to put the matter to rest and carry on. To carry the PAV forward and turn the page.”


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Quebec groups launch court challenge to euthanasia bill

LifeSiteNews staff
By LifeSiteNews staff

As announced when the Quebec legislature adopted Bill 52, An Act respecting end-of-life care, the citizen movement Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia, representing together over 650 physicians and 17,000 citizens, filed a lawsuit before the Superior Court of Quebec in the District of Montreal on Thursday.

The lawsuit requests that the Court declare invalid all the provisions of the Act that deal with “medical aid in dying”, a term the groups say is a euphemism for euthanasia. This Act not only allows certain patients to demand that a physician provoke their death, but also grants physicians the right to cause the death of these patients by the administration of a lethal substance.

The two organizations are challenging the constitutionality of those provisions in the Act which are aimed at decriminalizing euthanasia under the euphemism “medical aid in dying”. Euthanasia constitutes a culpable homicide under Canada’s Criminal Code, and the organizations maintain that it is at the core of the exclusive federal legislative power in relation to criminal law and Quebec therefore does not have the power to adopt these provisions.

The organizations also say the impugned provisions unjustifiably infringe the rights to life and to security of patients guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. They further infringe the right to the safeguard of the dignity of the person, which is also protected by the Quebec Charter.

In view of the gravity of the situation and the urgent need to protect all vulnerable persons in Quebec, they are requesting an accelerated management of the case in order to obtain a judgment before the Act is expected to come into force on December 10, 2015.


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Colorado baker appeals gvmt ‘re-education’ order

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By LifeSiteNews staff

A Colorado cake artist who declined to use his creative talents to promote and endorse a same-sex ceremony appealed a May 30 order from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to the Colorado Court of Appeals Wednesday.

The commission’s order requires cake artist Jack Phillips and his staff at Masterpiece Cakeshop to create cakes for same-sex celebrations, forces him to re-educate his staff that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act means that artists must endorse all views, compels him to implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and requires him to file quarterly “compliance” reports for two years. The reports must include the number of patrons declined a wedding cake or any other product and state the reason for doing so to ensure he has fully eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

“Americans should not be forced by the government – or by another citizen – to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,” said the cake artist’s lead counsel Nicolle Martin, an attorney allied with Alliance Defending Freedom. “This is not about the people who asked for a cake; it’s about the message the cake communicates. Just as Jack doesn’t create baked works of art for other events with which he disagrees, he doesn’t create cake art for same-sex ceremonies regardless of who walks in the door to place the order.”

“In America, we don’t force artists to create expression that is contrary to their convictions,” added Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “A paint artist who identifies as homosexual shouldn’t be intimidated into creating a painting that celebrates one-man, one-woman marriage. A pro-life photographer shouldn’t be forced to work a pro-abortion rally. And Christian cake artists shouldn’t be punished for declining to participate in a same-sex ceremony or promote its message.”

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In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, to make a wedding cake to celebrate their same-sex ceremony. In an exchange lasting about 30 seconds, Phillips politely declined, explaining that he would gladly make them any other type of baked item they wanted but that he could not make a cake promoting a same-sex ceremony because of his faith. Craig and Mullins, now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately left the shop and later filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case now goes to the Colorado Court of Appeals as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Craig.

“Jack, and other cake artists like him – such as those seen on TV shows like ‘Ace of Cakes’ and ‘Cake Boss’ – prepare unique creations that are inherently expressive,” Tedesco explained. “Jack invests many hours in the wedding cake creative process, which includes meeting the clients, designing and sketching the cake, and then baking, sculpting, and decorating it. The ACLU calls Jack a mere ‘retail service provider,’ but, in fact, he is an artist who uses his talents and abilities to create expression that the First Amendment fully protects."

Celebrity cake artists have written publicly about their art and the significant expressive work that goes into the artistic design process for wedding cakes.


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Prisoner of conscience Mary Wagner appeals her conviction

Tony Gosgnach
By Tony Gosgnach

TORONTO -- As promised, Mary Wagner has, through her counsel Dr. Charles Lugosi, filed a formal notice of appeal on numerous points regarding her recent, almost two-year-long court case that ended on June 12.

Justice Fergus O’Donnell of the Ontario Court of Justice rejected every application made by the defence – including for access to abortion center records, public funding, standing for a constitutional challenge and for expert witnesses to be heard – before he found Wagner guilty and sentenced her to five months in jail on a charge of mischief and four months on four counts of failing to comply with probation orders.

He further levied two years of probation, with terms that she stay at least 100 metres away from any abortion site. However, because Wagner had spent a greater time in jail than the sentence, she was freed immediately. She had been arrested at the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto on August 15, 2012 after attempting to speak to abortion-bound women there. She then spent the duration of the trial in prison for refusing to sign bail conditions requiring her to stay away from abortion sites.

Wagner is using the matter as a test case to challenge the current definition of a human being in Canadian law – that is, that a human being is legally recognized as such only after he or she has fully emerged from the birth canal in a breathing state.

Wagner’s notice states the appeal is regarding:

  • Her conviction and sentence on a single count of mischief (interference with property),
  • Her conviction and sentence on four counts of breach of probation,
  • The order denying public funding,
  • The order denying the disclosure of third-party records,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts on the applicant’s constitutional challenge concerning the constitutional validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts concerning the construction of Section 37 of the Criminal Code,
  • The probation order denying Wagner her constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion on all public sidewalks and public areas within 100 metres of places where abortions are committed,
  • And each conviction and sentence and all orders and rulings made by O’Donnell.

In the notice of appeal, Lugosi cites numerous points on which O’Donnell erred:

  • He denied Wagner her constitutional right to make full answer and defence.
  • He denied Wagner her right to rely on Section 37 of the Criminal Code, which permits “everyone” to come to the third-party defence and rescue of any human being (in this case, the preborn) facing imminent assault.
  • He decided the factual basis of Wagner’s constitutional arguments was a waste of the court’s time and that no purpose would have been served by having an evidentiary hearing on her Charter application because, in the current state of Canadian law, it had no possibility of success.
  • He misapplied case law and prejudged the case, “giving rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias and impeding the legal evolution of the law to adapt to new circumstances, knowledge and changed societal values and morals.”
  • He accepted the Crown’s submission that it is beyond the jurisdiction of the courts to question the jurisdiction of Parliament legally to define “human being” in any manner Parliament sees fit.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code is not beyond the powers of Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code does not violate the Preamble to, as well as Sections 7, 11(d), 15 and 26, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • He denied Wagner standing to raise a constitutional challenge to the validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code.
  • He ruled that Section 223 of the Criminal Code applied generally throughout the entire Criminal Code and used it to deny unborn human beings the benefit of equal protection as born human beings under Section 37 of the Criminal Code.
  • He denied the production and disclosure of third-party records in the possession of the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site, although the records were required to prove Wagner was justified in using reasonable force in the form of oral and written words to try to persuade pregnant mothers from killing their unborn children by abortion.
  • He denied Wagner the defence of Section 37 of the Criminal Code by ruling unborn children did not come within the scope of human beings eligible to be protected by a third party.
  • He ruled Wagner did not come within the scope of Section 37 because she was found to be non-violent (in that she did not use physical force).
  • He ruled the unborn children Wagner was trying to rescue were not under her protection.
  • He denied Wagner the common-law defences of necessity and the rescue of third parties in need of protection.
  • He denied Wagner public funding to make full answer and defence for a constitutional test case of great public importance and national significance.
  • He imposed an unconstitutional sentence upon Wagner by, in effect, imposing an injunction as a condition of probation, contrary to her constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

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Among the orders Lugosi is seeking are:

  • That an appeal be allowed against conviction on all counts and that a verdict of acquittal be entered on all counts,
  • That Section 223 of the Criminal Code be found unconstitutional  and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, as well as the unwritten constitution of Canada,
  • That the sentence be declared unconstitutional and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the unwritten constitution of Canada or that a new trial be conducted, with Wagner permitted to make full answer and defence, be given standing to make a constitutional attack on Section 223 of the Criminal Code, with the admission of expert witnesses,
  • That the Women’s Care Clinic abortion site be made to produce third-party records pertaining to patients seen on August 15, 2012 (when Wagner entered the site),
  • And that there be public funding for two defence counsels at any retrial and for any appeal related to the case.

No date has yet been established for a decision on the appeal or hearings.

A defence fund for Wagner’s case is still raising money. Details on how to contribute to it can be found here.


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