Michael Cook

Facing up to vaccines created with aborted fetal cells

Michael Cook
By Michael Cook
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August 22, 2013 (MercatorNet) - After decades of ignoring the issue, Nature, the world’s leading science journal, has finally acknowledged that creating life-saving vaccines from tissue from aborted foetuses is a deeply controversial ethical issue.

In 1964, an American researcher obtained cells from a Swedish foetus aborted because her mother already had enough children. He coaxed them into multiplying into a cell line which he called WI-38. Since they were normal and healthy, they were ideal for creating vaccines. Two years later, scientists in the UK obtained cells from a 14-week male fetus aborted for "psychiatric reasons" from a 27-year-old British woman. This cell line is called MRC-5.

It is undeniable that the vaccines made from WI-38 and MRC-5 cells have saved millions of lives. Scientists have made vaccines against rubella, rabies, adenovirus, polio, measles, chickenpox and shingles, as well as smallpox, chicken pox and hepatitis A.

But protests by opponents of abortion have been largely ignored by the scientific community. If you Google “vaccines” and “abortion”, only Catholic groups, right-to-life organisations and sites warning about the dangers of vaccinations mention the topic. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention barely alludes to it even though it has abundant information on vaccines. A website called Vaccine Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics fails to mention it.

The reason is clear: vaccines save lives and the abortions happened a long time ago. Get over it. Who cares? “At the time [the fetus] was obtained there was no issue in using discarded material. Retrospective ethics is easy but presumptuous,” says Stanley Plotkin, the American scientist who developed the rubella vaccine. “I am fond of saying that rubella vaccine has prevented thousands more abortions than have ever been prevented by Catholic religionists.”

But now even Nature – which supports abortion rights and reproductive technology – has expressed its misgivings. “More than 50 years after the WI-38 cell line was derived from a fetus, science and society [have] still to get to grips with the ethical issues of using human tissue in research,” its editorial declared in June.

What has changed?

If you could single out a reason, it would be the intensely moving 2010 best-seller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. This book has nothing to do with abortion, but it highlights the deep respect, almost sacredness, that the body of a human person must command, even something as insignificant as discarded tissue.

Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman who was 31 when she died of cervical cancer in 1951. Cells from her tumour became the first human cells cultured continuously for use in research. HeLa cells have helped to make possible some of the most important medical advances of the past 60 years, including modern vaccines, cancer treatments, and IVF techniques. They are the most widely used human cell lines in existence. More than 300 scientific papers are published every month using HeLa cells.

There is no question about their usefulness – but were they obtained ethically? Is it ethical to continue using them?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks raises disturbing questions which transcend “usefulness”. Henrietta Lacks was poor and black. Her children, it seems, are even poorer. A doctor at Johns Hopkins removed her cells without asking her. He cultivated the cells without informing her. He distributed the cells without asking permission of her family. Companies became rich by using her cells without paying royalties. Her family only learned that their mother’s cells had been scattered around the world in 1973. Their complaints were ignored for many years – after all, they were only poor, uneducated black folks.

No one cared about the woman called Henrietta Lacks who was overdosed with radium, who died leaving five children behind, one of them an epileptic housed in a filthy, chaotic institution called The Hospital for the Negro Insane. Some people even thought that HeLa cells originated with a woman named Helen Lane. Her daughter wrote in a diary, “When that day came, and my mother died, she was Robbed of her cells and John Hopkins Hospital learned of those cells and kept it to themselfs, and gave them to who they wanted and even changed the name to HeLa cell and kept it from us for 20+ years. They say Donated. No No No Robbed Self.”

It was only earlier this year that the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) negotiated an agreement with the family. All researchers who use or generate full genomic data from HeLa cells must now include in their publications an acknowledgement and expression of gratitude to the Lacks family.

Incredibly, despite all the publicity, scientists continued to ignore the concerns of the Lacks family. Just a few months ago, German researchers published the first sequence of the full HeLa genome. This compromised not only Henrietta Lacks’s genetic privacy but also her family’s. (The researchers have removed the sequence from public view.)

The story of HeLa cells, in short, is twofold: a story of towering scientific achievement and a story of exploitation by ambitious and callous scientists.

Less famous, but even more important, says Nature, have been WI-38 cells. HeLa cells multiply prolifically, but they are cancerous. WI-38 cells are healthy and normal and have been used to develop vaccines against rubella, rabies, adenovirus, polio, measles, chickenpox and shingles. Their origin is even more controversial than the dark story of Henrietta Lacks.

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In 1962 a Swedish woman who was four months pregnant had a legal abortion because she did not want another child. The lungs of the foetus were removed and sent to Philadelphia. At the Wistar Institute for Anatomy and Biology they were minced up, processed and cultured by Leonard Hayflick. He had been culturing cells from aborted foetuses for years, even though abortion was technically illegal in Pennsylvania at the time, except for medical emergencies.

After he successfully multiplied the WI-38 cells, Hayflick created more than 800 batches and distributed them freely around the world to drug companies and researchers. He eventually quarrelled with Wistar authorities because he thought that his contribution was being ignored. Without permission, he took all the remaining batches to California and his new job at Stanford. This led to years of bitter legal battles over who owned the cells. No one worried about where they had come from.

The abortion connection is beyond dispute, although, as Nature points out, “until now, that story has failed to reach the broad audience it deserves.” As in the Henrietta Lacks case, no informed consent was given by the Swedish mother. Her identity is known but she refuses to talk about the case. The doctors involved are all dead. A Swedish medical historian told Nature that in Sweden, “research material like tissues from aborted fetuses were available and used for research without consent or the knowledge of patients for a long time”, both before and after consent rules were tightened later in the 1960s.

The drug companies and institutions which have used WI-38 deny that there are serious ethical concerns either with the use of cells from aborted foetuses or with the lack of consent.

The institution which has examined this issue most closely is the Vatican. In 2005 it released a meticulously researched study of the ethical issues involved in using vaccines which had been developed with tissue from aborted foetuses. Even though it contended that parents could have their children vaccinated with a clear conscience, it did not dismiss the question as irrelevant or absurd. On the contrary, it concluded that “there is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems.”

And it said that the existing situation was completely unjust. “Parents… are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise, to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk. This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible.”

What is the way forward?

I am writing from suburban Sydney which long ago lost its connection to the Aboriginal tribes who once lived here. Yet at every civic ceremony we acknowledge the memory of the Cammeraygal and Wallumedegal peoples. It is a form of reparation for the dispossession, disease and death which carried them away, leaving neither names nor descendants.

Doesn’t the story of Henrietta Lacks suggest that drug companies should do something similar with their vaccine products? From now on, the NIH says, scientists who use HeLa cells must include “an acknowledgment and expression of gratitude to the Lacks family for their contributions”.

Why shouldn’t drug companies and researchers who use the WI-38 (or the MRC-5 cells) do the same? “This vaccine was developed with the cells of a Swedish child who was aborted in 1964. We are grateful for her contribution and grieve at her absence.”

Reprinted with permission from Mercatornet.com under a creative commons license.

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Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, speaks to Thomas McKenna of Catholic Action Insight. Catholic Action Insight
Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary

Catholics shouldn’t sue one another: Cardinal Burke comments on Fr. Rosica’s lawsuit against blogger

Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary
By Hilary White

ROME, March 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Citing Scripture, Cardinal Raymond Burke told an interviewer this week that Catholics should not sue each other: “Our Lord in the Gospel and St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians instruct us not to take our disputes to the civil forum, that we should be able, as Catholics, to resolve these matters among ourselves.”

The cardinal’s comments to the Traditionalist Catholic website Rorate Caeli follow an uproar in the Catholic media world last week when it was revealed that Vatican spokesman Father Thomas Rosica has threatened to sue a Canadian blogger for defamation in the civil courts.

Cardinal Burke, who served under Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis as the head of the Vatican’s highest court, is a noted expert on canon law. He told Rorate Caeli, “Unless the blogger has committed a calumny on someone's good name unjustly, I certainly don't think that that's the way we as Catholics should deal with these matters.”

“I think contact should be made. I presume that the Catholic blogger is in good faith, and if there’s someone in the hierarchy who is upset with him, the way to deal with it would be first to approach the person directly and try to resolve the matter in that way,” Burke added.

Fr. Rosica, a Canadian Basilian, is the English language press officer for the Vatican and founder of the Toronto-based Salt and Light Television network.

He sent the legal letter to David Domet, a Toronto music composer and part-time Catholic blogger who has long criticized what he says are Fr. Rosica’s departures from Catholic orthodoxy. The priest’s lawyer told Domet to remove nine separate items from his blog and apologize, but added that this would not necessarily remove the threat of the civil action.

The conflict was covered in a feature by Michael Voris’ Church Militant TV, and the internet’s Catholic blogger world exploded with indignation. So furious was the backlash that it got coverage by the US conservative news site, Breitbart. This followed dozens of blog posts, nearly unanimously calling the threatened legal action of a well-placed priest against a lay pensioner a “PR disaster” for Rosica. 

The uproar has launched Domet’s small blog, Vox Cantoris, into the international limelight, and has earned Fr. Rosica an avalanche of criticism. “Though Rosica publicly defends the right to freedom of speech and press, he is attempting to silence the blogger who has criticized him,” Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, wrote for Breitbart.

Among Domet’s criticisms of Fr. Rosica is his apparent support for the proposal by Cardinal Walter Kasper to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, and others in “irregular” sexual unions, to receive Holy Communion.

Fr. Rosica has also recently come under fire for comments he made a year ago, in a lecture in Windsor, Ontario, in which he argued that Catholic doctrine could change. (See video below. Quotes can be found at 48:12.)

“Will this Pope re-write controversial Church doctrines?” Fr. Rosica said in the lecture, which was posted to Youtube. “No. But that isn't how doctrine changes. Doctrine changes when pastoral contexts shift and new insights emerge such that particularly doctrinal formulations no longer mediate the saving message of God's transforming love.”

Fr. Rosica continued: “Doctrine changes when the Church has leaders and teachers who are not afraid to take note of new contexts and emerging insights. It changes when the Church has pastors who do what Francis has been insisting: leave the securities of your chanceries, of your rectories, of your safe places, of your episcopal residences go set aside the small-minded rules that often keep you locked up and shielded from the world.”

In the Rorate Caeli interview, Cardinal Burke refuted the idea that the Church can change its “pastoral practice” without changing doctrine.

“I think it’s very important to address a false dichotomy that's been drawn by some who say, ‘Oh no, we’re just changing disciplines. We’re not touching the Church's doctrine.’ But if you change the Church’s discipline with regard to access to Holy Communion by those who are living in adultery, then surely you are changing the Church's doctrine on adultery.”

“You’re saying that, in some circumstances, adultery is permissible and even good, if people can live in adultery and still receive the sacraments. That is a very serious matter, and Catholics have to insist that the Church’s discipline not be changed in some way which would, in fact, weaken our teaching on one of the most fundamental truths, the truth about marriage and the family,” Cardinal Burke said.

Fr. Rosica recently criticized Cardinal Burke on his Twitter account by posting an article by Washington, DC’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl on “dissent” in the hierarchy, saying, “Cardinal Wuerl’s response to Burke (and dissenters).”

The priest has also had a confrontational relationship with the pro-life movement for years.

In 1996, Fr. Rosica called the police on pro-life advocates who were leafletting in protest at a lecture by famous dissident Gregory Baum at the University of Toronto’s Newman Centre.

In 2009, Fr. Rosica wrote against objections to the lavish Catholic funeral for US Senator Ted Kennedy’s in Boston. He excoriated the pro-life movement for what he called their lack of “civility.”

“Civility, charity, mercy and politeness seem to have dropped out of the pro-life lexicon,” Fr. Rosica wrote. “To recognize and bring out the sin in others means also recognizing one’s self as a sinner and in need of God’s boundless mercy.

“Let us pray that we will become more and more a people, a church and a community overflowing with mercy.”

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Greg Rohrbough, J.D.

Duck Commander Phil Robertson’s CPAC speech was viral in so many ways

Greg Rohrbough, J.D.
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Last week, the winner of the 2015 Citizens United/CPAC Andrew Breitbart Defender of the First Amendment Award was “Duck Commander” Phil Robertson, paterfamilias of the Duck Dynasty Robertson family. In doing so, they were giving Phil the CPAC stage for a speech, knowing that he would speak his unvarnished thoughts. One doubts they expected his topic.

After bringing out his heavily-duct-taped Bible and telling politicians to keep theirs with them, Phil went on the offensive – against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). He quoted the federal Centers for Disease Control, which estimates that more than 100 million Americans now have a sexually transmitted infection.

“I don’t want you to become ill. I don’t want you to come down with a debilitating disease. I don’t want you to die early,” Robertson said.

Phil’s solution? One older than Christianity, as old as common sense itself. “If you’re disease-free, if she’s disease-free, you marry. You keep your sex right there. You won’t get sick from a sexually-transmitted disease!”

Logic and mathematics would seem to agree. According to Robertson, his goal was to show love to the listeners. But several left-wing websites didn’t see it that way.

“He certainly used his speech to hate very well. I guess that's the criteria. Who can say the sickest, most vile things about center-left Americans wins!” according to John Amato of Crooks & Liars.

The Huffington Post took offense at his attributing the rise in STDs to the beatniks and hippies.

To their credit, MSNBC acknowledged Phil’s numbers, saying, “For the record, Robertson’s [sic] has his numbers correct. A CDC report from February of 2013 estimated more than 110 [million] cases of sexually transmitted infections in America with about 20 billion [sic, MSNBC’s number] new infections each year at a cost of ‘nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs.’”

The network site then blasted him for comparing ISIS to the Nazis, Communists, and Imperial Japanese.

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Robertson clearly didn’t care what MSNBC thought, though. “You want a Godly, Biblical, medically safe option? One man, one woman, married, for life,” he said.

“What do you call the 110 million people who have sexually transmitted illnesses?” he continued. “It’s the revenge of the hippies! Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll have come back to haunt us in a bad way!”

But the big question is – is Phil right or wrong? According to the CDC’s website, “Almost every sexually active person will acquire HPV [Human Papillomavirus] at some point in their lives.”

“Sexually active” would seem to indicate activity with new or multiple partners, rather than this Duck Doctor Phil’s Prescription.

But still – “Almost every…person.” That’s quite a few – the website also says, “about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year.” While it is the most prevalent venereal disease, HPV is only one of many.

Generally, HPV’s symptoms are more a painful nuisance than life-threatening – genital warts, often only appearing years after the initial infection. But there are also life-threatening illnesses such as cervical cancer, which HPV causes.

Much more frightening, however, is the specter of HIV/AIDS. According to the CDC, there are about 1.2 million people currently living with HIV, and as many as 50,000 new cases a year, with 63 to 66 percent of those being “MSM,” or “Men who have Sex with Men.” Sadly, the lion’s share of new HIV infections is found in the 13-24 age group; despite being 16 percent of the nation’s population, they account for 26 percent of all new infections, with 72 percent of those being young MSM. While HIV is treatable, there is still no cure.

Although HIV, as well as the current increase in syphilis and hepatitis, are primarily targeting homosexual males, heterosexuals with multiple partners are by no means off the hook. As well as HPV, herpes, drug-resistant gonorrhea and chlamydia are on the rise, as well. The year 2013 saw 1.4 million cases of chlamydia and 820,000 new cases of gonorrhea, and the CDC estimates that one person in every six in the U.S. between the ages of 14 and 49 has herpes.

Criticize Phil all you like, folks – he doesn’t mind. He’s only saying this because he cares.

Listen to him again: “I don’t want you to become ill. I don’t want you to come down with a debilitating disease. I don’t want you to die early.”

“And if you hate me because I told you that,” he said, “I told you, my love for you is not contingent on how you feel about me. I love you anyway. I don’t want you to see you die early or get sick. I’m trying to help you, for cryin’ out loud! America, if I didn’t care about you, why would I bring this up?”

From this CPAC attendee’s perspective, Phil’s speech was not only important from a physical health perspective, it also, along with that duct-taped Bible of his, reminds us of the words of Charles Spurgeon: “A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”

Greg Rohrbough, J.D., has been director of government relations for the Meredith Advocacy Group since 2006.

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Steve Weatherbe

Former abortionist who failed to kill unborn baby hit with $1 million lawsuit: baby was born with hole in heart

Steve Weatherbe
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OTTAWA, March 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An Ontario mother of a baby born by mistake is suing the former doctor who botched her abortion for $1 million for his “gross negligence” and “medical malpractice.”

Tania Brown already had four children when she went to Dr. Michel Prevost in Almonte, Ontario in early 2011 for a medical (or pharmaceutical) abortion to prevent a fifth, which her doctor had advised might have birth defects. Several months later she suspected Prevost’s one-two punch of methotrexate (a poison to kill the baby) and misoprostol (to expel the corpse a week later) had not worked. An ultrasound confirmed a beating heart.

Too late for an abortion now, she gave birth, in May, to a baby with “a smaller brain; he had a hole in his heart; he had something wrong with his palate.” She gave him up for adoption.

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Dr. Prevost relinquished his medical licence earlier this month with the certainty that if he didn’t, the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons would expel him after an investigation found him “incompetent in his practice of obstetrics and gynecology.”  They looked into 28 abortion cases, two so badly “botched” that the babies survived.

Small wonder the whole business sent Brown into a “debilitating depression,” but her lawyer Ralph Lee told the CBC the case “brings up larger issues…the issue of a woman’s access to abortion.”

Basically, Prevost couldn’t get the dosages right. Methotrexate, MedicineNet.com warns, “has infrequently caused serious (sometimes fatal) side effects.” These include severe azotemia (too much blood urea nitrogen), severe blood infection, stomach and intestinal bleeding, and perforation.

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