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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Christian clerk fights on as Sixth Circuit orders her to issue gay ‘marriage’ licenses

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By Dustin Siggins

ROWAN COUNTY, KY, August 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- A federal appeals court has ordered Christian clerk Kim Davis to provide same-sex “marriage” licenses, but she’s refusing to give in.

Davis, a Democrat, says that her Christian beliefs will not allow her to issue licenses for same-sex “marriages.” Despite pressure from Democrat Gov. Steve Beshear, a lawsuit from the ACLU, and two federal court rulings, Davis has refused to issue any licenses while the matter is still working its way through the courts.

However, the Sixth District Court of Appeals said Davis must issue the licenses.

While critics say Davis must follow the law as a public employee, she says the First Amendment protects her decision even as a government worker. In addition to being sued by the ACLU, she has pro-actively taken her case to court.

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Beshear told all government employees that "you can continue to have your own personal beliefs, but, you’re also taking an oath to fulfill the duties prescribed by law, and if you are at that point to where your personal convictions tell you that you simply cannot fulfill your duties that you were elected to do, then obviously an honorable course to take is to resign and let someone else step in who feels that they can fulfill those duties.”

The initial court decision against Davis was stayed 10 days ago. Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver, whose organization represents Davis, told CNN that they might appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and are hoping the high court would issue a stay of the Sixth Circuit ruling in the interim.

A poll of Kentucky voters that was released last month found that 50 percent of the state backs natural marriage, while only 37 percent supported its redefinition. 

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Christians at Duke U refuse to read lesbian porn novel assignment

Steve Weatherbe
By Steve Weatherbe

DURHAM, NC, August 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Christian freshmen at Duke University are refusing to read an assigned graphic novel depicting masturbation and homosexual intercourse. The university says the assignment was optional and won’t discipline the holdouts.

Brian Grasso emerged as the spokesperson for the dissenters after he posted his decision on the Class of 2019’s closed Facebook page. Opponents have done their best to mock and deride the holdouts as ignoramuses who don’t belong at Duke, but Grasso has addressed all their jibes, first to Duke’s student paper and then in an op-ed in the Washington Post, intelligently and engagingly.

The book at issue is Fun Home, a fictional depiction by lesbian artist Alison Bechdel of growing up with a homosexual, suicidal dad and discovering sex with other girls. “After researching the book’s content and reading a portion of it, I chose to opt out of the assignment,” Grasso told Post readers, explaining he was not opposed to learning about homosexuality any more than he would be with the ideas of “Freud, Marx or Darwin,” though he might find them immoral too.

“But in the Bible,” he went on, “Jesus forbids his followers from exposing themselves to anything pornographic. ‘But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,’ he says in Matthew 5:28-29. ‘If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.’” He then cited St. Paul to support his argument.

Grasso knew Christians would be in the minority at Duke, he admitted, but what surprised him was that Duke would blithely assign something so obviously offensive to this minority. “Duke did not seem to have people like me in mind. It was like Duke didn’t know we existed, which surprises me.”

But Patrick Reilly, the president of the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization devoted to promoting American Catholic orthodoxy at Catholic universities, isn’t surprised. “American society has been moving away from Christian values or even neutrality, especially at secular institutions but even at Catholic and other Christian schools,” Reilly told LifeSiteNews. He urged Catholic and other Christian parents and high school students to choose their universities carefully.

Other freshmen have supported Grasso: Bianca d’Souza said the novel’s ideas were important but the salacious content unnecessary and offensive. Jeffrey Wubbenhorst wrote, “”The nature of ‘Fun Home’ means that the content that I might have consented to read in print now violates my conscience due to its pornographic content.”

But others from the class of 2019 responded, “Reading the book will allow you to open your mind to a new perspective and to examine a way of life and thinking with which you are unfamiliar.”

In the same vein students wrote the Duke student newspaper Chronicle, mocking the dissenters with references to a Dr. Seuss children’s book. “Mermaid Warrior,” for example, wrote, “I’m sure there are people who think Cat in the Hat sends bad messages. That’s a big problem I have with complaints like these, ‘I shouldn’t be expected to read stuff I disagree with!’ It’s like, guess what, there’s no way to find something that everyone will agree with.”

But Grasso makes clear his issue isn’t with disagreeable ideas at all. “I think there is an important distinction between images and written words. If the book explored the same themes without sexual images or erotic language, I would have read it. But viewing pictures of sexual acts, regardless of the genders of the people involved, conflict with the inherent sacredness of sex. My beliefs extend to pop culture and even Renaissance art depicting sex.”

Inevitably, Duke itself weighed in. The book was selected for summer reading by the freshman class, explained Duke’s vice president or public affairs, Michael Schoenfeld, “because it is a unique and moving book that transcends genres and explores issues that students are likely to confront.”

After touting its artistic value and noting that a Broadway adaptation won the Best Musical award for 2015, he noted that the book was not a requirement and there would be no examination or grading. He expressed the hope that Duke’s 1,750 freshmen would arrive with open minds willing to “explore new ideas.”

But for all that, Schoenfeld did not explore the issues raised by Grasso: morality, pornography and the sexualization of relations.

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Aborted babies’ hands too disturbing? Solution: chop them off before shipping the bodies

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By John Jalsevac
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August 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - As if we needed more evidence that many of those in the abortion industry know perfectly well what they are doing, along comes the latest undercover video from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP).

The video includes disturbing undercover footage of a conversation with Cate Dyer, the CEO of StemExpress, a biomedical firm that acquires the bodies of aborted babies from Planned Parenthood clinics.

During that conversation Dyer infamously jokes with an undercover investigator about the need to warn lab techs ahead of time when a fully “intact” aborted baby's cadaver is being shipped to them.

But there it is: that hand, in all of its beauty, and its horror. Beautiful, as every hand is beautiful. Horrific, in that it is attached to a dismembered arm, yanked out of its socket, and swimming in a pool of the baby’s intestines and other body parts, to be bartered over and sold. 

“If you have intact cases, which we’ve done a lot, we sometimes ship those back to our lab in its entirety,” she says. "Tell the lab it's coming, so they don't open the box and" scream. "Their lab techs freak out and have meltdowns."

"Academic labs cannot fly like that, they are just not capable," Dyer adds condescendingly. "It's almost like they don't want to know where it comes from. I can see that."

But don’t worry, Dyer makes it clear she knows exactly where fetal tissue comes from, and isn't bothered in the least.  However, she agrees with a joke made by the undercover investigator, that if you’re going to be shipping the intact body of an aborted baby, it would be best to always make sure that the “eyes are closed.”

But surely the saddest part of the conversation comes when Dyer reveals how some of those squeamish lab techs manage to get around their natural repugnance at receiving little, perfectly-formed babies’ bodies in the mail, which they will then slice and dice – all in the name of “medical progress,” of course.

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She says that she often receives instructions from scientists who experiment on aborted babies that, "We need limbs, but no hands and feet need to be attached."

A curious request, no? But then again, there is something especially pesky about those tiny hands and feet, isn’t there?

Human hands are, after all, a true marvel of nature – so far surpassing in dexterity the appendages of any other mammal, the unparalleled tools that have enabled human beings to build empires, create art of breathtaking beauty, and to express themselves in myriad different ways. So marvelous, in fact, that Isaac Newton is reported to have said, “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.”

Not only are hands and feet useful, but they knit human beings together in intimacy: lovers will hold or squeeze their beloved's hands, and friends will soothe their friends in time of sorrow by taking their hands. And then there is the case of new parents, who will go into raptures over the hands and feet of their newborn babies, and speak, using the foolish language of love, of wanting to “eat” them. Mothers will shower their newborn babies’ feet with kisses, and tickle them, and will study and fall in love with every dimple, every crease.

Perhaps that is why so many people found the fifth (or was it the sixth? I’m losing track of the horrors) video so disturbing: that footage inside the lab, when the man behind the camera uses his tweezers to delicately lift up a dismembered arm, with the hand still attached.

That arm, it is true, would not have been half so disturbing, were it not for the hand. But there it is: that hand, in all of its beauty, and its horror. Beautiful, as every hand is beautiful. Horrific, in that it is attached to a dismembered arm, yanked out of its socket, and swimming in a pool of the baby’s intestines and other body parts, to be bartered over and sold. 

Before this, we have heard the lab techs on camera identifying the baby as a twin, at about 20-weeks gestation. In other words, a baby on the very verge of viability.

But no mother will gaze in raptures at those hands and those feet. Instead, Planned Parenthood will discuss how much they can “get” for each "specimen." And perhaps Cate Dyer will instruct her staff to cut off the hands or the feet before shipping the limbs to those too-tender-hearted lab techs who might “freak out” and “have a meltdown” at being forced to see too much of the truth.

But what does it say about us, and our politicians, that the videos with those pesky hands and feet are out there circulating, watched by millions, and yet we are not “freaking out” or having any meltdowns?

Instead, our politicians are dismissing the video as being "highly edited," as if David Daleiden of CMP is a CGI wizard who can conjure up dismembered limbs at will, and even though even Planned Parenthood has never denied the existence of those dismembered arms and legs, but has only implausibly denied that they are illegally "profiting" from the sale of the appendages - as if illegally profiting from the sale is somehow worse than the fact that they have dismembered the babies in the first place. 

If the dismembered hands and feet aren't enough to awaken our consciences, and to force our politicians to stop the massacre, what will be? I fear the answer to that question. 

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