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

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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Today’s chuckle: Rubio, Fiorina and Carson pardon a Thanksgiving turkey

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By Steve Jalsevac

A little bit of humour now and then is a good thing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American readers.

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Lianne Laurence


BREAKING: Europe’s top human rights court slaps down German ban on pro-life leafletting

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

STRASBOURG, France, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that a German regional court violated a pro-life activist’s freedom of expression when it barred him from leafleting in front of an abortion center.

It further ruled the German court’s order that Klaus Gunter Annen not list the names of two abortion doctors on his website likewise violated the 64-year-old pro-life advocate’s right to freedom of expression.

The court’s November 26 decision is “a real moral victory,” says Gregor Puppinck, director of the Strasbourg-based European Center for Law and Justice, which intervened in Annen’s case. “It really upholds the freedom of speech for pro-life activists in Europe.”

Annen, a father of two from Weinam, a mid-sized city in the Rhine-Neckar triangle, has appealed to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights at least two times before, Puppinck told LifeSiteNews.

“This is the first time he made it,” he said, noting that this time around, Annen had support from the ECLJ and Alliance Defense Fund and the German Pro-life Federation (BVL). “I think he got more support, better arguments and so I think this helped.”

The court also ordered the German government to pay Annen costs of 13,696.87 EUR, or 14,530 USD.

Annen started distributing pamphlets outside a German abortion center ten years ago, ECLJ stated in a press release.

His leaflets contained the names and addresses of the two abortionists at the center, declared they were doing “unlawful abortions,” and stated in smaller print that, “the abortions were allowed by the German legislators and were not subject to criminal liability.”

Annen’s leaflets also stated that, “The murder of human beings in Auschwitz was unlawful, but the morally degraded NS State allowed the murder of innocent people and did not make it subject to criminal liability.” They referred to Annen’s website, www.babycaust.de, which listed a number of abortionists, including the two at the site he was leafleting.

In 2007, a German regional court barred Annen from pamphleteering in the vicinity of the abortion center, and ordered him to drop the name of the two abortion doctors from his website.

But the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that the German courts had "failed to strike a fair balance between [Annen’s] right to freedom of expression and the doctor’s personality rights.”

The Court stated that, “there can be no doubt as to the acute sensitivity of the moral and ethical issues raised by the question of abortion or as to the importance of the public interest at stake.”

That means, stated ECLJ, that “freedom of expression in regard to abortion shall enjoy a full protection.”

ECLJ stated that the court noted Annen’s leaflets “made clear that the abortions performed in the clinic were not subject to criminal liability. Therefore, the statement that ‘unlawful abortions’ were being performed in the clinic was correct from a legal point of view.”

As for the Holocaust reference, the court stated that, “the applicant did not – at least not explicitly – equate abortion with the Holocaust.”  Rather, the reference was “a way of creating awareness of the more general fact that law might diverge from morality.”

The November 26 decision “is a quite good level of protection of freedom of speech for pro-life people,” observed Puppinck.

First, the European Court of Human Rights has permitted leafleting “in the direct proximate vicinity of the clinic, so there is no issue of zoning,” he told LifeSiteNews. “And second, the leaflets were mentioning the names of the doctors, and moreover, were mentioning the issue of the Holocaust, which made them quite strong leaflets.”

“And the court protected that.”

Annen has persevered in his pro-life awareness campaign through the years despite the restraints on his freedom.

“He did continue, and he did adapt,” Puppinck told LifeSiteNews. “He kept his freedom of speech as much as he could, but he continued to be sanctioned by the German authorities, and each time he went to the court of human rights. And this time, he won.”

ECLJ’s statement notes that “any party” has three months to appeal the November 26 decision.

However, as it stands, the European Court of Human Rights’s ruling affects “all the national courts,” noted Puppinck, and these will now “have to protect freedom of speech, recognize the freedom of speech for pro-lifers.”

“In the past, the courts have not always been very supportive of the freedom of speech of pro-life,” he said, so the ruling is “significant.”

As for Annen’s pro-life ministry, Pubbinck added: “He can continue to go and do, and I’m sure that he does, because he always did.”  

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‘Soft racism’: German Bishops’ website attributes African Catholics’ strong faith to simplemindedness

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By Pete Baklinski

GERMANY, November 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) --  The only reason the Catholic Church is growing in Africa is because the people have a “rather low level” of education and accept “simple answers to difficult questions” involving marriage and sexuality, posited an article on the official website of the German Bishops' Conference posted yesterday. The article targeted particularly Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and ardent defender of Catholic tradition.

First Things blogger Leroy Huizenga, who translated a portion of the article, criticized the article's view as “soft racism.”

In his article, titled “The Romantic, Poor Church,” Katholisch.de editor Björn Odendahl writes: 

So also in Africa. Of course the Church is growing there. It grows because the people are socially dependent and often have nothing else but their faith. It grows because the educational situation there is on average at a rather low level and the people accept simple answers to difficult questions (of faith) [sic]. Answers like those that Cardinal Sarah of Guinea provides. And even the growing number of priests is a result not only of missionary power but also a result of the fact that the priesthood is one of the few possibilities for social security on the dark continent.

Huizenga said that such an article has no place on a bishops’ conference website. 

“We all know that the German Bishops' Conference is one of the most progressive in the world. But it nevertheless beggars belief that such a statement would appear on the Conference's official website, with its lazy slander of African Christians and priests as poor and uneducated (Odendahl might as well have added ‘easy to command’) and its gratuitous swipe at Cardinal Sarah,” he wrote. 

“Natürlich progressives could never be guilty of such a sin and crime, but these words sure do suggest soft racism, the racism of elite white Western paternalism,” he added. 

African prelates have gained a solid reputation for being strong defenders of Catholic sexual morality because of their unwavering orthodox input into the recently concluded Synod on the Family in Rome. 

At one point during the Synod, Cardinal Robert Sarah urged Catholic leaders to recognize as the greatest modern enemies of the family what he called the twin “demonic” “apocalyptic beasts” of “the idolatry of Western freedom” and “Islamic fundamentalism.”

STORY: Cardinal Danneels warns African bishops to avoid ‘triumphalism’

“What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today,” he said during his speech at the Synod last month. 

But African prelates’ adherence to orthodoxy has earned them enemies, especially from the camp of Western prelates bent on forming the Catholic Church in their own image and likeness, not according to Scripture, tradition, and the teaching magisterium of the Church. 

During last year’s Synod, German Cardinal Walter Kasper went as far as stating that the voice of African Catholics in the area of Church teaching on homosexuality should simply be dismissed.

African cardinals “should not tell us too much what we have to do,” he said in an October 2014 interview with ZENIT, adding that African countries are "very different, especially about gays.” 

Earlier this month Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, instead of praising Africa for its vibrant and flourishing Catholicism, said that African prelates will one day have to look to Europe to get what he called “useful tips” on how to deal with “secularization” and “individualism.” 

The statement was criticized by one pro-family advocate as “patronizing of the worst kind” in light of the facts that numerous European churches are practically empty, vocations to the priesthood and religious life are stagnant, and the Catholic faith in Europe, especially in Belgium, is overall in decline.

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