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.


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See list of staff and members of PAV

 

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Lisa Bourne

‘You can’t have’ marriage equality ‘without polygamy’

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By Lisa Bourne

July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing homosexual “marriage,” a Montana polygamist has filed for a second marriage license, so he can be legally wed to two women at once.

"It's about marriage equality," said Nathan Collier, using homosexual advocates’ term to support marriage redefinition. "You can't have this without polygamy."

Collier, who has has appeared on the TLC reality show Sister Wives with his legal wife Victoria, and his second wife Christine, said he was inspired by the dissent in the Supreme Court decision.

The minority Supreme Court justices said in Friday’s ruling it would open the door to both polygamy and religious persecution.

“It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.

Collier and his wives applied for a second marriage license earlier this week at the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, a report from the Salt Lake Tribune said.

Collier, who was excommunicated from the Mormon Church for polygamy, married Victoria in 2000 and had a religious wedding ceremony with Christine in 2007. The three have seven children between them and from previous relationships.

"My second wife Christine, who I'm not legally married to, she's put up with my crap for a lot of years. She deserves legitimacy," Collier said.

Yellowstone County officials initially denied the application before saying they would consult with the County Attorney and get him a final answer.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

Bigamy, the holding of multiple marriage licenses, is illegal all 50 states, but Collier plans to sue if his application is denied. Officials expect to have an answer for him next week.

While homosexual “marriage” supporters have long insisted legalization of same-sex unions would not lead to polygamy, pro-life and family advocates have warned all along it would be inevitable with the redefinition of marriage.

“The next court cases coming will push for polygamy, as Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged in his dissent,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, after the Supreme Court ruling. “The chief justice said “the argument for polygamy is actually stronger than that for ‘gay marriage.’ It’s only a matter of time.”

In a piece from the Washington Times, LifeSiteNews Editor-in-Chief and the co-founder of Voice of the Family John-Henry Westen stated the move toward legal polygamy is “just the next step in unraveling how Americans view marriage.”

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Chris Christie: Clerks must perform same-sex ‘marriages’ regardless of their religious beliefs

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By Ben Johnson

TRENTON, NJ, July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Chris Christie is not known for nuance. This time, he has turned his fiery personality loose on county clerks and other officials who have religious objections to performing same-sex “marriages.”

In a tone usually reserved for busting teachers' unions, Christie told clerks who hold traditional values, “You took the job, and you took the oath.” He would offer no exemption for an individual whose conscience would not allow him to participate in a union the vast majority of the world's religions deem sinful.

“When you go back and re-read the oath it doesn’t give you an out. You have to do it,” he said.

He told a reporter that there “might” be “individual circumstances” that “merit some examination, but none that come immediately to mind for me.”

“I think for folks who are in the government world, they kind of have to do their job, whether you agree with the law or you don’t,” the pugnacious governor said.

Since the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to legalize homosexual “marriage” last Friday, elected officials have grappled with how to safeguard the rights of those who have deeply held religious beliefs that would not allow them to participate in such a ceremony.

Christie's response differs markedly from other GOP hopefuls' responses to the Supreme Court ruling. Mike Huckabee, for instance, has specifically said that clerks should have conscience rights. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order granting such rights and ordered clerks to wait until a pending court case was fully adjudicated before any clerk issues a marriage license to a homosexual couple.

Christie gave up a legal appeal after a superior court judge struck down his state's voter-approved constitutional marriage protection amendment. New Jersey is the only state where such a low court overturned the will of the voters.

The decision to ignore conscience rights adds to the growing number of Christie's positions that give conservatives pause.

The natural locus of support for a Christie 2016 presidential run is the Republican's socially liberal donor class, for personal as well as political reasons. His wife works on Wall Street, and some of the GOP's high-dollar donors – including Paul Singer – have courted Christie for years.

However, this year Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and to a lesser degree Scott Walker have eclipsed Christie as the preferred candidates of the boardroom donors – who sometimes prefer Democrats to Republicans.

Christie also used language during a speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition last year, which concerned some major GOP donors.

Christie is reportedly spending this weekend with Mitt Romney and his family at Romney's New Hampshire home. Romney declined to enter the 2016 race himself and may be able to open his donor list to Christie's struggling campaign.

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After having a girl with Down syndrome, this couple adopted two more

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By Ben Johnson

LINO LAKE, MN, July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – For most people, having five biological children would have been enough. In fact, for many Americans, large families are treated as a scandal or a burden.

But one family made the decision, not just to have a large family, but to give a home to some of the most vulnerable children in the world: Girls born overseas with Down syndrome.

Lee and Karen Shervheim love all seven of their children, biological or otherwise. Undeterred by having twin boys – Daniel and Andrew, 18 – they had Sam four years later.

They now have three daughters who are all 11 years old. All three have Down syndrome.

And two of them are adopted.

About the time their eight-year-old son, David, was born, Lee and Karen decided to adopt a child with Down syndrome to be a companion to their daughter, Annie.

They made the further unexpected choice to adopt a child from Eastern Europe with the help of Reece's Rainbow, which helps parents adopt children with Down syndrome.

“Between my wife and I, we couldn’t get it out of our heads,” Lee told the Quad City Press. “So many children need families and we knew we could potentially do something about it.”

After originally deciding to adopt Katie, they spent six weeks in Kiev, visiting an orphanage in nearby Kharkov. While there, they decided they may have room in their heart, and their home, for another child.

When they saw a picture of Emie striking the same pose as their biological daughter in one of their photographs, they knew they would come home with two children.

Both girls were the same age as their Annie. She would not lack for companionship, as they worried.

Lee said after the Ukrainian government – finally – completed the paperwork, they returned to the United States, when the real challenges began.

“The unvarnished truth,” Lee told the Press, is that adopting the Russian-speaking special needs children “was really disruptive to our family. They came with so many issues that we had not anticipated.”

After teaching them sign language and appropriate behavior, they moved to Lino Lake, Minnesota and found a new support group in Eagle Brook Church. There they found personal assistance and spiritual solace.

Every year in the past seven years has been better and better, they say.

“I think my girls can do almost anything they want to do,” he said, “and that’s what I want to help them become.”

The family's devotion is fueled by their faith, and it informs the sense of humor Lee showed in a tweet during the 2014 midterm elections:

It takes a special person to believe in the potential of the “mentally retarded,” as they were once labeled. Today, 90 percent of all babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb will be aborted. The percentage is higher in some countries. Some have even spoken of "a world without people with Down syndrome."

Their God, and their experience, tell them that every child has infinite worth and potential, Lee told local media, and he would encourage anyone to follow his footsteps and adopt a Down syndrome child – or two.

“The message is that it really doesn’t matter where you started or where you came from,” Lee said. “There are endless opportunities for everyone, whether they have disabilities or not. They deserve a shot.”

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