Washington D.C., Aug 25, 2006 (CNA) -
Catholic Bishops in the United States and Australia continue to speak out in clarification of what constitutes ethical stem cell research as they respond to a new study which, they say, contains misrepresentations in its findings.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a new statement Thursday in reaction to a controversial new report in the journal “Nature,” which claims to show an “ethical” way to harvest stem cells from human embryos.
The bishops, who are in favor of many forms of adult stem cell research, remain steadfastly opposed to embryonic research, which results in the destruction of an already conceived human life.
The report published in the August 23rd, online edition of “Nature,” claims that researchers working at Advanced Cell Technology in Worchester, Massachusetts, were able to remove single stem cells from 8-10-celled embryos and then create an embryonic stem cell line without harming the original embryos.
However, Richard M. Doerflinger, Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Bishops Conference, said that the report in “Nature” is a misrepresentation and contains no answer to ethical questions.
“The reality is very different,” Doerflinger said, “Researchers did not safely remove single cells from early embryos, but destroyed 16 embryos… This experiment left no embryos alive, and solves no ethical problem.”
Contraryto their claims, Doerflinger says, the researchers in the “Nature”article removed an average of six cells from each embryo and, in theend, were only able to created two cell lines from the 91 cellsextracted from the 16 human embryos they destroyed.
Doerflinger said that even if the study had been successful in creating stem cell lines, which are bands of constantly-dividing cells that scientists theoretically hope to transform into “cures” for human diseases and disorders, from the single cells pulled from each embryo, “serious ethical problems would remain.”
The National Catholic Bioethics Center described one such ethical problem in a press release this morning. The procedure, according to the bioethics center, “requires a non-therapeutic intervention performed on a human embryo.”
“Research carried out on a human subject for the sake of others is subject to special restrictions if the subject cannot give consent, and it is permissible only if it involves minimal risk. In this procedure at least 10 percent of the embryo’s body mass is removed for research, not for the purpose of treating that specific embryo-patient for a known medical condition. The embryo is employed as a starting source for harvestable raw materials in a gesture of reducing young humans to commodities or manipulable products.”
Doerflinger said that “embryo biopsies” have been destroying human life for years. Fertility clinics, he said, have continuously used the same method to do genetic testing, and they have destroyed a number of embryos as a result.
“As our fellow human beings, embryonic humans should not be manipulated, harmed, or used solely for possible benefit to others, even if this would not always kill them. In any event, further efforts to find a “safe” way to take cells from these embryos would surely require more experiments like this one that are clearly destructive and unethical.”
Doerflinger pointed out that the U.S. bishops continue to strongly support bipartisan efforts, “to fund avenues for discovering or creating cells with the abilities of embryonic stem cells without exploiting human embryos at all.”
Nevertheless, the “Nature” study is gaining traction and may have an effect on Australian policy debate as well.
Australians have been left reeling in recent weeks after Prime Minster John Howard added to the already heated embryonic stem cell debate by proposing a “conscience vote” on a plan to use “therapeutic” cloning, the process of creating cloned human embryos for the sole purpose of harvesting cells from them.
Now Australian lawmakers and politicians, even those previously opposed to therapeutic cloning and embryonic research, are showing an interest in the “Nature” study’s claim of “ethical” embryonic research.
According to today’s issue of “The Age,” even Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, who has led the opposition to the therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research proposals, is turning an interested eye.
"I think it looks quite promising and it may well make the legislation that a couple of my colleagues are promising to bring before the parliament unnecessary," Abbott said of the study.
But even if the method of “embryo biopsy” were to eventually prove effective, only destroying a human life here and there, and even if the “ends” of successfully creating embryonic stem cell lines justified the “means” of destroying numerous human embryos along the way, there remains the fact, pointed out by many bishops, that research with embryonic stem cell lines has still not shown any success. While, at the same time, successful research being done with adult stem cells continues to be ignored.
Bishop Kevin Manning, Bishop of Parramatta in Australia, says that proponents of embryonic stem cell research should be forced to answer questions as to why the success such ethically viable adult stem cell has been overlooked.
In the September issue of “Catholic Outlook,” Bishop Manning notes that not only have embryonic stem cell experiments failed to produces a single, unqualified, therapeutic success, even in animal models, but supporters of the embryonic model continue to laud their unproven and currently unethical methods and ignore “the fact that adult stem cell therapies are being used extensively today in treating diseases.”
“I don't doubt that the media and proponents of the embryonic stem cell argument will try to ridicule the Catholic input as outdated moral platitudes versus genuine human need; archaic religion versus progressive science; Christian ethicists against suffering celebrities; religious fundamentalists versus science and enlightenment,” Manning said. “But the truth remains that any use of research, technology or proposed therapeutic procedures, which involves the destruction of the human embryo should be banned altogether as unethical and unnecessary.”
Meanwhile Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell said this week that there is a serious push to explore scientific avenues which are now opening without taking time to consider the ethical consequences of moving wildly ahead. The cardinal said that everyone involved in the embryonic stem cell research and “therapeutic” cloning debate needs to take a step back, “have a glass of water,” and “pause for a minute,” according to the Daily Telegraph.
The cardinal told the Telegraph that his message for those, “very emotionally involved in pushing for change," is, “let's go slowly and clearly.”
In respect to his views on cloning, the cardinal said, “I respect human life…I’m not in favor of creating life to destroy it.”
Washington D.C., Aug 25, 2006 (CNA) -
Pro-life groups nationwide are outraged by yesterday’s announcement that the Food and Drug Administration will approve Barr Pharmaceutical’s abortion drug, often called Plan B, for over-the-counter use by women aged 18 and over.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) says the decision is “completely unacceptable.”
The announcement, however, was expected. A few weeks ago, when acting FDA director, Andy Von Eschenbach, sent word to the pharmaceutical company that they should resubmit a proposal for the drug’s over-the-counter approval, pro-life groups voiced their concerns and began demanding that President George Bush withdraw his nomination of Eschenbach to be permanent director of the agency.
But, on Monday pro-life Americans were stunned when Bush voiced his support for the director and his plan.
In reaction to yesterday’s official announcement, pro-life groups restated their concerns regarding the drug and its availability without a prescription as well as their dismay at the Bush administration’s approval of the abortion causing pill.
Deirdre McQuade, director of planning and information for the USCCB’s Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, points out one of the bishops’ primary concerns. “The FDA describes Plan B as ‘a contraceptive drug’ and equates its side effects to those of ordinary birth control pills,” McQuade said. “While Plan B can prevent fertilization, the manufacturer admits it may also prevent a newly-conceived embryo from implanting and surviving in the womb. This is properly understood as causing an early abortion.”
Furthermore, McQuade said, “despite exaggerated claims to the contrary, Plan B will not realistically reduce abortion rates. Research in Europe and the U.S. has shown that increased access to ‘emergency contraception’ has a negligible effect on the rate of unplanned pregnancies and abortions.”
In addition to failing to reduce abortion rates, Care Net, a network of 975 pregnancy resource centers and medical clinics across North America, worries that the decision will likely result in an increase of sexually transmitted diseases among teens. Care Net president Kurt Entsminger points to international studies, which indicate that when and where the morning-after pill is available over-the-counter, STD rates increase.
Entsminger also warns that Plan B could serve as another tool in the hand of sexual predators.
Dr. David Stevens, executive director of the 17,000-member Christian Medical Association, agrees with Entsminger’s point.
“How does the FDA plan to prevent Plan B from being purchased by child predators and rapists and used to cover their crimes? How will it prevent an adult from purchasing the drug for a minor?” Stevens challenged.
Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women of America says that they can’t and will not. “If the FDA thinks that enacting an age restriction will work, or that the drug company will enforce it when it has already announced it has no intention of enforcing it, then they are living in a dream world. Enforcement requires a penalty for violating the restriction. The FDA has no authority or ability to enforce an age- restriction, and Barr, the Plan B drug maker, has neither the ability nor the willingness.”
McQuade, in the bishops office also says that over-the-counter access of the morning-after pill “will compromise informed consent and follow-up care when necessary” for women.
Plan B consists of a powerful dose of the artificial hormone, Levonorgestrel – 40 times the amount found in comparable prescription-only birth control pills.
"Removing this high dose of hormones from a doctor's oversight removes a vital safety protection from women,” Dr. Stevens added. “Like any drug, this drug involves side effects and risks, and its use needs to be carefully considered by a physician in light of an individual's medical history.”
Some pro-life leaders say the burden of responsibility now shifts to pharmacies to protect women’s health and are urging pharmacists not to stock the drug.
Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, said the approval of Plan B “has created a lasting rift” between President George Bush and the Catholic voter base.
This decision has “turned the agency into a hand-maiden of the abortion industry and powerful pharmaceutical companies,” said Fr. Euteneuer.
It also “demonstrates wholesale politicization of the agency and gives final confirmation that the FDA cannot be trusted to act in the best interest of the American people’s health and safety,” he said.
Washington D.C., Aug 25, 2006 (CNA) - Exposing sexual abuse within the Catholic Church was necessary and a good step, but that investigation must now be expanded to other social institutions, namely public schools, where studies show children are much more likely to be abused, says journalist Tom Hoopes.
Hoopes hopes that the arrest of John Karr, a public school teacher who worked in several schools, in suspicion of his involvement in the high-profile JonBenet Ramsey case will elicit action.
Hoopes cites Hofstra University researcher Charol Shakeshaft, who has stated that the “physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.”
A 2002 report by the Department of Education estimates that 6 percent to 10 percent of all students in public schools would be victims of abuse before graduation, Hoopes reported.
Yet, says Hoopes, the problem is underreported in the media, which has favored more sensational reporting on the Catholic Church. He questions why the Church is the only institution “under the microscope.”
“The media have left many with the impression that sexual abuse is a Catholic problem — as if Catholic beliefs and customs make sex abuse inevitable,” writes Hoopes in his article, published in the National Review.
“A more likely culprit would be a non-religious ambivalence about the pedophilia, as seen, for instance, in the media’s refusal to broaden its scope to include teachers when considering the issue,” he continues.
He makes the observation that society seems to be experiencing a “widespread epidemic of abuse fed by a new morality that winks at child molestation.” The reaction to this reality, outside the Catholic Church, “is increasingly accommodation instead of outrage,” he says.
“Any institution that has allowed children to be harmed by predators deserves to be taken to task for it. No institution should get a pass. And no profession should get a pass. Not preachers, not priests — not even teachers.”
Konigstein, Germany, Aug 25, 2006 (CNA) - Speaking to officials with Aid to the Church in Need, the apostolic prefect of Quetta in the province of Baluchistan in western Pakistan, Monsignor Victor Gnanapragasam, said, "Despite the hostility, the Catholics are standing by their faith".
"It is extremely difficult to even reach the faithful in this remote region of desert and inaccessible mountain ranges", Msgr. Gnanapragasam noted. "But even when we cannot visit them for a long time, they continue to meet regularly for prayer and catechesis".
He said Christians of all denominations are truly among the poorest of the poor in Pakistan and that are only given the jobs that nobody else will do, such as sweeping, cleaning, and other menial tasks. Therefore, he called on upon Christian believers around the world not to forget the witness or the plight of the Christians in Pakistan.
He also expressed his gratitude for the commitment of the Catholic religious sisters and brothers who work within the prefecture of Quetta, especially the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, who care for girls and young women who find themselves in difficulties as a result of forced marriages or pregnancies.
Currently in Quetta nine other priests and 20 religious sisters attend to some 28,716 Catholics spread throughout and area nearly the size of Germany.
Kakkanad, India, Aug 25, 2006 (CNA) -
Eastern-rite Catholics of the Syro-Malabar Church, who live in Latin-rite territories, say they face severe challenges in practicing their faith and traditions, reported UCA News.
About 400 people attended a global conference for the Syro-Malabar Church Aug. 18-20 in Kochi, Kerala, 2,595 kilometers south of New Delhi, to discuss challenges the community is facing.
The delegates called on their bishops to provide more pastoral care for diaspora communities. They also blamed Latin-rite Church leaders for suppressing and discriminating against Eastern-rite Catholics in their jurisdiction.
The delegates represented Syro-Malabar Church (SMC) communities in Australia, Canada, Germany, Persian Gulf nations, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as in major Indian cities outside Kerala, the southern Indian state where the Eastern-rite Church is based.
The Latin-rite Catholics "want our donations, not us," said SMC member Michael Joseph, who lives in the territory of the Latin-rite Diocese of Baroda. "We are forced to adopt their liturgy and tradition," Joseph said, alleging that some Latin-rite priests are "dead against" SMC Catholics conducting Sunday Mass in their native language, reported UCA News.
Another delegate recounted the difficulty with which they finally received a Syro-Malabar priest and the many challenges he faced, from a lack of resources to accusations from Latin-rite priests that he was creating disunity among local Catholics for wanting to build a church for the SMC community.
Bishop Gregory Karotemprel of Rajkot, who organized the meeting, said the Indian Bishops would discuss these issues at their synod. The bishop said he has tried to sort out inter-rite issues but Latin-rite bishops have not responded to his letters and suggestions.
The Vatican made the SMC self-governing in 1992 but retained the right to decide on administrative matters for Syro-Malabar dioceses outside Kerala.
The Syro-Malabar Church traces its origins to Saint Thomas the Apostle, who landed in Kerala in the year 52. While Syro-Malabar Catholics are united to the Pope and are part of Catholic Church, their liturgy differs from that of the Roman Church. The essentials however, remain the same, as they are both based on a unified Apostolic tradition. The SMC has 13 dioceses in the state of Kerala and another 12 elsewhere in India. Its sole diocese outside India is based in Chicago and serves SMC Catholics in North America.
Most of the 158 Catholic dioceses in India belong to the Latin rite.
Havana, Cuba, Aug 25, 2006 (CNA) - Jailed Cuban dissident leader Oscar Elias Biscet has sent a letter to all Cubans urging them to continue to pray and fast until the government signs the international human rights treaties that have been established by the United Nations.
Writing from a prison in eastern Cuban, Biscet underscored that the demands were meant for “the government of Cuba, regardless of who is in power, because as the people of Boston once said, we also say: ‘Tyranny is tyranny, no matter where it comes from’.”
“The people of Cuba have been suffering the scorn of a totalitarian tyranny, Communism, throughout four decades. Due to this inhumane treatment whereby the decorum of a people is violated, many Cubans are indignant and have risen up to pray and fast, beseeching the God of the Bible,” said Biscet, who is also the president of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights.
Cubans, he said, “have the right to be free,” and to exercise “our sovereignty” as a people. In his letter he recalled the words of Jose Marti, the father of Cuban independence: “Only freedom brings with it peace and wealth.”
Thus he called on all Cubans “to accelerate the conquest of these basic human rights through civil disobedience,” using “every method to achieve our humanitarian end.”
Biscet, who has been imprisoned for defending civil rights and for his pro-life work, pledged that “here, in this dark jail where they force me to live, I will be resisting until the freedom of my people is obtained.”
The renowned Cuban dissident has been imprisoned on several occasions, the last of which was in 2002. The government’s persecution of Biscet intensified after 1998, when he and another well-known dissident published an exposé on the abortion practices at a prominent Cuban hospital. The report was sent to Fidel Castro with un-official statistics and testimonies from mothers who described the methods used to kill their children after giving birth.
More information on Oscar Biscet and the Lawton Foundation can be found at www.lawtonfoundation.com
Sao Paulo, Brazil, Aug 25, 2006 (CNA) - In a strongly worded statement, the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (NCBB) has issued an urgent call to end the spiral of violence caused by organized crime in the country.
The escalation of organized crime in recent months, mainly in Sao Paulo, has become a major issue in Brazilian politics, especially after a criminal gang kidnapped a journalist and was able to get the most popular local television network to air a video outlining complaints over the Brazil’s prison system.
In their statement, the bishops expressed their repudiation of “the spiral of violence our country is experiencing” and their “solidarity with all those who are suffering the cruel reality of organized crime, which is present in various States.”
The bishops reiterated the Church’s support of authorities in their search for “an immediate solution at all levels” in order to, “overcome the law force with the force of law.” They also made some proposals for addressing concerns regarding violence and the prison system, such as rooting out the “culture of impunity” by holding those who commit wrongdoing responsible for their actions, alleviating over-population in the country’s prison system, and reforming and beefing up the country’s police forces.
“We need to root out the causes of organized crime,” the bishops maintained, “as well as the networks of corruption at various levels.”
“We need to show more solidarity with the poor by combating misery, hunger and social marginalization, which makes us easy prisoners of the criminal world,” they added. “We must clearly and effectively embrace the spiritual and ethical values without which society is at enormous risk,” the bishops warned.
Jesus Christ teaches us the way to build peace, which is the fruit of justice, the rule of law, respect for others, dialogue, and mutual forgiveness,” the statement said in conclusion.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug 25, 2006 (CNA) - The Buenos Aires College of Pharmacy has denounced a textbook being used in schools that teaches teenagers how to take advantage of the side effects of certain prescription drugs in order to cause an abortion.
The College is demanding that government officials in Buenos Aires address the matter.
In one chapter, the textbook discusses “abortifacient medicines” and mentions methotrexate—often used to treat cancer or arthritis—and oxaprost, which contains the anti-inflammatory misoprostol.
Published by Puerto del Palos, the book explains that these drugs, “produce a decrease in mortality caused by abortions. Due to the scarce and negative information that is circulated about them, they are used improperly, without a prescription, and even more seriously, as a contraceptive, without understanding that in reality they terminate a pregnancy (abortion) and force the embryo to be expelled.”
Nestor Luciani, a spokesman for the Buenos Aires College of Pharmacy, called the textbook “deceitful and incorrect,” since it contains “distorted information.”
Speaking to local reporters, he warned that “the therapeutic action that is attributed to the aforementioned drugs is not that which is specified by the competent healthcare authorities, and their use as an abortifacient drug could have fatal consequences.”
Washington D.C., Aug 25, 2006 (CNA) - Catholics in parishes throughout the United States can contribute to the efforts of their brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Diocese of Biloxi, two areas severely damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita one year ago. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops hopes their program “Rebuild Church, Rebuild Hope,” will offer tremendous support from parishes and dioceses throughout the U.S.
The program gains its name from a statement by Biloxi Bishop Thomas Rodi, who proclaimed to the bishops of the United States that to “rebuild the Church is to rebuild hope itself.”
In their statement on the collection the USCCB states that, “these two dioceses, so devastated by the ravages of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, are still in a state of unimaginable need. Collections in 2005 right after the hurricanes focused on immediate humanitarian relief, and only scratched the surface of the needs involved.”
“This special collection on August 26-27 focuses on rebuilding churches, schools, and other essential parts of the parishes’ infrastructure which are needed to rebuild people’s hope. Rebuilding the Church and her structures is critically important now, as many civil jurisdictions declare that they are no longer able to assist those who were displaced by the 2005 hurricanes, and will be unable to do so in the future.”
The USCCB noted that other individuals or those who can not be at Mass over the weekend of August 26-27 can drop their donations off at any Catholic Parish office. Donations should be placed in an envelope and labeled “Rebuild Church, Rebuild Hope.”
For further information see the USCCB “Rebuild Church, Rebuild Hope" website.