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Archive of July 24, 2009

Romanian organized crime authorities detain three in human egg trafficking scheme

Bucharest, Romania, Jul 24, 2009 (CNA) -

Romanian authorities have detained two Israelis and a Romanian who are suspected of trafficking in human eggs for foreign couples who patronized their Bucharest-based fertility clinic.

According to DIICOT, the country’s department for fighting organized crime, the group was focusing on identifying foreign couples eager to resort to reproduction technology and on "grabbing" Romanian women aged 18-30 to donate ova for $270 to $335.

DIICOT detained for 24 hours Harry Mironescu, gynecologist and de facto head of the clinic, as well as his son Yair Miron and Borzea Cecilia, a Romanian employee. A criminal investigation was opened against them.

On Monday prosecutors said 22 other people in the same organization were under investigation, Reuters reports.

The clinic had carried out about 1,200 in vitro fertilization procedures since it opened in 1999. Its main customers were Israeli, Italian and British couples.

According to Reuters, Vasile Astarastoaie, head of Romania's medical watchdog Colegiul Medicilor, said the procedures were illegal because the clinic was not authorized to carry them out.

IVF procedures are used by some couples who cannot conceive normally. Human eggs are fertilized outside the body and placed in a woman’s uterus. Sometimes other donors are required to provide fertile eggs.

The donation process can be hazardous for the donor, whose risks include moderate to serious ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS). OHSS can result in maladies ranging from bloating and nausea to infertility, organ failure and death.

Catholic thought holds IVF to be unethical. Dignitas Personae (On the Dignity of the Person), a December 2008 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says that all IVF techniques divide human procreation from the conjugal act and "proceed as if the human embryo were simply a mass of cells to be used, selected and discarded."

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‘Smart’ Obama outreach to Catholics seeks to offset abortion concerns, commentator says

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2009 (CNA) -

Catholic commentator Deal Hudson says the Obama administration is engaging in "smart" outreach to Catholics by offsetting concerns about abortion with unifying rhetoric and compelling stories. In his view, this outreach also benefits from Republican inaction towards Hispanics and Catholics.

Speaking with U.S. News & World Report writer Dan Gilgoff, Hudson questioned President Barack Obama’s "common ground" rhetoric about abortion.

"It's very smart for Obama to actually take the advice of his Catholic outreach team. They have done a good job navigating the challenges they face among Catholics over their policy positions," Hudson, Catholic outreach director for Republican George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns, told Gilgoff.

He said that the common thread among Catholic nominees such as Judge Sonia Sotomayor and prospective surgeon general Regina Benjamin is that they are presented as Catholics but the White House highlights a part of their story that is "compelling from another direction."

"The administration knows in both cases that, once the Catholic issues are explored, there are going to be problems," he explained.

However, members of the Obama administration have worked to "offset" questions about abortion by putting forward nominees like Dr. Benjamin,who rebuilt a clinic to help the poor, or Judge Sotomayor, a minority woman.

"They have thought carefully about how they are going to offset the expected criticism of these pro-choice Catholic nominees by having stories ready that they know will appeal to Catholics and blunt criticism from the pro-life side," Hudson commented.

Hudson then criticized the Republicans’ 2005 anti-immigration campaign as a "huge mistake" that helped drive away Hispanic voters. He also said the Republican Party "just hasn’t done anything" to reunite the religious conservative base and to "reanimate" Catholic supporters.

He also said that Republicans had not offered Catholics anything to "rally behind" like President Obama has in his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and his speech at Notre Dame.

Claiming that Obama’s Notre Dame speech cost the president support among some Catholics, Hudson said that Catholics are nonetheless receptive to appeals to "common ground" and "working together."

According to Hudson, Catholics don’t like "a lot of confrontational and aggressive speechmaking in politics" or "the old evangelical, more stringent-type message."

"Common ground" rhetoric also has resonance among Catholics because it was used by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the late Archbishop of Chicago.

However, Hudson himself was skeptical of the Obama administration’s rhetoric in light of its policy actions.

"The policy itself is the funding of abortion, the appointment of pro-choice Catholics, and the repealing of the Mexico City policy, and that's the narrative people need to pay attention to."

Speaking with CNA in a Thursday e-mail, Hudson expanded on his comments to Gilgoff.

"Catholics can and do see issues like immigration in a special light," he commented. "Many American Catholics are descended from immigrants. Thus, Catholics understand the often harsh circumstances that drive people from one country to another."

Asked whether he believed the "common ground" initiatives to reduce abortion were sincere, Hudson replied:

"I see no evidence it is anything other than a political strategy to offset the image of Democrats and Obama as abortion supporters. The present health care bill with its abortion benefits tells the true story."

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Benedict XVI meets with children of Les Combes

Vatican City, Jul 24, 2009 (CNA) - Strolling yesterday evening in the Italian alpine resort of Les Combes, the Holy Father met with the town’s children as well with as a sick woman to whom he expressed the hope of a prompt recovery.

Along with his daily walks, this weekend the Pope will have an x-ray taken on his wrist. The local hospital has provided him portable radiology equipment to monitor the progress of his fractured wrist.

On a different front, Benedict XVI has expressed, through the apostolic nunciature to the Philippines, his "spiritual closeness" to their former President Corazon Aquino, who has been hospitalized in Manila with colon cancer. The Pope sends the former head of State assurances of recollection in his prayers.

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‘Caritas in veritate’ is a guide for politics and a manual for the economy, says Italian minister

Rome, Italy, Jul 24, 2009 (CNA) - At a recent congress in Rome on Pope Benedict XVI’s new encyclical, Caritas in veritate, Italy’s Minister of Economy and Finances, Giulio Tremonti, said the document constitutes “a true guide for politics,” as it reaffirms the centrality of the human person in society.  

 

During his remarks, which were published by L’Osservatore Romano, Tremonti said, “The old progressive dream of self-sufficiency” no longer works. What is needed is “an effort to promote the common good of society.” For this reason, Caritas in veritate constitutes “the first important document of analysis and reflection of the new world” in which ideologies understood as formulas for domination have been overcome.

 

Speaking about the last 20 years, Tremonti said this period has been marked by a “shift in paradigms.” “If the world is global, our thinking cannot remain the same. Our thinking cannot be only mercantile, but must also be civil.”

 

Amidst a global world, he continued, “the encyclical proposes positive opportunities related to the process of globalization; and at the same time, sheds light on the problems that arise from its improper management, if the interdependence between mankind and nations is not met with the ethical interaction of consciences and minds.”

 

Tremonti said this important document by Pope Benedict XVI “is not only a guide for politics but also a manual for the economy.  Caritas in veritate states that the authentic existence of the economy lies in ethics: such a principle sustains the inescapable importance of key values which are spiritual and not just material.”

 

Only by keeping this in mind is it possible to effectively and beneficially serve the common good, the Italian minister said.

 

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Proposed abortion reduction bill a Planned Parenthood ‘stimulus package,’ bishops’ pro-life official says

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2009 (CNA) -

An official with the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-life Activities has attacked a federal bill promising to prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce abortions, characterizing it as a "Planned Parenthood Economic Stimulus Package." She said increased abstinence among youth, not contraceptive access, should be encouraged.

The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), is titled "Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act." Its sponsors have described it as a "common ground" initiative that would appeal to people on all sides of the abortion debate.

Susan Wills, Assistant Director for Education and Outreach in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said the bill is "dressed up" with some funding for after-school programs and "very poorly crafted" efforts to support pregnant students.

However, she quoted Rep. Ryan’s May 19 remarks on MSNBC’s "Hardball," in which the congressman said the bill is "about access to birth control."

"We have to have birth control and contraception offered to these poor women who don’t have access to contraception, period, dot," he continued, saying there is no other way America can reduce abortions.

To this, Wills responded:

"About what you’d expect in a bill whose co-sponsors enjoy a 100% pro-choice rating from NARAL."

According to Wills, the bill calls for grants for "comprehensive sexuality education" and "substantially" increases funding for the Title X Family Planning Program.

"It denies state choice, making family planning services a mandatory Medicaid entitlement in all states, and greatly expands family planning eligibility under Medicaid to all women who are eligible under state law for prenatal, labor, and delivery care," she said.

Wills reported that since at least 1980 taxpayers have been funding "family planning services" at a rate of at least $1 billion per year, reaching $1.85 billion in 2006. She also cited Guttmacher Institute statistics showing that only seven percent of sexually active teens who want to avoid pregnancy are not using contraceptives.

She then said that contraceptives "don’t work very well in real life," explaining that in the first 12 months of contraceptive use, 1 in 6 teens will become pregnant. Contraceptive effectiveness is particularly unreliable among low-income cohabiting teens, for whom the pregnancy rate over 12 months is 48.4 percent for birth control pills and 71.7 percent for condoms.

Wills also wrote that "numerous studies" in the U.S. and Europe have found that greater contraception access fails to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions.

She suggested that increased contraception access encourages more young people to become sexually active and to have more sexual partners. Such activity also increases the rates of sexually transmitted diseases, which presently infect about 25 percent of teen girls.

"The sharpest decline in unintended pregnancies and abortions since 1990 has occurred among those under 18, due not to comprehensive sex ed or contraception, but chiefly to the growing number of young people choosing to remain abstinent," Wills said in her Friday statement.

She encouraged people to visit the Pro-life Secretariat’s web site for more information and facts. She also encouraged people to protest the Ryan/DeLauro bill and support the Pregnant Women Support Act (S. 1032, H.R. 2035).

The Secretariat’s web site subsection on contraception is at http://www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/contraception/index.shtml

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Mother chooses life of child over cancer treatment

Denver, Colo., Jul 24, 2009 (CNA) -

Though Mayra Sandoval died of cancer on July 8, her son Samuel is alive and healthy thanks to her insistence on choosing life, against the advice of doctors who urged her to abort. Now, Mayra’s husband and friends remember her as a powerful witness to the immeasurable value of life.

In an interview with "El Pueblo Catolico," the Spanish newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver, Mayra’s husband, Ricardo Flores, recalled the battle of faith and trust that the couple underwent in the months leading up to her death.

Both Ricardo and Mayra were born in Mexico. They moved to U.S., where they met three years ago, began to date, and eventually moved in together. At the time, neither had a strong faith, but they were nevertheless overjoyed when, in October 2008, Mayra became pregnant.

Months later, doctors detected a cancerous tumor in Mayra’s lungs that was already in an advanced stage and was still continuing to grow. Mayra was advised to abort the baby on the spot, so that she could start a treatment to halt the cancer growth.

But Ricardo and Mayra chose life. Although it was difficult, Ricardo said he never had any second thoughts in the decision to choose life. When the option of abortion was presented, "We always said ‘no.’ We couldn’t do that," he explained. "God gave life and God takes it away."

"And we can trust in God and let His will be done," he continued, explaining the peace that the couple found in abandoning themselves to the Lord’s will. "We can accept whatever God sends us, good or bad."

While Mayra’s cancer continued to take its toll, the couple was beginning to learn more about their faith. Mayra’s sister, Aida, recalled the couple’s spiritual journey. She described how God had not always played a prominent role in her sister’s life. "She believed, but like many Catholics, did not know her faith," she said.

The road was difficult, but Ricardo and Mayra were not alone. They received prayerful support and solidarity from the Catholic community, including prayer groups from St. Anthony of Padua and St. Joseph’s parish.

Particularly memorable for Ricardo was the loving presence of Fr. John Gregory, who helped the couple through their struggle. "He was always close to us," he said, "teaching us, helping us, supporting us, strengthening us, speaking to us about God, of all that God had done for us."

The sickness brought many trials, but also moments of light and hope. One time, the couple passed by St. Joseph’s Church as they were on their way to the hospital. Mayra was experiencing sharp pains and having difficulty breathing, but she asked to stop at the Church.

"Without thinking about it, we got out and as we entered we saw the image of the Divine Mercy and she started to cry right there," Ricardo said, noting Mayra’s devotion to the image of Divine Mercy. 

They stayed at the Church praying for about two hours, first alone and then with members of a prayer group who arrived and offered to pray with them. Mayra’s pain soon disappeared.

"As we went home, we were reflecting on all that had happened: we were going to the hospital but ended up in the Church," Ricardo said. "That was another incredible thing that consoled us and brought us peace. Again we realized that we weren’t alone."

Six and a half months into the pregnancy, Mayra began chemotherapy. About six weeks later, however, doctors determined that the treatments were not working, and they had to perform an immediate caesarean section.

The operation involved a high risk of death for both Mayra and her son. It was an intense day of prayers and trust, Father John Gregory explained, and it affected even the hospital workers. "The nurses said, ‘This the first time we have seen something so strong, the blending of life and death.’"

Mayra survived the C-section, and Samuel was born, healthy for a premature baby. After a few weeks, the family was able to go home, but Mayra’s condition continued to decline, until she had to return to the hospital, where the pain could be controlled.

Despite radiation therapy, the cancer overtook Mayra’s body and eventually, she was unable to eat or even breathe on her own.

On June 21, while she was in the hospital, Mayra and Ricardo were married. As they had grown in their faith and received guidance from Fr. John Gregory, they had come to see the meaning of marriage.

"We got married in a room in the hospital. It was beautiful," Ricardo said. "Afterwards, we felt peaceful, in God’s grace.  We also did it for Samuel, so that he could also receive God’s blessing of having his parents married." 

 

As her condition grew worse, Mayra’s family prepared for the end of her earthly life. Aida described the beauty that shone through the pain of her sister’s last days on earth. "At the end, I saw her like Christ, with so many wounds and bruises on her arms and her side," she said.

Those who knew Mayra will remember her beautiful witness to life. Fr. John Gregory described the opportunity to accompany Mayra along this difficult journey as "an incredible path of faith" for his own life.

"[T]his experience has given me more strength to preach what death really is, because she gave me a witness of a new birth," he said. "It has given me more enthusiasm and helped me to understand that I have to explain that the true death is sin, not physical death."

Ricardo said that Mayra’s sickness and death taught him about the existence and love of God. "Through all this, God made me know that He exists, that He is with us," he said.

Ricardo wants to give back to the Catholic community that has and continues to support him. But for now, his primary focus is his new son, whom he wants to raise and educate in God’s love. "Now I have to look after Samuel, and tell him that his mommy gave her life for him," he said.

Although coping with Mayra’s death is still difficult, Ricardo finds strength in the Lord as he moves forward. "Now I’m at peace," he said. "I have hope and continue trusting in God. It has changed my life."

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U.S. House votes down Pence Amendment intended to defund Planned Parenthood

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2009 (CNA) -

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted 247-183 against an amendment that would stop federal taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood through the Title X Family Planning programs.

The amendment was sponsored by Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence.

"The largest abortion provider in America should not also be the largest recipient of federal funds under Title X," Rep. Pence said while introducing the amendment. His proposal would have modified H.R. 3293, the appropriations bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

The amendment was supported by a majority of Republicans and opposed by a majority of Democrats. According to the web site of the Clerk of the House, 20 of the 258 Democrats who voted on the Pence Amendment voted in its favor, while nine of the 172 voting Republicans opposed it.

Other pro-life amendments had been proposed but the House Rules Committee did not allow them to be considered in a full vote, LifeNews.com reports.

Prior to the vote, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) spoke in favor of the amendment.

"No child is safe in a Planned Parenthood clinic. That goes equally for the preborn child yearning to be born or the 15 year old pregnant girl being told she’s entitled to a secret abortion – an abortion procured with neither her parents’ knowledge nor consent."

Rep. Smith charged that Planned Parenthood has caused "a staggering loss of children’s lives." He said the organization "aggressively lobbies and litigates against every modest restriction" proven to "significantly reduce" abortions and has even opposed bans on partial-birth abortions.

"Planned Parenthood lobbies and litigates against prohibitions on taxpayer funding of abortion even though Planned Parenthood’s own research shows that funding bans reduce abortion by 20 to 35 percent," Rep. Smith said. "It’s time to understand the irreversible harm Planned Parenthood is doing to the children of America – born and unborn."

According to LifeNews.com, Planned Parenthood received more than $350 million in taxpayer money from federal, state, and local governments in fiscal year 2007-2008.

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Benedict XVI’s presence is ‘moment of grace,’ says Aosta priest

Rome, Italy, Jul 24, 2009 (CNA) - Father Aldo Armellin, who is the Diocese of Aosta’s liaison with the villa at Les Combes where Pope Benedict XVI is on vacation, said local residents feel the Pontiff’s presence is “a moment of grace” and “an event capable of instilling new emotions.”

 

After noting that many await the Pope’s words with anxiousness at the vespers celebration this Friday in Aosta and at the Angelus this Sunday, Father Armellin said local residents have always been respectful of the Holy Father’s needs and privacy and that they are accompanying him with their prayers. They consider the unexpected encounters with the Pope, such as his chance-meeting with a few children with whom he shared a few moments, to be gift, the priest said.

 

He also said that many locals are sending the Pope sweets and notes, and that the Pope takes the opportunity whenever he can to greet them and exchange a few words.

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Ethicist hopes new breakthrough will eliminate ‘need’ to destroy human embryos

Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2009 (CNA) - Two teams of Chinese researchers reported a medical breakthrough this morning, creating living mice from connective tissue that had been reverted to its embryonic state, a development that may eliminate the "need" to destroy human embryos for research.

Researchers accomplished this by first inducing the cells from the connective tissue to revert back to their embryonic state. This feat was first achieved two years ago, however researchers had never been successful in creating new living animals from these "induced pluripotent stem" (iPS) cells, raising questions about their developmental potential.

Results published today by the online journals "Nature" and "Cell Stem Cell" answer those questions, as scientists have shown that the iPS cells truly do function identically to embryonic stem cells. This proves that like embryonic stem cells, iPS cells are pluripotent, or able to develop into any type of cell, rather than simply multipotent, as adult stem cells are, only able to develop into a limited number of cells.

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, neuroscientist, staff ethicist, and director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, explained to CNA that the breakthrough offers hope that iPS cells may be effective in providing an ethically acceptable alternative to human embryonic stem cell research.

"This procedure does not require the destruction of human embryos," Fr. Pacholczyk

said. "Therefore, it is certainly preferable to embryonic stem cell research."

"Nature" reports how researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Shanghai Jiao Tong University successfully produced 27 live offspring, while the National Institute of Biological Sciences produced four. Some of the mice have successfully mated to produce hundreds of second and third generation mice, however some of the first-generation mice had abnormalities.

Due to these abnormalities and the large number of failures necessary to produce a few successes, scientists argued that the experiments were too dangerous to attempt on humans.

Pacholczyk stressed that such procedures would also be ethically unacceptable. "You would run into exactly the same set of concerns that human closing raises," he told CNA, explaining that such procedures were acceptable when applied to animals, but "absolutely unethical" for humans.

While the process used to create the mice is technically different from cloning, both yield an organism that is genetically identical to its cell donor. The Catholic Church opposes this artificial creation of life when applied to human beings.

However, while it cannot be ethically used to create new humans, iPS cells offer hopes for the ethical treatment of human diseases and other ailments.

In the realm of medicine, where the goal is not to create a new human being but to development treatment for an illness, iPS cells would provide an ethical alternative to processes that use embryonic stem cells, destroying human embryos in the process.

With today’s report showing that iPS cells have identities and behaviors identical to those of embryonic stem cells, therapeutic experiments and research can be carried out without destroying innocent human life.

"We have the perfect alternative here," Fr. Pacholczyk said, referring to iPS cells, because they "don’t require the dismemberment of any human embryos."

With the iPS cells, Pacholczyk explained that "there are still all the difficulties that you encounter with embryonic stem cells," but that research can now be done and possible progress can be made in an ethical manner by using the iPS cells instead of embryonic stem cells.

In time, he explained, perhaps the problems will be solved and such cells will be able to be controlled for use in such medicinal procedures. At that point, iPS cells would be extremely useful as an ethically acceptable alternative to human embryonic stem cells.

For now, Pacholczyk believes that the greatest hope in therapeutic procedures comes not from iPS cells but from adult stem cells. These cells are already being used to effectively treat various diseases and conditions, he explained.

Pacholczyk hopes that scientists who do want to continue researching with embryonic stem cells will be open to the use of iPS cells over fetal cells. At the same time, however, he noted the disproportionate amount of funding given to research with human embryos.

"Our President has completely liberalized the posture of the federal government towards funding this kind of research," he told CNA, noting that this is true despite the science showing such research to be largely ineffective compared to other means.

Fr. Pacholczyk expressed his hopes that today’s development may help shift the focus of stem cell research to cells created by ethical means, working for the good of humanity while respecting the dignity of each human life.

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