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10/15/2006 3:26 AM
 
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Therapeutic cloning an affront to human dignity, Australian bishops say

10/12/2006
Catholic Online

CANBERRA, Australia (Catholic Online) – Therapeutic cloning stands as an affront to basic human values and leads society to creating a new expendable class human beings that diminishes the dignity of all people, said the Australian bishops.

In an Oct. 11 statement issued as the federal parliament considers proposals to lift the ban on human cloning, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said that the legislative measures, if passed, will “create a new contempt for life” by allowing “human embryos to be deliberately created and then destroyed for scientific research.”

Therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, involves the injecting of adult genetic material into a human egg which has had its nucleus removed. Stem cells are then harvested from the resulting human embryo for use in research.

While those in favor claim it will lead to cures for currently uncurable diseases, those opposed, including the Australian bishops, say it involves the destruction of human life.

“To create a human embryo with the express purpose of destroying it for research is to enter into a dangerous and perverse form of human experimentation,” the Australian bishops said.

The Catholic Church is not opposed to stem cell research, the bishops said. “On the contrary, we are strong supporters of research based on adult stem cells, as well as those which are derived from umbilical cord blood.”

The bishops noted that the nation’s parliament passed legislation in 2002, which they opposed, allowing embryonic stem cell lines to be extracted from human embryos remaining from the in vitro fertilization process. At that time, the bishops added, the parliament “rejected human embryo cloning.”

Yet, they said that new legislation, expected to be voted upon next month, intends “to take us from using ‘spare’ human embryos, created for reproduction, to creating a new class of human embryos, never to be used for reproduction, but only for research.”

This despite the fact that there have been no significant scientific developments in the past four years, the bishops added.

The new bills “create a new contempt for life,” the bishops said, by “creating embryos purely for the purpose of destruction, further dehumanizing the human embryos (and) introducing new categories of human embryos, including clones and embryos with mixed DNA.”

Such science, the Australian bishops said, “compounds the promotion of curiosity over ethics.”

Using terms like “therapeutic cloning” is misleading, they said, as no such therapies have been borne from the process.

The human embryo, the bishops stressed, “has intrinsic human dignity and should be afforded the most basic of human rights – the right to live, to grow, to prosper.”

They stated that they were not making “a religious argument,” founded on faith beliefs. “We do not argue against destructive experimentation on embryos simply because we are Catholic, but because of basic human values,” the bishops said. “As a society we cannot seek to alleviate the suffering of some people by creating and then killing human life.”

While all people hope that treatments can be found for serious diseases or conditions, the bishops said that “allowing scientists open slather on human embryos for research is not the way forward.”

10/15/2006 3:33 AM
 
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The Danger of a New Selective Eugenics

Address by Father H. Ennis

PRETORIA, South Africa, OCT. 14, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is a text prepared by Friars Minor Father Hyacinth Ennis for a videoconference of theologians Sept. 27 on bioethics. The Congregation for Clergy organized the event. The text was adapted here.

* * *

The Danger of a New Selective Eugenics,
Which Aims to Destroy Embryos With Defects and Illness

By Dr. Hyacinth Ennis, OFM
Pretoria, South Africa

Because of the wonderful advances made in recent years by human embryology, scientists can now detect various things about the young embryo while in the womb of its mother. Among the things that can be discovered are the presence of certain physical and even mental disabilities or handicaps in the embryo.

Unfortunately such a scientific detection and its concomitant information can lead people -- especially impressionable pregnant mothers -- to decide to undergo a clinical abortion. Just because the embryo is found to be defective, they (mothers and medical personnel) consider it being in their best interest to abort the said imperfect embryo.

This being the case, many medical specialists and indeed even legal systems, permit and encourage a so-called therapeutic abortion in such instances. This, for example, is the sort of an abortion permitted in the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act of South Africa of 1996 which, "inter alia," legally allows abortion when "there exists a substantial risk that the fetus would suffer from a severe physical or mental abnormality."

The Catholic Church does permit medical procedures to be carried out on the human embryo "which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing" ("Donum Vitae," I, 3). However, the use of such procedures to warrant the abortion of defective embryos (either because of physical or mental defects) has been roundly condemned by the Church in recent times.

It is one of the cases elucidated by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical letter "Evangelium Vitae" of 1995 (Nos. 14 and 63) where he calls it "eugenic abortion." A similar line is taken by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2274) and by the Charter for Health Care Workers (No. 61) of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers of 1995.

Such a "eugenic abortion" is plainly and simply contrary to the Fifth Commandment and the "right to life" of the unborn child. It is at the same time a violation of the Hippocratic oath. The Declaration of the Rights of the Child of the United Nations in 1959 declares that "the child, because of its physical and mental immaturity, needs special care and safeguards, including legal safeguards, before as well as after birth."

Thus, such a so-called eugenic abortion is a violation of legal justice and good medicine. It is a form of unjust discrimination against an innocent human life: Certain individuals are deemed worthy of living while others are discarded because of their inability to reach the technical standards of science in regard to human perfection. In this respect this type of "selective eugenics" becomes acceptable in some medical and legal quarters.

There is a naivete here that fails to recognize the depth of tragedy in human existence -- it has rushed in where angels fear to tread. It fails to see that its "panacea" has only served to open a Pandora's box of further problems of deeper consequence. The slippery slope has drawn closer to the abyss.

A line has to be drawn -- such procedures are not in the best interest of the unborn child and only help to illustrate society's incapacity to cope with so-called human imperfection and physical disability. Unborn children, especially the "defective" ones, are indeed, the most vulnerable of humans!
10/18/2006 7:03 PM
 
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Doctor says Catholics who won't perform abortions face pressure

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Catholic obstetricians who respect the dignity of motherhood and the life of the unborn risk disappearing in societies where abortion is legal, said the head of an international group of Catholic obstetricians and gynecologists.

Obstetricians who oppose having to perform abortions as part of their training or in their practice at public or private health care facilities sometimes face "a sort of medical totalitarianism" and feel tremendous pressure to "do it this way or not at all," Dr. Robert Walley, founder and executive director of MaterCare International, told Catholic News Service Oct. 12.

Walley and some 60 other obstetricians from 14 countries were in Rome Oct. 11-15 as part of the fourth MaterCare International workshop for Catholic women's health specialists.

Part of the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, MaterCare was founded in 1995 to "serve the culture of life" wherever mothers and their children are neglected or abandoned, said the British-born doctor. This year's workshop looked at ways the dignity of motherhood and the practice of obstetrics could be protected and promoted.

"Like the dinosaur who was frozen out by a climatic change, that's happening to us," Walley said, explaining that Catholic obstetricians who wish to avoid being involved with abortions are being "frozen out by the climatic change that occurred when abortion was brought in 30 years ago."

When he started his studies more than 35 years ago, Walley said obstetrics was a prestigious and even joyful profession because the doctors were helping "the co-creators" of life bring a new child into the world and "the outcome was always happy."

But all that changed with legalized abortion, he said, and most practitioners "became depressed."

"It doesn't matter what side of the argument you're on with the abortion issue, nobody wants to spend their life doing abortions if you're a trained surgeon, a trained gynecologist," he said.

But he said the largest factor that has led to the drop in new recruits for obstetrics and gynecology is the climate of litigation.

"There's a crisis in obstetrics because no one wants to go into it," he said.

"The world now expects perfection, so if you don't get it and we can't guarantee that," he said, patients often sue the obstetrician, which then discourages people from continuing or even getting into this field.

Walley said he had no idea how great an impact legalized abortion would have on his and other doctors' lives and careers.

He lived and trained in England, but was soon forced to leave when Britain's state-run National Health System required him to perform abortions.

"I said, 'No,' and they said, 'No, you have to do it and if not you have to either change your specialty or leave.' And I chose to leave," he said.

He moved to Canada, where he joined the faculty of a new medical school, and while the school did not require him to teach or perform abortions, "they weren't happy I had a particular view of things, and that pursued me until I retired from clinical practice last year."

"Every civilized country has always recognized conscientious objection even in the time of war, but not in the time of abortion, and it's an outrage," he said, adding that many countries, especially in Europe, do not protect a doctor's right of conscience.

However, more than a decade ago the U.S. Congress passed legislation that provided a protection of conscience clause when new regulations required abortion training in all residency programs.

Dr. John Seeds, professor and chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., said half his residents are practicing Catholics and that they openly enjoy their studies, even at this public, secular university.

"There's not this evil cloud" hanging over them that would have come with a requirement to study or perform abortions, Seeds, chair of MaterCare USA, told CNS.

Father George Woodall, professor of moral theology and bioethics at Rome's Regina Apostolorum university, reaffirmed the importance of protecting the right and dignity of conscience, saying conscience does not reflect mere personal opinion or feelings, but reflects an individual's desire to pay witness to truth.

He did, however, caution against an attitude of what he called "paternalism" when it came to doctors or health care workers not providing patients with information on procedures or services that go against their own religious beliefs.

"To deny a patient proper information so they can make an informed choice ... is paternalistic," he said, but "choosing not to do harm" by refusing to carry out an abortion, sterilization or euthanasia "is not paternalistic."

It is morally licit, he said, for health care workers to look after a patient before or after her abortion "provided they don't endorse it" or participate in preparations for the procedure.

"Counseling for an abortion is equally gravely wrong," he said, even though some doctors think they should be part of state-run counseling programs in the hopes of dissuading the woman from having an abortion.

Seeds said pro-life individuals must continue to advocate for the unborn and keep up dialogue with people who do not agree with the church's position.

"The pro-life movement of the church argues from a supportive and loving position, not a destructive, hostile position. We have to love it out of them ... it's the only way to make it work," he said.

10/24/2006 3:34 PM
 
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CATHOLIC & EVANGELICAL LEADERS DENOUNCE MURDEROUS PRACTICES
Joint Evangelical and Catholic document
on abortion, euthanasia, embryonic research
calls these activities 'murder'

By Gudrun Schultz

UNITED STATES, October 23, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Evangelical and Catholic leaders who have issued a joint statement declaring that care for the vulnerable in society is an essential requirement of authentic Christianity which must reject any deliberate taking of innocent human life as murder.

“The direct and intentional taking of innocent human life in abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and embryonic research is rightly understood as murder,” the document ‘That They May Have Life’ declares, from Evangelicals and Catholics Together.

Published in the October issue of the Catholic magazine First Things, the statement identifies the biblical foundations of the call to protect and care for the unborn, ill and dying in the Divine command to “love your neighbor.”

“The love for the neighbor begins…with respect for the neighbor’s right to be, by honoring the gift of God that is the neighbor’s life. Thus the most basic commandment of neighbor-love is ‘You shall not kill’ …rightly understood as ‘You shall not murder,” the statement declares.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief of First Things and a participant in drafting the document, said there was “intense” debate over the use of the term “murder,” in reference to abortion, in an interview with the Ledger.

“But we tried to be very precise, namely that any direct and deliberate taking of innocent human life is in ordinary language - and certainly in the language of the Western moral tradition - properly called murder,” he said.

The purpose of the statement is to “explain to our communities why we believe that support for a culture of life is an integral part of Christian faith and therefore a morally unavoidable imperative of Christian discipleship,” the authors write. “We believe it is of utmost importance that everyone involved in the public discussion of these questions understand the unbreakable connection between a Christian worldview and the defense of human life.”

“It is not the case that we wish to ’impose’ our moral convictions on our fellow-citizens or, as some recklessly charge, to establish a ’theocracy.’ Our intention is not to impose but to propose, educate and persuade in the hope that, through free deliberation and decision, our society will be turned toward a more consistent respect for the inestimable gift that is human life.”

The statement refutes the argument of compassion frequently used by those who promote abortion and euthanasia, saying:

“While we can sympathize with those who view their own life or the life of another as a burden and not a gift…there can by no moral justification for murder.
“We are determined to employ every legal means available to protect, in law and in life, the innocent and vulnerable members of the human community.”

The statement’s authors plead with the Christian community to recognize the central place of respect for human life within the beliefs of the Church, and call for a “reasonable deliberation” with those who disagree, in an attempt to move beyond “culture wars.”

“Our churches do not simply support the pro-life movement as a social cause. Because the gospel of life is integral to God’s loving purpose for his creation, the Church of Jesus Christ, comprehensively understood, is a pro-life movement continuing God’s mission until the end of time.

“We cannot and would not impose this vision of a culture of life upon others. We do propose to our fellow Christians and to all Americans that they join with us in a process of deliberation and decision that holds the promise of a more just and humane society.”

Catholic leaders who endorsed the statement include Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Fordham University, Fr. Francis Martin, a foremost Catholic theologian and member of Mother of God Community, and Mr. George Weigel, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Evangelical leaders included Mr. Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, pastors Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, with the Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Church, respectively, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

Read the full statement from Evangelicals and Catholics Together:http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0608/articles/ectstate...
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10/24/2006 3:38 PM
 
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ANOTHER SETBACK FOR 'ESC'
Study: Human Embryonic Stem Cells (ESC)
May Cause Brain Tumours


By Hilary White

NEW YORK, October 23, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A US research team has released a report showing that embryonic stem cells injected into the brains of Parkinson’s patients have a serious risk of forming tumours.

Steven Goldman and colleagues at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York wrote in the journal Nature Medicine, that human embryo cells injected into the brains of rats showed signs of forming cancerous cells.

Parkinson's disease is caused when dopamine-releasing cells die in the brain and scientists have shown that stem cells can be targeted to repair the damaged tissue. Embryonic cells, however, have proven to yield unpredictable and sometimes dangerous results.

In the case of Parkinson’s, much progress has been made already with adult stem cells (ASC) that so far do not show the same propensity as embryonic cells to form tumours or “go wild” and form unpredictable types of tissue.

In the case of Goldman’s research, though the injected embryonic cells grafted successfully with the area of Parkinson’s damage, the cells began dividing in a way that had the potential to develop into tumours.

Previous experiments with foetal cells have led to some disastrous failures.

In August 2003, a similar experiment using cells derived from aborted tissue, a repeat of an earlier attempt, resulted in what researchers involved called “catastrophic” and irreversible side effects.

The study, published in the Annals of Neurology, showed that of the 23 Parkinson's patients who received transplants of aborted foetal tissue, 13 developed irreversible spasmodic movements in their limbs.

Read related LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
Fetal Tissue Transplants Cause Disaster Again for Parkinson's Patients in Experimental Treatment

www.lifesite.net/ldn/2003/aug/03082503.html
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10/24/2006 3:54 PM
 
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IN THE BEGINNING COULD ONLY HAVE BEEN 'LOGOS'
Richard Dawkins is a British scientist who became a household name among people interested in science when he wrote a popular book called "The Selfish Gene" about the state of genetics at the time. He is an atheist who is very vocal about it and a sought-after talk-show guest.

Amy Welborn points us to a column in First Things which deals with Dawkins's latest book as well as to a ZENIT transcript of a recent debate Dawkins had about the existence of God. Here first from FIRST THINGS
:
----------------------------------------------------------------

October 19, 2006
Stephen Barr writes:

A small price that I have paid for the privilege of writing book reviews for First Things is that I have ended up reading four of Richard Dawkins’ books. That is more than anyone should have to read, for though Dawkins writes extremely well, his repertoire of ideas is quite limited.

Indeed, everything that Dawkins has to say about the world, aside from his popular expositions of science, could be explained to an intelligent person in a few minutes; it doesn’t take a whole book, let alone all the books he has written.

Having nothing new to say, he has decided to say the old things with increasingly unrestrained boorishness. Surfeited as I am with Dawkins’ highly polished put-downs and elegant sneering at his intellectual foes, I am happy to be able to experience his latest book (The God Delusion) at second hand through the philosopher Thomas Nagel’s incisive review in the New Republic.

Nagel is not impressed by Dawkins’ “attempts at philosophy.” One of Dawkins’ pet arguments against God as an explanation of design in the world is that it leads to an infinite regress:
“A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right.” As Nagel points out, this argument would only have force if theists conceived of God as a complicated brain rather than as an incorporeal being.

It is true that we have no experience of minds that are not associated with complicated brains. And from this fact materialists like Dawkins infer that mind is just a feature of matter that emerges when matter is organized in certain complex ways. As Nagel notes, this inference is also encouraged by the great explanatory success of the physical sciences:

"This reductionist dream is nourished by the extraordinary success of the physical sciences in our time, not least in their recent application to the understanding of life through molecular biology.

"It is natural to try to take any successful intellectual method as far as it will go. Yet the impulse to find an explanation of everything in physics has over the last fifty years gotten out of control.

"The concepts of physical science provide a very special, and partial, description of the world that experience reveals to us. It is the world with all subjective consciousness, sensory appearances, thought, value, purpose, and will left out. What remains is the mathematically describable order of things and events in space and time."
[Teresa's comment: Of course, Benedict XVI said as much in different words at Regensburg and on a number of other occasions, including last week's addresses in Verona and at the Lateran University.]

Nagel is clearly correct about this. Physics is ultimately about quantities — quantities that are calculated through equations or quantities that are measured with instruments. However, from matter in motion through space and time, and from the equations that describe it, such things as consciousness and sensory experience cannot arise. So, as Nagel says, the project of “physicalist reductionism” is “doomed.”

It may be that minds of the sort we encounter in living organisms arise as a consequence of the activities of complex physical structures. However, that “consequence” cannot be one that is physically explicable, in the sense that it follows logically from the mathematical laws of physics. There must be other kinds of explanations in the world than the kinds theoretical physicists are able to give. As Nagel puts it,

"We have more than one form of understanding. Different forms of understanding are needed for different kinds of subject matter. The great achievements of physical science do not make it capable of encompassing everything, from mathematics to ethics to the experiences of a living animal."

Dawkins regards belief in God as a “delusion.” In my judgment, physicalist reductionism such as his is not a delusion but an illusion caused by a trick of perspective.

If one’s knowledge of nature remains at the rather superficial level provided by “natural history,” one can easily get the impression that everything is built (or builds itself) from the bottom up; in other words, that the most basic level of reality is the ontologically simplest and most trivial, and that everything emerges somehow out of that.

For example, we have learned that swirling clouds of gas and dust gradually formed themselves into galaxies, stars, planetary systems, and other orderly structures. On those planets there was some primordial soup or ooze or slime, the atoms of which combined into larger and larger molecules and finally into self-replicating ones. Simpler organisms evolved into more complex ones, and eventually sensation and thought made their appearance.

It may seem that science is telling us that the arrow always goes from lower to higher, from simpler to more sophisticated, from chaos to order, from matter to form, from body to mind —mind only emerging at the very end.

However, the deeper understanding provided by the more fundamental branches of science presents us with a very different picture. That order which appeared to “arise spontaneously” from chaos or slime did no such thing.

It arose from profound principles of order that were there from the very beginning. The wonderful structure of the solar system emerged because the dust and gas from which it formed obeyed the deep and beautiful laws discovered by Newton. Those laws in turn flow from the deeper and more beautiful laws of General Relativity discovered by Einstein.

The slime from which life arose was made of atoms that had all the structure and intricacy and potentiality that chemists devote their lives to studying. Those laws of chemistry are themselves the consequence of the beautifully elaborate laws of electromagnetism and quantum mechanics, which in their turn come from the even more profound structures studied in “quantum field theory.”

As one moves deeper into nature — to levels about which the natural historian and zoologist can tell us nothing — one encounters not less and less form but increasingly magnificent mathematical structures, structures so profound that even the greatest mathematicians are having difficulty understanding them.

This is what Pope Benedict was referring to in his Regensburg lecture when he spoke of “the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, . . . the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature.”

It is what the great mathematician Hermann Weyl meant when he said, “(I)n our knowledge of physical nature we have penetrated so far that we can obtain a vision of the flawless harmony which is in conformity with sublime reason.”

It is what the great astrophysicist James Jeans meant when he said, “The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.”

At the foundations of the natural world, we do not find merely slime or dust or some dull insensate stuff. We find ideas of sublime beauty.

Dawkins looks at mind and sees atoms in motion. Physicists look at those atoms, and deep below those atoms, and see — or, at least, some of them have seen — the products of “sublime reason,” “a great thought,” a Mind.

In other words, in nature we see a different arrow: It moves from Mind to ideas and forms, and from ideas and forms to matter. In the beginning was the Logos, St. John tells us, and the Logos was God.
---------------------------------------------------------------

I will post the ZENIT transcript (a 2-part report) when it is complete today.

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 24/10/2006 16.09]

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11/1/2006 10:37 PM
 
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Are we alone? – Science's search could profoundly impact religion

By Rich Heffern
10/30/2006
National Catholic Reporter --

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (National Catholic Reporter) – The question of whether we’re alone in the universe or not is such a beguiling one that science now actively seeks an answer. Though out on science’s borderlands, this effort is a great human adventure, and the truth may soon be within reach. Italian monk Giordano Bruno was burned alive in the year 1600 for, among other things, proposing we’re not alone. A clear-cut answer would have a big impact on theology.

SETI, the acronym for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, is science’s effort to detect evidence of intelligent life beyond the Earth by looking for signatures of its technology. The usual approach is to survey the sky with a radio telescope to detect electromagnetic transmissions from a distant world.

Catholics have been involved in the SETI effort from the beginning.

This quest is now 46 years old. It’s a research field pursued by independent groups conducting projects in a few countries. About 30 scientists and engineers worldwide work in the field. The largest research group, roughly a dozen people, is at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., near San Jose.

“Either there is other intelligent life out there, or we are alone in the universe. Either possibility is staggering,” said Richard Barrans, astronomer at the University of Wyoming.

A SETI success, the detection of an unambiguous signal or message, would undoubtedly be one of the top news headlines in history, with undreamed of and far-ranging effects on religious views and theology.

Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh, emeritus president of the University of Notre Dame, played an important role in emphasizing the compatibility of SETI and theology’s search for understanding.

In fact, Father Hesburgh paid a visit to SETI pioneer Frank Drake in the 1960s and he continued to promote SETI by serving on the editorial board of Cosmic Search, a publication of one of the first search agencies. In the preface to an early NASA feasibility report, Father Hesburgh wrote: “As a theologian, I would say that this proposed search … is also one of knowing and understanding God through his works. Finding others than ourselves would mean knowing him better.”

Staff at the Vatican Observatory Research Group at the University of Arizona in Tucson, a part of the Vatican Observatory headquartered at Castel Gandolfo in Italy, are involved indirectly. “It’s controversial among professional astronomers,” Jesuit Father William Stoeger, staff member, told National Catholic Reporter. “Many say it’s a long shot not worth taking; others say OK as long as we don’t spend much money.”

“We participate here in panels on intelligent life in the universe,” Father Stoeger said. “Also two of us work in a project funded by the Templeton Foundation at the university known as ‘Astrobiology and the Sacred,’ which includes discussion, lectures and producing educational materials involving astrobiology and its impact on religion and culture.”

Certain assumptions underlie the SETI effort.

The most basic is what’s called the principle of mediocrity, the idea that we’re not exotic or unusual in the universe but typically average when compared both with other locations and even other intelligences. Corollaries of this principle include the notion that communication would be mutually desirable and understandable.

If these assumptions are correct then contact of some kind seems inevitable given enough time, SETI scientists contend.

There are challenges involved since the direction, spectrum and method of possible communication, if any, are unknown. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is 100,000 light years (the distance light travels in a year at the speed of 186,000 miles per second) in diameter and contains 200 or 300 billion stars. It’s an ambitious task to survey this unimaginably vast area, and our galaxy is only one of another 300 billion or so.

As common as sand

In fact, sorting through billions on billions of stars is as formidable as looking for a needle among all the grains of sand on all the world’s beaches. Scientists estimate there are slightly more stars in the universe than there are sand grains on Earth. Yet the search can be narrowed by limiting it to stars that are like ours, which make up about 10 percent of the total – and even to stars that have planets like ours.

In 1991, radio astronomers detected the first extra-solar planets. More evidence has been coming in. It was reported this month that the Hubble Space Telescope discovered a trove of “candidate” planets in a narrow region near the Milky Way’s center, and astronomers say there must be billions more of them – including many like Earth that orbit their suns in so-called “habitable” zones. SETI Institute scientist Seth Shostak told National Catholic Reporter: “This discovery shows that planets are probably more common than cheap motels, that there are in fact more planets than stars.”

To find a transmission from one of these planets, science must sort through most of the useful radio spectrum. There’s no way of knowing what frequencies might be used; broadcasts would be transmitted on a relatively narrow band as it would be too impractical to use a wide range.

SETI researchers usually target the “water hole.”

That’s a 300 megahertz (MHz) wide section of the radio spectrum, from 1420 to 1720 MHz. These boundaries correspond to radio frequencies emitted by hydrogen (H) atoms and hydroxyl (OH) molecules. Since H and OH combine to form water, the basis of life as we know it, this region of the spectrum may be favored by water-based life for interstellar communication.

Listening is the primary technique, though there are proposals for optical telescopes to look for detectable light signals. “You’re not going to see them in person, I don’t think,” Shostak said. “To go from here to the nearest star requires a 100,000-year trip. And that’s longer than you’re going to want to sit there eating airline food.”

In 1960, Cornell University astronomer Frank Drake performed the first search, named “Project Ozma” after the Queen of Oz in L. Frank Baum’s children’s books.

A 75-foot-wide radiotelescope in West Virginia was used to monitor the stars Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani, at the 1420 frequency. Drake’s search drew a blank, but the effort was picked up by others and has never faltered since.

In 1963, Ohio State University inaugurated a search with the aid of funds from the National Science Foundation. This program achieved fame in 1977 when a project volunteer detected a strong signal received by the telescope that met the requirements for a possible intelligent source. He circled the telltale numbers on a printout and scribbled, “Wow!” in the margin. This signal, dubbed the “Wow! Signal,” is considered the most likely candidate discovered to date, but it has never been repeated and the source has never been confirmed.

In 1992, NASA’s participation in SETI, the Microwave Observing Program (MOP), was canceled shortly after its start, ridiculed by grandstanding politicians. Democrat Sen. William Proxmire called it a futile project because “there isn’t a scintilla of evidence that intelligent life exists beyond our solar system.” A scientist replied, “As late as 1491 there wasn’t a scintilla of evidence that America existed.”

Private funding, in part by writer Arthur C. Clarke, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Intel founder Gordon Moore, and Hewlett-Packard cofounders David Packard and William Hewlett has allowed the effort to continue as Project Phoenix, a systematic targeted search of nearby individual stars.

Another long-term project is SERENDIP operated by the University of California, Berkeley, at the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. Another major project is conducted in Australia.

In a joint project with Berkeley scientists, the SETI Institute is building a dedicated array of telescopes that will equal a 100-meter radio telescope, the Allen Telescope Array. Activity on it will begin next spring. It is the forerunner of other larger radio astronomy arrays planned for later in the decade.

SETI is not only a long-term project but a grass-roots one as well.

Seti@home is a computing project launched in 1999 at Berkeley. Anyone can become involved by downloading then installing a software package, which then runs signal analysis on units of data recorded from radio telescopes. It actually runs on a home computer as a screensaver, doing its work during down time. The results are automatically returned to the university. More than 5 million computer users in more than 20 countries have signed up, contributing over 19 billion hours of processing time.

Early in the search, Frank Drake organized the first SETI conference and presented a key formulation in the endeavor, “an elegant tool for quantifying our ignorance,” what soon became known as the Drake Equation:

N = n* x fs x fp x ne x fi x fc x fl

This string of letter-symbols can be found on T-shirts and bumper stickers. It expresses the number N of “observable civilizations” that currently exist in our galaxy as a simple result of the multiplication of some more-or-less approachable unknowns.

The first term, n*, is the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy, while fs is the fraction of sun-like stars, fp is the fraction of those stars with planets, ne is the average number of “Earthlike” planets that are potentially suitable for life in the typical solar system, fi is the fraction of those planets on which life actually forms, fc is the fraction of life-bearing planets where intelligence evolves, fl is the percentage of a lifetime of a planet that is marked by the presence of a communicative civilization.

Intelligent life may be rare

Take just one factor in the equation, fc. Many biologists point out that the evolution of self-aware life depends in a delicately balanced way both on aspects of the laws of physics and on Earth’s circumstances. For example, the fact we have a large moon circling us keeps the spin of the planet stable with respect to the sun, and a gas giant, Jupiter, further out from the sun sweeps the area, intercepting incoming comets and asteroids.

Finding evidence of primitive life on Mars would tell us that such life appears in many places, yet amoebas might not inevitably turn into opera singers. In fact, the lifeless surface of Mars today is a reminder that the building blocks may be there in abundance but things have to be just right for life to develop.

“It’s possible that life is common in the universe while intelligent life is extremely rare,” Father Stoeger said. “On the other hand, astrobiologists contend that evolutionary convergence makes intelligence likely, that once life is in place then it moves fairly quickly toward complexity.”

While the SETI program continues looking for signals, many scientists feel the continued silence is discouraging.

Physicist Enrico Fermi in the 1950s suggested that if the universe was giving birth to many civilizations then given the its age of 15 billion years “if they existed they would be here.” If we think of our technological advances over the last 10,000 years and project those over millions of years, we can understand Fermi’s concern.

While some argue for UFOs and alien abductions to be evidence, the majority of the science community is unconvinced. The fact that as yet we haven’t seen or heard anything is significant, they say. If hi-tech societies or their thinking machines were out there, they’d have colonized the galaxy by now.

Others have countered what is known as the “Fermi paradox” with explanations that include variations on the idea of the TV show “Star Trek” of the “prime directive”: Aliens study life on Earth from a distance but won’t interfere, ensuring we are unaware of their presence; or the aliens haven’t noticed us; we’re in a backwater of the galaxy; or because their technology is so advanced, we don’t recognize signs that they have been around.

A consideration of one factor in the Drake Equation is particularly troubling: Perhaps it’s a common occurrence that intelligent civilizations arise yet inevitably reach a certain stage, equivalent to ours at present, wherein nuclear war starts or a religious cult releases a deadly virus setting that planet back to the level of primitive bacteria. Or, much as we like to pretend we’re independent of nature, if the ecosystem collapses, we couldn’t survive, and this applies elsewhere. It’s difficult to assess the likelihood of such scenarios, yet it seems we may be headed toward a harsh filter that screens budding intelligent life.

SETI has shown up in the evolution-creationism debate. Intelligent design proponents have said that if science’s criteria are tightened to disqualify intelligent design then it should apply to SETI as well. “With SETI, what they’re looking for is in principle scientifically accessible,” said Father Stoeger. “Intelligent design proponents invoke something that is beyond natural processes; science can’t do anything with that.”

If one day – maybe on a home computer – evidence shows up, what would that mean for religion and Christian faith in particular?

Alien revelation

Father Stoeger believes “it would enrich Catholic theology immeasurably. Some might find it threatening, but I think it would make us realize that our theology can no longer be completely anthropocentric, or human-centered. If other entities are intelligent, then isn’t it likely they too would in some sense be made in the image and likeness of God? Do they have moral sense? Are they in a state of primeval innocence as C.S. Lewis speculated? How has God revealed God’s self to them? What do they see as salvation? What’s their experience of religion? And, of course, did Jesus redeem them too? These are completely unanswerable questions until we see the evidence.

“Our imagination is always going to be inadequate to divine reality. My own work in cosmology indicates there are possibly trillions of other universes besides ours. We’re finding hard evidence that God is far above and beyond anything we can image, in ways that go beyond what people of earlier centuries ever imagined God to be.”

John Haught, director of the Center for the Study of Science and Religion at Georgetown University in Washington told National Catholic Reporter: “Contact with intelligent worlds would be one more in a series of occasions modern astronomy has provided for theology to deepen its sense of nature and God; it would also enlarge our appreciation of God’s love for diversity.”

Jesuit Father George Coyne, former director of the Vatican Observatory, feels that such a discovery “of intelligent life elsewhere, independent of the origins of life on earth, would be truly momentous. Two independent origins would mean life is prolific,” he told National Catholic Reporter. “That would bring about a dramatic change in our view of ourselves and of God.”

Seth Shostak said detection of some evidence is likely sooner or later, especially with the advances in listening technology that are coming. “Of course, deciphering an intercepted message from a civilization that is hundreds of thousands of years ahead of us might be problematic unless they are concerned with elementary education. We’d be somewhat like the pre-Columban Incas finding a barrel of books from Europe washed ashore. What would they make of them? It would’ve taken them centuries to decipher what they’d found, with no context for the information.”

Another SETI pioneer, the late Carl Sagan, believed it’s possible that the future of human civilization depends on the receipt of interstellar messages.

“We’re a 100-year-old technology in a 10 billion-year-old galaxy,” said Jill Tarter, director of research at the SETI Institute. “Some benefits of contact might include finding out how to survive our own technology. Others might be able to define critical bottlenecks and elaborate various ways through them, or be able to tell us how to transition from our present-day my-God-versus-your-God conflicts to a more stable understanding of religion.”

Sir Martin Rees, England’s astronomer royal, said: “If SETI searches fail, that wouldn’t render life a sideshow. Indeed, it would be a boost to our cosmic self-esteem: Terrestrial life, and its fate, would become a matter of cosmic significance.”

Partly because of these implications for humanity’s future, many scientists feel Drake’s equation and the SETI effort stand as one of the most forward-looking of human endeavors. “Science’s attempts to find company in the vast emptiness of the universe is really a search for a wider, truer perspective on our place in space and time and on the meaning of life,” according to Alan McRobert, editor of Sky and Telescope magazine.

Just before he died, Carl Sagan described the universe he had discovered from a lifetime’s work in astronomy: “There is a place with four suns in the sky – red, white, blue and yellow; two of them are so close together they touch, and star-stuff flows between them. I know of a world with a million moons. I know of a sun the size of Earth – and made of diamond. … The universe is vast and awesome, and for the first time we are becoming part of it.”

Curiosity will keep the search going for years to come as a few scientists continue to look and listen for something like Princess Ozma’s realm: a place unimaginably exotic, distant and difficult to reach. Perhaps the real quest though is to increase to a critical mass our awareness of how precious is our collective human life as we figure out how to survive our tumultuous adolescence.
11/2/2006 3:36 AM
 
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MSM BIAS MAKES IT IGNORE ADULT STEM-CELL BREAKTHROUGHS
Many 'advocacy journalism' practitioners in the MSM have become so ideologically invested in their advocacy of embryo stem cell (ESC) research as the putative panacea for the most devastating diseases afflicting mankind, that they will not consider alternatives which will not result in destroying any form of life, such as adult stem cells (ASC) with which actual progress is being made.

It is a pathetically egoistic and downright unscientific attitude which makes them ignore facts that appear to show ASC research to be far more promising than ESC which has yet to report a single clinical trial success - the opposite, in fact (tumors and other malignancies resulting from culturing ESC in the laboratory).

Consider this story today from LifeSite News:


================================================================

Human Liver Grown from
Cord Blood Stem Cells-
Media Ignores UK Breakthrough

By Gudrun Schultz


NEWCASTLE, United Kingdom, November 1, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A group of British scientists has achieved a major breakthrough in stem cell technology, growing the world’s first artificial human liver in a laboratory, using stem cells obtained from umbilical cord blood. The achievement has been largely ignored, however, by North American mainstream media.

The UK Daily Mail reported yesterday on the work of Newcastle University researchers Nico Forraz and Colin McGuckin, who have successfully grown ‘mini-livers’ capable of being used to test new drugs and, in future years, of providing life-saving treatment to patients in need of liver transplants.

Researchers predict the science, with none of the ethical concerns associated with the use of embryonic stem cells, will be used to repair damaged livers within the next five years, and within 15 years, whole artificial livers will be grown to be used in transplants.

No mainstream media source in either the United States or Canada, however, has reported on the achievement thus far. Leading bioethics critic Wesley J. Smith, writing for the Weekly Standard, said the absence of press coverage indicates just how strong the media bias is for stem cell research using human embryos.

“A story that doesn’t validate the stem-cell mantra that embryonic stem cells offer the 'best hope' for future cures isn’t worth much attention,” Smith wrote. “Even the most important adult or umbilical cord blood stem-cell breakthroughs usually receive only minor, inside-the-paper coverage.”

“This is the primary reason why so many people still don’t know about the many advances being made on a continual basis in human research with ethical, adult and umbilical cord blood stem cells.”


Research using embryonic stem cells is highly controversial because it requires the destruction of embryos in order to “harvest” the cells. Further, to this date there has no success in using embryonic cells to treat any disease or disorder.

In contrast, the use of adult stem cells or of cells harvested from umbilical cord blood shortly after the birth of a baby have already been used successfully to treat multiple conditions, including spinal injury and blindness.

“...If this new breakthrough had been accomplished with embryonic stem cells instead of umbilical cord blood stem cells, the headlines would have been enormous,” Smith predicted. “Instead, we hear the sound of silence - thanks to the news blockade that doesn’t care much about stem-cell breakthroughs unless they come from destroyed embryos.”

An online news search shows several alternative media sources covering the story along with coverage by press in Australia, India, Qatar, South Africa and Turkey, but the material is “conspicuously absent” from the Associated Press, the Canadian Press, Reuters, or any of the dominant media outlets in North America.

Read coverage by the Daily Mail:
www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.htm...

Read Wesley J. Smith’s Weekly Standard commentary:
www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/00...

See related LifeSiteNews coverage:

Canadian Stem Cell Expert Speaks Out on Adult vs. Embryo Stem Cell Research
www.lifesite.net/ldn/2003/nov/03112001.html

Adult Stem Cell Research: True Potential Sacrificed for Other Possibilities Says Biotech Writer
www.lifesite.net/ldn/2006/jun/06061311.html

Adult Stem Cells used to Cure Blindness
www.lifesite.net/ldn/2005/apr/05042907.html

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 07/11/2006 1.53]

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11/7/2006 1:40 AM
 
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Pope: Scientific progress is God's plan if it doesn't threaten life

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Technological and scientific advancements in controlling the forces of nature are a part of God's plan as long as they are not a threat against human life and dignity, Pope Benedict XVI said to a group of scientists and theologians.

"Christianity does not posit an inevitable conflict between supernatural faith and scientific progress," the pope told some 70 participants attending a Vatican conference on "Predictability in Science: Accuracy and Limitations."

Top international scientists, including eight Nobel Prize laureates, attended the Nov. 3-6 plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

In a Nov. 6 private audience at the Vatican, the pope told participants that God created human beings with reason and entrusted them to be the caretakers of nature and all its creatures.

By being able to better predict nature, science "has contributed to the protection of the environment, the progress of developing nations, the fight against epidemics and an increase in life expectancy," the pope said.

He said this improved stewardship of creation not only clearly shows there is "no conflict between God's providence and human enterprise" but that "the work of predicting, controlling and governing nature ... is itself a part of the creator's plan."

However, "science's ability to predict and control must never be employed against human life and its dignity but always placed at its service, at the service of this and future generations," the pope said.

Scientists, therefore, have an important duty to use their knowledge wisely and ethically in order to benefit all humanity, he said.

Scientists must avoid "needlessly alarming predictions," especially when they are not based on sufficient data, he said. And "the influence of scientists in shaping public opinion on the basis of their knowledge is too important to be undermined by undue haste or the pursuit of superficial publicity," he said.

Quoting Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict said that precisely because scientists "know more, they are called to serve more."

Pope Benedict emphasized the continued urgency for science to find "safe, alternative energy sources available to all" and to improve its understanding of natural events that continue to threaten the environment and people.

However, Pope Benedict cautioned against believing that science can explain everything and satisfy all of humanity's "existential and spiritual needs."

Scientific advancement has lured people into thinking God and religion no longer have a place in a world that mankind has learned to control, he said.

"Science cannot replace philosophy and revelation by giving an exhaustive answer to man's most radical questions" such as the meaning of life and death.

While the laws of nature have become mostly predictable, science must remember that humans transcend the material world and cannot be subject to the same kind of scientific methods and expectations, he said.

Unlike other natural phenomena, humans are inherently free and possess the faculty of reason, the pope said. Any attempt to "predict and condition the human world would involve the loss of what is human in man and by failing to recognize his uniqueness and transcendence could dangerously open the door to his exploitation."
11/11/2006 3:11 AM
 
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In scientific predictions, the only certainty is nothing is certain

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- How often does a doomsday report make the news warning the public about disappearing icecaps, the earth's resources drying up or yet another substance linked to cancer?

Such predictions often trigger a wave of public alarm because people have faith that such forecasts don't come from squinting into crystal balls or swirling around tea leaves, but are the result of years of meticulous scientific and, therefore, reliable study.

In an effort to remind science of the impact its predictions have on the public, the Vatican hosted a meeting on the limits and accuracy of predictability in science.

Dozens of scientists and several theologians from all over the world gathered for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Nov. 3-6 plenary assembly to discuss how far the eye of science can see into the future and when calculations might be considered certain, probable or highly unlikely.

On the one hand, most scientists want to give as much early warning as possible about impending dangers such as earthquakes or climate changes.

On the other hand, they know the earlier the forecast, the more likely the prediction can be wrong, and being wrong makes scientists run the risk of losing the public's trust.

While Pope Benedict XVI reminded participants in a private Nov. 6 audience that scientists should avoid "needlessly alarming predictions" when there is not enough evidence, he was equally adamant that they not succumb to fear and fail to speak up "in the face of genuine problems."

William Phillips, a conference participant and 1997 Noble Prize winner in physics, told Catholic News Service even "imperfect information is better than having no information at all" when it comes to helping people plan for the future.

Phillips, who is a quantum physicist at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, said science is neither perfect nor worthless in its quest to understand and predict natural phenomena.

What's important, he said, is that scientists honestly express the level of certainty they have in their findings. Otherwise, he said, "if you lose honesty in science, then you've lost what science is about."

Many of the scientists' talks at the pontifical academy meeting not only underlined the impossibility of ever being 100 percent certain or correct even in traditionally predictable fields like atomic physics, but they celebrated the natural world's seemingly fickle behavior.

Some said it was only after getting wrong results in their research -- because nature worked in unexpected ways -- that they made scientific breakthroughs.

Throughout history, they said, new or better medical treatments and improved technology sometimes came from experiments that failed to do what was predicted.

While predictability makes daily life easier -- knowing the sun will come up, the car will start, a pile of work will be waiting on one's desk -- unpredictability, uncertainty and a fascination with the wider mysteries of the world "are the driving forces of research," said Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the pontifical academy's chancellor.

But "science will never be able to determine everything. There is always something that will elude it -- not from God's mind but from ours," he added.

In his speech, Pope Benedict reminded the scientists that theology and philosophy have an important role to play in helping science recognize its limits.

For example, just because scientists cannot always predict does not mean nature is a footloose mishmash of random laws or that people live in an indeterminate world.

Jurgen Mittelstrass, a German professor of philosophy and president of the London-based Academia Europaea, said it's not the world that is chaotic; the "chaos exists only for us, not for the thing being studied" that is ultimately following natural laws.

The nature of reality -- the big picture, so to speak -- and what humans can know about it are questions for philosophers and theologians to debate, not scientists.

But just as science is limited in what it should draw conclusions about, so too is theology.

Dominican Father Jean-Michel Maldame, a professor of philosophy and theology at the Catholic Institute of Toulouse, said: "Of course science does not know everything. But facing the unknown and the enigma created by the emergence of life and the (appearance) of mankind, it is erroneous to appeal to an intervention of God which would alter the natural course of things."

Father Maldame said that much confusion has arisen from supporters of intelligent design claiming "they are able to settle questions discussed by scientists," specifically "by rejecting the theory of evolution."

Father Maldame explained that the church teaches God created life and the universe as well as the laws that govern the natural world.

While God is the source of all creation, he does not alter "the course of natural phenomena" but "allows for the autonomy of his creatures and the play of nature's laws," he said.

Intelligent design supporters have created a "god of the gaps," meaning an unnamed intelligence or divine intervention to fill in or erase the uncertainties in science, he said.

Not only is this bad science, Father Maldame said, it is poor theology, since if and when science does come up with an explanation, God is then made unnecessary and disposed of as an incorrect hypothesis.

By not "giving ready-made answers to human research," he said, God "underscores the importance of man's freedom."

He told CNS that living in an unpredictable world means not only are people graced with freedom, but everything they "say, do and promise has an importance for today, tomorrow and after."

"Unpredictability and indeterminism leave room for human freedom (and with it) my responsibility" that "what I do is a little thing, but a little thing over a long time can make a great difference," he said.
11/14/2006 4:36 PM
 
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ASC THERAPY PROMISING FOR DIABETES
LifeSite News obviously has an interest in promoting any and all news that promote respect for life at every stage, so it is the place to go to if we want to know what's the latest about stem-cell research, for example.

On www.lifesite.net/ldn/2006/nov/06111302.html -
here is their latest about ASC (adult stem cells) research - which increasingly appears to be more promising compared to ESC (embryonic stem cells) which lberals have been stridently adocating (while almost completely ignoring the ethical alternative of ASC).


Adult Stem Cells Offer Hope
for Diabetes Treatment

By Gudrun Schultz

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, November 13, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Adult stem cells may soon be used to treat human diabetes, after a study by U.S. researchers showed the cells increased insulin production in mice with Type 2 diabetes, and may also have aided in kidney repair.

Researchers at the Tulane University in New Orleans injected human stem cells, taken from bone marrow samples obtained from adult donors, into diabetic mice with high blood sugar levels and kidney damage.

Tests after three weeks showed the mice who received the human stem cells had lowered blood sugar levels. The researchers found that the stem cells had traveled to each mouse’s pancreas and repaired insulin-producing tissues. The tissue produced mouse insulin, not human insulin, showing that the cells were highly adaptable to tissues in need of repair, Tulane University Magazine reported.

As well, the mice also showed evidence of some kidney repair, indicating the stem cells were capable of repairing damaged kidney tissue.

“We are not certain whether the kidneys improved because the blood sugar was lower or because the human cells were helping to repair the kidneys,” Dr. Darwin Prockop lead author of the study and director of the Tulane Center for Gene Therapy, told BBC News.

“But we suspect the human cells were repairing the kidneys in much the same way they were repairing the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.”

“The results provide new hope for treating diabetes and the severe effects it has on may organs,” said Dr. Prockop. Using human cells in preliminary studies on mice provides significant evidence that the therapy may be effective in treating human patients.

The research team hopes to collaborate with Tulane endocrinologist Vivian Fonseca in developing a clinical trial to test the therapy on humans with diabetes.

“The physicians will be selecting patients with diabetes whose kidneys are beginning to fail,” Dr. Prockop said. “They will determine whether giving the patients large numbers of their own adult stem cells will lower blood sugar, increase secretion of insulin from the pancreas and improve the function of the kidney.”

The study was published online this week in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

=====================================================

Read study published in PNAS:
www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/0608249103v1

See related LifeSiteNews coverage:

Human Liver Grown from Cord Blood Stem Cells-
Media Ignores UK Breakthrough
www.lifesite.net/ldn/2006/nov/06110105.html

Adult Stem Cells Used to Treat
Emergency Heart Attack Patients
www.lifesite.net/ldn/2006/nov/06110809.html

Success Stories with Adult Stem Cells
Coming in Almost Too Fast to Track
www.lifesite.net/ldn/2005/jan/05012007.html

Adult Stem Cells used to Cure Blindness
www.lifesite.net/ldn/2005/apr/05042907.html
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11/18/2006 5:50 PM
 
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Stem-cell successes involve adult sources, not embryos

Nov. 17 (CWNews.com) - Stem cells drawn from adult sources have shown promise in the treatment of muscular dystrophy in dogs, the journal Nature reports this week.

Researchers found that by using stem cells obtained from mature animals, they could ease the symptoms of muscular dystrophy, allowing previously crippled dogs to walk again. Sharon Hesterlee, the president of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, said the study allows for "cautious optimism" that similar treatment would be successful for humans.

The Nature study was the second announcement this week of a successful stem-cell treatment. On November 15, in a presentation for the American Heart Association, a team of Swiss doctors showed success in growing heart valves from stem cells obtained from amniotic fluid. These heart valves might be used to treat some of the 1 million babies who are born every year with congenital heart defects.

Neither of the two research breakthroughs involved stem cells that were taken from human embryos. To date, all of the most promising findings in the field of stem-cell therapy have come through the use of cells obtained from adults, or derived from amniotic fluid or placental tissues-- sources that involve no significant ethical concerns.

In a survey of stem-cell research, published this week by the Family Research Council in Washington, DC, three analysts-- Sarah Kleinfeld, William Saunders, and David Prentice-- made the simple but trenchant observation that "embryonic stem-cell research has not yet yielded a single successful human treatment."
12/2/2006 6:43 PM
 
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The Physician's Relationship With Morality

From President of World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations

ROME, DEC. 2, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of a document released by the World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations.

* * *

Letter to Catholic Physicians Worldwide on
"The Physician's Relationship With Morality"

By Dr. José María Simón
President
World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC)

Dear Colleagues,

Relations between the physician and the moralist have not always been easy. Numerous colleagues from different countries are asking for reflections to help them to practice the medical profession with moral security. One of the requirements of this moral security is frequent consultation with experts to enlighten the professional conscience. In order to be truly human, it must be well trained and correctly informed and must be frequently refined in its permanent search for the truth. In recent times, given the nature of the answers of the experts, it is worth offering certain clarifications on the quality and scope of these answers.

The natural law exists

The natural law is the ability of straightforward human reason to know and to stick to the truth. There is no other profession that appreciates the existence of this law as much as physicians.

Although the natural law does not coincide with biological law, we are perfectly aware that if we underestimate human physiology, for example, our patients will be sick. No one can, for example, eat stones without transgressing the laws of our body and, therefore, falling ill. This can help us to understand that there is also a law which helps us to value human dignity. We all "know" that it is bad to kill an innocent human being. Or that it is bad to steal. We know that if we do not consider the human being also as a psychological, spiritual, family and social being, our duty to transform suffering into well-being (as physicians we are like Nazarenes, like Cyrenaics, who help to withstand the weight of the disease and the pain) will never fully attain its objectives.

Although the absolute majority of the inhabitants of planet Earth believe in a Supreme Being, in many Western societies many thinkers and opinion creators do not. We can also give them natural reasons for what is good or bad for the human being. Furthermore, it will sometimes be with these reasons that they will perceive how sublime our thinking is.

In view of the existence of the "natural law," given its complexity (although some rules are very simple), and as it is obvious that we human beings have suffered from serious limitations since the times of Adam, we can wonder whether there is some ultimate authority which can interpret this law correctly. Numerous intermediate jurisdictional levels help or hinder the perception of this law.

Our ultimate personal authority is our personal professional conscience, which will trigger the decisions on medical acts. Indeed, each of us just with our own reason can go far in the search for the truth. But there is a safe, genuine and objective, and therefore useful and good authority for a general interpretation of the law, something which prevents us from making glaring errors with the human being and which moreover seeks the transcendental happiness of people.

God is the Creator of the universe and of man. And, as some political constitutions say, God made man free. Free to choose the truth and good. But also free to choose evil. Experience tells us that good and evil are entwined in countless shades inside our health-care structures. If evil exists, confusion and error also exist. Both blameworthy and blameless error (we must fight against both!). Moreover, it is possible that some people are particularly determined to spread the confusion. And evil can establish real "sin structures," places, establishments or laws which do not serve the human being.

The Church interprets the natural law

Our Creator stipulated that it is the Church that should interpret the "natural law" in an authentic manner. It moreover looks after everything that he revealed and which is not in nature. As human beings we are only passing through this world as a test, to a certain extent isolated from God but not at all forsaken. In the Lord's Prayer we say "Our Father, who art in heaven," which already shows that we are on another level, not in Heaven. "Thy kingdom come" and "deliver us from evil" clearly show us that there is a better condition which can come and which has not yet fully come and that the Creator can do everything. The teachings of the Catholic Church can help us on not leaving us alone. The Church speaks with human language (and in different languages) about everything that happens to man.

Another truth that our own and historical experience perceives is the reality of the progress of medicine, irrespective of the fact that there have also been advances, backward movements and asymmetries in different countries and cultures. As human beings we have numerous surprises to discover in nature itself and we are capable of inventing and of building no end of things, which makes living a passionate and never complete experience.

Progress should be made using both sides of the coin: science and ethics. In recent years the name and contents of a supposed new discipline, bioethics, have made a fortune. Personally, I believe that many years ago as physicians we already had equivalent disciplines. I recently read books on medical morals and on professional ethics from the beginning of the last century and they are treatises on bioethics …

The teachings accompany the progress of medicine

The progress of medicine is also accompanied by a deployment of the teachings of the Catholic Church. New techniques, new discoveries, call out to physicians, who find support in the teachings. Support is security. Moral security is necessary in order to practice our profession. The [Church] teachings enlighten the professional conscience in order to practice with good, adapting to the times and moments of progress. The teachings intervene after considering the data obtained by the experimental sciences. They do not save us from the effort of studying the world by ourselves. On the contrary, they impel us to do this de facto and de iure.

Ecclesiastic common sense tells us that, although all of us who are baptized are the Church and we all do our bit for it, it is the Pope and the bishops in communion with him who exercise the teachings of the Catholic Church. It could not be otherwise. The Almighty became one of us and left representatives, acting as they want and how they want, but adapting to the logic written by himself. It is not reasonable for anyone, in any way, to produce teachings or to try to interpret the "natural law" authentically.

Therefore, when a papal or episcopal document appears on a subject of interest to the profession, the Catholic physician should be critical with the legion of moralist theologians who interpret and reinterpret it in the media. As if the Pope did not write clearly. As if as Catholic physicians we could not understand it by ourselves! They should not offend the intelligence of professionals or of the population in general. I know that some theologians have the backing of numerous publications, have been prestigious university lecturers for years or are linked to us by friendship. Emotivity can turn heads that are well screwed on and, on the other hand, also make people understand by other means what they do not understand through reason.

Any ordinary person understands the saying "What the boss says goes." This should be enough to silence anyone who shamelessly takes over someone else's duties.

It is essential to take into account that, as in the case of personal appearances or revelations, the public aspect of the Catholic Church takes precedence over private teachings. The public teachings of the Catholic Church on the subjects which affect us thus always have priority and truth. The private teachings of theologians must always be rejected if they contradict the teachings of the Catholic Church. And even if they appear to contradict them.

One of the principles of communication in the Catholic Church is that of clarity and non-contradiction. There are no secrets in the Catholic Church. The major truths are public and are clear (they can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church). When a mystery is proclaimed, it is clear and it is classified as such.

The life of people on this Earth is aimed at their eternal destiny. Man cannot be measured in just two dimensions. The third dimension, the one that points upward, is the one that gives our lives volume.

An exemplary case

This is a case of a declaration of experts on the possible legality of the transfer of an altered nucleus to an egg to obtain stem cells. The genetic material from one cell would be altered in such a way that the product resulting from the insertion of this material into an egg and its activation would not give rise to a human being. It would be something like the hydatidiform mole, which also comes from an altered egg and spermatozoid, although in this case naturally.

The exemplariness of the case comes from the intelligence of considering the possibility, from the way of prudently expressing opinions, from the sincerity of the signatories admitting that each is an expert only in one area and that they are not speaking in the name of their Church or work institution, and from the fact that they propose beginning the research with animals.

When making decisions the problem should be framed

On many occasions as Catholic physicians we come across moral dilemmas and have to make decisions. It is therefore important to know how to distinguish between good and evil, which it is impossible to do on the fringes of the Church (this is the way things are).

When making decisions, it would be good to take into account the ancient principle of "primum non nocere" (first, do no harm) and the evangelical principle "no more burdens than necessary." Also, that of working with an overabundance of good. This allows us to go much further on facing problems with humanity.

Although we are not usually responsible for the evil that third parties do or for finding ourselves working within sinful structures, we should never lose the strength of the ideals of youth, the freshness of wanting to change things, however deeply rooted they appear to be, or the conviction that we are never alone.

Before making decisions, the physician takes stock of the situation on facing a specific problem. It is good to fit things into the big picture (the frame) and from a healthy anthropology. I remember the time I was invited to one of the mass media for a debate on artificial insemination in lesbian couples. The different opinions were supposed to be balanced. The guests, however, were a gay activist, a lesbian, a bisexual, a libertine and a heterosexual. Moreover, the presenter and the supporting reports were light-years from the thought of the heterosexual minority. On asking the program editors about such a coarse manipulation, I had to hear that everything had been designed to ensure the strictest equality of opinions …

In this case, the frame of the issue is not whether or not this kind of couple has a right to insemination or whether there are heterosexual couples who ill-treat their children. The broader perspective can help the fertility professional to be a conscientious objector. Because what is ideal, with the millions of couples and children who are and have been happy, is for children to be born naturally in the family, to a man and a women. This is where we should take the debate because this is where it really lies.

Can you do harm to do good?

Although in general the problems in medical decisions do not tend to be presented as harm which does good, the truth is that this is the key to the issue on many occasions. And the principle of never doing harm to do good (the end does not justify the means) is essential.

Medical decisions are moral acts. Life's routine often means that we do not see them as such. Maybe one day we considered the morality of a procedure or protocol, we decided that it was fair, and we applied it to our different patients without thinking any more about it. Automatisms form part of nature and help us to live without wasting huge quantities of mental energy. However, on some occasions -- not just in extraordinary cases -- the moral act should be studied with care.

The traditional dissection of the moral act into object, aims and circumstances is useful. A good act requires the simultaneous goodness of these three elements which constitute the morality of human acts. Sometimes we have to sharpen our wits to put everything in its place and to clearly detect what object we are assessing. In short, what we are really talking about.

For example, can you get drunk (an evil act) in order to have decayed teeth removed (a laudable aim) in the absence of medicines (a setting favoring the act)? Is this not accepting that the end justifies the means or that harm can be done (getting drunk) in order to do good (health)? The answer to this apparent dilemma, which can be applied to many other cases but not to all, is that we have classified the act as "getting drunk" whereas really it is an "anaesthetic" act. Alcohol is an anaesthetic, although of a secondary category. Our practical reason, with a little training and practice, will help us to classify the moral act correctly.

There are behaviors whose choice, because of their nature, is always wrong. For example, in the case of abortion, it cannot be stated that sacrificing the child to supposedly favor the mother is a good act. However you look at it.

The double effect

The double effect theory has a bad reputation in Europe due to the discredit of the so-called collateral damage in recent wars. You bomb the enemy and, unintentionally, your action injures innocent civilians. This is terrible.

However, medicine holds firm because we accept the theory. Chemotherapy is intended to eliminate cancerous cells while also damaging healthy cells. We remove a sick uterus despite the fact that the woman will be infertile forever. We vaccinate thousands of children despite the fact that some will die from the side effects.

Obviously we must do everything possible to minimize side effects, just as we should do everything possible to prevent a war. With the double effect, it is not a question of doing bad to achieve good. The bad is not wanted. It appears like an unwelcome and persistent guest.

With so-called therapeutic or eugenic abortion, to make it clear that here there is no double effect and that what is being fought first here is the embryo, John Paul II himself stated that the death of an innocent can never be legitimized.

With indirect abortion, although it is right to treat a mother even if we expect the side effect to be the death of the embryo or fetus, some people have given us a solution to moral problems with an excess of good. This is the case of Dr. Gianna Beretta, who refused treatment so as not to harm her pregnancy. She died and her son lives.

The lesser evil

It has become fashionable to talk about the lesser evil as if it were something desirable. But no. You can never do bad, however little it may be or you may consider it to be. Bad is always bad. The theory of the lesser evil does not refer to doing but rather to tolerating. The lesser evil is decided by one or more third parties without us intervening. We have to tolerate certain evils because we are not Quixotes who must fight against everything and moreover the human being is free even to use this freedom badly. Our obligation is never to do bad. Always to do the most good possible. What we should not get used to is to tolerating the bad inflicted on innocents. These are never lesser evils!

Collaboration with evil

With the current state of the world, we often have to consider whether to avoid collaborating with those people and structures which go against the dignity of the human being. Although they may find others who will collaborate with evil, they will not find us. It should not be attributable to us, and, if possible, we should try to lead these situations down the correct paths.

On some occasions we have doubts, especially if the collaboration is remote. Remote collaboration, although effective, is not attributable to us if we do not want it to be. It is good to avoid scandal and not to become contaminated by it. But we cannot isolate ourselves in a glass bubble and stop being a good substance in the world around us.

Freedom and moral security

The Catholic physician has broad freedom to practice the profession. We have intelligence and we need to make it perform to the maximum. Moreover, the security that we are acting correctly (moral security) can be achieved with a minimum ethical training, accepting the [Church's] teachings and consulting certain cases with senior colleagues or with a priest who knows the correct doctrine. Thousands of physicians worldwide practice daily with the peace of mind that they are acting correctly.

As Catholic physicians we have great models on which to base our actions. They have simply identified themselves perfectly with the principle of ethics: "Christus medicus." St. Luke, St. Cosme, St. Damian, St. Joseph Moscati, St. Gianna Beretta, St. Richard Pampuri, Father Pere Tarrés, Dr. László Batthyány-Strattmann, and many more, have preceded us and have become the giants of medicine. Curiously, patients often venerate them more than us, the physicians …

Some reflections on specific issues

Condoms

The "affaire" of using condoms to prevent infection with AIDS or unwanted pregnancies is another of the things that drives activist Catholic physicians mad. But we should not let ourselves be led to territories which are not ours. Sexuality is one of the gifts of marriage and within marriage it is expressed to the maximum. As Catholics, and in marriage, we live sexuality to the full. Sexuality outside marriage, between males or polygamous sexuality, does not form part of our anthropology. The Church cannot be accused of spreading AIDS (the other 29 sexually transmitted diseases are almost always forgotten) when it preaches abstinence, faithfulness and patience. This is useful to prevent diseases or teenage pregnancies. But the main purpose of chastity is not to prevent an epidemic but rather to promote virtue and to provide happiness.

It is obvious that Catholic physicians, who work in a world in which there is a bit of everything and in which the same health structures are often perverted, will come across people who will want to continue practicing sequential polygamy or homosexuality. It will not be ingenuous, in an environment of good physician-patient relations, to present them with our proposals. If the person insists implicitly or explicitly on continuing with their practices, the physician will talk to them about the condom as the more or less imperfect "barrier," without presenting it, and especially not recommending it, as something good. And, finally, if the person is infected, they will treat them with affection and professionalism.

It is important to take into account that the Catholic Church's mission is not to promote solutions so that the human being can continue to carry out improper behavior. And as far as possible we should prevent the media from using us to promote unworthy conduct.

There is scientific knowledge which is not obtained from reading the science sections of the media. Thus, knowing that hermaphrodites exist, that post-abortion syndrome is frequent and painful, or that homosexuals can often change, is learned in specialized journals or from experienced teachers.

It is good to always bear healthy anthropology in mind and to think that the mass media understand what is simple better, that they are obliged to have striking headlines and that they can rarely hold a good moral debate.

Euthanasia: dying is not the same as being killed

We cannot abandon a terminal patient, we cannot be cruel to them and we cannot kill them. The only decent thing that we can do is to provide them with quality palliative health care. This should take into account the biopsychosocial, spiritual and family dimensions of the person. This is the path that we should take.

Euthanasia kills freedom. It is a supposed free decision which means that the person will not ever again make free decisions. Not even the very human decision of rectifying. Euthanasia, its popularization or legalization, are on the dark side of the profession, whoever promotes it.

Cases of consultations on whether or not the treatments for the terminally ill are proportional are extremely frequent. Medicine can never refuse hydration, nutrition, hygiene, oxygenation, basic medicines. Recently, an elderly man presented cardiac insufficiency and the ethical committee of his hospital recommended only a treatment with morphinic drugs, while awaiting his death. But the physician dealing with the case solved it with a diuretic, oxygen and digoxin. The true sage was the ordinary physician.

Oral contraceptives

As human beings we were deliberately created incomplete by God. Man needs woman to be fulfilled and woman needs man to be happy. Furthermore, man and woman also need children to complete their plenitude as a family. Husband and wife have all the children that they can maintain and bring up. The number of children depends on many factors and should be decided on with generosity. Large families are a joy for society and for the Church. In my personal opinion, it would be unnatural for the mature human to do without the other sex, unless it becomes a supernatural good, as with celibacy for the Kingdom. There are of course causes of "force majeure" [greater force] or imponderable causes which mean that a person cannot be fulfilled with a partner.

The sex act holds such a sway that it leaves no one indifferent and always has consequences. It unites man and woman in an incomparable manner. It should take place in a context of maturity, commitment and exclusivity: marriage. Man and woman give each other everything, including the ability to generate new human lives. This is good.

There are times when, objectively, for medical, social or family reasons, the responsibility of the parents leads them to avoid a new birth. This possibility is already foreseen in the "natural law." Women are only fertile for a few days a month. Natural fertility regulation methods (Billings, sympto-thermal, etc.) allow these infertile periods to be used for man and wife to remain in communion with sexual relations and thus overcome the unhealthy attraction of other flesh.

Pope Paul VI, in the encyclical "Humanae Vitae," warns that physicians and health care personnel should consider it their professional duty to obtain all the science necessary in this field in order to be able to give the married couples which consult us wise advice and healthy guidelines which they are fully entitled to expect from us.

Contraceptives infringe several human rights: the right to life (in the case of the abortion or morning-after pill), the right to health (they have side effects, unlike natural methods), the right to education (people are entitled to know about their own fertility) and the right to equality between the sexes (the contraceptive burden always tends to fall on the woman).

In July 2005, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (Lyons, France), of the World Health Organization, reported on the carcinogenicity of oral contraceptives with combined estrogen and progestogen, based on the conclusions of an "ad hoc" international work group. They were classified as Group 1 carcinogens.

Regrettably, dear colleagues, at present we are unable to provide natural methods for all those who need them. The low fertility rates in countries with a Catholic majority (Spain, Italy), together with the low knowledge of these methods, means that many married couples use artificial methods. If we take into account that they are relatively rich countries, it cannot be said either that they are especially generous with the number of children. We have an immense challenge here. We should never put out the torch that has been lit in favor of natural methods.

Unfortunately, contraception is not the only challenge of Medicine and of society. Also, we are unable (us and nations in general) to provide means against malnutrition, malaria and the vertical transmission of AIDS. We have the knowledge and some means but we cannot make them available to the needy. There is therefore no lack of work.

Without judging married couples who use artificial contraceptives -- our job is not to judge -- we should never forget this professional duty to offer natural means and to dissuade from using artificial means. It is a sign of progress to understand nature well and to help it as far as possible. The world is incomplete. We have work to do. And, when we do it, the progress can be seen.

Abortion

Is there anything worse than dragging a child out of its mother's womb? Can abortion be explained to a 5-year-old child? Does a woman who loses a child through miscarriage not weep as if she had lost a child? Do we as physicians do everything possible to transform the suffering of parents with problems in pregnancy into happiness and joy? The Catholic physician practices the preferential option for mothers. Not sole or exclusive but preferential.

Evolutionism

We know very little about the physical beginning of the human race. Without falling into scientism, we will need to wait decades until science enlightens us more on this subject. It is not known how or when one species changes into another, if this occurs at all. A large part of what has been written on this subject is provisional and incomplete.

Amniocentesis

As you know, except in extremely exceptional cases, amniocentesis is performed to provoke abortion if a fetal malformation is suspected. Therefore, as this practice is not carried out for the good of the fetus and the mother, it cannot be considered as a correct medical procedure.

Artificial reproduction

The physician can and must help infertile couples, but cannot substitute them. This principle is very useful to understand that, despite the popularity of so-called assisted reproduction techniques, we cannot give in to easy, profitable, temptations. All efforts should concentrate on improving the fertility studies for couples and on treating what can be treated, which is a lot. Given the obsession that many clinics have with in vitro fertilization, it would be good to explain to couples that the medical function is not to replace them, that amniocentesis is almost always performed to abort defective children, that surplus embryos are often eliminated, that children are frozen.

Catholic gynecologists are the heroes of present-day medicine. Their care and promotion are a top priority for the associations of Catholic physicians and for the FIAMC. General practitioners and other specialists can also contribute wise advice on matters of fertility.

Respect for the embryo: stem cells

I sincerely believe that the most coherent position with the knowledge that we have on the embryo is scrupulous respect from the moment of conception. And that this is the position that avoids the most problems. Our coherence is highlighted when defenders of whales and seals, death penalty detractors, human rights activists and different sorts of philanthropists accept the destruction of an embryo without batting an eyelid (always with therapeutic aims, of course).

Conception lasts for some time, but the process has already been triggered and respect for the wholeness of the embryo starts much earlier: it starts with respect for the union of a man and a woman, avoiding in vitro conceptions. Human beings should not introduce chaos into the bios.

To make a comparison with the beginning of the Gospel according to St. John, we can say that in the beginning is the genetic message, and the genetic message is in life and the genetic message is life. When there is a complete genetic message, which can be expressed and which is expressed in a continuous, coordinated and gradual manner, unstoppable if it were not for adverse external factors, then there is a unique and unrepeatable human being which must be respected. It comes to us and its family (us) must accept it and welcome it.

It is understood that, although any cell, for example from our skin, contains the complete human genetic message, it is not a human being in itself. The expression of this message, which is partial, means that it is not a human being. It is the fertilized egg which is already acting like a human! In the beginning, we are a single and unrepeatable message surrounded by some membranes, RNA, energy reserves and other services. To date, no researcher has "created" life. Human beings are only capable of transmitting it, correctly or incorrectly.

Embryonic stem cells exist to give rise to the embryo. And adult stem cells exist to regenerate tissues. It is that simple.

Strictly speaking, the human being does not have any right to life. Life is a gift that we receive. Before existing we were nothing and we were not therefore subject to rights. What we are entitled to is to not having our life taken away by another human being!

Dear Colleagues,

Our profession is perhaps the most admired profession in the world and the one that people expect the most from. I would recommend that you never stop studying, that you bear in mind the physician's promise and prayer (www.fiamc.org), that you do not fall into the temptation of venerating the god Mammon (money) and that you consider the possibility of bringing colleagues to the already existing associations of Catholic physicians.

Yours sincerely,

José María Simón
December 1, 2006

P.S. I am grateful to Monsignor Maurizio Calipari, ecclesiastic assistant of the FIAMC, for the advice that he has given me for the final version of this letter. Although under the supervision of the hierarchy, the Code of Canon Law gives widespread autonomy to the international Catholic organizations such as the one that I chair. The FIAMC is a public-law organization in the universal Church, and therefore "speaks and acts in the name of the Church." This is a clear sign of ecclesiastic trust in lay people.
12/25/2006 11:33 PM
 
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EMBRYONIC STEM-CELL THERAPY: A FAIRY TALE?
From First Things, issue of January 2007, here is a very informative update on the state of embryonic stem-cell (ESC)research. My only comment is that I wish the writer had devoted a few paragraphs to the state of adult stem-cell (ASC)research, about which we have posted quite a few research progress stories.

===============================================================

What We Know About
Embryonic Stem Cells

By Maureen L. Condic



Back at the beginning of 2002, there was considerable optimism regarding the promise that embryonic stem cells were said to hold for millions of people suffering from fatal or debilitating medical conditions.

Stem cells derived from human embryos, it was claimed, provided the best hope for relief of human suffering. Despite the profound ethical concerns regarding the use of human embryos for medical and scientific research, many Americans embraced this promise and the seemingly miraculous hope it offered.

The challenges facing embryonic stem cells were formidable. First, there was the concern that the cells and their derived tissue would be rejected by the patient’s immune system, requiring the patient to undergo lifelong immune suppression.

The three proposed solutions to this incompatibility problem (generating large banks of stem cell lines, cloning human embryos to provide a source of cells that perfectly match the patient, or genetically engineering stem cells to reduce immune rejection) were either socially, scientifically, or morally problematic (or all three).

Second, there was the serious problem that embryonic stem cells form tumors when transplanted to adult tissues, and the tumorogenic capability of these cells is difficult, if not impossible, to control.

Finally, there was the disturbing fact that science had thus far provided essentially no convincing evidence that embryonic stem cells could be reliably differentiated into normal adult cell types, as well as the disturbing possibility that overcoming this barrier would prove a difficult scientific endeavor.

Despite these concerns, many continued to regard embryonic stem cells with hope, believing that further research would overcome these difficulties and harness the power of embryonic stem cells for the benefit of mankind. Such optimists asserted that it was simply a matter of investing sufficient time, money, and research.

Since 2002, considerable resources have been devoted to just such research. A recent query of the grant database maintained by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that more than eighty research projects investigating human embryonic stem cells have been funded over the past five years. A research effort of this size represents millions of dollars in public money invested in the medical promise of embryonic stem cells.

Indeed, the NIH reported to Congress in September of last year that anticipated spending on human embryonic stem cell research in 2006 was “just $24,300,000.” Since 2002, approximately nine hundred research papers have been published on investigations of human embryonic stem cells, with more than a thousand additional papers investigating the properties of embryonic stem cells derived from animals.

Clearly, research on embryonic stem cells has advanced considerably over the past five years, and it is therefore important to revisit the promise in light of current findings.

Stem cell–based therapies propose to treat human medical conditions by replacing cells that have been lost through disease or injury. Unlike an organ transplant, where a damaged or diseased tissue is removed and then replaced with a comparable organ from a donor, stem cell therapies would involve integration of replacement cells into the existing tissues of the patient.

The dispersed integration of the transplanted cells throughout the targeted organ (indeed, throughout the entire body of the patient) would make it impossible to remove the stem cell derivatives surgically should any problems arise. Thus, the problem of immune rejection is of particular concern — if transplanted cells are attacked by the immune system, the entire tissue in which the foreign cells reside becomes the target of a potentially disastrous immune attack.

Over the past five years, the scientific community has focused almost exclusively on somatic-cell nuclear transfer, or cloning, as the best resolution to the problem of immune rejection. During somatic-cell nuclear transfer, the genetic information of an unfertilized human egg would be removed and replaced with the unique genetic information of a patient. This would produce a cloned, one-cell embryo that would mature for several days in the laboratory and then be destroyed to obtain stem cells genetically matched to the patient.

Based on the success of animal cloning, human cloning was optimistically predicted to be a simple matter. Once we were able to clone human embryos, those embryos would provide patient-specific stem cell repair kits for anyone requiring cell-replacement therapies.

Human cloning has proved to be more challenging than anticipated. Human eggs, as it turns out, are considerably more fragile than eggs of other mammalian species, and they do not survive the procedures that were successfully used to clone animals.

Multiple attempts by several research groups worldwide have been unsuccessful in generating human clones. The few reports of the successful cloning of human embryos were either unverifiable press releases or clear chicanery promoted by a quasi-religious group for its own publicity.

The elusive prize to generate the first human clone appeared to be won in March 2004, when a South Korean group led by Hwang Woo-Suk reported in the prestigious professional journal Science that they had generated a human stem cell line from a cloned human embryo.

A year later, in June 2005, this same group sensationally reported that they had successfully generated eleven patient-specific stem cell lines from cloned human embryos and had dramatically improved their success rate to better than one in twenty attempts, bringing cloning into the realm of the possible for routine treatment of human medical conditions.

Hwang was hailed as a hero and a pioneer, and his reported success evoked an almost immediate clamor to remove the funding restrictions imposed by the Bush administration on human embryonic stem cell research, lest America fall hopelessly behind South Korea in developing therapies.

By fall 2005, however, the cloning miracle had begun to unravel. Colleagues of Hwang raised serious concerns about his published studies, launching an investigation into possible scientific fraud. By December, it was conclusively shown that all the claimed cloned stem cell lines were fakes.

To date, no one has successfully demonstrated that it is indeed possible to clone human embryos, and, based on the failed attempts of Hwang and others, human cloning is not likely to be a simple task, should it prove possible at all.

The scandal surrounding Hwang’s audacious fraud raised multiple concerns about the ethics of embryonic stem cell research. Investigations revealed that Hwang had used thousands of human oocytes for his unsuccessful attempts, not the hundreds as he had originally claimed.

The medical risks associated with egg donation (the potential complications include both sterility and death) raise serious questions about the morality of conducting basic research on human cloning. Given that Hwang pressured junior female colleagues into donating eggs for his research, how can the interests of female scientists be protected from such professional exploitation?

Given that thousands of human eggs from more than a hundred women were used by Hwang and not even a single viable cloned human embryo resulted from this research, how can the medical risks to women entailed by this research possibly be justified?

The technical challenges encountered by Hwang are not particularly surprising. Experience from multiple laboratories over the past decade confirms that it is extremely difficult to clone any animal. Cloned embryos are generally quite abnormal, with those that are sufficiently normal to survive to live birth typically representing between 0.1 and 2 percent.

The problems do not end with the technical difficulty of somatic-cell nuclear transfer itself. Extensive evidence indicates that even the cloned animals that make it to birth are not untarnished success stories.

Following Ian Wilmut’s production of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal, it was almost immediately evident that Dolly was not normal; she experienced a number of medical problems that resulted in her being euthanized, due to poor health, at the age of six years, about half the lifespan of a healthy sheep.

Dolly was the only clone to survive to live birth out of the 277 cloned embryos Wilmut’s group generated, yet this success did not prove that cloning can produce a normal sheep. Dolly was merely normal enough to survive to birth.

In the past five years, a number of studies have carefully examined patterns of gene expression in mice and other cloned animals that survived to birth. Not one of these animals is genetically normal, and multiple genes are aberrantly expressed in multiple tissues.

Both the severity and the extent of these genetic abnormalities came as a surprise to the cloning field, and yet, in retrospect, they are not surprising at all. The fact that most cloned embryos die at early stages of development is entirely consistent with the conclusion that somatic-cell nuclear transfer does not generate normal embryos, even in the rare cases where clones survive to birth.

Thus, the optimistic contention that “therapeutic cloning” would fix the immune problem facing potential embryonic stem cell–based therapies for humans seems thus far entirely unsupported by the scientific evidence.

The dwindling numbers of therapeutic-cloning supporters defend this procedure by asserting that the genetic abnormalities are only a problem if you are attempting to produce a live birth.

Thus, in a 2004 New York Times article, George Daley, a stem cell researcher at Children’s Hospital in Boston, acknowledged that cloned animals show multiple genetic abnormalities, yet optimistically asserted, “Cloned tissues are not likely to have the same problems.”

In light of the mounting evidence that cloned animals experience severe genetic disregulation, such tentative reassurance is wearing thin, with even Daley admitting that his optimistic prediction that cloned tissues will prove normal enough for medical purposes has “yet to be proven.”

The question of how normal cloned tissue needs to be is not merely a detail that needs to be worked out. It is, in practice, a fundamentally unanswerable question.

If cloned human embryos are to be used as a source of stem cells, we will be faced with this simple question for every single patient: How normal is this particular cloned embryo, the one we are going to use to generate stem cells to treat this particular patient?

Without allowing that embryo to develop and observing precisely how abnormal it proves to be, it is simply impossible to know whether it is normal enough for medical use. Every patient will be an experiment with no quality control.

Perhaps the particular cells will be normal enough to cure this particular patient, but then again perhaps they will be so grotesquely abnormal that they will create a condition worse than the one they were intended to treat.


The limitation in our ability to determine which cloned embryos are of sufficient normalcy to generate medically useful replacement tissue is one that no research can address unless scientists develop some kind of test to determine in advance which cloned embryos are normal enough.

Developing such a test would almost certainly require the horrific scenario of growing human embryos to a sufficient state of maturity that the normalcy of their developing tissues could be empirically determined.

This would mean implanting cloned embryos into surrogate wombs and then aborting them at specific times to examine the embryo’s development. Based on this information, it might be possible (although difficult) to identify features of very early embryos that predict whether they are capable of generating therapeutically useful tissue.

Whether Americans are willing to accept the unknown (yet potentially large) risk of being treated with stem cells of undetermined (and essentially undeterminable) quality or whether we would prefer to accept the kind of experimentation on human embryos and fetuses that would be required to ensure embryonic stem cell safety are questions of profound social and moral importance.

It was unambiguously clear five years ago that embryonic stem cells robustly form tumors (teratomas) when transplanted into adult tissues, and this remains the case today. Teratomas are benign tumors that contain a variety of differentiated cell types (hair, teeth, muscle, etc.).

These tumors can often prove fatal because of their rapid growth, but they are not malignant or cancerous tumors, which metastasize into multiple locations within the body. Embryonic stem cell advocates were well aware of the tumor-forming potential of these cells. (Indeed, teratoma formation following injection of embryonic stem cells into adult mice is still today the test of whether a researcher has successfully generated a bona fide embryonic stem cell line.)

Embryonic stem cell advocates dismiss the threat of these tumors, however, claiming this would prove a problem only for undifferentiated embryonic stem cells.

These optimistic predictions have not held up to scientific experimentation. The tumor-forming potential of embryonic stem cells has proved a significant problem that does not show signs of being resolved any time soon.

More than a dozen papers over the past five years (five papers within the past year alone) have shown tumor formation in animals treated with differentiated embryonic stem cell derivatives. In several of these studies, a shocking 70 to 100 percent of the experimental animals succumbed to fatal tumors.

In all cases, tumors were believed to be derived from embryonic stem cells that either failed to differentiate or from cells that somehow de-differentiated once transplanted. Although experimental approaches designed to reduce tumor formation from differentiated embryonic stem cell derivatives are under investigation, it is not clear whether these approaches will ever prove successful, especially if the tumors are due to uncontrolled de-differentiation of the embryonic stem cell–derived tissues back to a more primitive state once they are transplanted to an adult environment.

Even more alarming than formation of benign (albeit, fatal) tumors, several studies over the past five years have raised concerns that the longer embryonic stem cells are maintained in the laboratory (or, presumably, in the tissues of adult human patients), the more likely they are to convert to malignant cancer cells.

Embryonic stem cells spontaneously accumulate the genetic abnormalities associated with embryonal carcinoma (a form of testicular cancer). Embryonal carcinomas are believed to be the cancerous equivalent of embryonic stem cells and are a highly metastatic form of cancer.

Although the finding that embryonic stem cells spontaneously convert to cancer cells over time remains contested, it is clear that some, if not all, embryonic stem cells undergo this conversion, and the factors controlling the transition are not well understood.

The assertion that embryonic stem cells in the laboratory can be induced to form all the cells comprising the mature human body has been repeated so often that it seems incontrovertibly true. What is missing from this assertion remains the simple fact that there is essentially no scientific evidence supporting it.

Experiments have shown that embryonic stem cells are able to participate in normal embryonic development, an observation that is also true of cancerous embryonal carcinoma cells. When injected into early mouse embryos, both embryonic stem cells and embryonal carcinoma cells randomly contribute to every tissue of the developing body.

Even more dramatically, when embryonic stem cells are injected into mouse embryos under specific experimental circumstances (a procedure known as tetraploid complementation), they can be induced to form all the cells of the postnatal body.

These experiments prove that embryonic stem cells (and embryonal carcinoma cells) remain capable of responding appropriately to the developmental signals that regulate tissue formation in the embryo, and from these results we can conclude that if embryonic stem cells were intended to provide cell replacement therapies for embryos, they would represent a very promising therapeutic approach.

The problem, of course, is that embryos are not the intended targets of stem cell therapies, and there is little reason to believe that the capabilities of embryonic stem cells in an embryonic environment are relevant to their therapeutic potential for non-embryonic patients.

Five years ago, most scientists working in the field of embryonic stem cell research confidently predicted that we would soon determine the precise recipe of molecular factors required to replicate in the laboratory the mysterious inner life of the embryo.

David Anderson, a stem cell researcher at Caltech, boldly asserted in a New York Times opinion piece that once science had figured out the factors required to replicate embryonic development, specific molecules could simply be “thrown into the bubbling cauldron of our petri dishes,” where they would transform embryonic stem cells into an unlimited source of replacement cells for any tissue we chose to produce.

Skepticism regarding this claim was well warranted. While there have been hundreds of papers published over the past five years that stridently claim “cell type X produced from embryonic stem cells,” under closer inspection these successes have all been less miraculous than they appeared.

It is relatively easy to generate stem cell derivatives in the laboratory that have at least some of the properties of normal, mature cell types. But the test of whether an embryonic stem cell–derived brain cell, for example, is indeed a normal adult brain cell is to put it into the brain of an adult animal and determine whether it survives and contributes to normal brain function.

In addition, if laboratory-generated cells are to be therapeutically useful for the treatment of human disease and injury, they must be shown to have therapeutic value in adult animals: It is not sufficient that embryonic stem cell–derived cells merely survive in adults; they must also be able to repair the underlying disease or injury. It is precisely this kind of test that embryonic stem cell–derived tissues have proved unable to pass.

When cells derived from embryonic stem cells are transplanted into adult animals, their most common fate is to die. Indeed, most such transplanted tissue does not survive beyond a few weeks in an adult environment (the only exception is blood cells, where small numbers of cells survive long term in mature animals).

The rapid death of transplanted embryonic stem cell–derived cells stands in striking contrast to the robust survival of bona fide adult cells when transplanted to adult tissue. Typically, even the most promising experiments involving the transplant of embryonic stem cell derivatives have reported modest positive effects that persist for only a few weeks. In the few cases where tiny fractions of the transplanted cells survive for months (rather than weeks), this straggling band of survivors typically provides no therapeutic benefit.

The failure of embryonic stem cell–derived tissues to survive when transplanted to adult tissues strongly suggests that science has not yet determined how to generate normal adult tissue from embryonic stem cells.

Why then do some studies show modest, short-term benefits from transplantation of such tissues? In many cases, the authors of these studies speculate that embryonic stem cell–derived transplants are not providing benefit because of replacement of lost or damaged cells but rather because the transplanted cells are supporting the survival or function of damaged adult tissues by secreting generic survival factors.

Thus, the modest and transient benefits reported for embryonic stem cell–derived cell transplants over the past five years do not appear to require stem cells at all and are likely to be replicated by simply identifying the beneficial factors produced by the transplanted cells and supplying these factors directly.

In light of the serious problems associated with embryonic stem cells,” I noted in 2002, “There is no compelling scientific argument for the public support of research on human embryos.”

Serious scientific challenges are, by definition, problems that have stubbornly resisted the best attempts of science to resolve them. Over the past thirty years, hundreds of billions of dollars and countless hours of research by dedicated professionals worldwide have been devoted to solving the problems of immune rejection and tumor formation, yet these issues remain serious scientific and medical challenges.

The mysteries of embryonic development have been plumbed for more than a hundred years by some of the most brilliant biologists of history, and yet, despite the clear progress we have made, we are nowhere near the point of having a “recipe book” for cooking up cellular repair kits to treat human disease and injury.

Immune rejection, tumor formation, and embryonic development have proved themselves to be profoundly serious scientific challenges, and they are likely to remain so for decades into the future.

The hubris of scientists in the field of embryonic stem cell research who confidently asserted “Give us a few years of unrestricted funding and we will solve these serious scientific problems and deliver miraculous stem cell cures” was evident in 2002, and it is even more evident today.

For the past five years, researchers have had completely unrestricted funding to conduct research on animal embryonic stem cells, and yet the serious scientific problems remain.

They have had every conceivable tool of modern molecular research available to them for use in animal models, and yet the serious scientific problems remain.

Millions of dollars have been consumed, and hundreds of scientific papers published, and yet the problems still remain. The promised miraculous cures have not materialized even for mice, much less for men.

In June 2004, Ron McKay at the National Institutes of Health acknowledged in a Washington Post interview that scientists have not been quick to correct exaggerated claims of the medical potential of embryonic stem cells, yet McKay justified this dishonesty by stating: “To start with, people need a fairy tale. Maybe that’s unfair, but they need a story line that’s relatively simple to understand.”

Isn’t it time Americans recognize the promise of obtaining medical miracles from embryonic stem cells for the fairy tale it really is?


Maureen L. Condic is an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine and conducts research on the development and regeneration of the nervous system.

Copyright (c) 2007 First Things 169 (January 2007): 25-29.
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1/8/2007 2:52 PM
 
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ANOTHER ALTERNATIVE FOR EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS
SAN FRANCISCO, California, Jan. 7 (AP) -- Scientists reported Sunday they had found a plentiful source of stem cells in the fluid that cushions babies in the womb.

The announcement may make it easier to sidestep the controversy over destroying embryos for research.

Researchers at Wake Forest University and Harvard University reported the stem cells they drew from amniotic fluid donated by pregnant women hold much the same promise as embryonic stem cells.

They reported they were able to extract the stem cells without harm to mother or fetus and turn their discovery into several different tissue cell types, including brain, liver and bone.

"Our hope is that these cells will provide a valuable resource for tissue repair and for engineered organs as well," said Dr. Anthony Atala, head of Wake Forest's regenerative medicine institute and senior researcher on the project.

It took Atala's team some seven years of research to determine the cells they found were truly stem cells that "can be used to produce a broad range of cells that may be valuable for therapy."

However, the scientists noted they still don't know exactly how many different cell types can be made from the stem cells found in amniotic fluid. They also said that even preliminary tests in patients are years away.

Still, Atala said the research reported in the scientific journal Nature Biotechnology expands far beyond similar work discussed at a heart research conference in November.

Swiss researcher Simon Hoerstrup said at the conference that he had managed to turn amniotic fluid stem cells into heart cells that could be grown into replacement valves.

Hoerstrup has yet to publish his work in a scientific journal.

Atala said the new research has found even more promising stem cells with the potential to turn into many more medically useful replacement parts.

"We have other cell lines cooking," Atala said.

The hallmark of human embryonic stem cells, which are created in the first days after conception, is the ability to turn into any of the more than 220 cell types that make up the human body.

Researchers are hopeful they can train these primordial cells to repair damaged organs in need of healthy cells.

However, many people, including President Bush, oppose the destruction of embryos for any reason.

The Bush administration has severely restricted federal funding for the embryo work since 2001, leading many scientists to search for alternative stem cell sources.

The cells from amniotic fluid "can clearly generate a broad range of important cell types, but they may not do as many tricks as embryonic stem cells," said Dr. Robert Lanza, chief scientist at the stem cell company Advanced Cell Technology.

"Either way, I think this work represents a giant step forward for stem cell research," he said.

It's the latest advance in the so-called regenerative medicine field that has sprung from Atala's lab in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

In April, Atala and his colleagues rebuilt bladders for seven young patients using live tissue grown in the lab.

Most recently, Atala's team extracted a small number of stem cells swimming among the many other cell types in the amniotic fluid.

One of the more promising aspects of the research is that some of the DNA of the amnio stem cells contained Y chromosomes, which means the cells came from the babies rather than the pregnant moms.

Dr. George Daley, a Harvard University stem cell researcher, said that finding raises the possibility that someday expectant parents can freeze amnio stem cells for future tissue replacement in a sick child without fear of immune rejection.

Nonetheless, Daley said the discovery shouldn't be used as a replacement for human embryonic stem cell research.

"While they are fascinating subjects of study in their own right, they are not a substitute for human embryonic stem cells, which allow scientists to address a host of other interesting questions in early human development," said Daley.

He began work last year to clone human embryos to produce stem cells.

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1/10/2007 2:43 AM
 
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CHURCH WELCOMES STEM-CELL ALTERNATIVE
VATICAN CITY, Jan. 9 (Reuters) - The Vatican on Tuesday welcomed a new way of extracting stem cells that does not use human embryos, calling it a significant advance that could help medical research without going against Roman Catholic beliefs.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, said the discovery showed medicine can progress without destroying human embryos.

U.S. researchers reported on Sunday that stem cells found in the amniotic fluid protecting babies in the womb were nearly as powerful as embryonic stem cells in producing adaptable cells that scientists hope can someday transform medicine.

The Catholic Church and other religious groups have been staunch critics of the most common method of stem cell research, which involves extracting cells from human embryos, because they believe such organisms are humans from the moment of conception.

"I am very glad to see this progress in the field of science for the good of humankind," Barragan told Vatican Radio on Tuesday, noting it did not violate "the life of the donor."

In an interview with the Italian daily La Stampa on Monday, he called the discovery "a very significant and ethically admissible advance" in the search for cells that can create muscle, bone and other cells to replace damaged ones.

Barragan said the Vatican was not opposed to all stem cell research. "The Church is not obscurantist and is always ready to welcome real scientific progress that neither threatens nor manipulates the sources of life," he said.

"Our task as a church is not to oppose the oratory (that is, faith) and the laboratory (or rather, science), nor to transform science into faith," he said.


POST-SCRIPT (OR ANTE-SCRIPT) TO THE STORY

Stem-cell scientist reports meeting resistance

Jan. 9, 2007 (CWNews.com) - One of the scientists responsible for a breakthrough in stem-cell research has reported that he encountered heavy resistance to the publication of his work because it used stem cells obtained from amniotic fluids rather than from embryonic tissues.

Paolo De Coppi told the Italian ANSA news agency that a groundbreaking paper published this week in Nature Biotechnology had previously been rejected by four different journals. “It took seven years to get our paper published,” he said.

De Coppi and his colleague, Anthony Atala, demonstrated that stem cells derived from amniotic fluid could be used to generate many different types of body tissues, which could be used in the treatment of diseases. For the purposes of medical research, their paper argued, the stem cells taken from amniotic fluid show more promise than those obtained from human embryos.

Nevertheless, De Coppi told ANSA, his research was unwelcome in some quarters. He concluded that his paper was met by “a resistance to the idea of finding an alternative to embryonic stem cells,” because many leading researchers - particularly in the US - are so heavily invested in embryo research.

Catholic leaders have strongly opposed stem-cell research using embryonic tissues, since the process involves the deliberate destruction of the human embryos. De Coppi told ANSA that he personally had no objection to the embryonic research.

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 10/01/2007 16.08]

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1/26/2007 4:34 PM
 
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CARDINAL MARTINI ON THE WELBY CASE
A couple of days ago, the news section in the main forum was full of reaction stories to statements about euthanasia made by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini recently, but not one of the reaction stories carried a a direct or indirect quotation I could use as newspeg. And it is against my journalistic sense to post reaction stories without knowing exactly what is being reacted to.

In effect, most of the Itallian media headlined yet another 'wide divergence' between Cardinal Martini's progressive and liberal views in matters of bioethics as opposed to the Church's firm defense of traditional defense of life "rom conception to its natural end'.

In April last year, the cardinal, who lives in Jerusalem where he has pursued his Biblical studies after reaching retirement age almost five years ago, created quite a stir with a lengthy magazine interview in which he argued that the Church should rethink its stand, among others, on the use of condoms to fight AIDS and allowing lesbians to benefit from frozen embryos in fertility clinics.

Cardinal Martini has always enjoyed very good press because the liberal elite who dominate the media see him as a kindred spirit. And although he was supposed to have been the progressive candidate against the 'conservative' Ratzinger at the last Conclave, his candidacy was never more than token because of his health (he has Parkinson's disease).

Still, the media seize on every statement he makes to tout him now as the 'anti-Pope' - not that anyone could be flattered to be called that, because any way you say it, it is negative.

The hue and cry about this one was no different. Except that many made so much more of what Martini wrote than what he actually did say!.

First, here's a composite story run by an Australian newspaper (based on AP and Guardian reporting) - a brief one, but full of misinformation with the slant that the liberal media wished to give Martini's statement. It is followed by a translation of Martini's article which was written for an Italian financial daily called Il Sole 24 Ore.


Cardinal urges Vatican
to think again on right to die



ROME: The Vatican's rigid opposition to euthanasia has come under fire from within its own ranks after it denied a religious funeral to a paralysed man who had asked to be removed from a life-saving respirator.

The influential former archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, said on Sunday that terminally ill patients should be given the right to refuse treatments and that the doctors who assist them should be protected by law.

On December 20 a doctor in Rome unplugged the respirator that for many years had kept alive Piergiorgio Welby, who had muscular dystrophy.

Although the Vatican has agreed that protracted treatments for the terminally ill can be ended by doctors if no cure is possible, the Vicariate of Rome denied Mr Welby's family permission to hold a Catholic funeral, saying his "desire to end his life, expressed frequently and publicly, is contrary to Catholic doctrine".

In an article published on Sunday in the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore, Cardinal Martini, 79, said there were likely to be more cases like Mr Welby's and the church "should pay closer attention to the issues".

Cardinal Martini, who has Parkinson's disease, called for Italy to follow France's example and introduce legislation allowing patients to request the ending of treatments.

He said he opposed active euthanasia, where a patient requests a fatal injection, but also opposed "unreasonably obstinate" treatments that keep the terminally ill alive.

"Avoiding drawn-out therapy need not mean looking for death, but accepting that you cannot stop it," he said.

An Italian court decided in December that Mr Welby had the right to refuse therapy, but he could not exercise it because there was no law explicitly permitting it. The doctor who unplugged his respirator, Marco Riccio, is under investigation by Italian medical authorities.

Government coalition parties such as the Radical Party have defended Dr Riccio's action, while Luca Volonte, from the conservative Christian Democrat Union, called it murder.

The issue of euthanasia is regularly raised in many countries with some - most notably in Europe - more tolerant than others.

In Amsterdam on Monday, a court acquitted a man who had been charged with actively helping a woman commit suicide in June 2004, the Dutch news agency ANP reported.

The court ruled that there was sufficient doubt that Ton Vink, 53, who calls himself a suicide consultant, did supervise the woman's suicide, despite being in contact with her over most of the year before she died.

================================================================

First of all, although Martini entitles his article "Myself, Welby and death", he knows better - he's a cardinal, after all - than to dispute directly the Church's decision against giving Welby funeral services.

The most he allows himself to say - where the Church is concerned - is that the Church should give "more attentive consideration' to the question of euthanasia, but does go on to advocate a law that would allow a case like Welby's, which Italian law does not now allow - a point which Welby's supporters (who are euthanasia advocates) gloss over in trying to pin the whole 'blame' on the Church for refusing to give Welby a Catholic funeral.

In other words, he is making a legal argument here, not a theological one. He knows any such law, like the one that makes abortion legal in Italy, is not binding on the Church and its principles!

All in all, this article is Martini-lite....



Myself, Welby and death
By Carlo Maria Martini


With the feast of the Epiphany 2007, I have entered the 27th year of my episcopate, and I am about to enter, God willing, the 80th year of my life. Even if I have lived during a very tormented historical period (one thinks of the Second World War, the Council and the post-Council period*, terrorism, etc), I cannot but look back with gratitude to all those who have helped me live them with enough serenity and confidence.
[*How strange that he cites 'the Council and post-Council period' as part of the torment of the era!]

Among them I must list the doctors and nurses who, starting from a certain time, I have needed in order to cope with everyday routine and to prevent debilitating ailments. I have always appreciated their dedication, their competence and their spirit of sacrifice.

But I am also aware, with some shame and embarassment, that the same promptness and completeness of a cure is not given to everyone. While we speak rightly of avoiding every form of therapetuic tenacity, it seems to me that in Italy we are more often guilty of the opposite, namely, therapeuticc negligence and an 'excessively long wait for therapy."

This concerns expecially people who have to wait a long time before they can be examined although they are clearly in need of it or are in obviously urgent circumstance;, or cases where people cannot be admitted into a hospital because there are no beds available or are in any case ignored. It is a specific aspect of what has come to be called 'malasanita' - poor health services – indicating discrimination in people's access to medical services, which, by law should be available to everybody in the same manner.

But since, as I said earlier, doctors and nurses often do their duties with great dedication and courtesy, then the problem probably is structural and organizational. Therefore it is necessary to find institutional arrangements - not linked to the dynamics of the market which encourages the most remunerative medical services rather than those services most neecded by the patient that would allow faster therapeutic action as well as the performance of all necessary tests.

All this helps to orient us with regard to recent cases in the news which have attracted our attention to the growing difficulty that accompanies decision-making about terminally ill patients.

The recent case of P.G. Welby, who, with great lucidity asked for an end to his therapy for respiratory support - which in the last nine years meant a tracheotomy and an automatic ventilator, without any possiblity of improvement - has had a particular resonance. Especially in view of the evident intention by some political parties to exercise pressure in favor of legislation that would allow euthanasia. But similar situations will be more and more frequent, and the Church itself should give it more attentive consideration even from the pastoral angle.

The growing therapeutic capacity of medicine allows the extension of life even under conditions that were once unthinkable. Without doubt, medical progress has been positive. But at the same time, the new technologies that allow interventions that are increasingly effective on the human body
must be supplemented with wisdom to know not to prolong the treatment when it no longer does the person any good.

It is of the greatest importance in this context to distinguish between euthanasia and abstention from therapeutic tenacity, two terms which are often confused. Euthanasia refers to an action that seeks to shorten life, positively causing death. The second conssits in "renouncing the use of disporoportionate medical procedures that have no reasonable hope of a positive outcome" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 471).

In avoiding therapeutic tenacity, "one does not wish to achieve death; one simply accepts that it can no longer be prevented, thus taking on the natural limits of the human mortal condition”
(Coompendium of the Catechism, n. 278).

But the sensitive point is that one cannot have a rule that is almost mathematical, one might say, to establish whether a medical intervention is appropriate, and from which to deduce the appropriate reaction, but one needs acute discernment to consider the concrete facts of the situation, the circumstances, and the intentions of the people most directly involved.

In particular, one cannot ignore the wishes of the patient himself, insofar as he is competent to judge - even from the legal viewpoint, which has only a few well-defined exceptions [to competent judgment by the patient] - whether the treatments proposed to him, in cases of exceptional gravity, are effectively proportionate.

This does not mean leaving the patient isolated while he makes his judgments and decisions, conceding to the principle of autonomy which is sometimes erroneously considered to be absolute. Rather, it is the responsibility of everyone to accompany those who suffer, particularly when the moment of death is near.

Perhaps it would be more correct to speak not of 'suspending tretment’ (or even worse, 'pulling the plug'), but of limiting treatment. It would then make it clear that medical assistance should continue, according to the most urgent needs of the patient, for instance, ensuring the avaiability of sedation for pain, or providing appropriate nursing care. This is the field of palliative medicine, which is of great importance in this context.

From the juridical point of view, the question remains open on the need to elaborate a norm which, on the one hand, allows recognizing the patient's informed rejection of proposed treatments - insofar as he consders such proposals disproportionate, and on the other, protects his doctors from eventual charges (like homicide with consent or assisting suicide), withoug implying in any way the legalization of euthanasia.

It's a difficult task but not impossible. I am told for example that a recent French law on this issue seems to have found a balance that, while not perfect, is at least capable of realizing sufficient consensus in a pluralistic society.

The insistence on avoiding tenacious therapies and related matters (which have a high emotive impact if only because they concern the big question of how to live through the death experience in a human way) should not, however, overshadow the first problem that I wanted to underscore even in reference to my personal experience.

It is only looking above and beyond that we can evaluate the sum of our existence and judge it not by purely earthly criteria, but in the mystery of God's mercy and the promise of eternal life.


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1/28/2007 7:16 PM
 
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Decisions on dying: Italian case highlights complex issue

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The death of an Italian muscular dystrophy patient who had his respirator disconnected is fueling a complex and significant discussion among top church officials.

Piergiorgio Welby, who was paralyzed and kept alive by a breathing machine for nine years, pleaded for months for the device to be turned off. He said medical technology was only artificially postponing his death.

In late December, a physician granted his request, and Welby died shortly afterward.

The case had already become a political football in Italy, as proponents of right-to-die legislation flocked to Welby's bedside and, with his support, used his suffering to promote their cause.

The church was drawn in directly when Cardinal Camillo Ruini, papal vicar of Rome, denied Welby a church funeral, saying he had committed suicide. The cardinal's decision was bitterly criticized by Welby's widow and many other Italians, including some prominent Catholics.

Two Vatican officials steered clear of such judgments. Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, and Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said they did not have enough information to say whether this was a case of assisted suicide or the legitimate rejection of unreasonably burdensome treatment.

On Jan. 21, Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini added his voice to the discussion, in an article published in the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. Cardinal Martini has Parkinson's disease, and said he wrote the piece partly because of his own medical experiences.

Cardinal Martini appeared to be sympathetic to Welby's request. He pointed out that Welby was lucid when he asked for suspension of the long years of respiratory treatment through a tracheotomy, which offered the patient no possibility of improvement.

The cardinal said the distinction between euthanasia and relief from oppressive therapy is an important one. The church condemns euthanasia, which it describes as an act or omission that, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering.

On the other hand, as Cardinal Martini noted, the church says it is legitimate to discontinue medical treatment that is too burdensome, dangerous or disproportionate to the expected outcome.

Welby had argued that, given his prolonged suffering and no chance of improvement, suspending treatment was the ethical decision.

Cardinal Martini did not offer a specific judgment on the Welby case, but noted that it is generally up to the patient to decide whether a treatment is proportionate or disproportionate.

Cardinal Martini's commentary was carefully worded, but newspaper headlines boiled it down to: "Cardinal says patients should have right to die."

That prompted Bishop Sgreccia to respond with an article of his own, published Jan. 23 in Italy's daily Corriere della Sera.

Bishop Sgreccia, while agreeing with many of the principles explained by Cardinal Martini, said end-of-life decisions cannot be made solely by the patient. It is the doctor, he said, who is best able to judge whether a treatment is "proportionate" or not.

"When one talks about refusing therapy on the part of a patient, the doctor, although he has the duty to listen to the patient, cannot be considered a simple executor of the patient's wishes," Bishop Sgreccia said.

Cardinal Martini had suggested that a French law allowing patients to refuse treatment in some cases might be a model for Italy. Bishop Sgreccia disagreed, saying the French law in effect forces a doctor to go along with a patient's decision to end life-support treatment, even when the doctor disagreed.

"This could represent 'euthanasia by omission' on the part of the patient and the doctor," Bishop Sgreccia said. "Personally, I don't hope to see that in Italy."

In his article, Cardinal Martini called for "more attentive pastoral consideration" to such cases -- which some took as a subtle criticism of Cardinal Ruini's denial of a church funeral for Welby.

Cardinal Ruini, addressing Italian bishops Jan. 21, said he suffered when he made that decision, but that it was based on Welby's declared wish to "end his own life." Granting a funeral, the cardinal said, would have "legitimized behavior contrary to God's law."

That prompted Welby's widow, Mina, to question why the Catholic Church recently allowed a religious funeral for Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator, human rights violator and accused murderer, while refusing it for "my Piero, who only wanted to stop suffering."

Mina Welby and others have argued that her husband's decision was similar to the case of Pope John Paul II, who shortly before he died asked that he be left to "return to the house of the Father."

But Rodolfo Proietti, the physician who treated the late pope, said that kind of comparison is unwarranted. In an interview with Catholic News Service, he expressed sympathy for Mina Welby but said the end-of-life issues were very different in the case of Pope John Paul.

"I will not discuss the particular details of my treatment of the pope, but it was not comparable in any way (with the Welby case)," Proietti said. He said it disturbed him that people were taking the last days of the pope and using them as an example of a right-to-die situation.

Unfortunately, Proietti said, the ethical debate over proportionate or disproportionate treatment is confusing because the key terms are vaguely defined. As a result, he said, the line between rejecting "burdensome treatment" and euthanasia by omission is ambiguous.

"I think there needs to be a meeting and a deep reflection, in order to offer everyone -- especially doctors -- definitions that are accepted and shared," he said.

He said he agreed with Cardinal Martini on one major point: that the church is certain to face these situations more often in coming years.
1/28/2007 8:38 PM
 
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I think John Thavis did a very good overview of the right-to-die issue in Italy, as precipitated by the Welby case and Cardinal Martini's intervention.

I must point out, however, that Cardinal Barragan and Bishop Sgreccia - who according to this story, said they cannot decide if Welby in effect was a suicide, as Ruini did - should have simply looked at it from the standpoint of Italian law today, which does not allow what Welby did, and that is why the anesthesiologist who disconnected his respirator is now being investigated criminally.

And Thavis's article also omits this point. Welby first got into the news because he wrote an open letter to the president of Italy, 3 months before he finally died, to make an exception to the law and allow him to, in effect, pull the plug on his own life. The government refused because an exception to the law is not lightly made, even if the media subsequently carried on a three-month campaign to pressure the government into doing something.

In that period, the campaign turned anti-Church as it was bound to do, because everyone in Italy who considers himself liberal and progressive is also usually anti-Church, so what better target could there be than their usual punching bag and scapegoat?

If the government of Italy was in no hurry to change the law (which has been there probably less than 50 years) to accommodate Mr. Welby, why should his supporters expect the Catholic Church to change its bimillennary doctrine overnight?

Ruini's decision was both common sense as well as an affirmation of Catholic principle. Because to have given Welby a Catholic funeral would have been immediately interpreted, even if very wrongly, by the media and worse, by many Catholics, as church sanction for any patient who decides he wants to end his life the way Welby did!

The interviewers should have asked Barragan and Sgreccia whether they would have sanctioned a Catholic funeral if they were in Ruini's place, and then, what the consequences would be of something as rash and expedient. How can the Church be rash and expedient in any way with doctrine? Even Martini himself was very careful not to make any direct theological argument about Welby's right to die, concentrating on the practical and juridical aspects of it.

What most news items on the Welby case also omit is that the Church asked everyone to pray for Welby, and Masses were offered for Welby in his parish church [which I understand he never attended, as he was a nominal Catholic only]. There was no lack of charity here.

The lack of charity was in the hypocritical media and euthanasia advocates who feigned outrage over not having a religious rite for someone who was not even a practising Catholic and who knowingly went on to end his life the way he did.

If they do not believe that the Church has any right to uphold its doctrine on life by saying it is not man's place to decide when to end his life, then why should the performance or non-performance of its rites make any difference to them? It's the usual pick-and-choose mentality: 'I cannot be Catholic about taking my own life, but I want a Catholic funeral - it will be uncharitable to deny me a Catholic funeral!'

And I am truly sad that some words John Paul II said before he died are now being misused to justify ending one's life wilfully! Excerpts from Cardinal Dsiwisz's memoir show the dying Pope said those words shortly before he breathed his last - not weeks, days or even hours before. It was a spiritual statement, "Let me go to the house of the Lord!" - not a 'living will' to 'end my life now'!

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 28/01/2007 20.44]

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1/30/2007 5:52 PM
 
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FURTHER ON THE RIGHT-TO-DIE ISSUE
Sandro Magister today sketches the broad picture of the right-to-die issue as it now stands, with the intervention last week of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini on the subject.

I still think that Martini's piece this time was far less incisive (I called it Martini-lite) compared to what Martini had to say on several bioethical issues - and how he said it - in the L'Espresso interview he gave last April, although on both occasions, the cardinal was as casuistic as only Jesuits can be, perhaps even more so in the sense of sounding much more outwardly innocuous, in the right-to-die piece.

The point to remember is that Martini is an intellectual with a certain standing, both in the Church as a cardinal who was thought to be 'papabile' as late as two years ago, and among the secular progressives whose world view on many touchy points he appears to share.

As such, his periodic sniping at the Church which - given the way media tends to play up everything he says - is at the same time, a literal 'undermining' of the Magisterium and therefore of the faith of the 'simple faithful'- those whom Cardinal Ratzinger once described as the Catholics that the CDF most wants to protect.

In a recent article sbout the systematic assault on the divinity of Jesus in popular literature, someone remarked that the victims are 'those who do not have the cultural preparation' to deal with attacks on the faith.

Cardinal Martini knows exactly what he is doing, and it would be naive to think - for as long as he is in full possession of his mental faculties - that he will cease and desist from his agenda, which happens to be quite a chunk of the secular progressivist agenda.

That said, may I just point out once again that inexplicably, even Magister leaves out the fact that Welby's request to be allowed to die was directed at the government of Italy, which refused to sanction what he did, and not to the Catholic Church. It is not right that this fact is being overlooked as though the Church had been an initial protagonist in this drama.


=============================================================


Cardinal Martini and Euthanasia:
When It Is Licit to Cut Life Short

For the former archbishop of Milan, the seriously ill person has at every moment the right
to interrupt the care that keeps him alive.
No, objects the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
But the real clash is between Martini and the pope.

by Sandro Magister



ROMA, January 30, 2007 – Just nine months after the bombshell manifesto of opposition to the reigning pope published in the Italian weekly L’espresso – on artificial insemination, embryos, abortion, euthanasia – cardinal Carlo Maria Martini has returned to the last of these topics, euthanasia, with an article that appeared on January 21 on the front page of the Sunday edition of Il Sole 24 Ore, the leading economics and finance newspaper in Italy, and one of the most important in all of Europe.

This time as well his statements have been interpreted as a criticism of the papal line of absolute opposition to intentionally caused “gentle death.”

And again this time – like nine months ago – the official Catholic media have shrouded cardinal Martini’s statements in silence, while the secular media have amplified them.

But a controversy that pits the highest leaders of the worldwide Church against each other with conflicting positions on topics of such importance cannot remain hidden within the Church itself.

It is a controversy with its own concrete proximate cause, background, and developments.


THE WELBY CASE
The event that prompted cardinal Martini to speak out again on the topic of euthanasia is that of Piergiorgio Welby, a seriously ill man who – as the cardinal himself wrote – “lucidly asked for the suspension of respiratory support therapies, which in the past nine years have been constituted by a tracheotomy and an automatic ventilator.”

Welby’s request to cut off his life shook public opinion in Rome and Italy during the last weeks of 2006, with an intensity almost as great as that surrounding the Terry Schiavo case in America.

It drew in and divided the Catholic community, the scientific community, and the political world, with the strong mobilization of supporters of legalized euthanasia. Welby lay infirm, but still lucid and capable of expressing himself, in his home in Rome. His wife, mother, and sister are practicing Catholics.

But his wife has said of him: “I don’t know if he really thought there is life after death, or if he believed in God.” In any case, around him and in his name, during the days before and after his death, there was celebrated before the eyes of all a secular liturgy made up of nocturnal vigils, of solidarity given and implored, of humanitarian campaigns, of high emotion at Christmastime.

Welby died at the hands of a doctor three days before Christmas. And when his wife asked for a religious funeral [I sympathize with Mrs. Welby's personal loss, but, given what she had said earlier, her request for a Catholic funeral does not make sense except as a way to embarass the Church], the diocese of Rome – the bishop of which is the pope, with cardinal Camillo Ruini as vicar – refused the request, giving this reason:
“Because, unlike the cases of suicide in which it is presumed there was an absence of the conditions for full awareness and deliberate consent, Mr. Welby repeatedly and publicly affirmed his desire to end his life, something that is incompatible with Catholic doctrine.” The statement did not alter in any way the duty of praying for the man.

Welby’s relatives, friends, and supporters responded to the denial of a religious funeral by celebrating a secular rite in the square in front of the nearby parish. It was the morning of Sunday, December 24.

At the midday Angelus, Benedict XVI told the crowd packed into St. Peter’s Square:
“In the God who became man for us we all feel loved and welcomed, we discover we are precious and unique in the eyes of the Creator. The Nativity of Christ helps us to become aware of how valuable human life is, the life of every human being, from its first moment to its natural end.”

And the following morning, in the Christmas message urbi et orbi, to the city and to the world, Benedict XVI again said, speaking of man in our times:
“This man of the twenty-first century presents himself as the sure and self-sufficient architect of his own destiny. It seems that way, but it’s not. What can be thought of someone who in choosing death believes he is exalting life?”

But for a large part of the Catholic world, the widespread sentiment was of another sort. On January 10 Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, published a portion of the many letters it had received on the Welby affair. They were all against the decision to deny him a religious funeral. Only the note from the director of Avvenire, Dino Boffo, took up the defense of the diocese of Rome.

This was the backdrop for the January 21 article by cardinal Martini in Il Sole 24 Ore.


“WELBY, DEATH, AND ME”
The article gets to the heart of the matter right from the title: “Welby, Death, and Me.” [See English translation of the full article earlier int his thread.]

“Such situations,” Martini writes, “will be increasingly more frequent, and the Church itself will need to give them more attentive consideration, including pastoral consideration.”

These few words would be the ones most frequently cited in the following days: they would be universally interpreted as a criticism of the denial of a religious funeral for Welby, and of the official Church’s “heart of stone.”

In effect, in the following column of the article the cardinal presents his position on euthanasia in a way that legitimizes Welby’s decision – and that of others in analogous situations – to cut off his life.

Euthanasia – Martini writes – is “an act intended to cut life short, by directly causing death.” As such it is unacceptable.

But this is different from the case of aggressive therapies, or “the use of disproportionate medical procedures without any reasonable hope for a positive outcome.” By interrupting these – the cardinal writes, citing the Catechism – “one does not will to cause death; one's inability to impede it is merely accepted.”

And in deciding if a medical intervention should be interrupted – Martini continues – “the will of the sick person may not be overlooked, in that it is up to him – even from the legal point of view, with some very well-defined exceptions – to evaluate whether the treatment proposed to him, in such cases of exceptional gravity, is actually proportionate.”

Further on, Martini calls for the elaboration in this area of “a set of norms that on the one hand would permit the recognition of the possibility to refuse treatment – insofar as this is held by the patient to be disproportionate – and on the other would protect the doctor from eventual accusations like that of being an accessory to murder or providing help in suicide.”

This set of norms – the cardinal clarifies – need not imply “in any way the legalization of euthanasia.” The objective is “difficult, but not impossible: they tell me that, for example, the recent French law in this matter seems to have struck a balance that, if not perfect, is at least able to realize a sufficient consensus in a pluralistic society.”

This summarizes the position expressed by cardinal Martini in the January 21 article in Il Sole 24 Ore. But to understand this better, it is useful to look back at what he said on the same subject in the “Dialogue on life” that he published in L’espresso in April of 2006.


THE BACKDROP
In the piece that he wrote nine months ago, Martini also maintained that euthanasia “can never be approved.” But he cautioned against condemning “those persons who carry out such an action at the request of a person reduced to extreme circumstances and out of a pure sentiment of altruism.”

And again: “The pursuit of physical human life is not, in itself, the first and absolute principle. Above this stands the principle of human dignity.”

Many questions concerning birth and the end of life – the cardinal also wrote – are “borderline zones or gray areas, where it is not immediately evident what the true good is.” Thus “a good rule is to avoid, above all, deciding in haste and discussing at leisure, so as not to create needless divisions.”

Nine months ago the leading Church hierarchs avoided replying in public to these theses from cardinal Martini. The silence was so complete that the news went around that Martini had agreed with Benedict XVI in advance on the publication of his writings. This was nothing more than a wild rumor, on a par with the one that held that Martini was the “real” force behind the election of Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 conclave.

But this time, the article in Il Sole 24 Ore immediately received three authoritative responses.


THE DEVELOPMENTS
The first reply came the day after the article was published. On the afternoon of Monday, January 22, with the opening in Rome of the winter meeting of the permanent council of the Italian bishops’ conference, cardinal Ruini dedicated this part of his address to the Welby case and to the denial of a religious funeral for him:

“The painful human situation of Piergiorgio Welby affected our people for a long time. It also drew me in personally, when the request for a religious funeral came after his death.

"The agonized decision not to grant him one arose from the fact that the deceased, until the very end, persisted lucidly and deliberately in the intention to put an end to his life: under those conditions, a different decision would have been impossible and contradictory for the Church, because it would have sanctioned a stance that is contrary to the law of God.

"In this decision there was not, unfortunately, the absence of awareness that it would bring pain and distress to relatives and many other persons, including believers, who were moved by sentiments of human pity and solidarity toward the suffering person, although they were perhaps less conscious of the value of every human life, of which not even the sick person is free to dispose.

"What comforted us above all was the trust that God, who is rich in mercy, is not merely the only one who understands fully the heart of every man, but is also He who acts directly upon this heart from within, and can change and convert it even at the moment of death.”

There are at least two passages in which Ruini’s words oppose the theses of Martini. One is where the pope’s vicar defines as “contrary to the law of God” the actions that Martini, instead, views as legitimate. And in the one where he asserts that “not even the sick person can dispose” of his own life.

But the most direct, incisive, and systematic reply to Martini’s theses came on Tuesday, January 23, with an article by Elio Sgreccia in Corriere della Sera, the major newspaper of Milan, the city where Martini himself was archbishop from 1979 to 2002, before retiring to Jerusalem.

Sgreccia, titular bishop of Zama and president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, has been for a number of years the most authoritative representative of the Church’s official positions in the area of bioethics.

Sgreccia objects to Martini first of all – citing the encyclical Evangelium Vitae by John Paul II – that euthanasia is still the same thing even when it is “exclusionary,” or when it omits “an effective and rightful therapy, the withholding of which intentionally causes death.” And its moral unacceptability is identical, both when euthanasia is actively set in motion and when it is exclusionary.

Furthermore, Sgreccia asserts that “the doctor, although he has the duty to listen to the patient, cannot be held to be a simple executor of his wishes: if he acknowledges the grounds for the refusal [of treatment], he must respect the patient’s will; but if there arises a groundless refusal, he is bound to advance his conscientious objection [...] and eventually release the patient who was entrusted to him as his responsibility.”

On the technical-scientific level, it is up to the doctor to evaluate the “proportionality” – or lack of it – of the available therapies, which should be suspended whenever they are shown to be without reasonable hope for a positive outcome.

What rests with the patient is the decision to interrupt therapies that are indeed “proportionate” from a scientific standpoint, but that he maintains are unbearable in relation to the his concrete “physical, psychological, social, and economic” conditions.

In consequence, the French law brought in as an example by Martini is, for Sgreccia, morally unacceptable:

The automatism established by the French law (art. 6) according to which any sort of refusal of care on the part of the patient must be accepted and followed by the doctor (after he has explained to the patient the consequences of the refusal) can constitute exclusionary euthanasia, both on the part of the patient and on that of the doctor.”

In short, Sgreccia’s reply spares almost nothing in cardinal Martini’s theses.

Indirectly, Martini also received a reply from the secretary general of the Italian bishops’ conference, bishop Giuseppe Betori. On Sunday, January 28, in an interview on the main channel of Italian state television, he said:

“On a topic like this, politics wants to make too many laws. It seems to me that there is a desire to strip the doctor’s role and assign decision-making instead to the will of the person, who is then influenced by very clear ideological pressures.”

Returning to the Welby case, the paradox is that while cardinal Martini declines to see this as an act of euthanasia, it has been defined as such a number of times by Welby’s relatives and by the supporters of the legalization of euthanasia in Italy. The most prominent of these, professor Umberto Veronesi, an oncologist of worldwide fame, defined it in a parliament hearing, without mincing words, as “a suicide.”
__________


The article by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini in “Il Sole 24 Ore” on January 21, 2007:
> Io, Welby e la morte
www.magna-carta.it/riforme%20e%20garanzie/0252_carlo_maria_mar...
[As mentioned earlier, I posted my translation of this into English several days ago on this thread]

And the previous “Dialogue on life” he published in “L’Espresso” in April of 2006:
> When Does Life Begin? Cardinal Martini Replies (24.4.2006)
chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio.jsp?id=51790&eng=y

With the polemics that followed:
> Carlo Maria Martini’s “Day After”(28.4.2006)
chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio.jsp?id=53021&eng=y
__________


The reply from bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, to cardinal Martini’s article in “Il Sole 24 Ore,” a reply that appeared in “Corriere della Sera” on January 23, 2007:
chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio.jsp?id=115001

The complete text of the French law indicated as a model by cardinal Martini, and seen instead as morally unacceptable by bishop Sgreccia:
a href="http://www.senat.fr/dossierleg/ppl04-090.html">> Loi n. 2005-370 du 22 avril 2005

===============================================================

I really think that there is a tendency by everyone in the Italian media, including Magister, to overstate and extrapolate whatever Cardinal Martini actually says.

Martini satisfies all the media criteria for a permanent 'figure of opposition' to the Pope, whoever he is - he was to John Paul II, he is now to Benedict XVI.

So anything he says will be blown up disproportionately, to borrow a term used in the right-to-die debate, and deliberately exploited ('strumentalizzato', to use another term from the Welby debate, referring to how the euthanasia lobby and their liberal friends used Welby to push their own agendas and to strike at the Church, which is one of the main points on their agenda, after all) in order to demonstrate 'dissension' in the Catholic Church even at its 'highest ranks' (never mind that Martini has been retired for some time from active participation in the affairs of the Church).

This does not, of course, minimize Martini's progressivist ideas with regard to the Magisterium, nor the fact that he is shrewd and experienced enough to know how his every word would be seized on and magnified and amplified by the media to use against the Church. And that therefore, in his own way, he is exploiting the media for his purposes.

I think if we kept these considerations in mind, we will tend to be less hysterical in reacting to Martini's positions on bioethical issues, positions which are not a surprise after all, given who he is and what his record has been.

To portray him as 'the anti-Pope', as the Italian media does whenever the occasion arises, is really an exaggeration that is not warranted. He is a brilliant progressive Catholic intellectual who is spending his retirement pursuing Biblical studies in Jerusalem. He will turn 80 this year and will therefore no longer be able to vote for a Pope nor be in the running for Pope.

But he is a problem for the Magisterium in exactly the same way as progressivist priests who contradict the Magisterium in the secrecy of the confessional. I lump them together in my mind as advocates of the so-called primacy of the individual conscience, in this case, its primacy over the Magisterium! But the Church will always have these 'conscientious objectors' which makes its task harder, and it's part of the Cross it has to bear...but NON PRAEVALEBUNT, they will not prevail!

[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 02/02/2007 2.36]

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