| 2/4/2007 9:11 PM
I agree in a particoular concept expressed by Maklara. it consists in the fact that men need to believe in something, unless they can't survive.
i'm afraid of that: why cuoldn't i think that god is a concept invented by someone (Christ?) in order to offer people something in which believe?
i won't speak anymore about science: if we believe that a supernatural intelligence created the world we know as we know (I didn't say created the universe), it is useless to move on with the discussion on this point.
| 2/4/2007 10:16 PM
FINDING GOD THROUGH FAITH AND REASON
Well that was weird. I just posted a message here and it disappeared, even though a new message shows up on the main list.
Hi there! You have started a fascinating discussion here.
I have always thought that what the Church teaches and what science is learning are basically the same thing, only in a different language, if one steps back and looks at the big picture. I also thought that Truth was revealed to man in the Bible in a way that he could understand at that time, and for all times.
We are very young, compared to the rest of the universe, and
even some of our greatest scientists got some things wrong, Newton, even Einstein and now Hawking. Technology has made us feel comfortable and superior, but much of the world does not have it.
If you could watch Fr. Spitzer's programs, as mentioned by Wulfrune above, I think you would really enjoy them. They are a very detailed study of the work of the Saints on this subject AND the most modern thinkers in mathematics and physics today.
Indeed it is a miracle that the universe came into existence in the way we see it today, with the odds against even the right gases being formed in the correct proportions being astronomical (if you pardon the pun), the odds against it were huge. Similarly against the stars and planets being formed in a way that could support life, and so on.
He uses physics and mathematics to prove without a shadow of a doubt that there HAD to have been a Creator, and what that Creator would be like.
I can't wait for his book to come out at the end of the series, and the videos will be available too. The program is currently running on EWTN and it is called, "Finding God Through Faith and Reason".
You don't have to be a believer to appreciate the programs.
They are a fascinating study of the formation of the universe, and of its Creator, who at the same time he proves is a God of Love.
Best wishes to you too!
[Modificato da Music of Lorien 04/02/2007 22.40]
| 2/5/2007 2:17 PM
I understand perfectly your idea.
BUT I disagree
it is too much simple to say that because of his perfection the universe HAS to have been created by someone (or, as we call him/her, God).
it wuold be like saying that the Earth is in the middle of the universe because there are men and animals. that was something scientist believed in a lot of years ago because they couldn't explain the motions of sun and stars that seemed to be perfect.
I think it is the same of saying "there is a creator because everything is too much perfect to be created only by the case".
| 2/8/2007 2:13 PM
Sandro Magister today posted a specific refutation of Cardinal Martini's recent article justifying 'assisted death', if I may coin a term, by Pietro de Marco, professor of the sociology of religion at the University of Florence and the Theological Faculty of Central Italy. But the article is in Italian and I must translate it first.
| 2/9/2007 4:34 AM
Registered in: 11/23/2005
Catholic cardinal says scientists, public schools stifling debate on faith and evolution
By Rachel Zoll
7:04 p.m. February 7, 2007
NEW YORK – An influential Roman Catholic cardinal whose comments on evolution are closely followed condemned a court decision Wednesday that barred a Pennsylvania school district from teaching “intelligent design” in biology class.
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna said in a lecture that restricting debate about Darwin's theory of evolution amounts to censorship in schools and in the broader public.
“Commonly in the scientific community every inquiry into the scientific weaknesses of the theory is blocked off at the very outset,” Schoenborn said of Darwinism. “To some extent there prevails a type of censoring here of the sort for which one eagerly reproached the church in former times.”
The cardinal said he found it “amazing” that a U.S. federal court ruled in 2005 that the Dover, Pa., public school district could not teach the concept of “intelligent design” as part of its science class. The judge had said that the theory, which says an intelligent supernatural force explains the emergence of complex life forms, was creationism in disguise.
The cardinal said the Dover ruling meant that schoolchildren would only be taught a materialistic, atheistic view of the origin of universe, without considering the idea that God played a role.
“A truly liberal society would at least allow students to hear of the debate,” he said.
Schoenborn's comments came in a speech Wednesday night sponsored by the Homeland Foundation, a philanthropy that funds cultural and religious programs, many involving the Catholic Church.
It is the latest in a series of remarks he has made on the topic. The cardinal, who is close to Pope Benedict XVI, has said he wants to correct what he calls a widespread misconception that the Catholic Church has given a blanket endorsement to Darwin's theories.
The “intelligent design” concept has been promoted most prominently by the Discovery Institute, a think tank in Seattle. Asked after the speech if he was endorsing the institute's beliefs, Schoenborn would say only “listen to my arguments,” cautioning that his views should not be put “in a box.”
“I don't belong to any kind of boxes,” he said.
The lecture was based on a talk Schoenborn gave in a private meeting in Italy last year with Benedict, a former professor, and several of his old students, where they discussed evolution.
Schoenborn affirmed that the Catholic Church rejects creationism, saying “the first page of the Bible is not a cosmological treatise about the coming to be of the world in six days.” He also said that “the Catholic faith can accept” the possibility that God uses evolution as a tool. But he said science alone cannot explain the origins of the universe.
| 2/9/2007 8:34 PM
Registered in: 11/23/2005
Growing number of seniors fear being euthanized, group reports
Elderly in New Zealand seeking ways to protect themselves from being killed
Wellington, Feb 8, 2007 / 11:22 am (CNA).- Family Life International says an increasing number of elderly New Zealanders are concerned about being euthanized by medical staff.
“In the last 12 months, we have seen a marked increase in enquiries from people who want to know what they can do to legally protect themselves from people like Dr. [Philip] Nitschke, who believes that medical staff should be allowed to kill patients,” says Family Life International media spokesperson Brendan Malone.
The Australian medical doctor founded Exit International, a pro-euthanasia organization, in 1997. The group actively lobbies for pro-euthanasia legislation.
“Older New Zealanders appear to be particularly frightened by the increasing promotion of euthanasia, which promotes the false idea that elderly people are a burden on society and that it is a good thing to prematurely end their lives,” Malone said.
“Dr. Philip Nitschke’s claims that you can have safe and legal euthanasia are completely countered by the experience of the Netherlands, where, since the advent of decriminalized euthanasia, thousands of people have been euthanized without giving consent, and many elderly people are scared of hospitals and doctors.”
Family Life International offers a generic patient protection document that many people have adopted and specified for their own situation.
“Patient protection documents allow people to take legal steps to protect themselves from the ever increasing threat of euthanasia” says Malone.
[Modificato da benefan 09/02/2007 20.34]
| 2/10/2007 12:21 AM
|On 2/8/07, I posted that Sandro Magister has made available a specific refutation of Cardinal Martini's recent article justifying 'assisted death', if I may coin a term, by Pietro de Marco, professor of the sociology of religion at the University of Florence and the Theological Faculty of Central Italy.
By way of quick background: the Cardinal was referring to Mr. Welby, an Italian man who suffered from incurable muscular dystrophy and had been kept on a respirator for 9 years. He requested the Italian president and other government leaders last year to be allowed to die, and with the enthusiastic help of euthanasia advocates, carried on a three-month campaign to press his cause. Italian law does not now allow such 'voluntary' suicide, which is of course, also forbidden by the Church. A few days before Christmas, Welby asked hus anesthesiologist, Dr. Riccio, to disconnect his respirator and died shortly thereafter.
Cardinal Martini's article maintained that the manner of death was justified by the circumstances, therefore, it was neither suicide on Welby's part nor administering euthanasia on Riccio's part. He suggested the Church should rethink its teaching on these matters, implying that it should take individual circumstances into greater account rather than applying a general rule.
Here is a translation of Prof. De Marco's rebuttal
On Cardinal Martini, doctors, life and suicide
Comments on the intervention of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini
in the case of Piergiorgio Welby and
the subsequent decision of the doctors of Cremona
By Pietro De Marco
The Medical Association of Cremona has dismissed the disciplinary proceeding against Dr. Mario Riccio, who told Corriere della Sera
on Feb. 2 that: "The right of the patient to refuse therapy, even if life-saving, when he wants to, has been upheld. In effect, that was what Piergiorgio Welby wanted."
We had no doubts that was what Welby wanted. The question still remains whether this was a case of assisted suicide or not.
A component described as 'declaratively Catholic' in the Medical Board statement announcing its decision was the argument, as well as the source for it, that guided its decision: the artcile written by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini for the newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore
on January 21.
For Dr. Giovanni Fasani, "Martini's article cut to the core" regarding any doubts that some of the board members had. He claims the cardinal had 'luminously distinguished' ("It was a beacon for me, and I think for all of us") the boundary between euthanasia and tne refusal of therapy, showing that a patient's 'right to a dignified survival' was supported by the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Now no one wants to be taken for a ride, even if involuntarily. It is the height of contradiction to say that a person's autonomy and dignity are protected by dying at will.
The problem represented by the Welby case is not the dignity of the patient; no one could doubt that, alive, Welby was fully entitled to his dignity, and had it. Otherwise his battle to 'safegaurd it', no matter how erroneous, would not have made sense.
The crux is whether the state of Welby's health - at the moment that Riccio intervened - could be considered in a true terminal phase, which is the only legitimate reason to cite the Catechism as justification.
It must not be forgotten that the Catehcism in Article #2277 defines direct euthanasia - "putting an end to the life of persons who are handicapped, sick or near death" - as morally unacceptable
, distinguishing conceptually, if not terminologically,'nearness to death' from 'terminal illness."
No. 2277 of the Catechism continues: "An action, or omission of an action, which would - by itself or intentionally - bring on death with the goal of putting an end to suffering, constitutes killing, seriously violating the dignity of the human person and respect for the living God, his Creator."
The articles about respect for human life (nos. 2259-2283) should be read in their entirety.
Was not Welby 'helped to die' at the moment which he lucidly decided was the time to die? We know their answer: he was only helped 'in dying'! But was Welby 'dying"?
The difficult knot to untangle is the character of 'lifesaving therapy." Would these refer to, adopting the English terms, 'cure' (medical treatment) or to 'care' (taking maternal or parental care as the expression of primary concern by those who grant and conserve life)?
If lifesaving therapy consists in 'care', then to deny or interrupt it is 'morally unacceptable': to take oneself off such care, or to take someone else off it, becomes analogous to suicide or assisted suicide, as the case may be.
This is a suicidal challenge in itself that must be faced by the moral theologian and the canon law expert because the philosopher and the jurist generally prefer not to get involved (just think that the doctrine relative to 'acts of disposing of the body" explores every possible transfer of body parts to others but does not consider the case of total surrender of one's body to someone else's hands!)
To such difficult but not undecidable questions - for instance, Welby certainly was not
a dying man - Cardinal Martini offered a criterion for a response, which, in a way, is validconsidering that his presentation of the case alrezdy suggests the answer.
He writes: "P.G. Welby...lucidly requested the suspension of treatments for respiratory support, which consisted in the last nine years, of a tracheotomy and an automatic ventilator, without any possibility of improvement."
That last comment ('without any possibility of improvement') is not banal. It prepares the argument for the 'wisdom' that is proposed a few lines later, namely: treatments should not be prolonged if they do not benefit the person any longer.
But I will frankly counter the Cardinal: the argument is not relevant! No one thinks that techniques of respiratory support will produce any 'improvement' in the person's disease; that is not the reason that they are being used. But this does not mean they do not help the patient
! Does the parental 'care' that for years,even decades, keeps the life of a seriously-handicapped child not help him at all?
Martini maintains, a bit farther on, that "it is of greatest importance in this context to distinguish between euthanasia and abstention from tenacious therapy." Is this illuminating? Dr. Fasani should have known this distinction for years. And that the distinction rarely helps resolve problematic cases.
As everyone knows - doctors and laymen alike - what the Catechism defines as 'refusal to use medical procedures that are disproportionate and without reasonable hope of positive results' (Compendium, no, 471), can be justified without difficulty in cases like irreversible coma in a terminally ill patient. It is this condition which the Catechism consistently refers to when it states that, refusing tenacious therapy "does not mean wanting to obtain death; (it means) accepting that it cannot be prevented"
In no other case, whether on the level of 'care' or of 'cure', is it legitimate in itself to accept not
preventing death, much less accelerating it.
The Welby case is not an example of the case allowed by the Catechism
. Therefore, the key to the Cardinal's argument is missing from it - precisely why it was received (by the Medical Board) as a 'resolution.' [Because it avoided the issue
The Cardinal's text continues trying to keep a most difficult, and in my opinion, precarious balance. He says it is up to the patient to judge if the treatment he is getting is effectively proportionate; nevertheless, it would be erroneous to consider this autonomy absolute; one should not "leave the patient aloen in his judgments and in his decisions." Furthermore, rather than consider suspension of treatment, limiting it should be discussed, and assistance should continue with palliative care.
Moreover, he adds that to the possibility of the informed refusal of the patient of treatments he considers disproportionate, there should also be juridical protection for the doctor who carries out the patient's wishes. But, Martini says, this sould not mean legalizing euthanasia.
However, beyond the Welby case, how can one not grasp that (in this view) informed judgment by the patient on whether a treatment is proportionate or not presumes the patient's full autonomy
(lucidity and freedom) independent of individual or relational conditioning brought on by impotence and/or suffering? That being so, it is impossible not to call it assisting suicide - this paradoxical protection of someone who, lucidly and freely, refuses further treatment.
Many were moved by Martini's very humane insistence on considering 'concrete conditions, circumstances and intentions of all those involved', as well as his serene words about himself, his own ailment, his doctors and nurses. He was compelling because of his seeming moderation - and the problem he posed.
Public opinion, and even Church opinion, deduced from his words the premises for pastoral and disciplinary behavior (if the cardinal himself were in any position of actual authority) different from what the Church decided
But this consensus is ultimately tragic. Neither a spiritual authority like Martini nor his Christian public seem to want to assume responsiblity for rational discernment of the problem, nir for the practical consequences of their sentiments and judgments. The Cardinal is concerned, above all, 'as a pastor', to offer elbow room for a decision for suicide, and to protect the doctor.
But is that the way to help anyone undergo the death experience in a humane way? To evaluate a death that is decided and obtained in this way, is it enough to cite, as Martini suggests, "the sum total of our existence...under the mystery of God's mercy and the promise of eternal life"?
What if one finds oneself confronting the possibility, not remote at all, of what Catechism #2277 describes as "a killing, seriously violating the dignity of the human person and respect for God, his Creator?"
Death 'neutralized' - when healthy persons anticipate the agony of a dying person and avoid the ordeal of living through it - is that more humane? One must be clear above all that to experience dying 'humanely' means to stop presuming to be master of one's life
- this is what Christianity opposes to pagan suicide. It is an opening to transcendence.
Whoever presumes to have sovereignty over human life, even if it is only his own, does not respect it.
Death will be humane, not if it is 'gentle' but if it retains an integral meaning protected by natural law as well as Christian law.
But it isn't me who should tell Cardinal Martini these things; it should be he who teaches them to me. One might maintain he has ssid what he has to say. Then why do his statements threaten to extinguish our critical vigilance? There is something inadequate in the Cardinal's action and in the Catholic consensus that he is stirring up.
It lacks an intellectual will for clarification, independent of concerns with concord or compromise (objectives which are unavoidable but to be pursued with great rigor). It lacks the use of analytical tools such as those offered by theological science. It lacks the perception of being at an extremely serious historical threshold.
The world praises Benedict XVI's elevated call to Logos. But in many, Christian optimism about man simply means a happy ending to 'things', even ethical and political issues, without recourse to the critical power of one's own reason.
The distinction proposed by Carlo Ghidelli, Archbishop of Lanciano and Ortona, between the common good that is the concern of the Pope - expressed most recently in his message for the World Day for Life - and the individual good that is supposedly Martini's concern, can lend itself to an unsupportable routine duality between the rule and an individual case
(as Corriere headlined it on February 3) - and not only because rule and individual necessarily imply each other rather than being in opposition.
To tone down critical discernment in bioethical issues in order to promote dialog and moderation does not constitute taking care of the individual who is sick or dying, or yet unborn.
But it is certainly giving free rein - pastorally if not interiorly - to the contemporary flight from an essential 'cogitatio mortis' (thinking about death) and to faslification of supposed good deeds 'masked in humanity.'
In effect, turning around Ghidelli's formulation, it is rather in the approbation by some Catholics of Martini's arguments that I see a questionable concept of the primacy of the common good - seen as the political neutralization of critical reason - over the individual person and respect for God, his Creator.
| 2/10/2007 2:07 PM
|Right and left join forces
to oppose brave new world of biotechnology
All Things Catholic
by John L. Allen, Jr.
Friday, Feb. 9, 2006
For some time, the politics of bioethics in the West has fueled deep ideological polarization between a permissive left and a restrictive right. That was the dynamic when the front-burner issues were abortion and birth control, and it's still true of today's most agonizing debates, such as embryonic stem cell research and end-of-life questions such as those surrounding the Terry Schiavo case in Florida.
On every one of those issues, the knee-jerk response of the left is to let people make their own decisions, while that of the right is to defend life. This fault line forms the core of today's "culture wars."
The primary consequence for the Catholic church has been to drive it into an ever-tighter alliance with the political right, a trend clearly in evidence during the 2004 presidential elections in the United States. This is notoriously frustrating for "seamless garment" Catholics, who insist that if you take into view the full range of the church's moral and social teaching, it cannot be subsumed into any secular ideological formation.
But what if we project forward 10 to 20 years, trying to anticipate what the front-line bioethical debates will be then? Looking at what's happening in the biological sciences, such questions may include cloning, life-extension treatments, the creation of transgenic entities such as chimeras, the use of genetic technology to "engineer" offspring with desirable intellectual and physical capacities, and the widespread use of genetically modified foods.
If that's the future, one surprising consequence is that today's ideological divisions may become much less clear-cut, as opposition to the brave new world of biotechnology will stem as much from the left as the right.
This reality is already crystal-clear in Europe, where the use of genetically modified foods has basically been stopped in its tracks - by the political left, not the right. The same phenomenon is in evidence in the Catholic church, where the most vehement opposition to GMOs has come from the bishops' conferences of the developing world, often in tandem with theologians and members of religious communities who would generally be considered "liberal" on most political matters.
Several Filipino bishops, for example, including Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, have been outspoken in their criticism of GMOs. In 2002, fourteen Brazilian bishops condemned the cultivation and consumption of GMOs, and in the same year the Catholic Bishops of South Africa said, "It is morally irresponsible to produce and market genetically modified food."
Across the range of other looming bioethical issues, something similar is afoot.
To be sure, there's also strong opposition to the biotech revolution from the right, including the emergence of a group of influential intellectuals dubbed "bio-conservatives," concerned that fundamental lines of human dignity are being blurred.
Such figures include Leon Kass, former chair of the President's Council on Bioethics, and Francis Fukuyama, who has warned that developments in biotechnology threaten to "alter human nature and thereby move us into a 'post-human' stage of history." Fukuyama too sits on the President's Council on Bioethics, which, under President George W. Bush, has been something of a forum for bio-conservative thought, often with a strong Catholic flavor.
Yet some of the most ferocious criticism of today's developments comes from figures more associated with the cultural left.
Jeremy Rifkin, for example, is often aligned with liberal environmental circles; he's served as a personal advisor to Romano Prodi, the left-of-center Prime Minister of Italy. Yet he's also perhaps the leading critic of the biotech age, earning him the title, according to Time magazine, of "the most hated man in science."
"The biotech era will bring with it a very different constellation of political visions and social forces, just as the industrial era did," Rifkin has written. "The current debate over cloning human embryos … is already loosening the old alliances and categories. It's just the beginning of the new biopolitics."
Leftist environmentalist Bill McKibben is also part of this "new biopolitics." On the grounds of protecting harmony with nature, McKibben is deeply skeptical of most aspects of the biotech revolution. He's written, for example, that "genetically engineering our children will be the worst choice human beings ever make."
Other socially conscious leftists harbor similar reservations. Marcy Darnovsky from the Center for Genetics and Society, along with Tom Athanasiou from EcoEquity, assert that genetic engineering will "allow inequality to be inscribed into the human genome."
Admittedly, left and right typically approach biotech issues from different points of departure - concern for the environment on the left, a strong defense of the sanctity of human life on the right. Yet the future of bioethics suggests these two forces may, increasingly, meet in the middle.
On these new biotech issues, the Catholic church is almost certain to side largely with the opposition, on the grounds of respect for human dignity, as well as concern that the ultimate end of such technologies will be to erode human uniqueness.
Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of pro-life activities for the U.S. bishops' conference, recently made this point with respect to the impact of the creation of "chimeras," or organisms which carry genes from more than one source - such as mice injected with human brain cells in order to study the pathology of diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.
"Some would like to render the sanctity of human life technologically obsolete by demonstrating that species membership is fungible," Doerflinger said. "If so, then the idea of natural law based on a fixed human nature is over. You'd have to come up with some other basis for rights, like sentience."
Doerflinger called that prospect a "real threat, a real motivation on the part of some," and hence "something worth worrying about."
The political consequences of such values, which are obviously central to Catholic anthropology and morality, mean that bishops and pro-life activists may increasingly find themselves accompanied by some unaccustomed allies from the secular left, who will have to learn anew to think of Catholicism as a friend as well as a foe.
Of course, not everyone on the left thinks this way. Ronald Bailey, for example, has written a book called Liberation Biology
, deliberately comparing his defense of the biotech revolution to the liberation theology movement. Both, he believes are about liberating people from oppression - poverty, in the case of liberation theology, and the physical limits of nature with developments in bio-technology.
Yet there's also a strong case for biotech on the right, especially from pro-business conservatives linked to major biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. That influence is one reason, for example, that the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See has been pressing the Vatican to adopt a positive stance on GMOs.
The point is that new bioethical debates often defy traditional ideological categories.
In the coming biopolitics, the pro-life stance of Roman Catholicism may thus locate the church within a new trans-ideological constellation, as we experience profound mutations, so to speak, in our political DNA. In what might come to be regarded as one of the miracles of genetic science, the church and at least some elements of the left may, after all, find themselves on speaking terms.
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 10/02/2007 16.25]
| 2/14/2007 6:01 PM
Registered in: 11/23/2005
Brave, new biotech world – Human, animal mix raises ethical concerns
By John L. Allen Jr.
National Catholic Reporter --
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (National Catholic Reporter) – English tabloids are nothing if not colorful, but recently they’ve outdone themselves, splashing images of bizarre genetic mixtures of humans with rabbits and cows across their front pages, derisively dubbed “Franken-bunnies” and “moo-tants” by the headline writers of Fleet Street.
The frenzy was triggered by England’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which is pondering the legality of “chimeras,” meaning organisms that carry both human and animal genes. Such creatures may seem like science fiction, but in less spectacular form they’re already common, from cows injected with human stem cells in order to produce a human protein in their milk, which is extracted and used to cure hemophilia, to mice with human neural cells in their brains in order to test treatments for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Those examples may seem relatively benign – after all, a cow producing human protein is still basically a cow – but it is fear of a slippery slope toward confusion between human and animal that really causes conniption fits.
That’s the terrain, for example, of Michael Crichton’s new Jurassic Park-style thriller, titled Next, about a researcher at the National Institutes of Health who mixes human and chimpanzee DNA, and then tries to pass off the resulting child as fully human. (Perhaps inevitably, wags label it a “humanzee.”) The riddles that would surround such a creature – what rights it might enjoy, whether it could be exploited for manual labor or have its organs forcibly harvested, and for the religiously inclined, whether it would possess a soul – give most ethicists and theologians a migraine.
Then there’s the “yuck factor,” the basic repugnance many people feel about species-bending mutants whipped up in labs. Such doubts notwithstanding, experts say the technology is largely in place to make it happen – and human history, they ruefully observe, is not exactly replete with examples of technologies that, once developed, were never used out of a sense of restraint.
Welcome to the brave new world of the biotech revolution.
Debate over chimeras swirled in the United States in 2005, when U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, now a Republican presidential candidate, introduced his “Human Chimera Prohibition Act,” which would have banned the creation of animals with genes from the human brain, or animals with any human genes if they could reproduce, both labeled by Brownback as affronts to human dignity. (He also contended that chimeras could exacerbate the transmission of diseases across species boundaries.)
The bill did not come up for a vote, but analysts expect Brownback to reintroduce the measure, which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports, and probably to campaign on it.
U.S. President George W. Bush called for a ban on “human/animal hybrids” in his 2006 State of the Union address.
Redemptorist Fsther Brian Johnstone, a moral theologian at The Catholic University of America in Washington, said that the church does not have any official teaching directly on chimeras. But documents on transplants have carved out a clear principle: Transferring genetic material across species lines is OK, as long as the identity of the individual, and its offspring, is maintained. Anything that blurs the distinction between human beings and the rest of creation goes too far.
Religious leaders concerned about human dignity are not the only forces raising questions about chimeras. Animal rights groups generally approach the issue from the other end, objecting to the exploitation of animals for human use, while environmentalists worry about the genetic manipulation of nature.
Whatever one makes of them, chimeras exemplify the rapidly developing, and occasionally creepy, ethical challenges that arise on the frontiers of today’s genetic science. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced Jan. 28 that it’s working on a new document on bioethics, a successor to 1987’s Donum Vitae, to address this sort of new moral conundrum.
Conflict from the start
In Greek mythology, the original chimera was a ferocious mixture of lion, goat, dragon and snake, whose fury caused storms and shipwrecks. (Students of the classics will recall that the chimera was slain by Bellerophon while riding another genetic amalgam – Pegasus, the winged horse. Conflict, it would seem, has surrounded the chimera from the start.)
Today, the term is used to indicate any individual carrying two distinct genetic patterns.
As opposed to a hybrid, where the genetic materials of two species fuse, in a chimera the genes remain separate. Technically, a human being with a transplanted pig liver could therefore be considered a “chimera,” but such procedures have not generated serious ethical qualms – mostly because nobody really believes that carrying around a pig’s liver diminishes personal identity, turning the recipient into a pig-human mutant.
The basic idea for a chimera is not new. Futurists have predicted such creatures for centuries. Two decades ago, Harvard researchers patented a mouse which carries a human cancer gene, known as the “onco-mouse.”
What makes today’s debate different, at least in part, is the connection between chimeras and stem-cell research. The “holy grail” of stem-cell research is to be able to shape these primitive cells into healthy hearts, kidneys and livers, in order to replace defective human organs. Those organs, however, have to be grown and tested somewhere, and that means using animals. Ideally, an individual patient’s genes could be implanted into an animal so the desired organ would not later be rejected by the patient’s immune system.
The bottom line is that to unlock the potential of stem-cell research, you need chimeras. But that raises the specter of a monkey growing up with a human heart, or a pig with human eyes – prospects that some people find disturbing.
“You’re creating beings without knowing what your ethical obligations to them are,” warned Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of pro-life activities for the U.S. bishops’ conference.
Many chimeras are created today with little ethical objection. Pigs have been injected with human blood cells to study how the AIDS virus appeared; mice have been injected with human prostate cancer cells to study treatments; and sheep have been injected with human blood cells to stimulate the production of clotting factors, which are later synthesized and used to treat heart attacks and strokes.
Tara Seyfer, a Catholic research scientist who works in the Family Life Office of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, and who has written on chimeras, calls these procedures in the main “morally legitimate.”
There’s another use of the chimera that, at least to critics, is more dubious. One standard objection to stem cell research is that women have to “donate” their eggs for the procedure. While it’s illegal to buy or sell human body parts, women can have their eggs harvested for use by another woman in in vitro fertilization. Donors can be compensated for their time and discomfort, with payments of $3,000-$5,000 for a five- to eight-week treatment. Unused “surplus” cells may eventually be assigned for research.
Critics see this as little more than a way of auctioning off one’s reproductive materials, especially since advertisements seeking donors are often targeted at young college-age women, who are presumed to need the money.
In that light, some scientists believe animal eggs should be used instead, seeing it as a less morally complicated alternative. For the critics, however, such a procedure does nothing to reduce what they see as the inherent evil of creating a human embryo for research purposes.
Perhaps the biggest moral dilemma with chimeras isn’t what’s being done today, but what might be done tomorrow.
Crichton, for example, got the idea for his “humanzee” from Stuart Newman, a developmental biologist at New York Medical College, along with biotechnology critic Jeremy Rifkin. The two submitted a patent application in 1997 for a human-chimpanzee mix. They didn’t actually want to fabricate such a creature, but rather to tie down the patent for 20 years to prevent others from doing so.
Seyfer said chimeras involving humans and nonhuman primates set off special alarms, because the chromosomal structure of these animals is most similar to human beings, creating the risk of “genetic fusing” between the species. Primates are most likely to develop “human-like” attributes if exposed to human genes. Yet that danger hasn’t stopped many scientists, such as Eugene Redmond, a professor of psychiatry and neurosurgery at Yale, who has injected human neural stem cells into African green monkeys in order to study treatments for Parkinson’s disease.
Some worry that, intentionally or not, other research is moving into similar territory.
For example, Stanford scientist Irving Weissman injected mice with human brain cells, seeking new treatments for brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s. In this case, the genetic material represented less than one percent of the mouse’s brain. (Naturally, it was called “the Stuart Little experiment.”) In 2005, Weissman said he’d like to transplant human neural cells into mice to such an extent that the mice lose all of their own neurons, upping the ante from less than 1 percent of human genetic material in the brain to virtually 100 percent.
Granted, a mouse’s brain is so small that even with fully human genes, it’s hard to imagine a rodent Einstein. Nevertheless, how can anyone say for sure what might be going on in there?
Doerflinger said Weissman’s first experiment seemed acceptable, but his second would be “a step too far” – though he admitted it’s difficult to pinpoint where the ethical border falls between the two.
“It’s easier to see night and day than to distinguish exactly when it becomes dusk,” he said. “I’m not sure where the line is.”
Johnstone said this is an area where moral theology has some work to do.
“The Catholic position needs to spell out much more clearly what it means by human dignity,” he said, adding that to date, the theological literature on chimeras is limited.
Johnstone said he sympathizes with Doerflinger’s intuitive reservations, but “we have to have reasons to back up our intuitions.”
“Human dignity doesn’t attach exclusively to our DNA,” he said. “It attaches to the person, and we need to explore what that means.” In the meantime, however, Johnstone said he would place the burden of proof on those who deny moral status to chimeras, especially in cases where a significant percentage of human genetic material is involved.
The U.S. Patent Office, for its part, drew its own line at the “humanzee.” The creature described by Newman and Rifkin would be “too human,” the office ruled. The Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery, it said, means that a human being cannot be owned, and hence cannot be patented.
No inherent objection
The Catholic Church has no inherent objection to implanting genetic material from an animal into a human being. As far back as 1956, Pope Pius XII approved of transplanting animal corneas into humans, “if it were biologically possible and advisable,” in an address to the Italian Association of Cornea Donors and the Italian Union for the Blind.
Where the church demurs, however, is transplantation of either the brain or the reproductive organs, which it considers essential to personal identity.
A 1995 “Charter for Health Care Workers” from the Pontifical Council for Health, while approving some instances of transplantation, nevertheless added: “The brain and the gonads may not be transplanted, because they ensure the personal and procreative identity respectively. These are organs which embody the characteristic uniqueness of the person, which medicine is bound to protect.”
It’s not yet clear if the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will address the issue of chimeras in its new document on bioethics, but Seyfer said she hopes it will.
“We have principles, but the more clear guidance we can get on these specific issues, the better,” she said.
Others, however, believe criticism of chimeras is fueled largely by hysteria.
Deborah Brunton, an expert in the history of medicine at England’s Open University, describes today’s worries about chimeras as reminiscent of fears about smallpox vaccination in the 1800s. At the time, the vaccine involved small amounts of “cowpox,” a skin disease picked up from cows, which creates immunity to smallpox. (A scientist got the idea from observing that milkmaids usually didn’t catch smallpox. This, by the way, is where the term vaccine comes from – the Latin word for cow is vacca.)
The idea of injecting children with a cow disease caused panic about genetic abnormalities, Brunton said.
“One cartoonist showed cows’ heads and tails erupting from the bodies of people who had just undergone the procedure,” she said. “Medical practitioners actually reported children developing patches of hair, running around on all fours and coughing like cows.”
In the end, Brunton said, those reports turned out to be flights of imagination, and she believes current fears about chimeras will resolve themselves as well.
Most parties to the debate seem to agree in rejecting two extremes – one, a Luddite panic about chimeras that would squelch valuable and ethically harmless research; the other, an “anything goes” attitude that would open the door to Crichtonesque monstrosities. The problem, as always, is where exactly the “just mean” lies, with scientists pushing the envelope, and ethicists and spiritual leaders pulling in the reins.
Doerflinger said that beyond the science involved, something deeper is at stake in the chimera debate.
“Some would like to render the sanctity of human life technologically obsolete by demonstrating that species membership is fungible,” he said. “If so, then the idea of natural law based on a fixed human nature is over. You’d have to come up with some other basis for rights, like sentience.”
Doerflinger called that prospect a “real threat, a real motivation on the part of some,” and hence “something worth worrying about.”
Public opinion, however, ultimately may be moved less by such philosophical considerations than by gut-level instinct.
Leon Kass, former chair of the U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics, put the point this way: “Revulsion is not an argument,” he said. “In crucial cases, however, repugnance is the emotional expression of deep wisdom. Shallow are the souls that have forgotten how to shudder.”
Given this dialectic of science versus shudder, the debate about chimeras seems a long way from resolution.
| 2/14/2007 6:25 PM
Thnaks for the article, Benefan! Allen gives a great layman's overview of the state-of-thinking today about this area of genetic research.
While I agree that the turn-off factor (or 'yuck' factor, as one of those cited above calls it) may work for most people, there will always be an infinitesimal minority who will push the envelop. And not just among scientists.
I would not be surprised, for instance, if in a country like Holland, where pedophiles have formed a political party, we may soon find a political aggrupation in favor of mating with animals, not for reproduction obviously, but because it's how they get their kicks.
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 09/03/2007 21.53]
| 2/16/2007 2:22 PM
|Rigali letter on genetic discrimination
hints at new politics of biotech
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Posted on Feb 15, 2007
In last Friday’s “All Things Catholic” column, I argued that emerging biotech issues in the 21st century will shake up the current political calculus, with matters no longer breaking between a permissive left and a restrictive right. One consequence is that the Catholic Church’s pro-life stance will no longer imply a near-exclusive marriage of convenience with the cultural right.
This week brought an additional bit of evidence on point.
On Feb. 12, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia wrote to members of the House Education and Labor Committee, urging them to amend the “Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act,” H.R. 493. The measure would bar discrimination based on genetic makeup.
Insurers and employers could not demand genetic information, nor use such information to decrease an employee’s health or employment benefits. Insurers would be prohibited from demanding or using genetic information to deny coverage or raise premiums.
Rigali wants a loophole in the bill’s language closed, to be clear that it also applies to pre-implantation, pre-natal, and pre-adoption genetic tests of children. His point is that fear of being denied insurance or health care should not become a factor in making a decision not to implant an embryo, to abort a child, or not to adopt it. Financial pressures, Rigali wrote, should not be allowed to dissuade a family “from accepting a child with special needs in their lives.”
Rigali called the failure to cover such cases in the bill “apparently unintentional.”
To be sure, Rigali’s specific concern is to ensure that genetic tests do not create new incentives for abortion, very much within the scope of the bishops’ traditional pro-life agenda. But he’s also broadly supportive of the bill itself.
“The explosion of knowledge regarding genetics in recent years is itself a positive development in our understanding of God’s creation, and could bring enormous benefits to humanity,” Rigali wrote. “At the same time, this knowledge carries with it great power that is subject to abuse. Human beings and entire families could be stigmatized and discriminated against based on the intimate details of their own genetic makeup.”
The “Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act” has bi-partisan support in both chambers of Congress, and has twice passed the Senate, in 2003 and 2005. It has always become bogged down in the House, however, due to opposition from the business community and health care providers. The Democratic take-over has changed that landscape, as three of the bill’s original co-sponsors now chair committees which will determine its fate.
One primary co-sponsor in the House is Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, a pro-choice Democrat and now chair of the Rules Committee, who has vowed to push the measure towards a vote of the full House as quickly as possible.
Of course, this is hardly the first time that the Catholic bishops find themselves sympathetic to legislation that also has the backing of liberal Democrats. On certain matters, such as economic justice or immigration reform, sometimes it’s the political left that seems more responsive to Catholic social teaching.
But it’s far more rare for the bishops and pro-choice Democrats to find themselves basically on the same side of a bioethics debate.
That irony reflects the reality that the new politics of biotech don’t break left/right, but between vested economic interests and advocates of unfettered scientific progress, versus those concerned about the broader social impact of new technologies – on the environment, on human health, on justice, on the family, on human dignity. The fault line tends to pit economic gain against social cost, in other words, and it doesn’t run along the boundaries of existing ideological and partisan formations.
In this new world, the political opposite of “pro-life” may no longer be “pro-choice” but “pro-biotech,” and that could change a great deal.
| 2/19/2007 5:17 PM
Registered in: 11/23/2005
Religious faith may help stroke victims: study
Thu Feb 15, 2007 4:23PM EST
By Ed Stoddard
DALLAS (Reuters) - People of faith have long contended that the power of prayer can help heal the sick. Now a study conducted in Rome suggests that religious faith may help people recover from a stroke.
The study does not point to a "higher cause" but suggests that a strong dose of spirituality can reduce the emotional stress linked to obstacles in stroke recovery, according to a report Thursday in the journal Stroke.
Researchers at the San Raffaele Pisana Rehabilitation Center in the Italian capital of Rome interviewed 132 stroke survivors about their religious beliefs and spirituality. The median age of the study participants was 72.
The responses were compared with their scores on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, a self-assessment tool.
"The analysis showed higher scores on the anxiety and depression scale correlated significantly with lower scores on the religious and spirituality questionnaire," said the American Heart Association, which publishes Stroke.
"The association remained significant after adjusting for other factors that could influence a stroke patient's degree of emotional distress (such as mental and physical functioning, living conditions and marital status)," it said in a statement.
The reasons for this possible link between faith and post-stroke emotional distress are hard to pin down, though the researchers gave tentative explanations.
"Religious people who are active in their communities are more likely to receive external aid that can be provided by volunteers," said Dr. Salvatore Giaquinto, chairman of the department of rehabilitation at the San Raffaele Pisana Rehabilitation Center.
"Social support lets them experience feelings of care, love and esteem. The new experience of support and the background of faith tell the patients that they are not alone."
The research chimes to some extent with other studies that have suggested that spiritual pursuits such as reciting the rosary and yoga chanting may be beneficial for heart rate variability and stress relief.
But some researchers say the possible links uncovered in the Rome study should not be mistaken for direct causality.
"The study does not establish that religious beliefs will definitely reduce emotional distress but shows that people who are religious have better coping abilities," Dr. Lalit Kalra, a stroke professor at King's College London School of Medicine in Britain, wrote in an accompanying commentary.
"Hence, both these variables may define personal attributes of the patient, in other words religious beliefs do not make a person cope better but identify patients who have better abilities to cope with chronic illness," Kalra wrote.
The researchers did note that most of Rome's residents are Catholic. But they said their findings might extend to other religions as well.
| 2/22/2007 3:55 PM
| Archbishop Pell of Sydney has a genius for zooming in on politically fashionable topics and then proceeding to tackle them honestly and in a way that demolishes the fallacies and follies of the 'politically correct'. He did o last year about theMuslim problem, he did so recnetly in this speech about global warming. Read this, Al Gore! Pell cites recent statistics.
By + Cardinal George Pell
SCIENCE IS MORE COMPLICATED THAN PROPAGANDA
Archbishop of Sydney
18 February 2007
Global warming doomsdayers were out and about in a big way recently, but the rain came in Central Queensland and then here in Sydney. January also was unusually cool.
We have been subjected to a lot of nonsense about climate disasters as some zealots have been painting extreme scenarios to frighten us. They claim ocean levels are about to rise spectacularly, that there could be the occasional tsunami as high as an eight story building, the Amazon basin could be destroyed as the ice cap in the Arctic and in Greenland melts.
An overseas magazine called for Nuremberg-style trials for global warming skeptics while a U.S.A. television correspondent compared skeptics to “holocaust deniers”.
A local newspaper editorial’s complaint about the doomsdayers’ religious enthusiasm is unfair to mainstream Christianity. Christians don’t go against reason although we sometimes go beyond it in faith to embrace probabilities. What we were seeing from the doomsdayers was an induced dose of mild hysteria, semi-religious if you like, but dangerously close to superstition.
I am deeply skeptical about man-made catastrophic global warming, but still open to further evidence. I would be surprised if industrial pollution, and carbon emissions, had no ill effect at all. But enough is enough.
A few fixed points might provide some light. We know that enormous climate changes have occurred in world history, e.g. the Ice Ages and Noah’s flood, where human causation could only be negligible. Neither should it be too surprising to learn that the media during the last 100 years has alternated between promoting fears of a coming Ice Age and fear of global warming!
Terrible droughts are not infrequent in Australian history, sometimes lasting seven or eight years, as with the Federation Drought and in the 1930s. One drought lasted fourteen years.
We all know that a cool January does not mean much in the long run, but neither does evidence from a few years only. Scaremongers have used temperature fluctuations in limited periods and places to misrepresent longer patterns.
The evidence on warming is mixed, often exaggerated, but often reassuring.
Global warming has been increasing constantly since 1975 at the rate of less than one fifth of a degree centigrade per decade. The concentration of carbon dioxide increased surface temperatures more in winter than in summer and especially in mid and high latitudes over land, while there was a global cooling of the stratosphere.
The East Anglia university climate research unit found that global temperatures did not increase between 1998 – 2005 and a recent NASA satellite found that the Southern Hemisphere has not warmed in the past 25 years
. Is mild global warming a Northern phenomenon?
While we might have been alarmed by the sighting of an iceberg off Dunedin as large as an aircraft carrier we should be consoled by the news that the Antarctic is getting colder and the ice is growing there.
The science is more complicated than the propaganda!
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 8/27/2007 7:05 PM]
| 2/25/2007 7:58 PM
| The very day the Pope expresses concern about eugenism in reproductive medicine in the obsession to have 'the perfect child,' some disturbing news that shows one 'developed' country may be edging closer to that!
UK EDGING TOWARDS 'GM BABIES'?
And we have a new meaning for GM - not General Motors, for assembly-line cars, but GENETIC MODIFICATION, for assembly-line babies.
Law change may bring 'designer babies'
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Britain could become the first country to sanction the genetic alteration of human embryos, a step that a pressure group claims could pave the way to designer babies.
A decade after the cloning of Dolly the sheep, the Government is opening the door to GM (genetically-modified) human embryos for research, according to Human Genetics Alert.
David King, its director, said: "In a world first, the Government has said it will allow scientists to begin developing the technology for genetic modification of human beings, although creation of actual GM babies will be prohibited for the moment. We believe the public will be horrified."
There is a need for a public debate on genetic alteration of embryos said HGA. It said that it could eventually lead to "germ-line" gene therapy, where DNA changes are passed down generations, and to genetic enhancement, where embryos are altered to boost intelligence or for cosmetic purposes.
A draft Bill for legislation to replace the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 is being prepared with the intention of including a full Bill in the Queen's Speech next November. But Mr King called on the Government to "draw the line" at GM embryos.
Although the White Paper says genetic alterations of eggs, sperm and embryos "should not be permitted for reproductive purposes," it adds that this is only "for the foreseeable future, and until such time as safety and efficacy are assured".
The paper says the Government "is not, however, convinced of the need to preclude research activities that would involve altering the genetic structure of the embryo".
Dr Michael Antoniou, a gene therapist at Guy's Hospital, London, was concerned that even though germ-line therapy was too dangerous to attempt, the White Paper signalled the acceptance of safe germ-line modification of embryos.
Dr Richard Nicholson, the editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, said: "Every country that has legislated on this subject has banned it
"Thus the British Government's decision breaks ranks with the international community, and may lead to the perception that Britain is a haven for irresponsible and profit-driven scientists."
A Department for Health spokesman said: "Any sanction of the genetic alteration of human embryos is in the context of research only.
"The Government proposes that the law will continue to ban genetic modification of embryos for reproductive purposes. Moreover we will extend that prohibition to explicitly cover sperm and eggs."
But looking back on Mr. Highfield's file, he had a report last year that already heralded the imminence of'designer babies' in Britain, only in this case, to eliminate the possiboity of an inherited disease.
Designer babies to wipe out diseases approved
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Scientists have been given approval for experiments that could lead within a few years to the first genetically altered babies being born in Britain.
The controversial decision to approve a radical form of gene transplant offers the first realistic hope of an effective treatment for an entire class of serious genetic diseases.
A baby could be a blend of genes from one man and two women
A team at the University of Newcastle hopes, in as few as three years, to combine IVF with cell and genetic surgery to wipe out diseases caused by the equivalent of faulty batteries in cells, including muscular dystrophy
To do this, it would create a baby that would, in effect, be a blend of genes from one man and two women
. If a girl were born in this way, her genetic alterations would be passed to future generations to free them of potentially deadly disorders, too.
Campaigners from the pro-life movement said the decision by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to license the work represented an unacceptable step towards the creation of "designer babies" - a baby with two mothers who threatened the family unit.
Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said the authority had disregarded public opinion. The Human Genetics Alert watchdog said the decision marked the first step towards human genetic engineering.
The Newcastle team wants to employ its method to wipe out 50 or so metabolic disorders linked to faults in a small set of genes outside the nucleus of cells
These mitochondrial genes make and run the chemical "batteries" that power body cells. In effect, the new technique would be like changing a battery in a computer without affecting the hard disk.
When there are faults in mitochondrial genes, which are passed only from women to their children, the results can vary from mild to catastrophic.
Sometimes a woman with malfunctioning mitochondria will suffer only migraine. But, for reasons that are not understood, she can pass on many more of her mitochondrial defects to her children. The resulting metabolic turmoil can cause the build-up of lactic acid that will damage the brain, muscle, heart and liver. Hundreds of families in Britain suffer from these incurable diseases.
Prof Doug Turnbull, the leader of the Newcastle team, told The Daily Telegraph
last night that he was "delighted" by the authority's decision.
When considering the application twice before, the authority cited the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which prohibits "altering the genetic structure of any cell while it forms part of an embryo". However, its appeal committee heard that the phrase "genetic structure" had no precise scientific meaning.
Another objection rested on the ban on any proposal to change the nuclei of cells, the technique used to clone Dolly the sheep. But the Newcastle method is significantly different from cloning.
Prof Azim Surani, professor of physiology and reproduction at Cambridge University, said: "It does not involve making a copy of an existing adult.
"I also see few ethical problems, as we are dealing with the embryo at a very early stage when the cells have not even started to divide yet."
Prof John Burn, of the department of clinical medical sciences at Newcastle University, said the decision would not lead to designer babies.
"I would use the analogy of simply replacing the battery in a pocket radio to explain what we are doing," he said. "You are not altering the radio at all, just giving it a new power source."
Prof Peter Braude, of King's College London, welcomed the authority's decision.
"If [the technique] works and is safe it will be the answer to the prayers of those people afflicted by these awful mitochondrial genetic disorders, for which there is no treatment."
Dr David Harrison, the head of research at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said: "The innovative approach being tested by Prof Turnbull may lead to a treatment for mitochondrial myopathies, a group of conditions that dramatically affects the quality and length of life."
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 25/02/2007 20.17]
| 3/2/2007 6:18 PM
| Going through some French Catholic sites yesterday, I was led to the French Opus Dei site which carries a current article that is both thought-provoking and eye-opening.
DOES GOD PLAY DICE WITH THE WORLD?
It also gives us an idea of the kind of Apostolate Opus Dei carries out: the 'work of God', as founder St. Jose Maria Escriva conceived it, has the mission "to help people turn their work and daily activities into occasions for growing closer to God, for serving others, and for improving society."
Opus Dei also "complements the work of local churches by offering classes, talks, retreats and pastoral care that help people develop their personal spiritual life and apostolate."
But the particular initiative described here is something that should perhaps be undertaken by a leading Catholic association in every country - a continuing dialog about faith and acience.
As we will see, their discussions resonate very much with what Pope Benedict XVI has been saying about faith and reason, faith and science, and even with philosopher Juergen Habermas's recent criticism of the Regensburg lecture. I certainly hope Opus Dei keeps the Pope up to date about very encouraging signs like this.
The 2007 International Interdisciplinary Seminar held in London on January 2-7 assembled physicists, mathematicians, biologists, engineers, philosophers, and jurists to discuss the theme: « Does God play dice? Evolution, Randomness and Intelligence in Nature. »
First, here is a general introduction from the site
THE INTERNATIONAL INTERDISCIPLINARY SEMINARS
Recent scientific and technological advances have an ever-increasing impact on our lives, on the way we understand ourselves as human beings and the way we deal with one another.
On the one hand, these developments are often carried out by scientists without the benefit of other sources of wisdom such as philosophy, law, history or anthropology. On the other hand, philosophers often lack the scientific basis to fully understand the significance of current experiments and discoveries in Science.
Ideas have consequences and are capable of shaping the future of humanity in important ways. Looking at these ideas from several different viewpoints we can be equipped to make a more objective evaluation of what is desirable and what is undesirable in the different applications of scientific developments. This thinking is critical to the democratic political process as well as, in a more immediate way, to moral choices that people have to make in their professional work.
The International Interdisciplinary Seminars aim to bring together students from science, philosophy, law and other disciplines, to study key issues of current interest. One example is the whole issue of brain, identity and personhood.
The general topic for the 2007 seminar is “Evolution, Randomness and Intelligence in Nature”. Of immediate interest to students of scientific and philosophical disciplines, the subject is ultimately of interest to everyone, since the proponents of different approaches are trying to put forward overarching worldviews. The seminar includes talks by experts and discussion sessions, as well as papers by some of the students themselves.
Unfortunately, the contributions posted on the seminar site, although all in English, are presented only in outline form [PDF presentations of what were probably the slides used by the presentors].
But just in time to save me from translating, the UK site of Opus Dei posted today the English version of the article-interview about the seminar that was on the French site on 2/28/07.
Does God Play Dice?
Evolution, Randomness and Intelligence in Nature
Quantum physics can be a good point of departure for speaking about freedom, destiny and God. That is what university teachers and students from 9 countries thought when they gathered together in London to investigate how randomness, intelligence and evolution shapes nature.
Science does not only make life easier, it can also help us to understand more about ourselves as human beings. But this requires that any progress in science be accompanied by a humanist and anthropological reflection.
In order to achieve this global view a number of university associations have been meeting yearly for nearly fifteen years to discuss the meaning of new discoveries in the different branches of science, sharing their knowledge and their opinions
The International Interdisciplinary Seminar for 2007 recently took place in London, gathering together engineers, biologists, physicists, mathematicians, philosophers and lawyers, from different universities in 9 countries. Its theme was entitled: “Does God play dice? Evolution, Randomness and Intelligence in Nature”.
We interviewed Antoine Suarez and Lorenzo de Vittori (from the Centre of Quantum Philosophy in Zürich), who were at the meeting, which took place in Netherhall House (London), a university residence and corporate work of Opus Dei.
Why do you ask “Does God Play Dice?”
The title refers to a famous statement Einstein made against quantum physics. This branch of physics maintains that physical phenomena cannot be explained entirely in a deterministic way, through material and observable causes.
Einstein, who favoured determinism, exclaimed: “God does not play dice”. But if the world functioned in a deterministic way, there would be no room for freedom! This polemic continues to be a current issue.
Students of mathematics, engineers, biologists, physicists, philosophers… What brings them together?
It is the concept of freedom that has formed the link between these interdisciplinary seminars for university members since they began in 1992. The aim of these discussions is to promote a scientific-philosophical reflection based on the results obtained from experimental sciences and mathematics, in order to present a world view in which freedom is possible.
What is the background of those who took part?
Freedom, evolution, God... are matters that have been debated by scientists and philosophers. The 60 students, research workers and lecturers who attended came from 9 different countries: Great Britain, Ireland, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, Croatia, France, Canada and Taiwan. There could have been more, but for the moment we have limited accommodation. The average age of the participants was 25
One of the aims of this activity is to stimulate communication between the different disciplines. This seems to have been achieved because there were representatives from most of the scientific subjects: physics, mathematics, engineering, biology, medicine, statistics, computer science; as well as philosophy, jurisprudence, political science, and even art.
What were the main discussions?
The discussions revolved around the philosophical consequences that follow from a mathematical analysis of quantum physics, the tension between evolution and creation, the importance of quantum randomness for upholding freedom, the relation between a spiritual soul and the brain, and the definition of death.
Which proposals were considered to be most original?
A first original conclusion was the possibility of harmonising the philosophical perspective of Thomas Aquinas with recent experiments in quantum physics
. These experiments were presented by the groups from Zurich (Lorenzo De Vittori, Andreas Schwaab) and Zagreb (Vuko Brigljevic and Roko Plestina).
They reveal the existence of phenomena whose origin or cause is outside space and time, and therefore non-material. They also allow for a bringing up to date of the Thomistic concept of the soul as a form of the body.
The energy required for the spontaneous movements of our bodies plays the role of material caus; the soul, on the other hand, operates as the formal cause at the level of choice (for instance, whether to go left or right). Juleon Schins (Delft) has coined the phrase ‘quantic hylomorphism’. We have tried to apply this explanation to define death and it seems to work quite well.
Cesare Stefanini and Federico Favali (Pisa) offered stimulating reflections by comparing human creativity with the potential autonomy of robots. But a lot has still to be done on the relation between soul and brain.
Another interesting result was the “positive” view of randomness
proposed by the groups from Utrecht (Alfred Driessen, Daan van Schalkwijk) and Zürich. There would not be such a thing as “blind” chance, but it would be the result of an intelligent and free cause; it could be seen as the play God permits in the “mechanism” of the world so that it is not entirely rigid and permits free corporal movements
, such as the movement of my fingers on the keyboard while I write the answers to these questions.
In a way, chance can be compared to the “unformed earth” or first matter which, according to the Bible, God created at the beginning. This approach sheds light on the theory of evolution in an interesting way.
Evolution is in fact a theme of great scientific, philosophical and religious interest at present…
University students presented papers on themes of topical and scientific interest.It has certainly been very present in our discussions. Referring to the current debate between evolution and intelligent design, Mark Fox (Sheffield), Leslie Tomory (Toronto), Jimmy Bakker (Dublin) and Andrea Manazza (Turin) insisted that there was no conflict between Creation and a scientific theory of evolution
The economists Ed Tredger (London) and Jan Everhard Renaud (Amsterdam) analysed the concept of randomness, while the physicist Peter Adams (London) pointed out that if God is not easily revealed by science, it is because the description of the world that quantitative science can provide cannot be complete, and has to remain open to non-quantifiable principles
. [A scientific re-formulation of Joseph Ratzinger's insistence on unbounded reason! Attention, Mr Habermas
It was also very interesting to hear the mathematical angle presented by the Italian (Max Berti, Rocco Tarchini) and Zürich groups: the fundamental mathematical theorems (Gödel, Turing) show that human reason cannot be reduced to a purely mechanical process of calculation, and therefore, in that sense, it is not material
Again it would seem that no human mind can contain the whole mathematical truth. If, as Kant says, mathematics is something “a priori” and mental, not derived from sense experience, one must conclude that it has its origin in an omniscient mind which is far superior to the powers of human reason. Ironically, the concept Kant had of mathematics in his Critique of Pure Reason seemed to imply the existence of God.
(Also a new way of looking at Kant, Mr. Habermas
You say that the participants were “young” and “scientists”. These are precisely those who are generally understood to be less interested in God and in anything spiritual.
Science is concerned with understanding the world, describing it as far as it can and explaining the role man plays in it – which must always be at the centre – in this context.
It follows that an honest scientist should be concerned with questions that are intimately related to life, such as God, the origin of the world, evolution…
And these scientists are fortunately ever more numerous. After several centuries in which the sciences have been studied as “separate compartments”, it now seems that the young generations wish to find a unity that is beyond their specialisation
This growing tendency is noticeable in the number of virtual discussions that are taking place on the Internet. Most of them are carried out on the blogs that are widespread among young scientists. You only need to enter “Existence of God” or “quantum physics and freedom” in Google and you will find thousands and thousands of pages on these questions
But is not only the young who are concerned with these metaphysical questions, they are also frequently mentioned by lecturers and research workers.
A century ago, it was unthinkable that there should be any doubt about determinism (suffice it to recall Einstein’s reaction: “God does not play dice”). However, now, it often appears as a way to prove that there is no contradiction between science and religion. Nowadays it is an accepted position, no doubt criticised, but constantly up for debate. It is pleasing to notice how the great specialists in quantum physics hold that in the world there is room for freedom and for God.
But is it not against the current trend to open up this debate?
Yes, it certainly does go against those who are accustomed to see the world in a “determinist” light. However, this new position is no longer rejected; it is listened to with interest.
The great thing is that the current of scientific thought no longer goes in one direction. The river now is full of whirlpools, and that is the best way in which science can progress.
I understand that you have continued the debate in a blog.
Yes, whoever is interested can see the presentations there and can take part in the debate: www.scienceandbeyond.net
[Unfortunately, not very much activity so far on that blog
What was the general atmosphere of the congress?
Very stimulating; it can perhaps be best illustrated by what happened at the end of the last session: The moderator, to sum up, asked, “Does God play dice, or not?” And the audience answered: “Yes, He does. And He enjoys it”. Perhaps this is another way of explaining the “ludens in orbe terrarum” of Proverbs 8:31.
And what about next year?
The next Seminar will take place in London on 2-6 January 2008. The theme will be: “Is there any room for the soul in neuroscience?”
We will be debating the neurophysiological basis for personal identity and free will.
From the seminar program, here is a list of the papers discussed:
Center for quantum Philosophy, Zürich and Geneva
Describing a world where freedom is possible
Lorenzo De Vittori and Andreas Schwab
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETHZ
Does God play dice? How randomness, intelligence
and free will shape the quantum world
University of Toronto
Did human beings appear by chance?
Discussion of Stephen Jay Gould's view
Daan van Schalkwijk
TNO Quality of Life in Zeist / University of Leiden
Randomness of DNA Mutation and
the Possibility of Guided Evolution
University of Sheffield
Intelligent design and the anthropic principle in physics
London School of Economics LSE
How much light can science shed
on the question “Does God play Dice?”
Delft University of Technology
Is there a cause behind quantum events?
University of Turin
a biological approach to evolution
University of Turin
The Evolution of the eye
Dublin City University
Can Intelligent Design be considered a scientific theory?
Science, a poor route to God?
Jan Everhard Renaud
Past data, present randomness and
forecasting uncertainty in empirical sciences:
interpreting human decision making and behaviour
University of Twente
Can a scientist (biologist or physicist)
with tools of his science
distinguish between chance and purpose or design?
University of Naples
Proof of Gödel's theorem
Braslav Rabar and Marko Zivkovic
Students, University of Zagreb
Philosophical consequences of Gödel’s theorem
University of Naples
Proof of Turing's theorem
Gödel's theorem from Turing's theorem and Proof
Does Kant’s conception of mathematics
imply the existence of God?
University of Naples
The axiom of choice in mathematics.
Vuko Brigljevic and Roko Plestina
Rudjer Boskovic Institute, Zagreb
The daily encounter with randomness in particle physics
Cesare Stefanini and Federico Favali
Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna, Pisa
Human creativity and the potential of autonomous robots:
a glance into the future
University of Zürich
The definitions of death and
of the irreversible vegetative state
Center for quantum philosophy, Zürich and Geneva
When does the soul leave the organism?
The self and the soul
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 02/03/2007 19.52]
| 3/5/2007 4:53 AM
Registered in: 11/23/2005
‘Brave new medical world’ pushes Catholic Church bioethical response
By Mary Claire Kendall
Our Sunday Visitor
HUNTINGTON, Ind. (Our Sunday Visitor) – With every passing day, it seems that a new medical treatment or scientific advancement is announced that pushes the envelope on bioethical standards and causes Catholics to wonder where the church stands on these issues.
Three new developments grabbed headlines recently and further extended the “brave new world” horizons of the nearly 40-year-old bioethics field: growth stunting of disabled children, combining animal and human embryos to generate a clone and uterine transplants requiring in-vitro fertilization for conception.
To help the faithful understand how to navigate this ethical minefield, Our Sunday Visitor asked Catholic bioethicists to weigh in on the issues.
In January, debate kicked up in the medical community after the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine reported that the parents of a severely mentally and physically disabled 9-year-old girl named Ashley successfully petitioned doctors at Seattle Children’s Hospital to stunt their daughter’s growth.
After consulting the hospital’s ethics review board, the doctors performed surgery to remove her uterus and breast tissue and gave her high-dose estrogen injections to fuse her bone plates and retain her 4-foot-5-inch height. The parents’ goal, as their blog explained in January, was to make it easier to care for their little “pillow angel” and to make life more comfortable and risk-free for her.
According to Janice Benson, executive director of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability, parents of disabled children feel “vulnerable desperation” and need good options and better education to allay their fears.
Benson added that while it was obvious that Ashley’s parents made the decision out of love, the option they chose violated their disabled child’s bodily integrity and, thus, her dignity.
Bodily integrity – part of what it means to be a human being – is the “a priori good that should not be violated but for some kind of legitimate medical reason,” said Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Therapeutic medicine, such as surgery or drugs, is generally prescribed to redress a sickness, pathology or disorder, but the treatment chosen for Ashley did not address such conditions, he said.
At press time, members of the American Medical Association, who own the journal that published Ashley’s story, met with disability advocates to hear their concerns over the child’s treatment.
Another rising threat to life is a debate raging in Britain over whether to approve hybrid embryo research, whereby the human nucleus is introduced into an animal egg, thus generating a clone built using material from the animal egg.
Researchers hope this method will remedy the shortage of embryos purportedly needed for research – a shortage stemming from the risky means of procuring eggs including superovulation, which heightens risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, ovarian cysts and death.
Under this new method, once the human nucleus is introduced into the animal embryo, it triggers the new cell with its full genetic complement to start to divide and develop and build an embryo, Father Pacholczyk explained. Once it arrives at the 4- or 5-day-old blastocyst stage, where it contains a few hundred cells, scientists then remove the stem cells to carry out studies on them.
This kind of exploitative research creates a whole new set of ethical issues relating to the clones, said Princeton professor Robert P. George, who is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics.
“An embryo, whether created by cloning or otherwise, is nothing other than a human being in the earliest stages of his or her natural development,” George told Our Sunday Visitor. If a human being is cloned in any way, “with a view to bringing the child to birth or … creating an embryo that would be destroyed for purposes of biomedical research, we are treating the child in his or her coming to be as an object or product of manufacture,” he said.
“That’s incompatible with the due respect for the dignity of the child as a human being,” he added.
This type of animal-human research is highly problematic because it creates an embryo that George said is of “indeterminate nature” given the two radically different natures that “we don’t know how we ought to treat.”
Another problem with this type of research, Father Pacholczyk explained, is that it sets the human embryo at a disadvantage right at the start. The human nucleus, which acts much like a conductor leading an orchestra, will try to tell the animal embryo to become a human but it will be deprived of the tools to do it. “It will always be flustered and struggling,” he said.
Both Father Pacholczyk and George noted that this new type of human-animal cloning is different from the morally acceptable partial cloning. This is used in such cases as replicating the human immune system in mice to test AIDS drugs.
While a new medical advancement isn’t unethical in itself, parts of it are.
Doctors in Florida announced last month that they will transplant a uterus into a woman this month. Previously, doctors in the United States only successfully transplanted uteruses in animals. The purpose is to provide women whose uteruses cannot sustain pregnancy to have a chance at bearing a child.
These transplants, as currently proposed, are problematic under church teaching because in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is required for conception to occur.
Since the first “test-tube” baby was born in England in 1978, the church has clearly taught that IVF violates the meaning of procreation because fertilization of the egg occurs in a petri dish.
This is “always an improper and dehumanizing [way] to engender new human beings,” said Father Pacholczyk.
The only acceptable way to generate life, according to church teaching, is within marital relations.
Furthermore, creating life in laboratory glassware engenders the feeling that humans have “authority over the next generation,” he said. Man then feels free to experiment on or destroy the life created.
Babies produced through marital intimacy are supposed to be viewed not as objects but as people with infinite value and as a gift from God, he added.
Another problem presented by IVF is that genetic testing occurs before implantation, whereby eggs are chosen or discarded based upon eugenic considerations, George of Princeton explained. The considerations made are for characteristics such as beauty, health, intelligence and strength.
- - -
Mary Claire Kendall writes from Maryland for Our Sunday Visitor.
| 3/9/2007 11:21 PM
|I thought there might be a brief way to tell this story, but there isn't. In a Florence hospital two days ago, a 22-week-old fetus died six days after surviving a so-called 'therapeutic abortion' - although when one reads what the circumstances were, it could hardly be called therapeutic - despite what the doctors could do to try and save him.
At 22 weeks, a baby still needs another 15 weeks in the womb before it is ready to be born. Some fetuses delivered prematurely at 22 weeks have survived. This baby did not, unfortunately.
He was aborted because his parents could not live with the thought that he might be born with some congenital malformation - all because pre-natal imaging did not show a stomach. (As someone whose daily work involves, among other things, looking at ultrasound/X-ray/CT/MRI imaging of women's pelvic organs and babies in the womb, I know there are many reasons why ultrasound 'fails' to 'visualize' a structure once in a while - it can be something as commonplace as bowel gas keeping the sound waves from reaching the organ one is trying to visualize.)
But here's how Il Foglio tells the story of this baby's brief existence, and how, in effect, his parents commited infanticide.
The baby is dead. His heart has stopped. It was a tiny heart - he weighed about 500 grams and was 25 centimeters long (about ten inches). When they took him from his mother's womb, his lungs still not fully developed, he cried, and his heartbeat was strong.
And so, the doctor who had performed the 'adoption' was bound by law to call his pediatric colleagues to do all they could to save the baby. Italy's law provides: "When there is a possibility that the fetus can survive autonomously...then the doctor who performs the abortion must take every appropriate measure to save the baby's life."
At 22 weeks, a baby may be tiny, but it can live, it can breathe, it can even kick out, as this baby did. But the 'therapeutic abortion' was performed because his mother had a medical certificate attesting to 'imminent and grave danger to her life' unless her baby was aborted.
And what was the certificate based on? That she was in a state of 'desperation' certifiable by a psychiatrist. What brought her to that state? At 11 weeks, she underwent a special ultrasound test that can predict with some 85% accuracy the possibility of Down's syndrome or other congenital problems associated with chromosome abnormalities. The test reportedly indicated a 'possible problem'. [This test, which depends on the accurate measurement by ultrasound of the thickness of a fold in the nape of the 11-week-old fetus, is wholly dependent on the skill and experience of the person doing the imaging, because it is not a direct test. It's a correlative test: a fold thicker than 3 mm has been generally associated with Downs and other genetic abnormalities. So a 'possible problem' could simply mean that the imaging technician measured 3.1 mm rather than 3
The mother did the next indicated testing 1-2 weeks later - where some tissue from the placenta is tested to see what chromosome abnormalities the baby could have. In her case, it showed none
. [Now this one is an accurate definitive test - it actually identifies all the chromosomes of the baby from the villus cells, which are among the first cells that the embryo develops - with the specific function to attach the growing embryo to the mother's womb. In her case, it showed a completely normal chromosome complement, a pair of each and the pair that corresponds to the sex of the baby. Downs and other common chromosome abnormalities - that usually lead to spontaneous abortion, since it's one of nature's selection mechanisms - usually involve having 3 chromosomes of one kind instead of only two
Instead of being relieved, the mother brooded over 'what if..."? [What the hell was her obstetrician doing - it should not be difficult to explain that you can question a measurement done on ultrasound that depends on the technician's skill, but you cannot question a result that shows you the pictures of each of those 23 pairs of chromosomes even
Except that in the case of this poor woman, ultrasound during her 20th week showed that the fetus did not have a stomach - the news report says the doctors told her it happens once out of every 100 times that they can't see the stomach but it usualy does not mean anything. [As I said, it could be bowel gas 'blocking' the image
.] When a repeat ultrasound the following week still failed to show the stomach, she was told that the baby might have atresia of the esophagus [no 'hollow' in the tube that leads from the throat to the stomach
], but this was a condition that could be surgically corrected after the baby is born.
But she didn't want to hear any more. She even refused to have an MRI done [which would have clarified things easily because magnetic resonance imaging is much more powerful and accurate than ultrasound
]. She went to a doctor-friend who gave her the medical certification she needed to have an abortion, and then literally, out with it.
[The story does not explain why the baby came out alive. In therapeutic abortions, the doctor usually injects a potassium solution into the baby's heart to stop it before doing anything else - It is horrendous, anyway you look at it, even if teh mother's life were actually in grave and imminent danger. And this mother's life was not, although her sanity may well have been
And so when the parents saw that the little baby was as perfect as it could be except it was only 22 weeks - he had a stomach, his esophagus was fine - they did recognize him and give him a name and were desperate that the doctors should save him.
Those parents are suffering enough from their horrible mistake, but perhaps the rest of Italy will draw a lesson from this. Italy's legislators are now listening to neonatologists telling them that 22 weeks is too late a stage to perform therapeutic abortions.
I think in the United States, it is done up to 24 weeks. Here is what an encyclopedia says about therapeutic abortions in the United States:
Therapeutic abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy before fetal viability
[ possibility that the fetus can survive outside the womb
] in order to preserve maternal health. In its broadest definition, therapeutic abortion can be performed to (1) save the life of the mother, (2) preserve the health of the mother, (3) terminate a pregnancy that would result in the birth of a child with defects incompatible with life or associated with significant morbidity, (4) terminate a nonviable pregnancy, or (5) selectively reduce a multifetal pregnancy. [I think Catholic doctine allows only the first 2
The vast majority of abortions performed in the United States are elective
[the parents decide it, not necessarily, and generally without, a doctor's recommendation
]. Pregnancy-related conditions that threaten maternal life are rare and difficult to define precisely.
Commonly accepted medical indications
for therapeutic termination of pregnancy include severe hypertensive vascular disease, cardiac disease with cardiac decompensation, and certain malignancies [like cervical cancer, but not breast cancer
The decision to terminate a pregnancy for medical indications is generally a multidisciplinary decision including the obstetrician, a specialist in the disease entity in question, the patient, and the patient's family.
Il Foglio asked the opinion of some medical specialists about the issue
Fetuses feel pain at 18 weeks
Prof. Carlo Bellieni, neonatologist and professor neonatal therapy at the University of Siena, said that without referring specifically to this case, there is one thing that must be considered: "We now know that when such therapeutic abortions are performed from the 18th week onward, the fetus feels the pain of what is done to it. It suffers. How can one not take that into account?"
Bellieni is the author of a book about the sensorial capacity in prenatal life entitled "L'alba dell'io: dolore, desideri, sogno, memoria del feto"
[The dawn of the I: Pain, desire, dream and memore in the fetus).
He says that recently, the International Association for the Study of Pain dedicated an entire issue of its journal to what a fetus can suffer. "In the medical community, they are debating whether it is necessary, or even obligatory, to sedate the fetus before proceeding to an abortion that is performed after the 20th week. In the United States, the law requires doctors to inform the mother about this beforehand."
But Bellieni thinks that an even more basic problem is the unnecessary use of pre-natal diagnostic testing. He says Italy sets the record for unnecessary pre-natal testing.
"And that's because society has instilled a phobia of the 'different', a true terror of 'imperfect' babies. And so the parents are driven to this testing by fear. Even if only subconsciously, the idea of selecting who should be born has set into people's minds, the idea of having the 'perfect child.' [And how acutely Pope Benedict denounced this eugenetic idea just two weeks ago
He thinks that pre-natal diagnostic testing should only be done for the traditionally indicated reasons: First, when there is a positive family history of an inheritable disease that can be diagnosed prenatally and two, when the pregnant woman is older than 35, because from this age onwards, chromosome abnormalities resulting in congenital malformations start to be highly probable. [And then, what? The practice is, in the case of adverse findings, to have the couple seek counselling with a geneticist, a specialist in the specific disease, and the obstetrician, to decide what to do. Inevitably, there will be women who will decide to abort a pregnancy if the baby appears 'doomed' to a fatal disease or to severe handicap. What the suggestion does do is to limit the possibility and therefore the number of 'eugenetic 'abortions
Don Roberto Colombo, director of the Molecular Biology and Genetics laboratory at the Catholic University of Milan said, "One must exercise discernment about diagnostic testing that has a high probability of error. If the diagnosis is intended to determine a condition that may be treatable for purposes of treating it, then one can speak of 'tolerable error', because a misdiagnosis will not necessarily lead to the death of the baby. But when the goal of the diagnosis is simply to screen for defects, then that is selective, and an error could easily lead to suppressing a life."
Colombo thinks that the law should be tightened so that prenatal diagnostic testing is used only for the cases described above and properly evaluated for its effectiveness (which it was not, in the Florence case
The medical code of ethics, he said, should elaborate the principle that doctors should not resort systematically to prenatal diagnostic testing but limit it only to those cases when it would be useful.
Personally, the wondrous thing about the work I do is that it exposes me daily, actively and concretely, to the miracle of life - and it is such a miracle because so many things have to come right before a child is conceived. And that is why even a young fertile girl of 18 only has a 20% chance of conceiving in any given month.
When you see through ultrasound what a woman carries in her womb at 4-5 weeks of pregnancy, you do not see any 'form' as yet, simply something enclosed in a protective sac that's 5-6 mm in diameter, and yet - and yet, within that sac you can already see a beating heart! It doesn't look like a heart yet, because on that minute scale, you can't tell 'shapes', but it beats, and you can count the beats, something like 120-140 beats per minute. The presence of that beating heart on ultrasound in the 4th-5th week of pregnancy is one of the criteria for defining a 'clinical' pregnancy. God is telling us something in that the first important organ we develop is the heart, the brain comes later, and much later yet, the sex organs.
And until I began to work in a woman's clinic, I did not realize how many 'conceptions' do not show a heartbeat at that stage, and are therefore lost - the conceptus stops growing and eventually the cells that make it up die off, and God has willed that this particular conceptus will not make it.
In fact, Nature's selection process is so rigorous that 70% of conceptions are not viable, 50% of these are lost before the woman even realizes she 'conceived' (i.e., before she misses a period) and 12-15% of the clinically-recognized pregnancies are lost between 4-20 weeks of pregnancy.
How much more precious then is the conceptus that makes it through this rigorous 'survival of the fittest', a test Nature itself imposes for 'quality control' - Because all of these early pregnancy losses are really embryos whose chromosome abnormalities will not allow them to 'survive' beyond a certain stage...
And therefore, if the embryo makes it all the way to becoming a fetus, how can we doubt it was willed by God, and how can one think of disposing of it as one wishes?
If any woman came to her gynecologist and says "I 'm three weeks late with my period, I think I'm pregnant, I'd like to get rid of it," the doctor should ask her to come back in two weeks, do an ultrasound examination and show her the beating heart on that TV monitor, and ask her, "That's a life - how can you 'get rid of it'!" Showing her that beating heart, I think, would be worth more than a thousand lectures.
Other information picked up today from Avvenire about this case:
If anyone still has any doubts as to the hard-hearted cynicism and amorality of our ]throw-away' contemporary culture, consider this -
Item: The regional council of Florence will look next week into the case of the 'aborted' but eventually successful abortion described above.
However, looking to exonerate the doctors involved of any responsibility for the death of the baby, the regional health officer would remind everyone that in Florence itself, last year, the national societies of pediatricians, neonatologists, obestricians and legal medicine experts, as medical associations and members of bioethics commissions all signed a document seeking to amend Italian law so that intensive care would not be required for any babies born less than 23 weeks old.
Apparently, all these good doctors think that since at that stage, the chances for survival are only between 30-40% [that seems a lot to me - it's not as if it were 1% or even 10%
], any intensive care for such premature babies would be considered futile 'tenacious therapy' [the same term used when discussing whether to simply pull the plug on old people suffering from terminal illness.
Item: A pro-life association called the John XXIII Association issued a statement saying: "The medical malpractice in this case was not in the wrong pre-natal diagnosis that led to the abortion, but in the fact that a doctor sworn to save life did perform the procedure that tore off this child from his maternal support system. Every year in Italy, there are at least 900 babies aborted at less than 21 weeks who survive the trauma but are then simply left to die because at such prematurity, they would die anyway."
Item: Some concerned doctors want to know - Did the doctors who were taking care of the mother [she is only 22 years old, it turns out
] take enough pains to explain to her that ulrtasound diagnosis is fallible and to convince her to at least do the MRI imaging before proceeding to abort?
And we haven't even begun to talk about a particularly hideous form of infanticide called 'partial birth abortion' that President Bush banned by federal law in 2002 but which ban is being subjected to all kinds of court challenges!
[Modificato da TERESA BENEDETTA 10/03/2007 18.07]
| 4/7/2007 6:35 PM
| Bioethicists Praise Stem Cell Breakthrough;
PRAISE FOR ADULT STEM-CELL (ASC) BREAKTHROUGH
Say Heart Disease Treatment Is Promising and Moral
LONDON, APRIL 5, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Catholic bioethicists welcomed a recent breakthrough in the treatment of heart disease using adult stem cells taken from bone marrow.
Researches from a London-area hospital, led by Sir Magdi Yacoub, have grown part of a human heart from adult stem cells offering hope for millions of cardiac patients. The new tissue could be used in place of artificial valves currently used in heart disease treatment.
The breakthrough treatment is welcomed by a statement released by the British and Irish bishops' Joint Bioethics Committee, an ad hoc committee representing the two episcopal conferences.
Father Paul Murray, secretary of the committee, said: "Sir Magdi and his team generated the heart tissue from stem cells found in bone marrow. The technique is ethical because the stem cells were taken from the patient's own bone marrow rather than from an embryo in the first few days of life."
BBC News reported on Monday one of the medical advantages of the new treatment: "In theory, if the valve was grown from the patient's own cells there would also be no need to take drugs to stop the body rejecting it."
Father Murray asserted: "This development vindicates the consistently held position of the Church, of Catholic ethicists and many other experts in the field who have always maintained that the greatest potential for actual cures lay with adult rather than embryonic stem cells.
"Now that we have concrete results using adult stem cells and a time frame for their practical use in restoring health, let us leave behind once and for all the fruitless and destructive research on embryonic stem cells which is still years away from this exciting point."
Here is the news report on the stem-cell breakthrough that I posted in ODDS AND ENDS earlier this week:
British team grows human heart valve
from adult bone marrow stem cells
Tissue for transplants could be available within three years
if trials are successful
Alok Jha, science correspondent
Monday April 2, 2007
A British research team led by the world's leading heart surgeon has grown part of a human heart from stem cells for the first time. If animal trials scheduled for later this year prove successful, replacement tissue could be used in transplants for the hundreds of thousands of people suffering from heart disease within three years.
Sir Magdi Yacoub, a professor of cardiac surgery at Imperial College London, has worked on ways to tackle the shortage of donated hearts for transplant for more than a decade.
His team at the heart science centre at Harefield hospital have grown tissue that works in the same way as the valves in human hearts, a significant step towards the goal of growing whole replacement hearts from stem cells.
According to the World Health Organisation, 15 million people died of cardiovascular disease in 2005; by 2010, it is estimated that 600,000 people around the world will need replacement heart valves.
"You can see the common pathway of death and suffering is heart failure," said Prof Yacoub. "Reversing heart failure could have a major impact."
Growing replacement tissue from stem cells is one of the principal goals of biology. If a damaged part of the body can be replaced by tissue that is genetically matched to the patient, there is no chance of rejection. So far, scientists have grown tendons, cartilages and bladders, but none of these has the complexity of organs, which are three-dimensional structures of dozens of different types of cells.
To crack the problem, Prof Yacoub assembled a team of physicists, biologists, engineers, pharmacologists, cellular scientists and clinicians. Their task - to characterise how every bit of the heart works - has so far taken 10 years. The progress of his team and that of colleagues around the world will be published in August in a special edition of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society
Prof Yacoub said his team's latest work had brought the goal of growing a whole, beating human heart closer
. "It is an ambitious project but not impossible. If you want me to guess I'd say 10 years. But experience has shown that the progress that is happening nowadays makes it possible to achieve milestones in a shorter time. I wouldn't be surprised if it was some day sooner than we think."
Currently, many people suffering from heart valve disease have artificial replacement valves. Though they save lives, the artificial valves are far from perfect. They perform none of the more sophisticated functions of living tissue, children need their valves replaced as they grow, and patients need a lifetime of drugs to prevent complications after surgery.
"The way a living valve functions, it anticipates haemodynamic events and responds and changes its shape and size. It's completely different from an artificial valve which will just open and shut. The heart muscle itself will appreciate something which will make it free to contract properly," said Prof Yacoub.
Adrian Chester, one of the lead scientists at the Harefield centre, has focused on characterising the valves in the heart. "You have mediators in blood or released locally in the valve that can make parts of the valve contract and relax. That work has then extended into looking at the incidence of nerves in the valve - these can cause the types of contractions and relaxations in a very specific way."
By using chemical and physical nudges, the scientists first coaxed stem cells extracted from bone marrow to grow into heart valve cells. By placing these cells into scaffolds made of collagen, Dr Chester and his colleague Patricia Taylor then grew small 3cm-wide discs of heart valve tissue. Later this year, that tissue will be implanted into animals - probably sheep or pigs - and monitored to see how well it works as part of a circulatory system.
If that trial works well, Prof Yacoub is optimistic that the replacement heart tissue, which can be grown into the shape of a human heart valve using specially-designed collagen scaffolds, could be used in patients within three to five years.
Growing a suitably-sized piece of tissue from a patient's own stem cells would take around a month but he said that most people would not need such individualised treatment. A store of ready-grown tissue made from a wide variety of stem cells could provide good matches for the majority of the population.
Prof Yacoub's inspiration has come not only from other scientists but also from an unexpected source - the celebrated British artist, Antony Gormley, who has donated a sculpture to the heart science centre.
"We need a lot of experts from different fields but we also need a lot of imagination and a lot of understanding of how form interacts with function," said Prof Yacoub. "Art gives a lot of inspiration and beauty. And beauty is part of science."
Mr Gormley, who has also contributed to the upcoming special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society
with an article on the relationship between form and function in sculpture, said he admired the universalism with which Prof Yacoub approached his work.
"He manages to do the Robin Hood job in a very important way for the benefit of all humanity. I found in him a fellow traveller in terms of trying to do things at the fringes of the possible with the highest levels of input in terms of technology and intelligence. Everybody breathes air, everybody pumps blood."
| 4/12/2007 7:01 PM
| This article came out in Avvenire yesterday, 4/11/07, in conncection with the book on 'Creation and Evolution' just published by the Ratzinger Schuelerkreise with an original contribution by Pope Benedict XVI.
'Going through Darwin,
RECONCILING FAITH AND SCIENCE ON THE QUESTION OF EVOLUTION
one finds God'
It is one thing to make scientific hypotheses; but to read them
philosophically is no longer science. As Teilhard de Chardin showed, it is arbitrary to base atheism on Darwinism.
By Luigi Dell’Aglio
For 40 years, he has studied the concepts abut creation and evolution. And he believes he has reconciled science and faith in the continuing dispute over Darwin's theory of evolution.
«Evolution is intelligent - it is the fruit of divine Creation itself," says Jesuit priest Vincenzo D'Ascenzi, who knows his Darwin.
Nor is he a stranger to the extreme environment that led Charles Darwin to conceive his theory of evolution. Two years ago, with a group of paleontologists and biochemists from the Unviersity of Pisa, D'Ascenzi visited the Galapagos, the islands in the Pacific Ocean off Ecuador, where Darwin found some decisivee proofs for his studies.
D'Ascenzi is also one of the major scholars into the ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin - the Jesuit paleontiologist-philosopher whose ideas on evolution were quite different from Darwin's - about whom he has written a new book called "Teilhard di Chardin a fronte della globalizzazione" (Pardes Edizioni, 146 pp).
In your book, you state that "intelligent evolution, animated by the creator, is no longer a hypothesis but certainty."
Science analyzes and estalishes physical or physico-chemical relationships; it formulates hypotheses and theories, like Darwin's. Quite different are philosophical and theological reflections which can refer to 'realities' brought to light by scientific discovery.
In itself, Darwin's theory belongs to science, and it should remain so. But there are Darwinists who, in excluding God from cosmic and biological evolution, are straying out of science to express a philosophical conclusion. Which is atheistic, obviously.
I maintain that it is possible to recognize the validity of neo-Darwinism and believe in God at the same time. As FranciscCollins does, the director of the project on the Human Genome.
The deeper science gets into the book of nature, the more it brings to light the stunning 'intelligence' that is inherent in everything: the structuree of the atom, the functioning of a cell, the perfection of celestial motion, and so forth.
Rationality and the 'laws' that govern evolutionary movement make science itself possible, not the other way around. Man is nevertheless free to think that it is 'natur'e that possesses the characteristics of God (namely, eternity and creative intelligence).
Is the concept of 'continuous creation' recent - one that was born as a response to neo-Darwinism?
Even St. Augustine said, centuries ago, that the story of Creation must not be taken in a literal sense, anticipating what Vatican-II would say in Gaudium et spes
, that God did not complete Creation. In De Genesi ad litteram
, it is stated: "Consider those six days as one day or even just one instant during which God created some things 'actually', instantanteously, as prime material, and others "virtually,' that is in their seminal origins - plants, animals, man. The Creator, from the very beginning, built into the things created their reasons for being, which would have infinite power to create future things."
It is as Teilhard said: God, in creating, made it possible that what He created would continue 'becoming'
(which means, to evolve). Beyond that, man received from the Creator the commandment to dominate the earth and make it better through his intelligence. And so, Teilhard also meant by his idea of a 'cosmic conscience' an awareness of the need to respect nature with a new ethic of protecting the environment.
But man as a result of evolution that always leads to something more complex is a scientific truth.
The 'complexification' of matter, as Teilhard put it, began with the Big Bang, some 15 billion years ago. From the first element of life, the cell, which first appeared 3.5-4 billion years ago, more and more complex systems have evolved, including nervous systems, following the laws of complexity and consciousness that Teilhard brought to light.
It is a theory that has been taken up in the document Communion and service: the human person created in the image of God
, which was drawn up by the International Theological Commission in 2000-2002 and released under the signature of Cardinal Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
And yet today whoever dares to refer to anthropological principles comes under attack by secular scientists.
The cosmological anthropological principle is probably poorly defined. It really amounts to a great achievement of physico-mathematical calculations. It demonstrates that, in the course of evolutionary movement, certain situations were overcom, creating enabling conditions that would otherwise have been highly improbable.
It is saying that there exists a fine tuning and harmonization of the universe which makes possible all that we see - plants, animals, men. Those who would deny this as mere speculation escape the argument by claiming multiple universes, an idea that is scientifically unfounded.
No biologist, not even Jacques Monod, denies that an embryo has a 'purpose' or 'purposes.' And where such such purposes are not evident, as in the mutation of DNA, they talk of 'chance.' To be more precise, what they really should say is 'apparent chance'.
One chapter of your book is entitled "Teilhard beyond the materialistic evolutionism of Charles Darwin".
Teilhard considred Darwin's theory valid but inadequate to explain 'pre-life", that is, all the evolutionary processes that went on before life forms appeared.
He believed that life progresses 'gropingly', availing of statistically favorable conditions or of random situations that offer favorable opportunities. But he also believed that chance itself is oriented preferentially towards ulterior development.
Teilhard took into account the whole evolutionary movement from the Big Bang to man, and from man to the growing and complete unifcation of humanity. And this ascending evolutionary movement is enlightened by faith in Christ who was incarnated in cosmic matter and guides the process of human unification, which can be achieved only through love.
I must check the CDF document D'Ascenzi cites, because as far as I know, Teilhard's works were the subject of a CDF 'notification' as late as 1962. He first got into 'trouble' for his statements that the story of Creation should be considered a metaphor and for questioning the idea of 'original sin' in the early 1920s, but unlike present-day 'dissidents,' he immediately agreed to sign a statement for his Jesuit superior withdrawing the controversial statements, and continued with his life of active paleontological research and original philosophical reflections until he died in 1955. So I am not sure what standing he has with the Church now. [P.S. Wikipedia says that the 1962 "Monitum" is still the official line. Now is when I need a concordacne of Ratzinger's writings to check out what he has ahd to say about Teilhard!]
In looking for a concise presentation of Teilhard's ideas online, I came across two articles that I will post in READINGS,
which constitute a good introduction and overview of his thought.
| 4/20/2007 9:41 PM
|Minority view: Participants publish
their side of brain death debate
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY, April 20 (CNS)-- Breaching normal protocol, several participants in a 2005 Vatican-sponsored conference over the ethics of declaring someone brain dead have published the papers they delivered at the debate.
Many of the papers reproduced in "Finis Vitae: Is Brain Death Still Life?" argue that the concept of brain death was devised mainly to expand the availability of organs for transplant and claim that some patients who had been pronounced brain dead continued to live for months or even years.
Publication of the papers, which the Vatican had decided not to publish, is evidence of the strong feelings about brain death held by a minority of the members of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Roberto De Mattei, vice president of the National Research Council of Italy who is not a member of the academy, said he edited "Finis Vitae" in order "to expand the debate and bring it to a wider audience."
While differences of opinion among theologians, philosophers and scientists, especially on ethical issues, are nothing new, it is unusual that participants in a Vatican conference published the papers that the Vatican specifically decided not to publish.
"The concern of many is that the Vatican has not taken the appropriate position when doubts exist about the end of human life," De Mattei told Catholic News Service April 20.
"The moment of the separation of the soul from the body is shrouded in mystery, just as the moment of when a soul enters a person is," he said.
But when faced with questions about the moment of ensoulment at the beginning of life, the church's position always has been to assume the soul enters at conception in order to ensure the greatest possible defense of human life, he said.
Those who question whether brain death is really death are simply asking that the church extend its defense of human life if there is the minimal possibility that the soul remains in a body that has a heart beat, respiration and blood circulation, even if those are supported artificially, De Mattei said.
Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb., whose paper from the 2005 meeting is included in "Finis Vitae," asked how the Catholic Church can accept a lack of brain function as a definition of death yet still oppose the willful destruction of human embryos, which have not yet developed a brain.
The question was part of the discussion at a 2006 Vatican meeting; the Pontifical Academy of Sciences decided to publish the 2006 papers and transcripts of the discussion, while it decided not to publish those from the 2005 meeting.
"The embryo has a potential brain under development," said Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the science academy. He insisted there is a difference between an embryo with "the potential development of the complete body with the brain" and a situation in which there is "only the body without the brain."
De Mattei said the Pontifical Academy of Sciences' position is not surprising, given that most of its members and consultants are experts in the hard sciences, but not philosophy and theology.
"The transplant lobbies defend brain death because they are defending an enormous market," he said.
If a brain-dead person weren't really dead, then the removal of vital organs for transplant would be synonymous with homicide.
In 1985 and again in 1989, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences recognized brain death as "the true criterion for death."
The science academy book, "The Signs of Death," also emphasized the fact that in a speech in 2000, Pope John Paul II agreed that "the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity (in the cerebrum, cerebellum and brain stem), if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of anthropology."
Still, Bishop Sanchez said the academy had "invited those who are critical" of the Vatican's position to the 2005 meeting in order to hear their arguments and determine whether there was enough new material to warrant another more formal gathering.
The formal gathering was the one held in 2006, which ended with the publication of a nine-page statement titled, "Why the Concept of Brain Death Is Valid as a Definition of Death."
Among the signatories of the statement were Cardinal Georges Cottier, then-theologian of the papal household; Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family; retired Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan; and Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Cardinal Martini is on the majority side in this one!