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Bioethikos: Bringing Life to Bioethics

The Plot Thickens: Newest PP Video is Revealing

July 21st, 2015

Month 7

The Center for Medical Progress has released its second video in a three-year investigative series into the actions of Planned Parenthood (PPFA) and the marketing of fetal body parts. Secretly recorded last February, two supposed research company purchasers talk with Dr. Mary Gatter, a senior PPFA official (CMP Video).

The conversation centers mostly around pricing, and how to modify the abortion technique to produce intact organs. This is very disturbing, and confirms that the first video (featuring Dr. Deborah Nucatolo) was no fluke. This apparently is “business as usual,” with the emphasis on business.

Why this is all so upsetting:

  • The description of second and third trimester abortions is graphic, and shows abortion for what it really is: legally sanctioned dismemberment of human beings.
  • The only issue for Dr. Gatter seems to be what kind of suction to utilize to better preserve intact organs. This is a medical conflict of interest: it’s not about women’s health, but about profiting from the sale of the body parts.
  • Through it all, Dr. Gatter haggles for the best price, even joking about buying a new Lamborghini (expensive sports car). She says, “Patients don’t care what we do, of course.” This just shows the cynical and callous true nature of PPFA (see my earlier blog about the “ugly underbelly” of abortion).

No, Planned Parenthood is not “pro-women,” as they claim. It is pro-business, and anti-life.

CMP Video

Center for Medical Progress

Video Reveals Ugly Underbelly of Abortion

July 16th, 2015

baby_in_womb

By now you have probably seen the video (link), or excerpts from it. A hidden camera shows Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood senior director of medical services, sipping on wine and eating a salad while calmly discussing the removal of body parts from aborted fetuses in a way that maximizes their “value.” She blithely talks about obtaining “intact hearts,” lungs, “intact livers,” and even “lower extremities, that’s easy.” And all of this in a way that seems designed to reassure and impress the two research company “buyers” she’s having lunch with (actually two actors with a hidden video camera).

Pro-life advocates across the nation are understandably upset. It’s hard to count the number of groups that have expressed their outrage: National Right to Life, Americans United for Life, First Things, the National Review — I’m just getting started. In my state, the Ohio Attorney General has called for an investigation, along with AGs and governors throughout the country. I was interviewed for a piece in TheBlaze.com (article link).

In the midst of the shock and hype, we need to find some balance. Was Planned Parenthood really violating federal laws and selling body parts? Here are my reactions:

It’s cynical, crass, and callous, but it’s probably legal. Making donated human tissues available for research does not violate the law. Even the money discussed (“$30 to $100″) is not necessarily an issue, if that is just the cost for processing and / or shipping the specimens. On the other hand, Dr. Nucatola seems awfully interested in making her case to the supposed “buyers.” It may not actually be a business, but it sure looks like she was trying to make a “sale.”

 

I get really disturbed when she recommends that the procedure be done under ultrasound guidance, and suggests modifying the approach to better preserve the removed organs. This is a clear conflict of interest, where commercial concerns trump the care of the woman patient. Even pro-choice voices should condemn this afront to clinical ethics.

Then things take a turn for the worse, when the doctor actually suggests rotating the fetus away from a vertex (head-down) position, in order to better allow for dilation of the cervix so that the head can be delivered intact. This description comes perilously close to intact dilation and extraction, otherwise known as “partial-birth abortion,” now a felony for many years.

 

 

No matter how you look at it, the video provides an opportunity to see the procedure for what it really is: a brutal, degrading, horrific procedure that destroys a human life. This is the ugly underbelly of abortion.

 

 

Balancing Faith and Science at the End of Life

July 7th, 2015

caduce

(by guest blogger Sam Franklin)

My mother, luckily, died in the presence of six of her closest relatives — all of whom were born-again believers. Other patients aren’t as lucky.

Consider “Ms. Ellen,” who spent her last days surrounded only by medical professionals — none of whom affirmed her Christian faith:

Ms. Ellen felt the lack of sensitivity and respect for her faith, but she wanted the entire medical team to know that she knew she would not be living much longer. Why? Because hope for her at this critical moment was not rooted in anticipating a miraculous healing of her body, but in a need for spiritual peace and physical comfort as she approached the end of her life . . .

Unfortunately, Ms. Ellen would be robbed of this opportunity as she quietly lay in her bed, now questioning those more than 21,800 hours of hope-filled moments that she had tucked away over the many years of her life for a time such as this.

 

In my mother’s case, every decision she made reflected her beliefs. Unfortunately, Ms. Ellen’s beliefs influenced none of her medical team’s decisions. Nonetheless, even when patients tragically die alone, a Christian healthcare professional can help final decisions affirm deeply-held beliefs, regardless of their religious background.

Let’s take time to ask patients about their faith and how it impacts their last few days. We shouldn’t force our faith on them, but hopefully, we may have an opportunity to share the gospel. Together, patients and healthcare providers can agree upon appropriate treatment, and in doing so, we address an oft-neglected aspect of patient care: the soul.

NY Times Opinion Piece

Follow-Up: Down Syndrome Bill Moves Forward in the Ohio House

June 22nd, 2015

downsyndromebaby30

As we recently reported, the Center for Bioethics was active in supporting H.B. 135, the Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act, a bill to ban abortion for babies with Trisomy 23, or Down Syndrome. The Community and Family Advancement Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives has just passed this bill with bipartisan support, moving this to the House floor.

Women who receive a diagnosis of Down Syndrome in early pregnancy choose abortion at a high rate, up to 90%. It is a sad commentary on the health profession that many doctors recommend abortion for such individuals with mild physical and cognitive disabilities. But our culture should be more inclusive and welcoming. According to Ohio Right to Life Executive Director Stephanie Krider:

More and more, it seems that society is rejecting discrimination in favor of diversity, empathy, and understanding for the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our communities. It makes sense that we would apply that practice across the whole spectrum of life, to protect some of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, starting in the womb.

 

If the bill passes in the Ohio General Assembly, we would become the second state (after North Dakota) to ban such selective discrimination.

Please pray – this could be good news for all of us.

Life News Report

Christians and Birth Control (33)

June 10th, 2015

birth-control-pills

An interview with KRRC Radio (“The Bridge FM”) and Pastor Even Goeglein of Faith Lutheran Church in Rogue River, OR. We discuss the modern use of oral contraceptives, and a new law in Oregon that permits pharmacists to prescribe and dispense them.

Rogue River, OR: KRRC Radio “The Bridge”

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To listen, just click on the player below (click on the Audio MP3 button if the player doesn’t appear).

 

 

Protecting Babies with Down Syndrome

May 21st, 2015
L to R: Dr. David Prentice, Edwin Vance (holding photos of son Justin who has Down syndrome), Stephanie Ranade Krider, Jackie Keough, Mary Kate Keough, and Dr. Dennis Sullivan

L to R: Dr. David Prentice, Edwin Vance (holding photos of son Justin who has Down syndrome), Stephanie Krider, Jackie Keough, Mary Kate Keough, and Dr. Dennis Sullivan

Last Tuesday evening, I presented testimony at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, representing the Center for Bioethics and Ohio Right to Life. I spoke before the Community and Family Advancement Committee in the Ohio House, in favor of H.B. 135, a statute to prohibit abortion solely because of a diagnosis on Down Syndrome. Here is an excerpt from my testimony:

It is highly relevant to our purposes today how we will protect the disadvantaged and vulnerable among us, and how we will prevent genetic discrimination among those who currently have no voice. Seven other states ban abortion for gender selection, and one other state bans abortion for genetic abnormalities. What we are proposing with this statute is rather simple: to protect unborn individuals with Down Syndrome from being killed simply because they have this condition. Anything else is discriminatory. Failure to protect these innocent unborn children is simply eugenics, and it is morally wrong.

 

Please communicate with your state legislators, to encourage them to support and pass H.B. 135, the Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act (for my full testimony, click on the link below).

Sullivan HB 135 Testimony

Ohio Right to Life Press Release

Could understanding nature help us treat trisomy?

May 4th, 2015

21_trisomy_-_Down_syndrome Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

What if we could actually treat the root cause of conditions like Down’s Syndrome, rather than simply ameliorating symptoms?  Although the life expectancy of Down’s Syndrome patients has increased dramatically in the past few decades, and is now approximately 60 years of age, patients continue to experience serious medical conditions such as congenital heart defects, hearing loss, and a susceptibility to Alzheimer’s Disease (National Down Syndrome Society).  Since all of these conditions correlate with the presence of an “extra” 21st chromosome, gene dosage is hypothesized be the root cause of these issues.  So, can we simply turn that extra chromosome off?

In human females with a normal chromosomal composition, somatic (body) cells contain two X-chromosomes.  Normally, in each cell, one X-chromosome is completely silenced.  Recently, scientists have discovered how long, non-coding RNAs (lncRNA) interact with proteins to cause inactivation of the entire X-chromosome.  It is hoped that understanding this mechanism will eventually lead to better treatments of autosomal trisomies, such as the most common, Down’s Syndrome, as well as trisomy 14 and trisomy 18, which are sometimes viable.  According to Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News:

This information soon may have clinical applications. The Xist lncRNA silences the X chromosome simply because it is located on the X chromosome. However, previous studies have demonstrated that this RNA and its silencing machinery can be used to inactivate other chromosomes, e.g., the third copy of chromosome 21 that is present in individuals with Down’s syndrome.

 

Click here for more information on this discovery.

 

CRISPR–It’s not just for the refrigerator anymore!

April 27th, 2015

CRISPR_Sterics.pdf image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

For most of us, “crisper” means the drawer at the bottom of the refrigerator.  But if you Google CRISPR, which stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, you will find that it is a powerful genomic editing technology.  CRISPR can be used to inactivate  or to edit genes.  For more on how this technology works, see this article.

Obviously, any technology capable of editing genes becomes a possible target for gene therapy.  Imagine if CRISPR could be used to cure genetic disease!  This attractive possibility is why Chinese scientists recently used CRISPR to modify unviable human embryos.

The data themselves are telling.  As reported by Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News:

It noted that out of 86 human embryos that were subjected to genetic manipulation, 71 survived. Of the surviving embryos, 54 were genetically tested. Just 28 of these 54 embryos were successfully spliced. An even smaller number turned out to contain the desired genetic material. Also, off-target effects were seen.

 

The experiment has ignited a firestorm of controversy.  Although CRISPR has shown promise in the laboratory, many scientists are wary of using this technology on human embryos when its safety and efficacy have not yet been proven.  If the study above is any indication of what would happen in a viable human embryo, there appear to be a number of troubling results.  “Off-target effects” were seen, meaning that unwanted genetic modifications were occurring.  If this is the case, using CRISPR would potentially create genetic defects that are more severe than the disease we were trying to treat.

Another problem comes with the splicing success rate.  “Just 28 of these 54 embryos were successfully spliced.”  If we were using this technology to treat embryos with genetic defects, what do we do with the embryos if our treatment fails?  Are these embryos then discarded, or  are they allowed to implant with their genetic defect still present?  I would argue that these embryos deserve our protection, as human persons created in the image of God.  However, by treating them, have we caused further damage?  In other words, are we raising the probability that these already genetically impaired embryos will not be viable?

CRISPR is an exciting new technology, and may even help us create adult stem cells for therapy.  When it comes to genetic modification of human embryos, however, this technology is definitely not ready for primetime.

Center Launches New Academic Journal

April 22nd, 2015

BFP logo

The Center for Bioethics is launching a new peer-reviewed academic journal, entitled Bioethics in Faith and Practice. We are excited about this new venture, which will help healthcare professionals and academics with a faith perspective to articulate their values in the pluralistic arena of medical practice.

Why a new online journal, in a field already filled with academic voices? It is because of a particularly vexing problem in our public discourse, one which the late Richard John Neuhaus referred to as “The Naked Public Square.” Father Neuhaus spoke out about the aggressive exclusion of religious ideas from our national debates. This is especially true in medical ethics, where biblically-derived values are conspicuously absent. Of course, this makes no sense, because most of our patients have religious ideas that they desperately turn to in times of illness and suffering. Yet many physicians, nurses, and pharmacists are ill equipped to speak this language, and they have been taught that it is “unprofessional” to discuss these topics.

Theologian George Weigel, in discussing the Neuhaus legacy, put it this way:

[Fr. Neuhaus pointed out that] the secularism of late modernity (and, now, post-modernity) would not be neutral, civil, and tolerant, but aggressive, rude, and hegemonic. It would demand, not a civil public square in which the sources of all moral convictions would be in play in a robust debate, but a naked public square — a public square in which secularism would be de facto established as the national creed (or, perhaps better, national moral grammar). The new secularism would not be content to live and let live; it was determined to push, not only religion, but religiously informed moral argument, out of public life, and to do so on the ground that religious conviction is inherently irrational. And of course it would be but a short step from there to the claim that religious conviction is irrational bigotry . . .

 

And so we have the modern crisis of conscience rights, where the State would force doctors to perform abortions and pharmacists to dispense abortive drugs. We have angry resistance to common-sense evidence that late-term unborn babies feel pain and perhaps should be sedated before their lives are snuffed out. And we have a rising tide of states declaring it legal for doctors to discard a 2400-year Hippocratic tradition and give lethal medications to their patients to commit suicide. And if anyone invokes a Deity in protest, they are called bigoted, intolerant, and irrational.

So we need your help to bring another voice to the table. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, healthcare students, pastors, priests, philosophers, and other scholars: please join us to bring a perspective informed by faith and Scripture back to the Public Square. Go to our website, consider our call for scholarly input, and join the discussion. From essays to opinion pieces, from book reviews to full-fledged research articles, share your insights. We guarantee thoughtful, objective editorial consideration from our world-class Editorial Advisory Board.

Yes, the Public Square is still naked, and a reasoned voice of faith is needed now more than ever.

Press Release

Call for Papers and New Journal Website

George Weigel Commentary on Neuhaus

PGD: Eugenics Is Not Dead

April 13th, 2015

EugenicsTreeLogo

by Dr. Heather Kuruvilla

There is no genetically perfect person.  Every one of us carries mutations, both genetic and epigenetic, in our genomes.  In the future, we may be able to repair these defects.  Gene therapies have shown promise in treating some types of cancer, and may eventually be used to treat or cure diseases such as sickle-cell anemia and cystic fibrosis.  But right now, genetics is being used to discriminate against, and even destroy embryonic human beings.

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis is marketed as a way to help infertile couples conceive, and is usually done in embryos which have been created by in vitro fertilization.  According to the americanpregnancy.org website,

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis involves the following steps:

  1. First, one or two cells are removed from the embryo.
  2. The cells are then evaluated to determine if the inheritance of a problematic gene is present in the embryo.
  3. Once the PGD procedure has been performed and embryos free of genetic problems have been identified, the embryo will  be placed back in the uterus, and implantation will be attempted.
  4. Any additional embryos that are free of genetic problems may be frozen for later use while embryos with the problematic gene are destroyed.

 

In the future, we may be able to use such technologies to diagnose and repair genetic defects.  But at present, this technology is only used to destroy embryos, since we don’t yet have the capability to fix them.  Is this technology simply giving hope to infertile couples?  Or has eugenics reared its ugly head yet again?

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