Bioethikos: Bringing Life to Bioethics

Archive for April, 2009


Courage Takes Many Forms

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 by Dr. Dennis Sullivan

Prestigious scholar Mary Ann Glendon is the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard, and former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. She was informed last December that she was to receive Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal at the university’s annual Commencement exercises, a great honor that she was looking forward to.

Then came the news that the Commencement speaker would be President Barack Obama, and that he would receive an honorary law degree. Her reaction appeared in a letter to Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., the President of Notre Dame University. Some excerpts:

I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions” . . .

A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice. . .

It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.

Professor Glendon’s letter is a bold rebuke to to Notre Dame University for setting aside its historic pro-life principles. She should be commended for her strong stand on behalf of human life.

Newsweek Article

Full Text of Professor Glendon’s Letter

The British Cord Blood Dilemma

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009 by Dr. Dennis Sullivan

It’s ironic that the United Kingdom, one of the countries on the forefront of new biomedical research, (including embryo-destructive stem cell research), has no organized system for utilizing one of the best sources of stems cells: umbilical cord blood.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, the wife of Britain’s Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, found this out in February when trying to donate their son’s umbilical cord blood to a national tissue bank. Only a few public hospitals in Britain are capable of collecting cord blood, and a vast array of bureaucratic and monetary hurdles prevent potential donors from being able to give.

Cord blood stem cells, taken from the discarded placenta and umbilical cord after birth, have already demonstrated enormous potential in helping patients with diseases, including cancer, leukemia, and cerebral palsy. Best of all, these stem cells are readily available, and the are no moral or ethical dilemmas associated with their use. In spite of these attractive qualities, relatively few parents in the U.S. or the U.K. know about the life-saving potential found in their baby’s discarded umbilical cord, or of the options they may have to donate the cord blood for medical research and treatment.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez was told by officials that donation of her son’s umbilical cord blood was “impossible.” She is now trying to raise awareness of cord blood donation in Britain, urging the British government to expand the capacity of the national blood bank to collect cord blood for treatment and research.

Americans should follow Durantez’s example, and educate the U.S. public about the amazing potential of cord blood stem cells to treat human disease. As demand for umbilical cord blood grows, so will the agencies that can accept and utilize cord blood donations. Human flourishing may be improved on both sides of the Atlantic, in an ethically responsible manner.

Article in The Independent

On Oprah, No Less!

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 by Dr. Dennis Sullivan

Sometimes the truth has a way of getting out. On March 29th, Michael J. Fox and Dr. Oz were guests on the Oprah show. The topic, of course, was stem cell research. The medical expert used a real preserved brain to show the area of the midbrain affected by Parkinson’s Disease, called the substantia nigra. He went on to describe how stem cells might one day be used to regenerate the cells in this region.

Here is the interesting wrinkle: In a move that was probably unexpected by Oprah herself, Dr. Oz rightly pointed out that embryonic stem cells are probably not going to help much in this kind of research, because it is difficult to make them become specialized brain cells, and because such cells often form tumors when injected into experimental animals. On the other hand, an exciting development from November, 2007 uses ordinary human skin cells to create the needed stem cells. Although Dr. Oz did not use the term, they are called induced pluripotent stem cells, and they are far superior to embryonic stem cells. Look at the short video segment from Oprah – you’ll be amazed at how soon Dr. Oz expects these cells to be in clinical use:

Video Link