Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The U of MN's stem cell complaints

The University of Minnesota is complaining about the recent court decision to halt federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR).

The university's Stem Cell Institute does research with both adult and embryonic stem cells. Some of its work is funded by the federal government and could be affected by the new ruling. Jonathan Slack, director of the Institute, called the decision "ridiculous." (I presume it's "ridiculous" only because Slack disagrees with the outcome. Anyone familiar with the legal issues would probably agree that the decision was at least a reasonable and defensible application of the law.)

According to the Star Tribune:
Slack said that he's one of a handful of University of Minnesota scientists working on studies that involve embryonic cells.

But their main focus, he said, is learning how to reprogram a patient's own cells to act like embryonic cells, which can turn into virtually any cell in the body.

In the last few years, scientists discovered how to turn ordinary skin cells into "induced pluripotent stem cells" -- the equivalent of stem cells -- by adding certain genes.

At the university, Slack said, they're conducting tests to see if those cells can turn into healthy blood cells to treat leukemia and lymphoma, for example, and new muscle cells to treat muscular dystrophy.

In 10 years, he predicts, embryonic cells won't be necessary if this research pans out. But for now, he said, a cutoff in funds would "really be catastrophic."
This is very interesting. Like other (perhaps most) ESC researchers, university scientists have shifted their "main focus" to induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which are ethical, uncontroversial, and offer other advantages over ESCR. Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the National Institutes of Health, says that iPSCs have made embryonic stem cells "obsolete," and even Slack says ESCR may be unnecessary in 10 years.

But the university is still committed to ESCR and says a lack of government funding for it would be "catastrophic." Why?
The irony is that the ruling mainly will hurt experiments aimed at using adult cells -- not embryonic ones -- to treat disease, said ... Slack.

Why? Because the scientists need the embryonic cells as controls, he said, to measure their progress with adult cells.
I don't buy that, and I happen to know that other scientists -- those not committed to a pro-ESCR ideology -- say otherwise. From the Star Tribune story:
"I just am not convinced by that argument," said David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council, which opposes embryonic research. He noted that researchers were able to use a limited number of embryonic stem cell lines under guidelines adopted by the George W. Bush administration and that there's no need to create new ones.
According to Dr. Maureen L. Condic, scientists do need to compare iPSCs to ESCs (as they have been for the past few years). But she explains:
This does not require cloning or destroying human embryos to make more [human embryonic stem cell] lines. ...

[T]he primate system permits the best in-depth platform for comparative studies. From rhesus macaque monkeys, primate pluripotent stem cells are available from all conceivable sources: IVF embryos, naturally conceived embryos (removed from the Fallopian tube after fertilization), SCNT-cloned embryos, parthenoids and soon iPS cells.
Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Japan, credited with the original iPSC breakthrough in 2007, never used human ESCs in his work -- he used ESCs from mice instead. He said, "Neither eggs nor embryos are necessary. I've never worked with either."

Moreover, the scientists who filed the lawsuit that led to the recent court decision, Dr. James Sherley of Boston Biomedical Research Institute and Theresa Deisher of AVM Biotechnology, work with adult stem cells and oppose ESCR. They are looking to get more funding for their adult stem cell research -- apparently they don't see ESCR as necessary to their continued work, as Slack suggests.

The University of Minnesota already has a questionable track record when it comes to embryo-destructive research and human cloning. It would do well to follow the recommendation of Pres. Clinton's bioethics commission, which in Sept. of 1999 wrote: "In our judgment, the derivation of stem cells from embryos remaining following infertility treatments is justifiable only if no less morally problematic alternatives are available for advancing the research."

Dayton on Woman's Right to Know

"I am appalled that Minnesota's 24-hour waiting period law [Woman's Right to Know] uses extremely biased language against a woman's making her own decisions about her own body [i.e., abortion]. I will oppose further attempts to interfere with a woman's Constitutionally guaranteed right make those decisions."

-- Mark Dayton

(Woman's Right to Know was passed in 2003 to ensure that women considering abortion receive basic factual information -- from the Minnesota Department of Health -- about the risks and alternatives. More than 10,000 women who have received this vital information have chosen life for their unborn children.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Obama stem cell policy is bad ethics, bad science, bad politics, and bad law

A federal court decision last week put a stop (at least temporarily) to Pres. Obama's policy of using federal funds for embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that the policy violates the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which has been passed by Congress every year since 1996 (and ironically re-signed into law by Obama himself). Dickey-Wicker prohibits federal funding of "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death."

The Obama administration tries to get around this law by distinguishing between the act of destroying the embryo and the subsequent research using the derived stem cells. It argues that Dickey-Wicker only prohibits funding of the former.

But this is a tenuous argument, as Lamberth pointed out, because ESCR necessarily requires the killing of human embryos. By funding ESCR, the government is encouraging and incentivizing embryo destruction -- in effect saying, "If you kill embryos, we will give you taxpayer money for your research." Dickey-Wicker (i.e., federal law) was meant to do precisely the opposite.

Ryan Anderson writes that Obama's stem cell policy is "bad ethics, bad science [and] bad politics."

It's bad ethics because it promotes the killing of young human beings for their useful parts, and it forces taxpayers to be complicit. It's bad science because such research no longer has much scientific or therapeutic merit, given the tremendous successes with alternative (ethical) kinds of stem cell research. It's bad politics because (writes Anderson) "it needlessly perpetuates a stem cell war where an easy peace is available. ... [A]fter the 2007 breakthrough [of ethical induced pluripotent stem cells] only the staunchest of ideologues were clamoring for public funding of embryo destruction."

But (Anderson continues) Obama's policy is also bad law. It's an illegal waste of taxpayer dollars on unethical, unnecessary and obsolete research, and it should never go back into effect.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dayton contradicts his extreme record on abortion

The following MCCL news release was issued today, Aug. 27., in response to recent comments from the Mark Dayton campaign claiming he supports late-term abortion restrictions and parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion.

MINNEAPOLIS – Mark Dayton, one of the two major-party pro-abortion candidates for governor, has released confused and conflicting positions on the abortion issue. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) is calling for Dayton to state clearly whether he supports the extreme agenda of the abortion industry.

"Mark Dayton needs to clear away all of the confusion surrounding his abortion stance," said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. "Minnesotans want the candidates for governor to be clear and direct about where they stand on the issues, and Dayton and his spokespersons have issued muddled messages on abortion."

Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota announced its whole-hearted endorsement of Dayton on Wednesday. The endorsement reflects Dayton's record in the U.S. Senate, where he co-sponsored the Freedom of Choice Act, also known as FOCA, in 2004. The radical legislation would have wiped out all state and federal pro-life laws across the nation and codified abortion on demand in federal law. It was the most extreme and far-reaching bill ever introduced by the abortion industry and would have prevented any effort to protect unborn children and their mothers.

In direct conflict with FOCA, a Dayton spokesperson said in a WNMT Radio story Thursday that Dayton supports parental notification for minor girls before an abortion can be performed on them. But FOCA would outlaw parental notification of any kind. And as a senator, Dayton voted twice against legislation to require parental notice when a minor is taken across state lines for an abortion, in violation of the law in the state in which they live. Planned Parenthood has fought fiercely at the Minnesota Legislature against parental notification bills for decades.

Also at odds with FOCA, his spokesperson stated that Dayton also is opposed to "third-term abortions" (presumably third-trimester) with some exceptions. Planned Parenthood has never tolerated opposition to any abortion, for any reason or at any point in pregnancy. It fought long and hard against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which brought an end to the brutal method of abortion in which the child was killed moments before birth by puncturing the skull and suctioning out the brains, ensuring the birth of a dead baby. The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was passed by Congress in 2003; Dayton voted against it twice. How can he now oppose late-term abortions?

"Has Dayton flip-flopped on his absolute opposition to parental notification, which is central to Planned Parenthood's abortion advocacy? And does he suddenly regret his votes against the partial-birth abortion ban?" Fischbach asked. "If so, why would Planned Parenthood endorse a candidate who disagrees with its own agenda? His campaign appears to be in chaos, at least over the issue of protecting human life from abortion."

Ronald Reagan: 'The real question today'

"The real question today is not when human life begins, but, What is the value of human life? The abortionist who reassembles the arms and legs of a tiny baby to make sure all its parts have been torn from its mother's body can hardly doubt whether it is a human being. The real question for him and for all of us is whether that tiny human life has a God-given right to be protected by the law -- the same right we have."

-- Ronald Reagan

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tom Emmer's stance on abortion, the right to life

State Rep. Tom Emmer is the Republican candidate for governor of Minnesota. Where does he stand on human life?

Emmer opposes abortion on demand and supports the protection of human beings at every stage of life. He scored 100 percent on the MCCL candidate questionnaire. Emmer explains his position as follows:
I strongly believe in the sanctity of human life, from conception to natural death. As a legislator, I have voted 100 percent pro-life and introduced numerous bills and amendments to protect the unborn. As Governor, I will continue to support the rights of the unborn, the elderly and the infirm.
While serving in the Minnesota House, Emmer voted in favor of the pro-life position 49 out of 49 times (100 percent). These include votes for the Unborn Child Pain Prevention Act, requiring that abortionists have hospital admitting privileges, and banning taxpayer funding of saline, sex-selection and RU486 abortions. He also opposes coerced abortion and health care rationing.

Emmer co-authored the Positive Alternatives Act, which provides practical help and alternatives to abortion for pregnant women in need. He also co-authored legislation to ban taxpayer funding of abortion in Minnesota.

Emmer voted against state funding of embryo-destructive research, and he authored legislation to encourage ethical adult stem cell research and ban human cloning.

In the general election on Nov. 2, Emmer faces pro-abortion candidates Mark Dayton and Tom Horner.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Positive Alternatives assists even more pregnant women across Minnesota

The following MCCL news release was issued today, Aug. 25.

ST. PAUL – The state's Positive Alternatives program is meeting the needs of increasing numbers of girls and women throughout Minnesota seeking help bringing their pregnancies to term.

In the second grant cycle (July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2010), 13,037 women received services from the Positive Alternatives grant program, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

"After four extremely successful years, Positive Alternatives has been established as one of Minnesota's most essential and successful programs for women," said Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). "More people need to know how this program offers a lifeline to women in need every day across the state."

More than 12,000 pregnant women were helped during the first two-year grant cycle, July 2006-June 2008. The latest numbers indicate that a growing number of women are finding help through Positive Alternatives grant recipients, such as pregnancy care centers.

Positive Alternatives was passed by the Legislature in 2005 and signed into law by pro-life Gov. Tim Pawlenty. MCCL worked hard to help establish this MDH grant program. Grants are given to life-affirming organizations offering essential services in the following areas: medical attention for the woman and the unborn child, nutritional services, housing assistance, adoption services, education and employment assistance, child care assistance, and parenting education and support services. A total of 37 organizations received $4.75 million in two-year grants in 2006. The second round of grants totaling $4.7 million was awarded to 31 agencies in July 2008.

The average cost per client served by the program is less than $400. For numerous women, this small investment helps by providing a stabilizing presence through housing and employment assistance.

The new MDH statistics are a clear indication that Positive Alternatives is meeting the needs of thousands of women facing problem or unexpected pregnancies. Only the most extremist politicians, like failed candidates Ken Tschumper, Avi Viswanathan, Shelley Madore and Margaret Anderson Kelliher, have tried to deny women the life-affirming help of Positive Alternatives.

"Positive Alternatives passed with large bipartisan majorities in both the Minnesota Senate and House, and continues to enjoy overwhelming support across the state," Fischbach said.

Read stories on MCCL’s website about how the organizations funded in part by Positive Alternatives are providing life-affirming support to pregnant women in need, both before and after their babies are born.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tom Horner's stance on abortion, the right to life

Tom Horner is the Independence Party candidate for governor. Where does he stand on human life?

Because he has never held public office, Horner has no record on abortion and other right-to-life issues. But he addressed abortion earlier this year in his campaign for governor.

He said abortion is a federal issue, not one for the states to decide. According to ECM Capitol Reporter T.W. Budig, Horner claimed that "state laws pertaining to abortion have less to do with abortion than driving political wedges."

Horner said he does not want to overturn Roe v. Wade, the court decision that legalized abortion on demand nationwide. He also said he supports continuing state funding of abortion, and that he would not have signed the Woman's Right to Know informed consent law.

Tom Horner supports abortion on demand.
(Woman's Right to Know was passed in 2003 to ensure that women considering abortion receive basic factual information about the risks and alternatives. More than 10,000 women who have received this vital information have decided against abortion.)

Horner hopes to draw votes away from pro-life candidate Tom Emmer by positioning himself as a "centrist." In response to pro-life criticism of his abortion stance, a May 12 statement by Horner's campaign manager claimed the following:
Horner has offered a clear position. He opposes abortion and would reduce abortions through more effective sex education with an emphasis on abstinence, access to health services including contraception and dealing with the underlying issues such as poverty.
But it is unclear in what sense Horner "opposes abortion," since by defending Roe v. Wade, he wants to prevent Minnesotans from being able to enact any significant restrictions on the practice. He even opposes commonsense, bipartisan measures such as Woman's Right to Know, and he favors using taxpayer dollars to pay for elective abortions—a proven means of increasing the number of abortions.

"If a candidate opposes Woman's Right to Know and wants to force taxpayers to buy other people's abortions, he is clearly not 'in the middle' on the abortion issue—he is pro-abortion," said Scott Fischbach, MCCL executive director.

In the general election on Nov. 2, Horner faces pro-abortion DFL candidate Mark Dayton and pro-life Republican Tom Emmer, who has a long record in support of the right to life.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Abortion to save the mother's life

I was asked recently if abortion is ever justified. That depends on what is meant by "abortion" (because I've noticed people use the term in two ways with regard to this matter). Let me explain.

I think it's always wrong to intentionally kill an unborn human being. But there may be (extremely rare) cases in which the unborn child must be surgically removed or expelled from the mother in order for the mother to survive, and if this happens before viability the child will die (e.g., in the case of an ectopic pregnancy or cancerous uterus).

I think this is morally justified (in fact, obligatory) given two requirements:

(1) If no action is taken, both mother and child will die.

(2) The intent of the act is not the death of the child, but to save the mother by correcting a life-threatening pathology, with the foreseeable (but unintended) consequence that the child will die. This precludes most abortion techniques, which involve dismembering or suctioning apart the unborn human being (where killing is intended, as an end or as a means to an end); the child must instead be removed or expelled with care, consistent with his or her status as a valuable member of the human family, and allowing for the possibility of survival if the child is old enough (the doctor should always do his or her best to save both patients).

When we treat both mother and child as valuable persons (the pro-life view), it becomes clear that this is the correct course of action. If two people are drowning in a lake, and I am only able to rescue one, it is better to rescue that one than to let both drown. It is better to save one life than to let two die.

Does removing the child to save the mother qualify as an abortion? Only insofar as "abortion" refers to the premature ending of a pregnancy (the pregnancy is aborted), rather than the intentional killing of the developing child (the baby is aborted). On the latter definition, abortion is never justified; on the former definition, "abortion" (sometimes called indirect abortion) to save the mother's life, even with the unintended consequence of the child's death, is morally justified.

This, I think, is the proper application of pro-life principles to a terrible situation.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mark Dayton's stance on abortion, the right to life

Former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton has won the DFL nomination for governor of Minnesota. Where does he stand on human life?

Dayton supports abortion on demand, including the barbaric partial-birth abortion procedure, and he favors using tax dollars to pay for elective abortions. He opposes modest regulations such as Woman's Right to Know—which requires that basic information regarding risks and alternatives be offered to women considering abortion—and laws requiring parental notification before a minor girl has an abortion. He has also harshly criticized the work of pregnancy care centers that help pregnant women in need, claiming they "scare [women] into not having abortions."

His position is made clear in an April 2010 letter to pro-abortion blogger Rachel Nygaard, in which he wrote:
I strongly support a woman's right to choice, and I have a 35-year record in strong support of that right. As a U.S. Senator, I voted consistently for pro-choice measures. I voted against the so-called "partial-birth abortion" ban. And I voted against Senate confirmations of Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Alioto [sic], in significant part because of their anticipated anti-choice positions.

My positions earned me very high ratings and frequent commendations from NARAL, including "Hero of the Month."
During his six years in the U.S. Senate, Dayton voted against the pro-life position 17 out of 18 times (94 percent). These include votes in favor of abortions in military facilities, endorsing Roe v. Wade, keeping partial-birth abortion legal, funding pro-abortion organizations overseas, and funding embryo-destructive research. He also voted against parental notification before an abortion is performed on a minor from another state.

In addition to his abortion extremism, Dayton advocates a single-payer health care system that would lead to rationing of care for the most vulnerable. He voted against the Medicare Modernization Act to prevent the denial of lifesaving care to elderly persons and ensure that pro-rationing price controls cannot be imposed.

In the general election on Nov. 2, Dayton faces pro-abortion Independence Party candidate Tom Horner and pro-life Republican Tom Emmer, who has a long record in support of the right to life.

Update (8/26): As mentioned above, Dayton did have one pro-life vote during his time in the Senate. But that's a bit misleading: Dayton voted for the Unborn Victims of Violence Act in 2004, but not before he twice voted for amendments to gut the legislation and prevent any legal recognition of the unborn child.

Also in 2004, Dayton co-sponsored the Freedom of Choice Act, the most radical piece of pro-abortion legislation ever put before Congress. FOCA would wipe out virtually every limitation on abortion, no matter how modest, re-legalize partial-birth abortion, and mandate taxpayer funding of elective abortions.

Update (8/31): Planned Parenthood, the state's (and nation's) leading abortion provider, officially endorsed Dayton for governor on Aug. 25.

In addition, Dayton has now been endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota. In the press release, Dayton states, "I am very honored to have the endorsement of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota. I have strongly supported a woman's right to choose throughout my entire career, and am committed to protecting women's rights if I am elected Governor."

'Person' language used to exclude, justify killing

"When we question whether someone is a person, it is because we want to kill him. We do this with our enemies in wartime, or with anyone we would like to enslave or exploit. Before we can feel comfortable treating others this way, we have to expel them from the human community. But there's just no logical reason to expel the unborn."

-- Frederica Mathewes-Green, National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" (January 21, 1998)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Vote today: What you need to know

Pro-life candidate for governor Tom Emmer
The Minnesota primary election is today. See our Voter's Guide here.

In the race for governor, DFL candidates Mark Dayton, Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Matt Entenza, as well as Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, are all staunchly pro-abortion -- they even support taxpayer funding of abortion and oppose commonsense pro-life limits. GOP-endorsed candidate Tom Emmer is strongly pro-life.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Real men stand up

Fr. Frank Pavone writes:
Some people think that because men cannot get pregnant, they have no right to say anything about abortion.

But any human being, male or female, has the right and duty to speak up when someone's life is in danger. Real men don't stand around with their hands at their side when innocent babies are being ripped apart. They do something to defend these children.

Saying that only women should have any say about abortion is like saying that only Jews can speak about the Holocaust, or only Blacks can speak about segregation, or only children can speak about child abuse.

The truth is that every human being can speak about human rights, and has a duty to defend those rights when they are under attack.
More on this topic here.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Where do the MN governor candidates stand on life?

The primary election in Minnesota is next Tuesday, August 10. Click here to see where the candidates for governor stand on right-to-life issues.

Also see our complete Primary Election Voter's Guide.