Friday, April 29, 2011

U.S. House to vote on No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act

From National Right to Life:

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to take up a major pro-life bill -- the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3) -- on or about Wednesday, May 4, 2011. National Right to Life urges you to promptly contact the office of your representative in the U.S. House, to urge him or her to support H.R. 3, and to oppose all amendments that may be offered by opponents of the bill.

Currently, there is a patchwork of different federal laws that restrict federal funding of abortion. However, many of these restrictions (such as the well-known Hyde Amendment, which applies to the federal Medicaid program) expire every year -- which forces the pro-life side to re-fight the same battles in Congress, year after year. Moreover, in a number of federal programs -- notably, some major new programs created by the massive Obama health care law in 2010 -- federal subsidies for abortion are currently permissible under law. H.R. 3 would replace this leaky patchwork with a permanent, government-wide prohibition on federal funding of abortion and federal subsidies for health plans that cover abortion.

The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act is sponsored by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-Il.), the co-chairs of the House Pro-Life Caucus. To see an always-current list of co-sponsors of the bill, click here.

Please contact your U.S. House member today! (Preferably, during business hours.) Click here and use the box that says "Take Action!"

Pro-life legislation update: House committee votes to protect pain-capable unborn, ban taxpayer funded abortions

The following MCCL news release was issued today, April 29.

ST. PAUL — Two measures to protect unborn children were added this week to a bill moving through the House of Representatives. The initiatives, strongly supported by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), would prohibit abortions of unborn children who can feel pain and ban taxpayer funding of abortion.

"Legislators are recognizing that there is a lot of common ground on the issue of abortion," said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. "These common-sense measures must be advanced and enacted into law."

The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, S.F. 649 and H.F. 936, would prohibit abortions after the point in pregnancy at which an unborn child can feel pain, which medical evidence demonstrates is (conservatively) 20 weeks from conception. The ban on taxpayer funded abortions, S.F. 103 and H.F. 201, would end the injustice of forcing Minnesotans to pay for elective abortions.

The House Health and Human Services (HHS) Reform Committee voted on Wednesday to add both pro-life provisions as amendments to the HHS policy omnibus bill (H.F. 1020). Each measure was added with a bipartisan roll-call vote of 12-5. The policy omnibus bill will likely next be considered on the House floor.

The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is based on a landmark Nebraska law enacted last year, which has not been challenged in court. The bill reflects the consensus of anatomical, behavioral and physiological evidence, which shows that unborn children at 20 weeks can feel pain.

"We should all be able to agree: We must stop the brutal killing of unborn babies who can experience pain and suffering," Fischbach noted.

Minnesota taxpayers paid nearly $1.6 million to the abortion industry for 3,933 abortions in 2009, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Nearly 32 percent of all abortions in Minnesota are funded with taxpayer dollars.

"This policy of forcing citizens to pay for abortions is one of the most extreme in the nation," Fischbach explained. "It is time for it to come to an end."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

'What we do is none of your business,' cloning advocate says

Jonathan Slack, director of the Stem Cell Institute at the University of Minnesota, reportedly said this in his opposition to the proposed human cloning ban now before the state Legislature: "It isn't the business of legislators to decide what researchers can do."

That's arrogant and ridiculous. We are a democratic society. If researchers started doing lethal experiments on mentally handicapped children, our government -- representing the people of our state -- would almost certainly intervene. In any decent and civilized society, some things are not permitted. Egregious violations of human rights should not be permitted. Rape, murder and theft should not be permitted. Nazi doctors should not have been allowed to perform their gruesome experiments on human subjects.

Princeton professor and leading bioethicist Robert George explained recently:
[S]ince we are a democratically constituted people, we are going to have to resolve by democratic procedures disputes about what the [ethical] norms are [regarding research], and how they apply in particular cases. Now that, I'm afraid, is politics. Not in some pejorative sense—rather in a good sense, in the democratic sense. Together, we deliberate, debate, and decide.
Is human cloning the kind of practice that should be permitted, or not? That's the real question. Slack has not dealt with it. He and his colleagues have given no response to the contention of the ban's supporters -- based on the scientific facts of human embryology coupled with moral reasoning about the nature of human value -- that human cloning crosses a core ethical line and should not be permitted.

(Incidentally, I think Slack showed up for the recent discussion without having read the bill in question. He reportedly said, "Genes are being cloned every day and there is cloning of human cells. Could lawyers consider that to be human cloning?" The bill explicitly says that gene or molecular cloning is not affected. Only the creation by cloning of a human organism -- aka "human cloning" -- is affected. I don't know how any lawyer could get around the actual language of the bill, or how it could be made any more clear.)

University makes 'economic case' for human cloning

In a handout from yesterday's roundtable event, the University of Minnesota claims that the proposed human cloning ban would cost Minnesota 349 jobs and $48.4 million.

I don't know how the University got these numbers. As far as I know it has not provided any supporting analysis.

What I do know is this: the human cloning bill would not affect any current research (as the University has testified). So, the University's claim is that we will lose 349 jobs and $48.4 million by preventing something that is not actually happening, and that is not currently even being pursued. How can we lose jobs and money that we don't have in the first place?

Clearly those 349 jobs cannot be current jobs. Are they future jobs? In that case, it seems the University is assuming that it will sometime in the future decide to pursue human cloning, or SCNT (and that this decision will result in 349 additional jobs). How is that assumption justified? University researchers have indicated that SCNT may or may not be something they think worth pursuing in the future -- they simply want to keep the option open. It is a hypothetical possibility. That's all. There doesn't seem to be any basis for the University's bold economic claims.

I wonder: If what the legislation prohibits -- human SCNT (cloning) -- is so valuable, why isn't the University pursuing it right now?

Perhaps the University's economic claims are based not on hypothetical future human cloning work that would be thwarted, but rather on the "chilling effect" the mere passage of the legislation would allegedly have. So, the bill might not prevent any researchers from doing anything they ever want to do, but nevertheless it would send a "message" that Minnesota is not a good place for biomedical research. For that reason, the University may believe, we would lose future jobs and maybe even some current ones (researchers who don't like the "message" and decide to move).

It seems to me that if a researcher doesn't want to work here because the people of Minnesota, through their elected representatives, have decided that we will not permit the creation of new members of the human species by cloning specifically for the purpose of killing them and harvesting their useful parts -- well, if that person goes to do his work elsewhere, goodbye then.

Feel the chill
A second handout from yesterday's event, titled "The Economic Case for Stem Cell Research," looks at the economic benefits of stem cell research in other states and countries. Most of it seems irrelevant to the issue at hand (human cloning). Indeed, none of the economic benefits listed are said to be from SCNT (cloning), but rather are from the kind of research that is unaffected by the legislation under consideration.

SCNT is only mentioned on the handout once, when it says that "Australia recently repealed a ban on SCNT." That's all. No economic benefits of SCNT have been demonstrated.

It is ironic that the handout touts California as a prime example for us to follow. After wasting billions of dollars on embryo-destructive research, California is now redirecting its resources from therapeutic cloning to ethical research that is more therapeutically promising. According to the Los Angeles Times (Jan. 10, 2010), the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is looking to "concentrat[e] its vast financial resources on projects that could cure conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, AIDS, sickle cell disease and various types of cancer" by "boosting therapies that ... rely on less glamorous adult stem cells."

Let me make one final point. These economic issues are beside the point if human cloning is a grave moral wrong. The University has given us no reason to think it's permissible to create living members of our species in order to kill them for our own ends.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

'Human cloning' is no disguise, U of M

This morning the University of Minnesota held a roundtable event "to discuss the impact an anti-research bill would have on the Minnesota bio-business community if it passes" (according to a University press release).

The bill in question is the ban on human cloning. The University says this:
The legislation ... is an attack on research disguised as a prohibition on human cloning, and is rapidly moving through the Minnesota legislature. It includes language that would make one type of human embryonic stem cell research a crime.

The bill would not just ban a particular type of stem cell research. It would send a chilling message to Minnesota's biomedical business community that special interest groups will dictate what types of research – and prospects for economic growth – are permitted.
The legislation is "disguised as a prohibition on human cloning"? Really? Here is what the legislation prohibits:
Human asexual reproduction accomplished by introducing nuclear material from one or more human somatic cells into a fertilized or unfertilized oocyte whose nuclear material has been removed or inactivated so as to produce a living organism at any stage of development that is genetically virtually identical to an existing or previously existing human organism.
Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), described above, is a process by which organisms are cloned. There is no debate about this! The bill simply bans human SCNT. It is a ban on the cloning of human organisms (i.e., human cloning).

There is a common distinction between "therapeutic" cloning (killing the cloned human organism in the embryonic stage for research) and "reproductive" cloning (implanting the cloned organism in a woman's uterus and allowing him or her to develop toward maturity). The legislation bans cloning itself, regardless of the intentions for the resulting human being. It says this very clearly.

The U of M says the cloning ban "would make one type of human embryonic stem cell research a crime." It's true that, since the bill is a ban on human cloning, it would prohibit using cloning to create new embryonic human beings in order to then kill those embryos by deriving stem cells. All other research -- which happens to include all current research in Minnesota, including all embryonic stem cell research -- would be unaffected.

Tomorrow I will further address the roundtable event, including the University's claim that the cloning ban would "send a chilling message to Minnesota's biomedical business community."

MCCL statement regarding today's University of Minnesota roundtable on cloning legislation

"The University of Minnesota's roundtable event in support of human cloning will undoubtedly touch off another round of inaccurate stories in the media. Most of the reporting so far has consisted of wild claims about the loss of jobs and money for our state. This will supposedly happen if the University and the Mayo Clinic are not allowed to engage in a practice they are not even currently pursuing: the creation of new human organisms by cloning.

"Some in the press have even erroneously reported that stem cell research would be criminalized if the ban on human cloning is enacted!

"The legislation under consideration is simple and straightforward. It bans human cloning. It does not ban stem cell research; it does not prevent cures and treatments; it does not fire researchers; and it does not stop the University or the Mayo Clinic from any of the work they are doing. The bill simply prevents the creation -- for any and all purposes -- of a human clone."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A response to Scott Dibble regarding Planned Parenthood

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, argues for continued taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood in the Star Tribune. Mainly he offers standard abortion industry talking points. (Read about why Planned Parenthood should be denied funding here and here.)

Dibble claims that "the vast majority of family-planning clinics' funding is for essential health services (any abortions performed are funded separately)." But the money Planned Parenthood receives is fungible, so even if it doesn't directly pay for abortions, it supports the work of abortion and without question results in an increased number of abortions (statistics bear this out). A disturbing 98 percent of Planned Parenthood's pregnant clients receive abortions, as opposed to prenatal care or adoption referrals.

Photo of Senator Dibble
Scott Dibble
Dibble writes, "[C]onservative legislators [by defunding Planned Parenthood] are trying to put family planning, low-cost contraception, STD testing and treatment, and cervical cancer screenings out of reach for low-income women." That is simply false. Health care for low-income women can be provided (probably better) by other facilities -- including more than a thousand federally qualified health centers that offer cancer screenings, contraception and STD testing. Planned Parenthood is not a significant primary care provider: it provides "primary care" to only 0.66 percent of its clients, a percentage that has been decreasing in recent years.

In any case, it's not at all clear that Planned Parenthood -- a "non-profit" awash in money -- needs taxpayer dollars to offer its non-abortion services. (Given its known corruption and poor stewardship of taxpayer funds, Planned Parenthood certainly does not deserve them.)

In his piece, Sen. Dibble also seems to provide an indirect defense of abortion (although the permissibility and legality of abortion are not at issue in the Planned Parenthood funding debate). He invokes his "Catholic commitment to social justice" and says women must be able to "live a life of dignity and self-determination and to freely exercise their own decisions as moral agents." He later writes:
As Catholics, we are called to weigh moral decisions using the scale of our individual conscience, and to respect other people's right to do the same.

The recession has brought home the reality that any one of us can lose what we have and, like "the least among us," could come to rely on the goodwill of our community.

Are we also going to take away the right of some to make their own decisions about health care and family planning according to their conscience?

Good Friday is a time of somber reflection, a time to consider our call as Catholics to greater social justice and a reminder that the moral test of our state and country comes in how we treat our poor.

Ensuring family-planning services remain accessible to all fulfills the dictates of our faith.
Does any of this work as a justification for killing innocent human beings? Clearly, one may not kill a toddler in order to "freely exercise her own decision as a moral agent." And while I respect everyone's right to "weigh moral decisions using the scale of our individual conscience," I don't think we should allow people to kill their five-year-old children.

I'm sure Dibble doesn't think that either. The question is whether killing unborn human beings -- as opposed to toddlers and five-year-olds -- is permissible. Dibble offers no reason to think it is. That is, he offers no reason to think that the Catholic faith of which he ironically boasts is entirely wrong about this central moral teaching.

Sen. Dibble is rightly concerned about poverty. But to attempt to use the issue of poverty (wrongly and misleadingly) to dismiss all concern for the unborn -- a class of innocent human beings systematically and barbarically killed for the convenience of others (truly, "the least among us") -- is tragic and heartbreaking. It certainly does not fulfill "the dictates of our faith."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Human cloning: Not fear, but facts

A man named Don Reed, writing at Daily Kos, argues that proponents of the MCCL-backed human cloning ban in Minnesota are using "the fear of cloning" to gain support for the measure.

In fact, it is opponents of the bill who have shamelessly tried to manipulate people's emotions with false claims. Those of us who support the bill have spent our time working to correct all the misinformation -- propagated by Reed and others -- regarding human cloning, stem cell research and what the legislation under consideration would actually do.

Reed's piece is hardly worth addressing, but I will correct one fundamental falsehood. In his defense of so-called "therapeutic" cloning, he describes somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) this way:
Egg and skin cell [actually, enucleated egg with genetic material from skin cell put inside] are placed in salt water, and stimulated with a mild shock of electricity. Five to seven days go by. The microscopic egg is opened, and the stem cells are removed.
No. SCNT does not result in a "microscopic egg," which (suspiciously) one must wait five to seven days before using. Rather, successful SCNT results in an embryo (as the National Institutes of Health explains), an organism at the embryonic stage of his or her development. The cloned embryo must be grown to the five-to-seven-day stage before stem cells theoretically could be derived from it.

There is no doubt about this. Reed is simply ignorant (and yet making bold claims anyway!) when he writes:
This [using SCNT to produce cloned human embryos to be destroyed for research] is what opponents attack, calling it the murder of "young humans."

Where? Show me one "young human" in the above process. There are none.
Successful human SCNT produces a living and whole (though immature) organism of the human species. The ethical question is whether we may create these very young members of our species specifically for the purpose of killing them and harvesting their useful parts.

Friday, April 22, 2011

On Easter, a commitment to life

On Easter, Christians worldwide celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who (the Bible teaches) conquered death and won new life for a human race dead in its sins. This is a fitting time to renew our commitment to protecting the lives of the youngest and most vulnerable members of the human family.

The Bible teaches that every human being, at every stage of development, is fashioned in the very image and likeness of his or her Creator. From the Christian perspective, every human being is someone for whom Christ died and rose again.

Yet more than 12,000 unborn children are brutally killed by abortion every year in Minnesota. We must work to "rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter" (Proverbs 24:11). We must come to the aid of both pregnant women and their unborn children.

As Christianity teaches new life in Christ, so we must remember to always "choose life, so that you and your children may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19). And we must remember that (Christianity also teaches) Jesus offers true hope and forgiveness for those suffering from the devastation of abortion.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

MCCL calls on Dayton administration to investigate Regions Hospital abortion invoices

The following MCCL news release was issued today, April 20, 2011.

ST. PAUL — Abortion reimbursements to Regions Hospital far exceeding the state average have led to calls for an investigation. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), the state's largest pro-life organization, is bringing the issue to the attention of Gov. Mark Dayton.

Regions Hospital charged the state an average of $1,448 for each of the 385 abortions it performed on low-income women in 2009 (most recent figures). Compared to the $290 average cost of a taxpayer funded abortion at all other abortion centers that year, Regions' reimbursements were about five times those of other abortion centers.

"Why the huge cost discrepancy?" asked MCCL President Leo LaLonde in a letter to Dayton.

MCCL has been concerned with this discrepancy for years. Especially given the need to reduce state spending, the cost of abortions at Regions Hospital has become alarming. The impression has been that taxpayers must pay whatever abortion centers, which are unregulated in Minnesota, submit for reimbursement.

Regions Hospital has been reimbursed more than $4 million — more than any other provider — since Minnesota taxpayers were first required to pay for elective abortions, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services. In 2009, Regions Hospital performed 10 percent of the taxpayer funded abortions but collected 35 percent of the reimbursement money.

LaLonde said in his letter to Dayton, "MCCL calls upon the Dayton administration to investigate why the state is reimbursing Regions Hospital at a rate of nearly five times the amount of other providers for abortion services. If the administration is unwilling to look into this significant waste of taxpayer dollars, we urge the Legislature to hold hearings on this issue."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Misinformation, poor thinking in an age of biotechnology

The Washington Post has a story about Timothy Atchison, the first-ever patient to undergo an experimental embryonic stem cell injection. (All other stem cell treatments -- dozens of different conditions have already been successfully treated -- have used ethically-uncontroversial adult stem cells.) We do not yet know whether the embryonic stem cells can or will help Atchison, who is paralyzed from the chest down; there are concerns (including from advocates of embryonic research) that the study is premature, poorly designed and too risky for the patient.

Atchison seems like a really, really great guy, and we all wish him the best. But the Post story indicates to me that he was a victim of more than just a car crash. He was a victim of misinformation and poor thinking -- from doctors, a local pastor and apparently everyone else around him, who should have been a source of truth and wisdom, not falsity and confusion.

From the story:
Raised Baptist in a small town where the main road has more churches than fast-food restaurants, Atchison nonetheless has no moral qualms about helping to launch the first U.S. government-sanctioned attempt to study a treatment using embryonic stem cells in people. The cells implanted into his spine were obtained from embryos being discarded at fertility clinics, he said.

"It's not life. It's not like they're coming from an aborted fetus or anything like that. They were going to be thrown away," he said. "Once they explained to me where the stem cells were coming from, once I learned that, I was okay with it."
They "explained" wrong. Is the embryo "life"? Biologically, it is living. But is it human life? Biologically, it is human. But is it a living human organism, a member of our species? Biologically, yes, it is: As the National Insitutes of Health explains, an embryo is a "developing organism from the time of fertilization until the end of the eighth week of gestation, when it is called a fetus." In short, a human embryo is a human being in the embryonic stage of his or her (sex is determined) development, needing only a suitable environment and nutrition (no different than any of us) to develop himself or herself through the different stages of life (embryo, fetus, newborn, toddler, child, etc.). There is no doubt about this. It is a matter of scientific fact.

Atchison -- We wish him the best.
But isn't destroying an embryo okay if it is "going to be thrown away" anyway? Only if the embryo is not a valuable human being who ought to be respected and protected (go here for reasons to think it is). For a human being's imminent death does not justify intentionally killing him or her. Dying soldiers on the battlefield may not be killed and harvested for their organs. In any case, the advent of embryo adoption has meant that "leftover" embryos need not "die anyway."

More from the story:
Immediately after the accident, while undergoing surgeries and other treatments to repair his shattered spine, broken collarbone and pinky, and nearly severed ear at the University of South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile, Atchison was befriended by the pastor of a local pentecostal church. When he found out the next week what Atchison had agreed to do, the pastor [Troy Bailey of the Reynolds Holiness Church] was uncertain how his community would respond. ...

Bailey said he realized that he had to sort out his own stance, given that some people — himself included — who oppose abortion consider embryonic stem cell research to be immoral. But Bailey concluded that he, too, thought that this treatment was acceptable because the cells were obtained from embryos that had never been implanted in a womb and so had no chance of developing into a fetus.

"I am adamantly against abortion in any form. It did cause me some searching and researching biblically what is the proper answer," he said. "I don't really see a baby's life was destroyed for this to take place."

Bailey announced his conclusion to his parish the Sunday after Atchison's Oct. 8 stem cell procedure and invited the congregation to come to him with objections. But, he said, he has never heard complaints from anyone in the town ...

Bailey then devoted three weeks of Sunday school lessons to stem cells and issues he thought were related, such as birth-control pills and genetically designed babies.

"I'm definitely not wanting to encourage harvesting embryos for all kinds of crazy reasons," Bailey said. "And that definitely led some people to have some hesitancy about some of these things."
I'm sure this pastor means well, but it is hard to make excuses for him here. Did he manage to "devote three weeks of Sunday school lessons to stem cells" without learning what an embryo is?

Bailey says killing embryos is okay because the embryos "had never been implanted in a womb and so had no chance of developing into a fetus." But location (in the womb or out) is obviously not relevant to a human being's moral status. And the embryos in question could, in fact, develop into a fetus given only the appropriate environment and nutrition, just as any human being at any stage of development can develop to the next stage given those same necessities. What if disability or environment prevents a human being (say, a disabled toddler, or a neglected newborn) from properly growing? We still may not kill her in order to harvest her useful parts.

Biblically, human beings are recognized from their conception (Psalm 51:5; Luke 1:41-44). Human beings are made in His image (Genesis 1:27), and ought not be killed for the potential benefit of others (Matthew 19:18). Bailey probably knows this -- the main problem is that he is working with the wrong scientific "facts." And apparently not a single member of his congregation knows those facts or has bothered to learn them!

To be decent and respectful of human dignity in an age of biotechnology, a society must be much better educated than this. Human lives are at stake. There are no excuses.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

On National Healthcare Decisions Day, MCCL urges citizens to make wishes known in advance directive

The following is an MCCL news release.

In recognition of National Healthcare Decisions Day on Apr. 16, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) is encouraging every Minnesota citizen to make their medical care wishes known in an advance directive. Minnesota's oldest and largest pro-life organization, MCCL has always advocated the use of advance care planning.

"Documenting your medical care wishes and discussing them with loved ones and care providers is essential," said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. "People have a right to direct their health care in Minnesota, even when they need someone to represent them."

MCCL has fought for this right to be recognized in Minnesota law. Legislation which could be used to justify the withdrawal not only of medical care, but also food and fluids, without the patient's consent, was proposed as early as 1986; MCCL successfully blocked it from becoming law. When such legislation was passed in 1989, MCCL successfully lobbied for inclusion of protective amendments authorizing advance directives for health care.

In 2006, a year after Terri Schindler Schiavo was starved to death by court order, MCCL supported the Starvation and Dehydration of Persons with Disabilities Prevention Act. The initiative would have established a presumption of nutrition and hydration in the absence of a health care directive or informed consent. It also would have created a website and a statewide campaign to educate the public of the importance of completing a health care directive or living will. The bill was approved by two House committees; no further action was taken.

Minnesota Statute 145C.15 (and here) requires the provision of health care, nutrition and hydration when such care, "in reasonable medical judgment, has a significant possibility of sustaining the life" of a person, unless a health care directive indicates such care is not the person's wish.

MCCL has made available the "Will to Live" health care directive, a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPAHC) document which empowers citizens to declare their health care wishes and to select an agent or agents to make decisions about medical care when the person is unable to do so. Unlike most living wills, the DPAHC does not require the signer to have a terminal condition. The "Will to Live" directs that the person be given food and fluids, and it creates a presumption for treatment with the opportunity to describe limited, specific exceptions, such as when the person is dying. The "Will to Live" can be downloaded from the National Right to Life website. Copies may be obtained by contacting MCCL at 612-825-6831 or

"To ensure the protection of their own lives, we urge people to complete a Will to Live as soon as possible," Fischbach added.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Three rationales for the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

A bill now before the Minnesota state Legislature -- the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act -- would protect unborn children from the point at which they are capable of experiencing pain. Why should this legislation be supported? I know of three main approaches/rationales, which together should encompass almost everyone.

(1)  The first approach is the position held by pro-life advocates. The scientific facts of embryology tell us that the unborn (i.e., the human embryo or fetus) from conception is a distinct, living and whole human organism -- a member of the species Homo sapiens, like the rest of us, only at a much earlier stage of his or her development. Because every human being has an equal fundamental right to life, it is wrong to kill unborn human beings for the reasons that people have elective abortions, just as it is wrong to kill older human beings for those reasons. Moreover, it is surely among the most basic and necessary functions of government to protect innocent, rights-bearing human beings from unjust homicide. So elective abortion should not be permitted by law. It follows that elective abortions of pain-capable unborn children should not be permitted by law (the modest aim of the legislation).

Pain-capable unborn: May she be killed?
(2)  But one need not agree with the first approach to support the bill. Even those who believe most abortions are morally permissible may agree that once the developing unborn human being becomes capable of experiencing pain, she merits basic moral respect and protection and may no longer be dismembered by abortion.

(3)  Finally, one need not agree with either of the first two approaches to support the bill. One might deny (as the second rationale asserts) that the pain-capable unborn human being has acquired a moral status that merits serious respect. But while (on this view) she does not yet merit the sort of consideration we give to older human beings, we still must take into consideration the possibility of inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering. Consider, for example, that few people believe killing an animal is morally wrong, but we do seem to have an obligation to not cause animals needless pain and suffering. So just as we prohibit animal cruelty, we must consider prohibiting some abortions on the grounds that they are cruel and excruciatingly painful for the being who is dismembered and killed. (It is true, on this view, that a bill to simply require pain-relieving medication prior to abortion could be supported as an alternative; that possibility, however, does not preclude someone taking this third approach from supporting the legislation now under consideration, which might currently be the only or best option to guard against the suffering caused by abortion.)

To summarize, then, anyone who holds to the pro-life position should obviously support the Pain Capable legislation, and many pro-choice people should also support the legislation. Most pro-choice people do not support unlimited abortion at every stage up until birth; these people may well support the bill using the second rationale. And even those pro-choice advocates who support unfettered abortion on demand throughout all of pregnancy must consider supporting the bill according to the third rationale.

Some people object by questioning whether the unborn at this stage of pregnancy can really feel pain. But, first, this objection has no bearing on the first rationale for the Pain Capable legislation (above), which still must be addressed by critics. Second, denying fetal pain does not seem reasonable given the weight of the evidence (which you can read more about here and here). Third, if there is even a possibility the unborn at this stage can feel pain (as any reasonable observer of the facts must admit), the second and third rationales for the legislation (described above) would still be strong, for abortion would then pose a serious risk of either killing a valuable being deserving of respect or causing unjustified pain and suffering.

The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is a modest proposal that clearly reflects the views of a majority of Minnesotans. It is a bill that almost everyone -- given the views they already hold -- can and should support.

Bills to prohibit abortions of pain-capable unborn, ban taxpayer funded abortions advance at Capitol

The following is an MCCL news release.

ST. PAUL — Legislation to protect unborn children was approved in three key committee hearings this week at the State Capitol. The bills would prohibit abortions of unborn babies who can feel pain and ban taxpayer funded abortions; Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) strongly supports both initiatives.

"Lawmakers are carrying out the will of Minnesotans by hearing and approving these sensible bills," said MCCL Legislative Associate Andrea Rau. "Only the most extreme opponents of protecting life object to these measures, but they represent only a small minority of citizens."

The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, S.F. 649 and H.F. 936, would prohibit abortions after the point in pregnancy at which an unborn child can feel pain, which medical evidence demonstrates is (conservatively) 20 weeks from conception. It is based on a landmark Nebraska law enacted last year, which has not been challenged in court. Authored by Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, and Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, the legislation was passed by the Senate Health and Human Services committee on Apr. 12.

Modern medicine acknowledges fetal pain. Fetal surgery is a growing medical specialty, as conditions such as spina bifida sometimes can be treated before a child is even born. Prior to these surgeries, pain medication is now routinely given to unborn patients, Rau explained in her testimony. She provided committee members with 30 pages of documentation of research studies on the ability of unborn children to feel pain at 20 weeks from conception.

"This legislation is about whether or not an unborn child who is developed to the point that he or she is capable of feeling pain is deserving of the respect and dignity that we offer to other members of our human family," Rau said.

The ban on taxpayer funded abortions, S.F. 103 and H.F. 201, authored by Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, and Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, would end the injustice of forcing Minnesotans to pay for elective abortions. Minnesota taxpayers paid nearly $1.6 million to the abortion industry for 3,933 abortions in 2009, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). The measure was passed by the Senate Health and Human Services and House Judiciary committees on Tuesday.

Minnesota passed a law in 1978 to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother. However, a lower court ruling in June 1994 struck down that ban, and the Minnesota Supreme Court's 1995 Doe v. Gomez decision established a right to abortion in the Minnesota Constitution and required that taxpayers be forced to pay for abortions—one of the nation’s most extreme state policies regarding abortion.

"As a result, today nearly 32 percent of all abortions performed in Minnesota are paid for with taxpayer dollars," said MCCL Legislative Associate Jordan Marie Bauer, who testified in support of the bill. "Minnesota taxpayers, a strong majority of whom don't want government funds being used for abortion, have essentially helped to end the lives of nearly 55,000 unborn children—a number that grows every day."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Abortion in the case of a terminal prenatal diagnosis

Isn't abortion the best option in the case of a terminal prenatal diagnosis -- when the unborn child is doomed to die before, during or shortly after birth? Won't pregnant women endure emotional trauma if they are forced to continue such pregnancies? Shouldn't abortion be permitted in these (very rare) cases?

Two points should be made. First, if the unborn child is an intrinsically valuable human being, then abortion in the case of a terminal diagnosis is wrong. For we may not intentionally kill someone on the grounds that she will soon die as a result of disease or abnormality, or because her abbreviated existence will cause another person emotional distress. In his new book The Ethics of Abortion: Women's Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice, philosopher Christopher Kaczor explains:
[I]t seems clear that the expectant lifespan of a person does not make a difference in whether or not a person may be killed. The fact that a person at the end of life may have only a short time to live does not imply the permissibility of killing that person. If someone is scheduled to be executed, that fact does not authorize private persons to kill the death row inmate earlier. Indeed, the prospective lifespan of a human person varies a great deal depending upon [various] factors ... The prospective lifespan of a human being is irrelevant to the question of the permissibility of killing. So, if the human being in utero is a person, then killing is impermissible even if the human being will die of other causes in a few weeks.
Extreme disability or deformity does not justify killing the unborn any more than it justifies killing those (disabled or deformed people) who are already born. Rather, to justify abortion, one would have to demonstrate that the unborn human being does not merit the kind of basic regard each of us (you, me, a terminally-ill teenager, etc.) merits -- the kind of regard that precludes intentional killing. The fact of a terminal diagnosis is simply not ethically relevant.

Second, choosing abortion when a child has a fatal defect probably does not best serve the pregnant woman's emotional and psychological health (as those advocating for abortion assume). She seems better served when her unborn child is treated as a real patient deserving care, and that is what the option of perinatal hospice and palliative care is all about. From
In an era of evidence-based medicine, it's important to note that there is no research to support the presumption that terminating the pregnancy is easier on the mother psychologically. In fact, research to date suggests the opposite. Research suggests that women who terminate for fetal anomalies experience grief as intense as that of parents experiencing a spontaneous death of a baby (Zeanah 1993) and that aborting a baby with birth defects can be a "traumatic event ... which entails the risk of severe and complicated grieving." (Kersting 2004) One long-term study found that "a substantial number ... showed pathological scores for post-traumatic stress." (Korenromp et al, 2005) And a recent followup study found that 14 months after the termination, nearly 17 percent of women were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder such as post-traumatic stress, anxiety or depression. (Kersting 2009) Termination is not a shortcut through grief. In contrast, parental responses to perinatal hospice are "overwhelmingly positive" (Calhoun & Hoeldtke 2000), and parents report being emotionally and spiritually prepared for their infant's death and feeling "a sense of gratitude and peace surrounding the brief life of their child" (Sumner 2001).
Perinatal hospice is a wonderful alternative that is ethical, compassionate and healthy for everyone involved. To learn more, see and, as well as Amy Kuebelbeck's books Waiting with Gabriel: A Story of Cherishing a Baby's Brief Life and A Gift of Time: Continuing Your Pregnancy When Your Baby's Life Is Expected to Be Brief.

Not everyone in Hollywood supports abortion

A number of Hollywood celebrities have come to the defense of Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading performer and promoter of abortion. Here's Gwyneth Paltrow, for example:

But I am reminded that not everyone in Hollywood supports abortion. Here are a few outspoken pro-life advocates in the television and film industry -- not that their support has any bearing on whether our position is, in fact, true (except for Chuck Norris's):
Finally, former supermodel/actress Kathy Ireland (three times on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover) is an articulate pro-life spokeswoman. Here she is explaining her position to Mike Huckabee:

U.S. Senate to vote on defunding Planned Parenthood and Obamacare

From National Right to Life:
The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on Thursday, April 14, or Friday, April 15, on two special bills that are strongly supported by National Right to Life. Please follow the guidance below to call the offices of your two U.S. senators immediately to urge them to support these bills.

The first Senate vote will occur on House Concurrent Resolution 35, which would remove funding for the entire Obama health care law that was enacted in 2010. The Obama health care law contains multiple provisions that will, if fully implemented, result in government-imposed rationing of lifesaving medical care. In addition, the Obama health care law contains multiple provisions authorizing funding of abortion and funding of health plans that cover abortion.

The second Senate vote will occur on House Concurrent Resolution 36, which would cut off federal funds to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its affiliates. (This bill is similar to the Pence Amendment that was adopted by the House of Representatives on February 19; this will be the first time that the Senate has voted on this issue.) PPFA is the nation's largest abortion provider, reporting 332,278 abortions in 2009. It appears that abortion accounts for roughly one-third of the aggregate income generated by PPFA-affiliated clinics.

For more information on these two issues, please see the letter sent to the Senate by National Right to Life on April 12, posted here. (Note: The Senate cannot vote on the two bills until after the House of Representatives passes them, but that is likely to happen on April 14.)

Please call your senators today! Click here and use the "Call Now" box. When you enter your zip code, you will be shown the correct phone numbers to call for your two U.S. senators. You will also be shown a few short suggested "talking points" to use in your conversations with the senators' staff persons. In addition, you will be given an opportunity to easily send a short e-mail to National Right to Life, if you wish to do so, to report on how your call went.

Please call today, and ask your like-minded friends to do the same!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dr. John Wagner and human cloning deception

Today in the Star Tribune, spinal cord research advocate Jean Swenson provides a good overview of stem cell research. She notes the tremendous medical success with ethical stem cell research and the tremendous difficulties that render human cloning -- which would be banned by new MCCL-backed legislation -- without any real therapeutic justification. Swenson writes:
Passing the Human Cloning Prohibition Act will help ensure that limited public resources will not be used for futile, ineffective research purposes, but rather for those that are most beneficial to real people with real medical issues.
In an opposing viewpoint, University of Minnesota researcher Dr. John Wagner argues against the proposed human cloning ban.

Wagner begins by saying the bill would "criminalize lifesaving work at the University of Minnesota." It is difficult to see how that statement could possibly be justified. First, none of the current work at the University would be prohibited by the bill, as Wagner has himself explained in testimony -- the bill would merely prevent work that could potentially happen there in the future. Second, to call this theoretical, unproven future work "lifesaving" is absurd. The University is not even pursuing this "lifesaving" research. Possible future benefits are speculative at best, and virtually impossible (given the difficulties with human cloning research over the last decade) at worst.

John WagnerWagner says the bill is "a full-scale assault on stem cell research." Well, except that it would not affect any of the stem cell research happening in Minnesota. In fact, it could not affect any of the stem cell research that has ever occurred anywhere in the world, since scientists have yet to successfully derive stem cells from cloned human embryos (and it is the creation of cloned human embryos that would be banned by the bill).

Wagner says, "I know personally the power of stem cells and how they revolutionize the practice of medicine -- because I've done it." Yes, except that his success has been with ethically uncontroversial adult stem cells. The "power of stem cells" derived from cloned human embryos has not been established. There are very good reasons to think it will never be established, which is why some leading human cloning researchers have switched to more promising alternatives.

Finally, outrageously, nowhere in his op-ed does Wagner explain that we are not talking about the embryonic stem cell research that is currently happening, but rather about theoretical future embryonic stem cell research using stem cells from human embryos produced by cloning (so-called therapeutic cloning). He clearly leads the reader to believe that we are talking about the former. It is absolutely stunning that Dr. Wagner -- and the University he essentially represents -- would so blatantly mislead the public.

Citizens may disagree over the ethics of human cloning, but (I hope) we can all agree that Wagner's deception is way beyond the pale.

To see why I think the creation (and subsequent destruction) of new human organisms by cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer) should be banned, go here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The pressing need to defund Planned Parenthood

I have written about why Planned Parenthood should be denied the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars it currently receives. The debate over federal spending -- and a possible government shutdown -- is now coming to a head in Washington. The nation's leading performer and promoter of abortion must be defunded.

For an excellent summary of the key facts, see this report from the Chiaroscuro Foundation, titled "Does Planned Parenthood Need or Deserve Federal Funds?" In addition, several recent op-eds make the case for stripping Planned Parenthood of federal government money.

The first is by Alveda King and Gary Bauer. An excerpt:
[T]here's one group that isn't making the economic sacrifices most other Americans are making. Planned Parenthood, America's largest abortion business, receives $350 million annually from taxpayers in the form of government grants and contracts, even though it makes tens of millions of dollars in yearly profits.

A current proposal to defund Planned Parenthood might seem like just another skirmish in the culture war. But it ought to be seen as something more fundamental: the most basic measure of whether our government is serious about resolving its debt problem. ...

[L]avish public subsidies aren't the only reason to defund the abortion giant. In recent years, Planned Parenthood centers across the country have been exposed for committing a variety of offenses—including refusing to comply with statutory rape reporting laws and parental consent laws, performing illegal late-term abortions and overcharging clients on birth control. ...

[I]f our federal government won't say "no" to a scandal-ridden business that's already raking in tens of millions of dollars a year in profits, who will it say "no" to?
Second, former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson:
Though 98 percent of Planned Parenthood's services to pregnant women are abortion, Planned Parenthood and its political allies have sworn up and down that taxpayer dollars do not to pay for abortion. But of course they do. Planned Parenthood gets one-third of its entire budget from taxpayer funding and performed more than 650,000 abortions between 2008 and 2009. An abortion is expensive. Its cost includes pay for the doctor, supporting medical staff, their health benefits packages and malpractice insurance. As clinic director, I saw how money affiliate clinics receive from several sources is combined into one pot, not set aside for specific services.

Planned Parenthood's claim that abortions make up just 3 percent of its services is also a gimmick. That number is actually closer to 12 percent, but strategically skewed by unbundling family planning services so that each patient shows anywhere from five to 20 "visits" per appointment (i.e., 12 packs of birth control equals 12 visits) and doing the opposite with abortion visits, bundling them together so that each appointment equals one visit. The resulting difference between family planning and abortion "visits" is striking. ...

It also claims to help reduce the number of abortions. Not only is this not what Planned Parenthood actually accomplishes, but its goal couldn't be more opposite. As a Planned Parenthood clinic manager, I was directed to double the number of abortions our clinic performed in order to drive up revenue. In keeping, Planned Parenthood headquarters recently issued a directive mandating that all of its affiliates provide abortions by 2013. ...

[T]he organization is seeking to do away with ... reporting sex abuse of minors. It has sued to overturn a child abuse reporting law applying to minors under 14 on the grounds that it violated a girl's "constitutional right to privacy." Planned Parenthood called the bill unnecessary given that its medical personnel are already obliged to report such matters and that filing additional reports would only "overload" the government. Planned Parenthood doesn't want to bother the government with protecting minors. ...

With the Continuing Resolution battle before us, we can, at very least, stop making taxpayers perpetuate a culture that puts profit margins before women's safety. Congress has and must seize the opportunity to stop directing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to recipients who deliberately deceive the public and violate federal law.

Next, Rose Mimms and Randall K. O'Bannon:
Planned Parenthood argues that maintaining its government funding will reduce the numbers of abortion. In just the past twelve years, government funding at Planned Parenthood has more than doubled, with the number of abortions following pretty much the same track. According to its latest Annual Report, Planned Parenthood received $363.2 million in government grants and contracts in 2008. Clinics run by Planned Parenthood performed 332,278 abortions in 2009, the highest total ever recorded, according to a recent factsheet. This is the 15th year in a row the number of abortions has risen at Planned Parenthood.

Not surprisingly, the organization is putting even less emphasis on other "services" that would be considered alternatives to abortion. For example, the number of adoption referrals dropped from 2,405 in 2008 to just 977 for 2009. That's just over one referral for every clinic Planned Parenthood runs. As it stands, abortions outnumber adoption referrals at Planned Parenthood by a 340–1 margin. Women seeking prenatal care don't fare much better. According to Planned Parenthood’s own factsheet, just 7,021 Planned Parenthood clients received prenatal care in 2009—2,412 fewer than the previous year. Planned Parenthood's plans typically don't involve parenthood.
Last but not least, Rep. Mike Pence. An excerpt:
Despite efforts to suggest otherwise, the Pence Amendment [denying federal funds to Planned Parenthood] does not reduce funding for cancer screenings or eliminate one dime of funding for other important health services to women; the money that does not go to Planned Parenthood as a result of the Pence Amendment will go to other organizations that provide these services. If the Pence Amendment becomes law, thousands of women's health centers, clinics, and hospitals will still provide assistance to low-income families and women. The Pence Amendment would simply deny any and all federal funding to Planned Parenthood. ...

And for all the talk about how poor women would be harmed if taxpayers stopped subsidizing Big Abortion, it is telling to see how Planned Parenthood is spending its money. According to a June 2008 story in the Wall Street Journal, Planned Parenthood was flush with cash and using its profits to rebrand itself. The effort was designed to build the business by targeting wealthy consumers to complement their existing customer base of poor and minority populations. While taxpayers underwrite its operations, Planned Parenthood is building luxury health centers in shopping centers and malls, designed by marketing experts with touches such as hardwood floors, muted lighting, and large waiting rooms.

And Big Abortion routinely puts profits over women's health and safety. When women testify in favor of tightening safety standards at clinics, Planned Parenthood fights them. And despite the fact that 88 percent of Americans favor informed-consent laws that provide information about the risks of, and alternatives to, abortion for women, Planned Parenthood opposes these efforts and works to keep women in the dark. And tragically, in some instances, Planned Parenthood has refused to cooperate when law-enforcement officials have sought information to help girls they believed to be victims of child rape or molestation. ...

If supporters of Planned Parenthood wish to support the organization, they have every right to do so, but they should not expect everyone else to sign the check.

More states move to protect pain-capable unborn children

The following is from National Right to Life.

WASHINGTON – This week, Idaho became the latest state to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Yesterday, the Idaho state House of Representatives, by a 54-14 vote, approved the bill backed by the state's Senate chamber, and it is expected to be signed by the Governor as early as today. Also yesterday, the Oklahoma state Senate voted 38-8 to pass similar legislation, and it is expected to have full passage and a Governor’s signature as early as next week. Kansas, having passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in late March, will have their bill signed by Governor Sam Brownback on April 12th. The bills are modeled after legislation enacted last year by the Nebraska legislature.

"The science behind the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is sound, and when faced with the evidence, state legislatures recognize their responsibility to protect these smallest members of our society," said Mary Spaulding Bach, J.D., director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). "For several years, we have seen a growing trend of state legislatures moving to enact legislation that aids mothers and protects their unborn children. "

The model Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, drafted by NRLC's state legislation department, protects the life of the pain-capable unborn child at the point that they can feel pain (which is when the best, documented scientific evidence indicates to be 20 weeks after fertilization) except when the mother "has a condition which so complicates her medical condition as to necessitate the abortion of her pregnancy to avert death or to avert serious risk of substantial or irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function is necessary to preserve the life of an unborn child." Further documentation and links to the scientific studies can be found at

Many other states are also following the lead of Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho and Oklahoma. Today, there is a committee hearing being held on the bill in Oregon, it has been introduced in Massachusetts, and it is on the house floor in Minnesota and Alabama.

"The passage of pro-life legislation by state legislatures across the country reflects the shift we've seen in our culture. Most Americans are firmly opposed to the vast majority of abortions," said Spaulding Balch. "Life-affirming laws such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act demonstrate both the states vested interest in the lives of unborn children and the public's support for life-saving, protective laws."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The cloning debate: Is human SCNT ethical?

As we have written about here repeatedly, a bill under consideration in the Minnesota Legislature would prohibit the human cloning process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Opponents of the bill say that Minnesota researchers might one day (they do not currently) want to do human SCNT to create cloned human embryos (genetically virtually identical to the donor of genetic material) in order to then destroy those embryos for research purposes.

Is SCNT for research ethical? There are a host of serious ethical problems with human SCNT in general, as a group of scientists and bioethicists has pointed out in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings. (Suffice it to say that there is good reason for people to react as they do: "Human cloning? Yuck!") But I want to address what is clearly the overriding ethical issue in the debate over SCNT specifically for research: the moral status of the embryo who is used and killed.

Is the embryo a human being -- a living member of the species Homo sapiens? There is no doubt that the answer is yes. The embryo is a distinct, living and whole human organism in the embryonic stage of his or her (sex is determined) development. That's what a "human embryo" is. The development of every human organism, unless interrupted, is a continuous process from zygote to embryo to fetus to newborn to toddler and on toward maturity, requiring only a suitable environment and nutrition.

Given that the embryo is a living member of our species -- a human being -- how ought we treat him or her? My contention is that every human being, at every stage of development and regardless of age, size, ability and location, possesses profound, inherent and equal dignity and ought to be respected and protected, not dismembered for the benefit of others.

Some people do not agree. Sophisticated advocates of this view offer criteria for distinguishing between human beings who deserve basic moral respect (e.g., you and me) and human beings who do not (e.g., the embryo). They say that someone is deserving of respect not by virtue of who or what (i.e., the kind of being) she is, but because she has acquired certain properties (e.g., self-awareness) that are supposedly morally decisive.

The problem is that these proposed criteria (1) are arbitrary and self-serving, (2) inevitably exclude obvious examples of rights-bearing human beings, and (3) come in varying degrees, leaving no basis for equality even among those human beings who do "qualify" for basic rights. Such criteria confuse the functions characteristic of mature and healthy human beings with the basis for fundamental human value and dignity -- dignity that is possessed by humans simply by virtue of being human, not because they have achieved a certain degree of development or acquired a particular ability.

So: Given that the embryo is a valuable human being who ought to be treated accordingly, is SCNT for research ethically permissible? Clearly not. For we are now talking about the creation of new members of the human family specifically for the purpose of killing them and harvesting their useful parts, which could theoretically be used for the benefit of others (namely, their genetic twins). This is morally abhorrent -- it is the treatment of very young human beings as mere raw material to use for our own ends.

I challenge opponents of the cloning ban, especially researchers at the University of Minnesota, to offer some reasonable justification for treating the youngest members of our species in this way. If cloned human embryos are not human beings (in the biological sense), prove the embryology textbooks wrong. If they are human beings but have no moral value and no right not to be deliberately killed, why not? And why is your criteria morally significant? I suspect most advocates of human SCNT for research have done little or no serious thinking about this very serious issue.

One final note, about the therapeutic rationale for human SCNT: If I am correct about the moral status of the human embryo (above), then any scientific or therapeutic benefits of SCNT are beside the point, for they do not justify the killing of innocent human beings. Nazi doctors might have acquired useful knowledge or otherwise benefited from their gruesome experiments on human subjects, but that is not relevant to the morality of their actions. In any case, there doesn't appear to be any real therapeutic justification for human SCNT -- researchers in Minnesota have not even pursued it. Ethical research has turned out to be much more promising and effective.

More about the proposed human cloning ban:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Taxpayers forced to pay for more abortions in 2009

The following news release was issued today, April 4.

ST. PAUL — Its aggressive promotion of taxpayer-funded abortions is enriching the abortion industry with increased numbers and revenue, according to a just-released report from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). Nearly 32 percent (3,933) of all abortions performed in Minnesota in 2009 were paid for by taxpayers, at a cost of $1.58 million.

"There appears to be no limit to the abortion industry's marketing of abortion to poor women," said Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). "It is time to end abortionists' money grab at the expense of vulnerable women and their unborn children."

Nearly all of the numbers are up for taxpayer-funded abortions: Claims increased 4.8 percent over the previous year, total payments rose 5.4 percent, and the average cost per abortion rose to $403. In addition, the state paid more than ever for the cost of "treatment of incomplete induced abortions" — a total of $13,791. This amount is expected to continue to increase, according to DHS.

Planned Parenthood posted big gains once again. Its abortion center in the Highland neighborhood of St. Paul increased its taxpayer funded abortions by 7 percent in 2009. Planned Parenthood's abortion marketing efforts to low-income and minority women have yielded a staggering 153 percent increase in its publicly funded abortions since 2000.

Minnesota taxpayers have been required to fund elective abortions since the Minnesota Supreme Court's 1995 Doe v. Gomez ruling. In that decision, the Court created a state "right" to abortion on demand and obligated all taxpayers to fund abortions.

"Polls continue to show that most Minnesotans and most Americans are opposed to taxpayer funded abortions, yet they continue to be forced to pay for them," Fischbach said.

MCCL is working to pass a ban on taxpayer funded abortion. H.F. 201 / S.F. 103, authored by Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, and Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, would end this mistreatment of poor women, the killing of unborn children, and forcing taxpayers to fund it.

MCCL is Minnesota's oldest and largest pro-life organization with more than 70,000 member families and 240 chapters across the state. For more information about MCCL, visit

Friday, April 1, 2011

What does SCNT create? What is the therapeutic justification for it?

From the Pioneer Press today:
[T]he debate is about therapeutic cloning, which would create cells that are a genetic match of the patient, so the patient might later receive them in a transplant with almost no risk of the immune system rejecting them — a major risk in any transplant today.
This is misleading, for successful therapeutic cloning does not create just "cells," any more than I am merely a (much larger) "collection of cells." Rather, what we are talking about is an organism, a self-integrated whole with the internal resources and active disposition to develop himself or herself (sex is determined) to maturity, given the appropriate environment and nutrition. More specifically, she is a human organism -- a member of our species -- at the earliest stage of development.

Theoretically, the human organism resulting from cloning could then be killed in order to derive embryonic stem cells, which, as the Pioneer Press story notes, could theoretically be used in a patient transplant.

More from the story:
That value [of cloning] lies in how those cells — embryonic stem cells [from cloned human embryos] — can be directed to reproduce other cells in the body, such as heart muscle cells to potentially repair a damaged heart. There are other ways to harvest embryonic stem cells, but SCNT holds the best promise for how to create cells that won't be rejected by the patient — because they'll be genetically identical.
It's true that cloning could solve one of the (multiple) significant problems with embryonic stem cells -- immune rejection. But there is strangely no mention in the story of the induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) breakthrough from a few years ago. iPSCs are functionally identical to embryonic stem cells, and they are patient-specific, just like embryonic stem cells from a cloned embryo. There seems to be no difference, except that iPSCs already exist, are easier to use and are less expensive (not to mention they are ethically uncontroversial). That's why Dr. Oz told Oprah in early 2009 that "the stem cell debate is dead." That's why Dr. Ian Wilmut switched from therapeutic cloning to iPSCs.

More from the story:
[University of Minnesota researcher Dr. John Wagner] said critics who say advances in adult stem-cell research are rendering therapeutic cloning irrelevant are mistaken because it's uncertain whether adult stem cells can ever be made to mimic embryonic stem cells and because such a breakthrough, if possible, is "years away."
I'm not sure what Dr. Wagner is talking about, or whether he was misunderstood by the reporter. It's true that adult stem cells are not pluripotent, like embryonic stem cells -- it is actually that extra flexibility that causes embryonic stem cells to form tumors, while less-flexible adult stem cells have successfully treated many different medical conditions.

But if we are looking for pluripotent stem cells that are not embryonic, that breakthrough is not "years away" -- it happened years ago. And it was that breakthrough that caused many, such as former National Institutes of Health head Dr. Bernadine Healy, to say that embryonic stem cells (including embryonic stem cells derived from cloned embryos) are "obsolete."

Meanwhile, with embryonic stem-cell therapies in clinical trials, it could be sooner when a living patient's life or death might hinge on whether therapeutic cloning is legal or not.
True, embryonic stem cells are now in some trials, but they have not successfully treated anyone. Adult stem cells have been successfully treating patients for decades. Moreover, none of the embryonic stem cells in trials were taken from cloned human embryos. No stem cell trials taking place (or that have ever taken place) could have been affected by the bill under consideration, which would merely ban the creation of embryonic human beings by the cloning process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer.

More about the human cloning ban here, here and here.

Update on human cloning legislation

The following news release was issued today, April 1.

ST. PAUL — Advocates of protecting human life at every stage advanced the ban on funding of human cloning at the state Legislature this week. The human cloning funding ban, which would prevent state funding for the manufacture and destruction of cloned human beings, was included in both the House and Senate Higher Education appropriations omnibus bills, H.F. 1101 and S.F. 924. Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, authored an amendment adding the funding ban to the House Higher Education finance omnibus bill, which was approved. Both omnibus bills were passed on Tuesday.

In both cases, opponents of the legislation proposed amendments to weaken the measure or render its language meaningless. These amendments were defeated in the House and Senate.

The funding ban has precedent in state law. The 2009 Legislature passed a session law ban on funding of human cloning, which was signed by Gov. Pawlenty. This provision would need to be reauthorized every two years without a permanent ban on funding of human cloning.

Also this week, the Senate included language to ban human cloning in its Health and Human Services omnibus bill, S.F. 760, on Wednesday. An amendment to remove the protective language was defeated. The language to ban human cloning includes a misdemeanor penalty for violation of the ban.

The House and Senate will now work to resolve the differences between their omnibus bills. The final bills will then need approval by the full House and Senate before being sent to Gov. Dayton.

MCCL is Minnesota's oldest and largest pro-life organization with more than 70,000 member families and 240 chapters across the state. For more information about MCCL, visit