Friday, November 27, 2015

MCCL condemns violence in Colorado Springs

Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) vigorously condemns the shooting today at a Colorado Springs, Colo., Planned Parenthood facility. Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee (with which MCCL is affiliated), issued the following statement in response to today's tragedy:
National Right to Life, which represents 50 state affiliates and more than 3,000 local chapters, unequivocally condemns unlawful activities and acts of violence regardless of motivation. The pro-life movement works to protect the right to life and increase respect for human life. The unlawful use of violence is directly contrary to that goal.
MCCL works peacefully and legally through education, legislation, and political action to protect innocent human life from the violence of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. MCCL's official policy strongly forbids the use of any kind of violence or illegal activity.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Human embryos: Property or persons?

A judge ruled last week that a San Francisco woman's frozen embryos must be "thawed and discarded" against her wishes. The woman sought to gestate and raise the embryos, but her ex-husband, with whom she created the embryos through in vitro fertilization, wanted them destroyed. The couple had signed a consent form indicating that the embryos should be destroyed in the case of divorce, and Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo decided that the agreement is legally binding.

Massullo writes: "It is a disturbing consequence of modern biological technology that the fate of nascent human life, which the embryos in this case represent, must be determined in a court by reference to cold legal principles."

Legal disputes over the fate of frozen embryos—and over who "owns" them—seem increasingly common. A high-profile conflict is ongoing between actress Sofia Vergara and her ex-fiance, Nick Loeb. "When we create embryos for the purpose of life, should we not define them as life, rather than as property?" asks Loeb in a New York Times op-ed.

This is the fundamental issue at stake. The embryos in these legal cases are treated as property. They are treated as things. Things have merely instrumental or extrinsic value. We may use them for our own purposes or discard them if we feel like it. Things may be owned as property.

Persons, by contrast, have intrinsic value: they are valuable in themselves. They have rights. They are not objects to use but individuals whom we must respect. The great philosopher Immanuel Kant famously wrote: "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end."

Should we treat human embryos as property or persons?

Embryos are living human organisms (human beings) at the embryonic stage of their development. Under our law, however, they are not treated in the same way as older human children (infants, toddlers, adolescents). Simply being human is insufficient for protection. Human beings during the earliest developmental periods are not considered persons. All of us (at least those born after January 22, 1973) were once "non-persons" by law.

Our current legal situation, then, has effectively divided humanity into two categories: persons and things. Some members of our species are persons whom we respect and some members are things that may be owned, used, or killed by other members (those who do qualify as persons).

This should be alarming. As philosopher Christopher Kaczor observes, every instance throughout history in which such a division of humanity was implemented (e.g., slavery, genocide) is now recognized as a horrific moral mistake. Every single time. If those who today deny the value of human embryos are correct, it marks the first time in the history of the world that the division of human beings into persons and property is not a moral disaster.

What is the justification for this current discrimination? Embryonic human beings are tiny. They are less developed. They lack the cognitive abilities of older members of our species.

But none of these differences are morally significant. Big people are not more valuable than small people. A teenager does not have a greater right to life than a less-developed five-year-old. A toddler, who is self-aware, does not deserve more respect than a newborn baby, who cannot yet exercise higher mental functions.

Intrinsic value doesn't depend on age, size, or ability—any more than it depends on gender, race, ethnicity, or religion. When we treat some human beings as property, we prioritize differences that don't matter while dismissing the one characteristic that human beings have in common: We are all human. We are all the same kind of being. And that's what matters.

Human beings by nature are persons rather than property. We ought to treat our fellow members of the human family accordingly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The facts about dismemberment abortion in Minnesota

The primary method of abortion during the second trimester of pregnancy is called dilation and evacuation (D & E). It essentially involves dismembering the young human being in utero. Instruments are used to grasp parts of the fetus and tear them out piece by piece. Afterward, the body parts are examined on a tray to make sure nothing is left inside the mother.

Last year, 704 D & E abortions took place in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. It is the third most common abortion technique in the state and the main method during the second trimester. A total of 993 abortions occurred at 14 weeks gestation or later in 2014, including 174 at 20 weeks or later (the latest abortion took place at 27 weeks). These 20-week abortions are at least mostly D & E procedures.

In the U.S. Supreme Court's Stenberg v. Carhart decision (2000), Justice Anthony Kennedy (who in 1992 voted to uphold Roe v. Wade) summarizes the method:
As described by [well-known late-term abortion practitioner] Dr. [Leroy] Carhart, the D & E procedure requires the abortionist to use instruments to grasp a portion (such as a foot or hand) of a developed and living fetus and drag the grasped portion out of the uterus into the vagina. Dr. Carhart uses the traction created by the opening between the uterus and vagina to dismember the fetus, tearing the grasped portion away from the remainder of the body. ... The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn limb from limb. The fetus can be alive at the beginning of the dismemberment process and can survive for a time while its limbs are being torn off. Dr. Carhart agreed that "[w]hen you pull out a piece of the fetus, let's say, an arm or a leg and remove that, at the time just prior to removal of the portion of the fetus, ... the fetus [is] alive." Dr. Carhart has observed fetal heartbeat via ultrasound with "extensive parts of the fetus removed," and testified that mere dismemberment of a limb does not always cause death because he knows of a physician who removed the arm of a fetus only to have the fetus go on to be born "as a living child with one arm." At the conclusion of a D & E abortion no intact fetus remains. In Dr. Carhart's words, the abortionist is left with "a tray full of pieces."
In 2013 testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee, Dr. Anthony Levatino, a former practitioner of abortion, describes how he performed the procedure:
Imagine if you can that you are a pro-choice obstetrician/gynecologist like I once was. Your patient today is 24 weeks pregnant. At twenty-four weeks from last menstrual period, her uterus is two finger-breadths above the umbilicus. If you could see her baby, which is quite easy on an ultrasound, she would be as long as your hand plus a half from the top of her head to the bottom of her rump not counting the legs. Your patient has been feeling her baby kick for the last 2 month or more but now she is asleep on an operating room table and you are there to help her with her problem pregnancy.

The first task is remove the laminaria that had earlier been placed in the cervix to dilate it sufficiently to allow the procedure you are about to perform. With that accomplished, direct your attention to the surgical instruments arranged on a small table to your right. The first instrument you reach for is a 14-French suction catheter. It is clear plastic and about nine inches long. It has a bore through the center approximately 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Picture yourself introducing this catheter through the cervix and instructing the circulating nurse to turn on the suction machine which is connected through clear plastic tubing to the catheter. What you will see is a pale yellow fluid that looks a lot like urine coming through the catheter into a glass bottle on the suction machine. This is the amniotic fluid that surrounded the baby to protect her.

With suction complete, look for your Sopher clamp. This instrument is about thirteen inches long and made of stainless steel. At the business end are located jaws about 2 1/2 inches long and about 3/4 of an inch wide with rows of sharp ridges or teeth. This instrument is for grasping and crushing tissue. When it gets hold of something, it does not let go. A second trimester D & E abortion is a blind procedure. The baby can be in any orientation or position inside the uterus. Picture yourself reaching in with the Sopher clamp and grasping anything you can. At twenty-four weeks gestation, the uterus is thin and soft so be careful not to perforate or puncture the walls. Once you have grasped something inside, squeeze on the clamp to set the jaws and pull hard—really hard. You feel something let go and out pops a fully formed leg about six inches long. Reach in again and grasp whatever you can. Set the jaw and pull really hard once again and out pops an arm about the same length. Reach in again and again with that clamp and tear out the spine, intestines, heart and lungs.

The toughest part of a D & E abortion is extracting the baby's head. The head of a baby that age is about the size of a large plum and is now free floating inside the uterine cavity. You can be pretty sure you have hold of it if the Sopher clamp is spread about as far as your fingers will allow. You will know you have it right when you crush down on the clamp and see white gelatinous material coming through the cervix. That was the baby's brains. You can then extract the skull pieces. Many times a little face will come out and stare back at you. ... If you refuse to believe that this procedure inflicts severe pain on that unborn child, please think again.
Click to enlarge. 
Copyright © 2015 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc. 
All rights reserved.
In his widely used textbook Abortion Practice, abortion practitioner Warren Hern acknowledges: "Another disadvantage of the D & E procedure is that it is objectionable to physicians and their assistants. ... It is clear that the D & E procedure ... is an emotionally stressful experience for many" (p. 134).

Nucleus Medical Media offers a medical illustration of a D & E abortion of a 23-week-old fetus (right). The procedure is explained in clinical detail in the textbook Management of Unintended and Abnormal Pregnancy, published in 2009 by the National Abortion Federation.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Latest global maternal mortality estimates show continuing need for improved care

The World Health Organization (WHO) has just released its latest estimates of maternal mortality, "Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2015." Millennium Development Goal (MGD) 5A sought to reduce maternal mortality by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015. The world did not meet that target, although it made significant progress.

While acknowledging that "accurate measurement of maternal mortality levels remains an immense challenge," WHO estimates that the global maternal mortality ratio (MMR; maternal deaths per 100,000 live births) fell almost 44 percent over the last 25 years. Nevertheless, approximately 303,000 maternal deaths occurred in 2015. About 99 percent them took place in developing regions, with 66 percent occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. The MMRs were highest in sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania and Southern Asia. Among countries, Nigeria and India had the most maternal deaths, while Sierra Leone had the highest MMR.

The new data further discredit the claim that legalizing abortion is necessary to reduce mortality rates. For example, Ireland, Poland, Malta, Chile, Kuwait, Libya and the United Arab Emirates ban most or all abortions and have very low MMRs (all but one have a lower MMR than the United States). And of the nine countries that actually achieved MGD 5A, a majority of them did so while generally prohibiting abortion. Maternal mortality simply does not depend on the legality or availability of abortion. It depends, instead, on the quality of maternal health care before, during and after childbirth. Women's lives are saved by improving care—not by legalizing or promoting abortion.

The WHO report concludes: "Among countries where maternal death counts remain high, the challenge is clear. Efforts to save lives must be accelerated and must also be paired with country-driven efforts to accurately count lives and record deaths." The Sustainable Development Goals now aim to reduce the global MMR to 70 by 2030. This is possible—but only if we focus on the measures that actually save lives.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Maximize your pro-life impact on Nov. 12

Thursday, Nov. 12, is Give to the Max Day in Minnesota.

Beginning at midnight and all day Thursday, donations to MCCL through will be doubled, dollar for dollar, up to $25,000. Donation activity also boosts MCCL's chances to win a cash prize from GiveMN.

Your generous gift will expand our pro-life educational work and help save lives. Use MCCL's GiveMN fundraising page to make a secure credit card gift. (Donations to the MCCL Education Fund are tax deductible.)

Nov. 12 is the day to maximize your impact for life. Thank you for your support!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The reality of human cloning

The following first ran in the September-October 2015 issue of MCCL News.

By Paul Stark

In 2013, researchers at Oregon Health & Science University announced a major scientific breakthrough. They had, for the first time, successfully derived stem cells from cloned human embryos. Today, the creation and destruction of cloned embryos takes place in several laboratories around the country.

Few people are aware of this research, the ethical problems it raises, or the disturbing practices to which it could lead. The dangers are spelled out in "The Threat of Human Cloning: Ethics, Recent Developments, and the Case for Action," an important new report by the Witherspoon Council on Ethics and the Integrity of Science. We ought to heed the warning.

What is cloning?

Cloning researchers employ a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer—the same process famously used to create Dolly the cloned sheep in 1996. It involves removing the nucleus from an egg and replacing it with the nucleus from a somatic cell (a regular body cell, such as a skin cell), which provides a full complement of 46 chromosomes. The egg is then stimulated and, if successful, begins dividing as a new organism at the earliest (embryonic) developmental stages. This new individual is genetically (virtually) identical to the person from whom the somatic cell was taken. It is a human clone.

Theoretically, a cloned human embryo could be implanted in a uterus and allowed to develop into a fetus, infant, child and so on. The Witherspoon report calls this "cloning-to-produce-children" (often dubbed "reproductive cloning"). Almost everyone opposes it, and it is not yet practically feasible.

Alternatively, a cloned human embryo can be destroyed at the blastocyst stage (about five days after creation) in order to derive stem cells for research purposes. This is cloning-for-biomedical-research (usually called "therapeutic cloning"). And, following the breakthrough in 2013, it is happening right now.

Cloning is unnecessary

So what are the problems with this research? First, it is unnecessary. Scientists long sought cloned human embryos because their pluripotent stem cells would be genetically matched to potential patients (whose genetic material could be used to create the embryos). In 2007, however, researchers found a way to reprogram regular adult cells to become virtually equivalent to embryonic stem cells. These induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are genetically identical to the prospective patients from whom they are derived. So they have the same theoretical advantages as stem cells from cloned embryos—but without the creation and destruction of embryonic human beings.

The advent of this ethical alternative diminished the demand for human cloning. Cloning research continued, though, and the Oregon announcement rejuvenated it. But there is no compelling medical rationale for human cloning.

Cloning is wrong

Second, cloning for research is unethical. The science of embryology establishes that cloned embryos are living human organisms; they are members of the species Homo sapiens at the earliest developmental stages. Each of us was once an embryo. And all human beings—regardless of age, size, appearance, location (e.g., a petri dish) and method of creation—have intrinsic value and deserve respect. They are not raw material to treat as a mere means to an end. They should not be killed so that their parts can be used for the theoretical benefit of others.

Cloning is even worse than ordinary embryo-destructive research (which utilizes leftover embryos from fertility clinics). Cloning is the deliberate manufacturing of human beings solely in order to exploit and destroy them. It is a total commodification of human life.

Cloning also requires harvesting large numbers of eggs from women. This process poses risks to women's health and can threaten their future fertility. And the offer of payment for eggs can lead to the exploitation of low-income women.

Cloning is dangerous

Third, research cloning enables other morally problematic activities. It lays the technical groundwork for cloning-to-produce-children, which raises a host of ethical concerns. It could lead to fetal farming—growing cloned embryos to a later stage so that their valuable organs can be harvested for research or transplantation. And cloning technology may facilitate the genetic engineering of children, as it already has animals.

These are among the reasons why the Witherspoon Council calls for a complete ban on human cloning. MCCL helped to pass such a ban in Minnesota in 2011, but it was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton. The threat is greater now than it was then. Human cloning is unnecessary, unethical and dangerous, and it ought to be stopped.