Vol. 14, No. 3 Sept-Oct 2003
In this issue...
Human life is under assault today on many fronts. For the most up-to-date Catholic perspectives on these conflicts, you need look no further than the U.S. bishops' 2003-2004 Respect Life Program, newly released in anticipation of Respect Life Sunday, October 5, 2003.
This year's theme, Life is a Miracle, reminds us of a simple truth that many have forgotten. Before we succumb to the ethic of researchers who brazenly create, manipulate and destroy embryonic human lives, the American public should reflect with awe on the miraculous process by which one-celled human embryos become doctors, teachers, firefighters, and members of Congress.
We need to recover a true appreciation for daily acts of heroism and love, and for the creative spirit that animates the human species alone of all creatures. When we observe that every human being is utterly unique (even identical twins have different fingerprints, facial expressions and personalities), can we not conclude that the intentional destruction of an embryo – whether in a womb or a Petri dish – is an incalculable loss to humanity? And that the destructive act itself fuels a materialistic view of human life, in which every human being is dispensable if a burden or inconvenience to someone else?
Such a view came into prominence after the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Although the decision is unquestionably one of the worst in Supreme Court history – on moral and legal grounds – many people believe it unassailable. The "constitutional" right to privacy deemed broad enough to encompass the abortion decision has attained a stature equal to bedrock American principles like freedom of speech and trial by jury. The abortion industry has drummed this message into us for 30 years. Allegiance to Roe is used as a litmus test by some politicians to evaluate judicial nominees. Despite high recommendations from the American Bar Association, several nominees are being blocked from Senate consideration because it is known (or merely suspected) that they disapprove of Roe.
In the lead Respect Life article, "Ten Legal Reasons to Reject Roe," Susan Wills, Esq. notes the nearly unanimous opinion of legal scholars, including those who support abortion, that the Roe decision has no basis in the Constitution. The article summarizes ten of the most egregious legal and factual errors in Roe, demonstrating that 1) on legal grounds alone the decision should be overturned, and 2) it is ludicrous to base a nominee's fitness for public service on adherence to a patently unconstitutional and immoral ruling.
Abortion lobbyists have perpetuated another myth: that feminists support abortion "rights." Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life, is winning many converts to the pro-life cause, especially among collegians, by presenting the truth: the early feminists, and true feminists today, see abortion as a violation of both mother and child. "The primary reasons women ... turn to abortion," Ms. Foster writes, "are lack of financial resources and lack of emotional support." The pro-life community has helped fill these needs, enabling countless women to make a life-affirming choice. Still, our society can and should do much more because, as Feminists for Life insists: "Women deserve better" than abortion.
F. Michael Gloth III, M.D., a board-certified practitioner in hospice and palliative care, a professor of medicine and former president of the Hospice Network of Maryland inter alia, has been lending his time and expertise to the fight against physician-assisted suicide and for improved care of the dying. In "Physician-Assisted Suicide: The Wrong Approach to End of Life Care," Dr. Gloth offers a status report on legal and medical developments in the area. He points to a steady improvement in pain relief, especially in states that have banned physician-assisted suicide and provided a safe haven for doctors who dispense medications for pain control.
Supporters of human cloning "for research" routinely describe the conflict as pitting enlightened individuals who wish to advance science and medicine against Christians who oppose science and technology out of fear and ignorance. Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, refutes that charge in "Human Cloning vs. Human Dignity" and explains the ways that human cloning threatens human life and dignity. Mr. Doerflinger explains that cloning for research will result in "much outright destruction of life" while inevitably fueling the Faustian mentality that humans are objects for our control.
The question of funding the U.N. Population Fund ("UNFPA") is a perennial battle in Congress. Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, debunks the overpopulation myth and describes UNFPA's role in initiating and perpetuating coercive population control methods even today. He points out that credible demographers, including the U.N. Population Division, have "sounded the alarm about below replacement fertility" and a future demographic inversion, with fewer young people working than are needed to support the growing population of elderly retirees.
In "Political Responsibility: The Virtue of Rugged Hope," Michael A. Taylor examines the long tradition of Catholic teaching which exhorts Catholics to participate as citizens in the political community. Mr. Taylor, executive director of the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, notes that people are motivated to participate in public life because they care about promoting justice, protecting life and enhancing the common good. These goals necessarily involve moral judgments. Catholics today must resist growing secularist efforts to silence their voices in the public square with the accusation that Catholics are trying to "impose their religion" on others. Catholics in public life need not, and indeed must not, abandon principles informed by their faith – especially on issues of fundamental human rights and justice – on the pretext that they represent a diverse constituency. All citizens benefit from having public officials who believe in the sanctity and dignity of human life and govern accordingly.
In "We Forgive Those who Trespass Against Us," Maureen Kramlich recounts the personal stories of parents whose children were murdered, yet experienced the grace to forgive the killers and even to advocate against the death penalty.
As an added bonus this year, a clear and insightful column answering "The Question of Imperfect Legislation" by the late Cardinal John O'Connor is included in every packet.
Posters, clip art and a liturgy guide can be purchased separately or as part of an expanded packet, the "Complete Set."
Respect Life materials can be ordered from the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities Fulfillment Center by calling 866/ 582-0943 (toll free). They are available, in English and Spanish, in straight text format at www.usccb.org/prolife/programs/rlp.
"The United Nations Children's Fund: Women or Children First?" is the latest in a series of research papers by Douglas A. Sylva, Ph.D. of The International Organizations Research Group. Dr. Sylva's findings concerning activities of the U.N. Children's Fund ("UNICEF") are as frightening as anything you'll see this Halloween.
Few international organizations have enjoyed the reputation, support and goodwill UNICEF earned in the 1980s and early 1990s under the leadership of James P. Grant. Determined to cut child mortality rates in half by 2000, Grant instituted an audacious four-part program: growth monitoring (to detect malnutrition), oral rehydration (to treat diarrhea), breastfeeding, and immunizations against "vaccine-preventable diseases" such as TB, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles. A former colleague of Grant's estimates that the lives of 25 million children have been spared thanks to the programs he put in place. His death in 1995 was an incalculable loss.
In 1995, on the recommendation of President Clinton, Carol Bellamy began the first of two 5-year terms as Executive Director of UNICEF, overseeing an annual income of over $1.2 billion.
When Ms. Bellamy served as a member of the New York State Senate (1973-1977), she distinguished herself as an extreme abortion advocate, voting against such measures as parental consent, a medical conscience clause, and even a bill protecting aborted infants who are born alive.
By November 1996, UNICEF's reported involvement in abortion advocacy and the distribution of contraceptives to adolescents prompted the Holy See to suspend its annual contribution to UNICEF. The suspension continues today.
Among Dr. Sylva's findings: UNICEF has collaborated with other UN agencies in drafting and publishing documents that call for "safe and legal abortion," "safe services for pregnancy termination," and the distribution of emergency contraceptives that can act as abortifacients to refugees. In addition, UNICEF has helped fund a number of problematic programs run by organizations like the Population Council, advocate of population control and holder of the U.S. patent rights to distribute RU-486, and Marie Stopes International and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, two high-volume abortion providers.
UNICEF has been involved in the funding and distribution of contraceptives (both condoms and hormonal contraceptives), manual vacuum aspiration kits (to perform abortion without electricity), and sterilization supplies and services.
Readers are invited to visit www.c-fam.org, website of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, where one can download the entire report and its 8-page executive summary.
"There's no quick fix for pregnancy, no magic pill," Holly Patterson's sobbing father told reporters on September 19, two days after she died from a massive bacterial infection following a failed RU-486 abortion (Brewer, "Family Blames RU-486 in Woman's Death," Contra Costa Times, 9/20).
About 7 weeks' pregnant on September 10, Holly visited Planned Parenthood in Hayward, California. She was given a dose of Mifeprex, the knock-off brand of RU-486 made in China and distributed in the U.S. by Danco Laboratories. RU-486 causes a complete abortion only about 60% of the time, leaving a patient vulnerable to serious infection and hemorrhaging. For this reason, a second drug (Cytotec in the U.S.) must be taken about 48 hours after RU-486 to cause uterine contractions which help expel the embryo.
Under the protocol approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Cytotec should be given orally and under medical supervision. But some Planned Parenthood clinics and abortionists, who apparently can't be bothered with multiple visits and monitoring women on site, tell patients like Holly to administer the drug vaginally, at home, without such supervision.
This laissez-faire approach markedly differs from protocols mandated in other countries where RU-486 is legal, such as France, China, Sweden and the U.K. These countries require patients to be monitored by medical staff for four hours or longer after taking Cytotec (or a similar drug) to ensure that no cardiac complications or severe allergic reactions occur, and to determine if the embryo has been expelled (see note 26, www.ru486facts.org/index.cfm?page=visit2).
Holly took Cytotec at home on Saturday (Brewer, "Father wants answers on his daughter's death," Mercury News, 9/23). By Sunday, she was "bleeding severely, in acute pain and unable to walk" (Guthrie, "Pregnant teen's death under investigation," S.F. Chronicle, 9/19). Unfortunately, these symptoms may not alert emergency room staff to potentially life-threatening complications because heavy bleeding and painful cramping are exactly what's expected in an RU-486 abortion. And so, when Holly's boyfriend took her late Sunday to Valley Care Medical Center (VCMC), she was sent home with painkillers.
In the early hours of Wednesday, September 17, Holly returned to VCMC. That afternoon she died from septic shock, the result of a massive systemic infection. The attending physician told her father that the infection developed because she "hadn't aborted all of the fetus, and she had fragments left in her" (Guthrie, supra).
Predictably, Planned Parenthood concedes nothing beyond the established fact that a patient "who recently sought health care services" at a Planned Parenthood "health care center" died "at a hospital in Pleasanton." A mere coincidence, really, and anyway she died at a hospital, not one of their "health care centers."
And Danco Laboratories, the U.S. distributor of mifepristone (RU-486) under the brand name Mifeprex, can be expected to deny any link between the drugs and Holly's death. Following a similar death in September 2001, Danco insisted that RU-486 did not cause the septic shock which killed a woman taking part in Canadian drug trials. And that's technically true, of course. The infections are caused by dead human embryos or parts thereof which are not fully expelled. So the fault lies with the embryos –not with the drug that successfully killed them but proved less than successful in evacuating them.
Although Danco has sent the FDA about 400 reports of "adverse events" related to RU-486 – ranging from excessive bleeding to bacterial infections and death – Danco maintains the drugs are "safe." It seems that safety is a very subjective and flexible concept. "Mifepristone Questions and Answers," an FDA fact sheet, cautions: "Patients should also understand that safe does not mean risk free."
The average patient, the average teen is not likely to understand she may be risking her life by taking RU-486 when she's repeatedly exposed to statements like these:
"It's what women have wanted for years: a safe and effective way to end pregnancy – taken orally, without surgery – early on" and
"It's the first [FDA] approved pill providing women with a safe and effective non-surgical option for ending early pregnancy" (www.earlyoptionpill.com).
The FDA's mifepristone fact sheet explains that the agency "will approve a drug if it determines that the benefits exceed the risks for the approved use." But exactly what benefit exceeded the risks to Holly, or to a 15-year old girl whose "adverse event" report describes a "life-threatening hospitalization" and symptoms such as: abdominal pain, adult respiratory distress syndrome, lung infiltration, pelvic pain, purulence, and septic thrombophlebitis? Where was the benefit to a dozen other girls and women described in RU-486 adverse event reports, who experienced "failed" or incomplete abortions which "required intervention to prevent permanent impairment/damage"?
These are not isolated events. A major World Health Organization (WHO) study documented the infection risk associated with RU-486 abortions: 30% of women who had incomplete RU-486 abortions developed pelvic/genital tract infections. The reason for this high infection rate: one side effect of the RU-486 drug combination is immune system suppression. For this reason, the WHO study calls for women to receive antibiotics for six weeks following an RU-486 abortion. (World Health Organization, "Pregnancy Termination with Mifepristone and Gemeprost: A Multicenter Comparison ...," Fertility and Sterility 56:1, 1990, at 40).
In April 2002, Danco sent out an FDA-approved "dear doctor" letter warning of safety issues associated with prescribing RU-486, i.e., undetected ectopic pregnancies and bacterial infections which had resulted in patient deaths, and informing them of a 21-year-old woman who suffered a heart attack three days after taking RU-486 (www.fda.gov/medwatch/safety/2002/mifeprex_deardoc.pdf).
But you won't find that in the promotional materials.
The current FDA protocol requires that patients return two weeks after taking RU-486 so the physician can verify a complete termination and the absence of complications. But Holly Patterson and the Canadian patient who died from septic shock didn't live long enough for the follow-up appointment.
The WHO study, the dozen adverse event reports of failed/incomplete abortions, and two fatalities from septic shock should make it clear that the RU-486/Cytotec drug regimen is not safe in the hands of teenagers. Nor is it safe in the hands of abortion facility staff, who leave it up to frightened girls to determine if a life-threatening complication is developing.
Moreover, the mode of action and side-effects of RU-486/Cytotec mask the very symptoms that would alert medical personnel to life-threatening complications like ectopic pregnancy, incomplete abortion, and uncontrolled bleeding (which nearly cost an Iowa woman her life during U.S. drug trials). Thus RU-486 abortions would be unsafe even if the current FDA protocols were followed.
These risks inherent in RU-486 abortions simply do not outweigh the sole purported "benefit" of ridding oneself of pregnancy without a surgical abortion. Last year those risks were detailed and documented in a Citizen Petition to the FDA filed by the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Christian Medical Association, and Concerned Women for America (http://www.cwfa.org/articles/3355/CWA/life/index.htm). Had the FDA acted on the Petition, Holly might still be alive.
Although Holly was living at home, her father did not learn of her pregnancy and abortion until a few hours before she died. He wants to tell teenage girls who become pregnant that "no matter what, no matter how bad things are, talk with family and friends. We will support you. Family has the strength to pull you through anything...."
Anything, perhaps, other than a "safe and effective" RU-486 abortion.
is a publication of the NCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities
3211 Fourth Street, N.E.Washington, DC 20017-1194
Phone (202) 541-3070; Facsimile (202) 541-3054
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*The materials contained within are intended for use by the Catholic dioceses and organizations, and permission is not required for reproduction or use by them. All other uses must be authorized. For reprints, questions, or comments contact Susan E. Wills, at the above address.