Vol. 10, No. 2 February 1999
Science Without Conscience
A class action lawsuit was filed mid-February in federal district court against Bayer AG, the German pharmaceutical giant. Eva Mozes Kor, the named plaintiff, founded an organization devoted to the 112 Auschwitz survivors of the deadly research carried out by Dr. Josef Mengele and others in Nazi concentration camps.
From archives found at Auschwitz and academic research, it appears that Bayer played an active role in harmful experiments on those confined to concentration camps. The suit alleges that Bayer paid Nazi officials for access to prisoners, monitored and supervised medical experiments at Auschwitz, and bought inmates from the Nazis for use in their own experiments.
Eva and her twin sister Miriam, born in Transylvania in 1934, were brought to Auschwitz at age nine. There, they became one of 1,500 sets of twins subjected to grotesque experiments. The suit states: "Bayer provided toxic chemicals to the Nazis. ... Some of those experiments involved injecting concentration camp inmates with toxic chemicals and germs known to cause diseases in order to test the effectiveness of various drugs made by Bayer" (L.A. Times, Feb. 18, 1999, p. A-18).
To test the effect of the bacteria, chemicals or viruses on the injected twin, it was often necessary to kill both twins and perform autopsies on them. Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops, just ten months after Eva and Miriam had arrived there. But in this short time, it is alleged that Miriam's kidneys were damaged and never grew to normal adult size. She died in 1993 of kidney disease.
What has this atrocity to do with us?
It has more to do with us than many like to think. From the Tuskegee syphilis experiments on black Americans to our government's cold war radiation experiments on unconsenting women and unborn children, American researchers have shown that they, too, are tempted to treat fellow humans as mere research material unless society sounds the alarm.
Today there is another group of humans who are considered "discards," who some intelligent, rational people think could be useful subjects for lethal experimentation in the cause of advancing medical knowledge. Today's discards are the "unwanted" embryos in fertility clinics around the world.
Notwithstanding the law banning federal funding of such research, and with disconcerting speed, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and several U.S. biotechnology companies are drumming up support for research which involves killing human embryos to obtain their stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells are the fast-growing, undifferentiated cells which make up the inner cell mass of a week-old embryo and are capable of producing the variety of specialized cell types brain, muscle, blood, and liver, for example.
The act of "isolating"or harvesting embryonic stem cells necessarily kills the embryo. The process goes like this: After a human embryo is artificially created in the lab through in vitro fertilization (IVF) or somatic cell nuclear transfer (cloning), he or she develops for about five days to the blastocyst stage. The blastocyst consists of an outer ring of cells the trophoblast which will ultimately form the placenta and an "inner cell mass." Extracting these inner cells results in the embryo's death as surely as if you cut out a child's heart and lungs.
Since 1995, Congress has prohibited the use of federal funds (1) to create human embryos for research purposes and (2) for "research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death..." The ban was enacted in reaction to morally objectionable proposals for embryo research made in 1994 by the NIH's Human Embryo Research Panel (HERP).
How are advocates of such research, in government and industry, hoping to circumvent the ban? By smoke and mirrors: Pay no attention to what we're doing in the lab, just keep your eyes on all the potential medical benefits. Benefits like miracle cures for diseases that strike terror in the hearts of aging baby boomers: Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, stroke, cancer. Benefits like growing organs for transplant and cell rejuvenation.
Certainly no one could be insensitive to the suffering of those afflicted with debilitating illnesses. Everyone ought to be excited about the possibility of developing treatments that might alleviate suffering, restore full health and prolong life. But such treatments must not be bought at the price of other human lives. A human life is inherently sacred and inviolable at every stage, whether her body consists of one cell or millions. And, as we shall see, all such destruction is unnecessary for medical progress.
The blueprint for the campaign to advance destructive embryo research was suggested at the December 1, 1994 meeting of the Advisory Committee to the Director of NIH, where HERP members first offered their recommendations for approval. Panel members were visibly annoyed at the negative public reaction to this research, which they attributed to public "ignorance ... manipulated into public hostility."
The Advisory Committee members recommended ways of overcoming public opposition. First, focus on the possibility of curing diseases which have eluded standard medical solutions. Dr. John Trojanowski, member of the National Advisory Committee on Aging, stated that "disease groups" (associations that seek charitable contributions and tax dollars to support education and research in a particular disease) should be enlisted to tell their members and other citizens that embryo research holds the promise of a cure for their specific disease. Dr. Richard Corlin (of the American Medical Association) developed that idea a step further:
"[Let us] do our homework to determine which people in Congress the new leadership, the majority leadership particularly, and also on the committees to whom you will have to make presentations have family members with which particular illnesses and make individual visits to them to background them and brief them and discuss their particular family history concerns prior to the hearing."
In other words, promise a cure for the particular disease in which they have a personal stake.
Second, take an incremental approach, beginning with an area of research that the "public would be persuaded were valuable," one not overtly repellant like cloning or human/animal hybrids. Dr. Trojanowski offered the development of embryonic cell lines as such a "flagship issue." And so it came to pass that in December 1998 and January 1999, Senator Arlen Specter, chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor and Health and Human Services, obliged with three hearings to showcase advocates ranging from suffering patients and disease group lobbyists to malleable bioethicists and biotech company executives.
At two of these hearings the task fell to Richard Doerflinger of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities to call a spade a spade in this case, to remind the scientific community that while an embryonic human stem cell is not a human organism, it can be acquired only at the expense of a human life.
Richard defended the clear intent of federal laws in response to a legal memo by HHS general counsel Harriet Rabb, which offered tortured interpretations of statutes and novel definitions of "human being" to argue that the ban on funding embryo research allows funding of research which requires destroying embryos to obtain stem cells. HHS argues, for example, that it's perfectly valid to use private funds to destroy embryos for their stem cells, then use federal funds to obtain the ill-gotten cells for further research. Under this cockeyed reasoning, funding is banned only if it pays directly for the killing ignoring the statute's clear ban on funding any part of a research project in which embryos are destroyed. It's ludicrous to think Congress would forbid a lethal act done by Dr. Y, but allow Dr. Y to hire an assassin X to kill the same victim.
Another argument in the HHS memo is that a human embryo is not an "organism" unless it is proved that the embryo would have become a "human being" if implanted in a woman's womb. Dr. Harold Varmus, NIH director, went so far as to argue that a "human being" is "an entire mature organism," a definition that would exclude the majority of teenagers. Some researchers have already offered to engineer lethal defects in advance into the embryos they create for research so they would fall outside this new definition of "organism" and be subject to every form of lethal experiment.
Finding Cures Without Killing
Ironically, it seems the medical advances thought to justify stem cell research are possible without using embryonic cells. Research using stem cells taken from adults and miscarried children, such as bone marrow cells, has already produced medical breakthroughs and offers promising avenues for future cures.
For example, a team of Canadian and Italian scientists destroyed the bone marrow in a group of mice so they could no longer produce blood cells. Into some of these mice, they injected neural stem cells from healthy mice, which most scientists have thought to be programmed to create only the three types of cells found in brain tissue. They were able to show that the neural stem cells metamorphosed into the blood-making stem cells needed by the mice lacking bone marrow. This raises the possibility that stem cells from a patient's own tissues might be used in the future to create whatever type of tissue needed by that patient, avoiding transplant rejection problems.
Another example: Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have opened up new avenues for research into the enzyme telomerase. The enzyme prolongs cell life 400%, enabling cells to live and divide like young cells. In the future, doctors may be able to grow skin grafts for patients from their own skin cells, grow insulin-producing cells for diabetics, and muscle tissue for those with muscular dystrophy.
Also, surgeons at Tufts University in Boston and Emory University in Atlanta have begun experimenting with gene therapy on patients with blocked arteries to the heart. Nineteen of 20 patients who have received injections of growth factor have successfully grown new blood vessels, reducing their chest pain and the need for angioplasty and bypass surgery.
None of these promising therapies requires the killing of humans, but that point seems insignificant to the NIH in its pursuit of funds for research using embryonic stem cells. Dr. Varmus has said that, on the basis of the HHS memo denying any legal impediment, NIH will prepare guidelines and distribute funds for such research. Seventy members of the House of Representatives and seven Senators have already written to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala opposing these plans. It remains to be seen if Congress and the American public will muster enough outrage to prevent the Administration's planned use of human embryos for research and destruction.
When abortion promoters publicly lament the country's pro-life shift, one has to fight the temptation to give in to Schadenfreude. Now that gloating has been elevated to an unpardonable crime in Washington, D.C., we take the precaution of advising that the following complaints, made by two leading abortion advocates, are reported with utmost humility and absolutely no trace of a smirk.
The Center for Gender Equality (CGE), which Faye Wattleton (formerly director of Planned Parenthood) now heads, commissioned a poll to determine the "Impact of Religious Organizations on Gender Equity." Conducted last summer, the results are dated September 1998. The findings were not released until late January 1999, "so disturbing," did CGE find them.
The survey reveals what Ms. Wattleton calls a "seismic shift" in women's views of politics and religion. Three-quarters of the women surveyed said religion is very important in their lives (an increase from 69% just two years ago). Women over-whelmingly approve of the "effect" religious leaders and organizations have on the country (76% positive versus 16% negative).
Although the average person would welcome these findings, the folks at CGE believe women's benign perception of religious organizations as being helpful, or at least neutral, to women's advancement is misplaced. Ms. Wattleton thinks women are being misled due to "the ability of leaders of the religious right to present themselves as friendly to women" ("Liberal Feminists Concerned by Turn Toward Religion," The Buffalo News, Jan. 30, 1999, p.7C). The implication, of course, is that this apparent friendliness is a sham.
Mind you, CGE has no problem with religion per se. Its summary of the findings cites with approval the comments of women "that their religious involvement provides them with ethical standards, help with personal problems, and the feeling of being part of a supportive community." The panic arises because people sometimes live out their faith in the public square, applying their values to political decisions. Increasingly, women are finding this acceptable, even desirable. In 1992, almost twice as many women thought that "religion and politics shouldn't mix" compared to those who thought "elected officials should be guided by religious values" (63% versus 32%). The newly-released survey shows a huge 17% drop among non-mixers, coupled with a 14% gain among those preferring that elected officials be guided by religious values. Women are now split evenly on the issue.
Ms. Wattleton finds the approval of religious values mixing with politics wrongheaded, and warns: "The public must not be misled by leaders who speak on the value of women and campaign to restrict their status" (The Buffalo News, op. cit.). Her visceral fear of religion's ascendancy becomes understandable in the words -- restrict their status. To abortion promoters, the phrase means only one thing: restrict universal access to abortion.
In fact, as women become more religious and more approving of religious values informing political opinions, they also are becoming less tolerant of a legal "right" that results in the deaths of 1.4 million children annually.
The CGE survey shows a majority of American women now opposed to all, or nearly all, abortions. Pollsters measured an 8% shift away from approval of unrestricted abortion in the past two years. This finding, although lower than the 11% shift measured in other surveys, is significant coming from a group hostile to the pro-life position whose questions seem to invite a "pro-choice" response.
Despite any question-phrasing bias, 13% of respondents stated "abortion should not be permitted at all," up from 10% in a May 1996 Pew Research Center survey; 40% stated that "abortion should be against the law except in cases of rape, incest, and to save the woman's life," up from 35% in the Pew survey. Another 17% stated that "abortion should be available but under stricter limits than it is now. Thus, 53% of women surveyed would ban all abortion or permit it in less than 2% of cases. Seventy percent of women would like to see stricter limits.
Normally, interest groups don't publicize the fact that they are out of step with America, so it's curious that CGE decided to release the survey results later rather than never. CNN/Fox News commentator Betsy Hart explains it this way: CGE is trying to "whip up their supporters into a frenzy of fear about how the Christian right is supposedly brainwashing the sisters everywhere" (Scripps Howard News Service/ Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Feb. 13). Is her comment overblown? Look at a CGE flier about the survey. The headline shouts:
Religiopolitics: A Bad Mix for Women?
The question mark is pro forma; their answer is never in doubt. This bold headline is superimposed on a photograph of a woman's midriff. She's operating a hand-mixer, and attired in a dress and apron reminiscent of the 1940s. Other props include a bowl of eggs labeled "POLITICS, POLITICS, POLITICS" and an old-fashioned glass bottle of milk labeled "RELIGION." Half a cucumber, two tomatoes and a half-dozen small onions complete the setting. (You'd think they could have consulted an actual cook before displaying this unappetizing combination of ingredients.) To CGE, the prospect of mixing religion and politics is as unappetizing and "disturbing" as returning to the days of our grandmothers when women had to cook dinner from scratch.
Kate Michelman of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) has seen the results of this volatile recipe and she, too, is "disturbed." Her gripe: the proliferation of state laws restricting access to abortion. "There is a disturbing disconnect in our nation between the legal right to choose abortion and access to abortion services" (quoted in USA Today, Jan. 14, 1999). According to NARAL's state-by-state analysis, the number of state laws restricting abortion has quadrupled in just three years; 62 pro-life laws were passed in 1998.
The trend is expected to continue, because the number of state governments controlled by "firmly anti-choice" elected officials is climbing. Twenty-one governors are so categorized by NARAL. In sixteen of these states, pro-life politicians control both houses of the legislature. In an additional eleven states, executive and legislative leadership have mixed records on abortion.
Overall, Ms. Michelman gives the country a D+ on protecting a "woman's right to choose." Kudos to Louisiana for scoring lowest, due to the number, "variety and scope of anti-abortion legislation." Washington, California, Connecticut, Oregon and Vermont ranked one through five in best protecting a woman's "right to choose." These, incidentally, are states with low levels of religious affiliation.
This is not the only bad news Ms. Michelman has to deal with. Hollywood heavy-weights Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Warren Beatty, Annette Benning, Dustin Hoffman have suggested she drop "abortion" from NARAL's name, for image enhancement. "Out of the question!" she has replied. (Mirabella, January 1999). In the Mirabella puff piece, she also reveals that NARAL's membership "has declined significantly" since the 1992 elections. And now, the "frustration in her voice is palpable. 'I sometimes get accused of preaching to the choir,' ... referring to the fact that she mostly speaks to pro-choice audiences. 'And I always say, 'That may be true, but this choir isn't singing' (p. 99)." According to this article, the only positive sign for the pro-abortion movement recently is the public relations boost it has received from reports of violent attacks on abortion practitioners.
College Freshmen Changing Their Tune
UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute conducts an annual survey of college freshmen nationwide. Responses this year came from over 275,000 students at 469 two- and four-year colleges. A 14% drop in support for abortion has been recorded since 1990.
The broad survey included only one blunt, unnuanced statement on the topic: "Abortion should be legal." While 52.5% of male freshmen agreed with the statement, only 49.5% of female freshmen did, for an overall rate of 50.9%. It is noteworthy that the men approved of abortion's legality at a 3% higher rate than did women. This, of course, contradicts what the abortion lobby is always claiming.
Their acceptance of casual sex has also dropped. A record low rate of 39.6% of freshmen agreed with the statement "if two people really like each other, it's all right for them to have sex if they've known each other for a very short time." This rate has dropped from 42.2% in 1997 and from a high of 51.9% in 1987.
A study released February 10 by the Consortium of State Physicians Resources Councils demonstrates that abstinence among growing numbers of teens is responsible for the decline in teen birthrates, not the combination of sex ed plus condoms favored by Planned Parenthood and its activist friends such as Jane Fonda. (The March edition of Life Insight will feature this very helpful study.)
Clearly Ms. Fonda has her work cut out for her. A massive re-education effort will be needed if teens and young adults are to abandon their evolving moral framework in favor of Jane's axioms: "Your body is your body. Your pleasure is your own. Your sexuality is your own, it is for your pleasure" (Paulson, Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, Feb. 18). Cf. Rom 1:22-32.
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