sexta-feira, 26 de outubro de 2012

Yamanaka and iPSCs: A reply to some skeptical friends in the pro-life community - by Christian Brugger

In Culture of Life Foundation

In 2006/7 Japanese cell biologist Shinya Yamanaka published important research showing that specialized adult cells such as skin cells could be “reprogrammed” to become pluripotent stem cells.  Yamanaka called the reprogrammed cells “induced pluripotent stem cells” (or iPSCs) and the type of research “cell reprogramming”.

He neither created nor experimented upon human embryos in his research.  But to make reagents for reprogramming the somatic cells, he apparently did use cells from a cultured cell line created in 1977 and originally derived from the tissue of a child who was aborted earlier in the 1970s (called “HEK cells,” Human Embryonic Kidney cells).  If I understand the process correctly, the genes used to reprogram the somatic cells were delivered into the cells using viruses (called lentiviral vectors).  These viral delivery systems were created using HEK cells.

Pro-life groups such as Children of God (COG) for Life have drawn attention to this little known fact and in doing so have provided the pro-life community an important service.  

Unfortunately, some of these groups are claiming that because Yamanaka used ‘tainted’ cells in his research, the production of iPSCs by cell reprogramming is intrinsically evil. 

They are incorrect.  The production of iPSCs does not require the use of HEK cells, and can be—and is being—done successfully without them.  If the research is carried out without using ‘tainted’ cells, then the procedure itself need pose no moral problems.  

They also argue that because Yamanaka used tainted cells, his research, for which he received the 2012 Nobel Prize, deserves a blanket condemnation.  For two reasons, I disagree.  

First, a blanket condemnation fails to make distinctions between what is praiseworthy and what might deserve criticism.  With respect to the latter, if Yamanaka knew the immoral origin of the HEK cells, had reasonable alternatives available to him, and yet still used the tainted cells, then (to that extent) I think he did wrong.  

His wrongdoing certainly would not be the wrong of killing; nor would it be wrongful cooperation in killing, since using cells from the cultured line 30 years later did not facilitate the original evildoing in any way.  Moreover, using HEK cells in research is unlikely to cause scandal in the formal sense (i.e., be a cause of leading others into grave sin), since HEK is so widely used in the scientific community that it barely raises an eyebrow.  

Its wrongness would lie in the failure of the duty we all share to testify to the value of human life, in this case by refusing to use products created by exploiting life: a failure of duty to bear witness to the truth.  To constitute a moral failure, however, Yamanaka would have had to know the origins of the cells, have reasonable alternatives available, and not select them.  I don’t know if these conditions prevailed.

Because of Jesus’ perspicuous self-sacrificing witness to truth, Christians, called to be Christ in the world, have an especially strong duty to bear witness.  I don’t know if Yamanaka is a Christian.  If he is, then he shares that stronger duty.  If not, he still has a duty to the truth.  But we know that even Christians, including Christian leaders, sometimes fail to bear rightful witness.  Blanket condemnations of their lives or apostolates would be simplistic and could be wrongful.  Why?  Because one’s life is a complex matrix of actions, some of which may, and others of which may not, bear perspicuous witness.

If in one respect his research fails to measure up to ethical standards, in another, the Japanese researcher has been an extraordinary witness to the truth of the sanctity of human life.  As one of the leading adult stem cell researchers in the world, he dedicated years of his life to finding a way of deriving pluripotent stem cells without killing embryos.  His research has transformed a field, which once was almost monolithically committed to embryo destructive research.  At a time when Obama was about occupy the Oval Office and running on a platform of overturning the Bush stem cell policy, just twelve months earlier (Nov. 2007) Yamanaka published this almost incredible news: “a new way to make pluripotent—embryonic like—stem cells without exploiting embryos.”  I don’t think there’s any doubt that because of his accomplishments, many, many less embryonic people are being killed today in research than otherwise would be.  And this was precisely part of Yamanaka’s motives, to stop embryo destructive research.  Whatever in his research deserves criticism, this deserves praise.  

Second, modern secular science is a morally mixed bag.  The wheat and weeds are mixed together in a giant field we call the scientific endeavor.  One of the points of genius of the empirical method is its limitless and unfolding capacity for generating new and deeper knowledge by building on the systematic accomplishments of earlier research.  If earlier research, however, entails immoral activity, the products and knowledge gained by it will in some way be tainted by the immorality.  

In the field of stem cell research, including morally licit adult stem cell research, no one can claim that the knowledge they rely upon or the products they use are “pure” and unrelated to prior research that has been illicitly obtained.

So how should we assess scientific accomplishments, such as those of Yamanaka, that include morally questionable elements?  We condemn gross immorality when we find it; and so we condemn the original killing of the baby in the 1970s, which Yamanaka had nothing to do with.  We criticize the scientific exploitation of the baby’s mortal remains.  We deplore the indifference of some scientists to the original killing.  And we admonish researchers in the present to bear witness to the truth by refusing to use products derived from the baby’s tissues.  

If they use them out of non-culpable ignorance, then they do no more wrong than did children who innocently drank Pepsi products that utilized flavor chemicals developed in research using HEK cells.  

If they use them with full knowledge, but don’t have reasonable alternatives, then we assess two things: 1) whether the use is likely to cause scandal, and 2) if the research is serious enough to warrant tolerating (but not intending) other harms that might arise from the use (e.g., legitimizing in people’s minds the original illicit act).  If there is proportionately grave reason and if using the products is unlikely to cause scandal, then we may conclude the researchers are justified in using them.  

If reasonable alternatives are readily available, and informed researchers don’t use them, then we are warranted in concluding that they fail in their duty to witness to the truth by refusing to use the alternatives. 

But we also praise the good they do, in Yamanaka’s case, in effectively—and by intent— dealing a lethal blow to one of the most immoral forms of scientific research in modern history.

terça-feira, 23 de outubro de 2012

segunda-feira, 22 de outubro de 2012

The Tragic Heroism of Pope Pius XII - by Rev. George W. Rutler


There are commentators on the sports channels whose numbing dialogues would never be confused with the Algonquin Round Table.  These are the so-called Monday Morning Quarterbacks. Some historians quarterback that way.  Pope Pius XII, hailed in his lifetime as a protector of persecuted people, has suffered  in reputation from lax minds who never exercised themselves in the great contests of civilization.

There is increasing evidence that attempts to misrepresent the Pope as feckless and even criminally compliant, began as the work of Communist propagandists, seminally in East Germany at the direction of Moscow.  This was taken up later by people either uninformed or polemical. An impressive number of works have been published recently to correct this, and to them I can only add from my own studies a few details in the anguish of the most terrible years of the 1940’s.

As a child, Eugenio Maria Giuseppi Pacelli  was moved by the early Roman martyrs, and told his uncle that he wanted to be a martyr, but “without nails.” As Pope, his crucifixion without nails began when the diplomat confronted the Evil One who has two faces and hides one.  Pacelli became well aware  that the strengths of diplomacy can strain the apostle, which is why the only one of the Twelve Apostles who was a diplomat, hanged himself.  As a youth sensitive by nature and tutored at home because, according to his sister, he could not take the bad food in seminary, he had the gifts and limitations of a rarified formation. The grandson of an Interior Minister in the Papal States was reared in an intensely clerical world, and one far removed from the nuclear age he would live to see.  

He was born on the day that Rutherford B. Hayes was declared president, and  three years before Newman was made a cardinal.  That early environment cultivated his lifelong propensity for baroque effusions, such as his display after the bombing of the Basilica of San Lorenzo, which greatly annoyed the historian Philip Hughes, an admirer, for its contrast to papal serenity during other more distant and rebarbative devastations.

The Fascist propagandist, Farinnaci,  saw the Vatican and its Pope as an enemy in his crosshairs. In 1942, he wrote: “Undoubtedly, we could not agree with the Vatican Wireless broadcasts of sympathy for Jewish Poland; the telegram sent to the Protestant Queen Wilhelmina; the considerable contribution made to the Holy See a few years ago by the Jews; …the appointment of Jews to posts in the Vatican City, almost in defiance of our anti-Semitic (and therefore Catholic) policy.”  To corroborate Farinacci’s case, Jewish prisoners in an Italian concentration camp in Tossica, sent a letter to the Pope who was  a “revered personality who has stood up for the rights of all afflicted and powerless people.”

Around Christmas of 1942, the Vichy government in their collaboration with the Nazis under Laval as head of government distinct from Petain as chief of state, complained about the “Vatican cliques” who “fly up in the air every time it is a question of the descendants of Christ’s Murderers.” On September 2, The New York Times headlined: “Laval Spurns Pope—25,000 Jews in France Arrested for Deportation.” Laval had already exploded in anger against Monsignor Valerio Valeri, dean of the diplomatic corps in France, for speaking out against the government’s anti-Semitism and deportations of Jews.

On September 12, 1942, ten days after German troops entered Stalingrad, exiled Poles and Belgians sent a plea to the pope to condemn Nazi war crimes.  The Pope did not respond, possibly because in the previous year when he had condemned the racial legislation of the new pro-Nazi republic of Slovakia the German SS retaliated with mass executions of 3,500 Jews in Lodz, Poland.

Also in 1942, Joseph Goebbels published ten million copies of a pamphlet condemning the Vatican’s attempt to protect Jews by enabling hundreds to flee Poland for Spain and Portugal, and sequestering many in the Vatican. For such acts, The Pilot, then an influential Catholic newspaper in Boston, compared Pius XII to other papal protectors of Jews:  Sixtus IV, Clement VII, Eugenius III, Gregory IX and Pus XI.

The journals of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, formerly a German  spy in Spain and later a counter-spy for the Allies, explain not only how he had persuaded Franco not to allow German troops to attack Gibraltar through Spain.  A devout Catholic. he also foiled Hitler’s attempt to kidnap or assassinate both Pius XII and King Victor Emmanuel after the 1943 arrest of Mussolini at the king’s orders.

From a different perspective, in June of 1942, Bishop Veglia in Yugoslavia, lamented Vatican silence about Italian atrocities among the Croat and Slovene populations annexed to Italy: “…the people are, alas, more and more losing trust in the Catholic Church and loyalty to the Holy Father, while on the other hand they are being thrown into the arms of Communism, in which they are beginning to see the only element which will defend them in the forests against the cruelty of the Italian elements.”

On Christmas Eve, 1942, Pius XII famously broadcast a message to the world, nuanced by his mindfulness of the failed strategies of Pope Leo X with the German princes, and Pope Pius V with Queen Elizabeth I.  The New York Times said of the Pope: “This Christmas more than ever he is a lonely voice crying out in the silence of a continent.” Bishops took up the message and, for instance, Archbishop Gounot in Tunisia, anticipating the Allied landings in French North Africa, denounced the Vichy persecution of Jews.

In Belgium at the start of 1943, the Germans would not let Cardinal van Roey publish the Pope’s Silver Jubilee address, and the Italian government banned the film “Pastor Angelicus” about the life of the Pope. In that same January, the London Tablet commented on the tendency to think that more would have been accomplished by a louder protest from more bishops:  “If there exists a vague atavistic memory that once Popes and Bishops spoke, and wicked Kings trembled, that salutary thing happened because the public opinion of the day had a much fuller and deeper sense of the rights and importance of spiritual authority.  Modern men, who have for so long applauded the narrowing down and emptying of that authority as the emancipation of mankind from the thralldom of superstitions, can hardly be surprised if, as a rule, prelates in the modern era tend in prudence to limit themselves to the field indubitably conceded to them by public opinion.”

In a letter to Bishop von Preysing on April 30, 1943, Pius XII described with unusual candor the theory behind his subtlety “We give to the pastors who are working on the local level the duty of determining if and to what degree the danger of reprisal and of various forms of oppression occasioned by episcopal declarations…seem to advise caution. Here lies one of the reasons, why We impose self-restraint on Ourselves in our speeches…The Holy See has done whatever was in its power, with charitable, financial and moral assistance.” The U.S. diplomat Harold Tittman recorded how anti-Nazi resistance leaders consistently had urged the Pope to follow this policy.

In May of 1943, the secretary of the Jewish Agency for Palestine asked the future Pope John XXIII, “to thank the Holy See for the happy outcome of the steps taken on behalf of the Israelites in Slovakia.”  At the same time, the Pope granted an audience to Dr. Kazimierz Papee, the informal representative of the Polish government in exile to the Holy See.  As recounted by the historian Dariusz Libionka, and mentioned in his own journal, Papee had expressed to the Papal Secretary of State, Luigi Cardinal Maglione, his exasperation with the Pope’s hesitancy to speak about the Polish situation in other than diplomatic language. According to Papee’s own memoirs, the Pope abandoned diplomatic reserve to berate him: “I have listened again and again to your representatives about our unhappy children in Poland. Must I be given the same story again?”  In his memoir, “Pius XII I Polska,” Papee recalled that the Pope raised his arms in the air as he reprimanded him.  Pope John XXIII had Papee removed, at the start of his pontificate. In the same week of this strained conversation, the Nazi-controlled Radio Paris  broadcast: “As soon as the Fuhrer assumed power in 1933, the Vatican let loose its hostility…National Socialism tried to settle all conflicts with the Church; the Church rejected the hand offered to her. May she bear the responsibility for this in the annals of history.”

The German  ambassador to the Holy See, Baron Ernst von Kessel, was by all accounts, even that of Churchill, secretly sympathetic to the Allies,  He was convinced that Hitler intended to occupy the Vatican, which he thought would be disastrous, especially if the Pope were shot “fleeing while avoiding arrest.”

That did not happen, and Pius XII became  a “martyr without nails.”  No Monday Morning Quarterback with any self-respect can say that Pius XII did not try his best, and indeed did more than most of the players on that historical stage of the war years, conspicuously in contrast to the mendacity of President Roosevelt in his whitewashing of the Katyn Massacre and the short shrift he gave to the resistance leader Jan Karski. Churchill, whom Pius first met in London in 1911 during a Eucharistic Congress, called him  “the greatest man of our time.” During an audience in 1944, Churchill was surprised at the vehemence with which the Pope urged strict justice for war criminals. An eloquent defender of capital punishment in Thomistic terms, Pius told a Swiss reporter: “Not only do we approve of the [Nuremburg] trial, but we desire that the guilty be punished as quickly as possible, and without exception.”  The diplomat in Pius was frustrated by the position of Monsignor Jozef  Tiso as chief of the Slovakian state. A Nazi puppet, Tiso always wore clerical dress and never suffered canonical censure. The Pope received him privately in audience more than once.  But diplomacy worked when Tiso yielded to the Pope’s sixth formal plea to stop deportation of thousands of Jews.  After the war, Tiso was hanged in his clericals as a war criminal.  However, nothing was done to the Herzegovenian Franciscans in the Ustashe center near Medjugorge, whose complicity in the killing of hundreds of Serbian women and children was described by Cardinal Tisserant as an abomination.

Pius XII’s diplomatic character was his triumph with civilized men and his anguish with barbarians. Had he died a martyr with nails, his legacy could not have been suborned by demagogues. Diplomats tend to live longer than prophets, but to fault diplomacy for not having done what a longer view judges should have been done, can be a self-serving form of detraction.  American Indian wisdom has it that you should not judge a man until you have walked two moons  in his moccasins. It is harder to walk in the Shoes of the Fisherman, for there is a rare succession of those elected to do that. The tension between diplomacy and prophecy was the stuff of tragedy, and that made Pius XII a man of his time, which was the most tragic in the annals of man.

domingo, 21 de outubro de 2012

When Cultural Radicals speak of “diversity,” they mean no such thing - by Msgr. Charles Pope

In AoW

You may have read in the news that a faculty member of the Gallaudet University in Washington DC has been placed on “administrative leave,” due to the fact that she signed a petition requesting referendum on the issue of gay marriage in Maryland.
Angela McCaskill is “Chief Diversity Officer” at Gallaudet University in Washington DC. She was at church one Sunday, and requested to sign the petition that would permit the voters of Maryland to vote on the issue of gay “marriage.” She signed the petition and says she did so because she favors democracy and allowing citizens to vote on such controversial issues, as opposed to having legislatures and courts force so-called “gay marriage” on the populace. (More HERE)

But the administrators at Gallaudet University consider her signing of the petition to be unacceptable. Apparently, as “Chief Diversity Officer,” they don’t consider her kind of diversity the right kind of diversity.
To be sure, it is refreshing and surprising to hear that a “diversity officer” would have signed a petition opposing Gay “marriage” and insist that gay marriage be brought to a vote, instead of merely being imposed. As most social conservatives know, and have experienced, the usual “diversity office” at a campus is anything but diverse in its views. And, that a diversity officer might actually understand that there more than one side to the issue of Gay “marriage” surprises not only social conservatives, but also (apparently) social leftists. In effect, the leadership at Gallaudet University sees Ms. McCaskill’s actions as incompatible with their notion of diversity, and are saying, in effect, “How could you!”

But merely expressing surprise is not usually enough for radicals on the left. Thus, they have placed her on “administrative leave.” Never mind all the usual calls for tolerance from the radicals, never mind the “free exchange of ideas” that they so often extol on college campuses. Never mind all that, according to them, Ms. McCaskill has to go.

The reaction well demonstrates that when leftist cultural radicals speak of “diversity,” they don’t mean it in any fair minded or straight forward definition of the word.

The word diversity comes from the Latin word diversus: di (two) + versa (turns or sides). Thus, the true meaning of the word “diversity” means “two sides.” Or by extension, “more than one side,” “more than one viewpoint” or just “different.”

But the cultural radicals mean no such thing. In their lexicon “diversity” means you have to accept anything they propose. But it does not that they should accept you, or that they should even consider the fact that you might be troubled that they propose anything, no matter how deviant the behavior has historically been seen to be. In their lexicon, being “open-minded” means that you agree with them. “Tolerance” is your obligation to agree with them, but not their obligation to accept you, or your deeply held Christian beliefs, no matter how ancient or how well attested.

And, in their form of diversity, tolerance and open-mindedness, if they can punish your non-compliance or even just your non-placet, they will do so with a sense of righteousness, and they will do so firmly and swiftly.

The central point is, when cultural radicals use these terms, they mean no such thing.

To be sure, I am not hereby articulating a position that diversity is an absolute quality or virtue. There are certain diversities to be celebrated and/or tolerate. But there are certain behaviors, which ought not be tolerated, illicit sexual union and Gay “marriage” among them.

The intent in this post is merely call the cultural radicals on their bluff. When they talk about diversity, they don’t really mean it. When they try to parade around in clothes of openness, tolerance, and diversity, they are misrepresenting themselves. When they celebrate “diversity” they don’t mean you, especially if you are a traditional Christian. Their ‘diversity” doesn’t include the Scriptures or the ancient Judeo-Christian tradition, or Natural Law. And don’t even think about mentioning the Catholic Church to them, you’re certain to be shown the door out of their “diverse” world.

To them these things are not something to celebrate or tolerate. They are something to abhor, to legally block, and for some of them, even something to destroy.

Just remember, when they speak of diversity they don’t mean it. And if they mean it all, it is only for them and their favored groups. But they certainly don’t mean it for you, especially if you are a traditional, Bible believing Christian. No, you are not part of the rainbow, you are not part of their tapestry, or their mosaic. You have no place at their table, no place in their celebration.

The views of diversity officer Angela McCaskill regarding (so called) “gay marriage,” are not clear. But one thing is clear, she has (wittingly or unwittingly) called the bluff of the diversity motif of the cultural radicals, and has incurred special wrath because she has done so.

To them she is “off message.” She actually took the word diversity to me what it says. How wrong was that! And now she is cast out of the “hallowed halls” the radicals think they own. She is proof that when cultural radicals speak of diversity they don’t mean you, they only mean themselves.

Disclaimer: I have chosen the words “cultural radicals” carefully. I am willing to admit that there are many who oppose the Church’s teaching on Biblical marriage who are far less radical, who are of good will, and may also be shocked at what happened to Angela McCaskill. There are some who are willing to allow the cultural debates of our time to be conducted in an open and honest way, and accept that varying groups, including Christians, have the rights of any citizens to engage in the political process, and to seek to influence the discussions in the on-going cultural shifts of the West.

But the radicals have no such room in their world for opposition or even discussion, and they want to silence any questioning of their agenda. They are growing in number, especially in university and government settings, and it is to them that I address the concerns of this blog.

On Politics - James Schall, S. J.

In The Catholic Thing

At election time, we hear of an “obligation” to vote. This phrase always reminds me of our “right” to choose. Both “to vote” and “to choose” are infinitives. They mean practically nothing until we learn what we are voting for or what we are choosing. Looking at the available alternatives, we sometimes long for an obligation not to vote for this or for a right not to choose that.
The mechanisms of voting and choosing are very imperfect throughout the world. Many elections are, in practice, meaningless. Whenever we see elections decided by 98 percent of an electorate on one side, we can assume that no real election took place. How many votes in, say, Chicago are cast by the dead remains a lively issue.
Eventually, we ask ourselves: How important are politics anyhow? Edmund Burke’s remark is well known: “The only thing that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
But evil today, as always, presents itself in the name of what is good and noble. This is why elections are so enigmatic. Tyrants, likewise, especially the ones arising out of democracies, are often attractive men telling us what we want to hear so that they can gain or stay in power.
In his book on St. Augustine, Herbert Deane reminds us:
Nowhere in the Gospels or in the Apostolic teachings is it ever suggested that Christians have any obligation to participate in the operation of the political system or that the activities of the state have any real relevance to the conduct of members of the Church or to their overriding concern – salvation and participation in the kingdom of God.
The relative importance of things needs to be kept in perspective.
Though Revelation contains a warning about absolute state power, the New Testament was not designed to teach us what we could figure out by ourselves. Politics was one of these latter things.
We sometimes have the impression today that everything is political. Indeed, many believers elevate politics to make it identical with the kingdom of God.
The chief rival to Christianity today, besides Islam, is a secular messianism designed to “liberate” us from religious practices so that we can devote all our attention to politics as our “real” good. Religion, in this view, is what holds us back from perfecting ourselves.
The modern state wants to fulfill that proposal of Marsilius of Padua whereby spiritual things have nothing to do with politics. World religions would be assigned a common parliament that would function under the aegis of the state.
Nothing truly transcendent would exist. Religion’s function would be to explain the nobility of the state’s purpose. No conflict of church and state would be possible. And what would the purpose of the state be? Basically, it would be to “take care” of everyone, in life and death, especially the poor.
In classical politics, of course, the purpose of the state was a temporal common good in which people took care of their own affairs. There is something exhilarating about “taking care” of others. It seems so noble.
In a recent talk in Loreto, in Italy, Benedict XVI said: “Grace does not eliminate freedom; on the contrary it creates and sustains it. Faith removes nothing from the human creature, rather it permits his full and final realization.”
The “full and final realization” of politics can only be understood when we acknowledge that politics is not an eschatology. Its divisions are not those of the soul that are worked out in our living and dying.
But again, politics is not nothing. The fact that the New Testament pays little attention to it – “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” – means that it has a natural importance that we can grasp with our reason.
Aristotle called politics the highest of the practical sciences. He understood that something higher than politics existed. This transcendent order is what kept politics as politics and not itself a claim to man’s ultimate allegiance.
When politics claim our ultimate attention, when it subordinates religion to the state, it transforms the natural order into its own image. Civil societies, states, are not substantial beings with personal destinies of their own, as each human being is. They are arrangements of order and disorder wherein individual people work out their final destiny.
We can save our souls in the worst regime, and lose them in the best. Our politics do not automatically determine whether we reach or don’t reach everlasting life. Yet what we do and choose in politics also forms us into what we are, into what we make ourselves to be.
The polity exists so that greater and more varied goods can come about through our agency. The last judgment will include our political choices. Grace does not eradicate nature.