Sunday, March 23, 2014

In Anticipation of the Annunciation, Some Thoughts on What the Church Proclaims about Conception

It is more than five years since the Vatican's magnificent instruction on human life at its origins, calling all of us to courageously defend human life:
  • Dignitas Personae proclaims human dignity, from the first moment of fertilization until natural death.  No matter how a new human came to be, she is owed absolute respect.  
  • Dignitas Personae says that a new human being has the right to originate in the loving embrace of a mom and dad, who are wife and husband.   
  • Dignitas Personae states that "the ethical value of biomedical science is gauged in reference to both the unconditional respect owed to every human being at every moment of his or her existence, and the defense of the specific character of the personal act which transmits life" (# 10).

(Assisted) Reproductive Technology

Our times have seen a well documented increase in infertility, as well as interest in reproductive technology.   We see more and more well financed ad campaigns, for methods which do NOT show "unconditional respect owed to every human being at every moment of his or her existence, and the defense of the specific character of the personal act which transmits life."

When employed by a husband and wife, Dignitas Personae says assistance to AID the "marital act" toward procreation can be moral (eg.,
  • "hormonal treatments..., 
  • "surgery for endometriosis, 
  • "unblocking of fallopian tubes or their surgical repair,....
  • "prevention of sterility" (# 13)). 
Even when used by a husband and wife, Dignitas Personae says methods REPLACING the marital act (eg., IVF) are immoral (IVF is also incredibly expensive with a low "success" rate - NaPro Technology is a fabulous alternative.).  Exacerbating IVF's immorality is discarding/freezing "extra", unwanted embryos.

Dignitas Personae also forbids implanting a new human being in the womb of a woman other than her mom.
Dignitas Personae says that "cryopreservation of oocytes for the purpose of being used in artificial procreation is...morally unacceptable" (# 20).

Stem Cells/Research/Therapy

Dignitas Personae forbids using new humans as research material.  Despite research "science" presented by celebrities, obtaining stem cells from human embryos is NEITHER the only way to obtain them NOR the most promising.  As per Dignitas Personae,
  • "Methods which do not cause serious harm to the subject from whom the stem cells are taken are to be considered licit. This is generally the case when tissues are taken from: 
    a) an adult organism; 
    b) the blood of the umbilical cord at the time of birth; 
    c) fetuses who have died of natural causes. 
    The obtaining of stem cells from a living human embryo, on the other hand, invariably causes the death of the embryo and is consequently gravely illicit" (# 32).

Dignitas Personae tells us that when cell lines are illicitly obtained, researchers must refuse to use them. However, "danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available" (# 35).

Dignitas Personae says that human cloning and mixing human with animal genetic material are immoral (This sort of atrocious treatment of human beings is not limited to science fiction!)

With regard to gene therapy, Dignitas Personae says that "Procedures used on somatic cells for strictly therapeutic purposes are in principle morally its current state, germ line cell therapy in all its forms is morally illicit" (# 26). Also rejected is "genetic engineering for purposes other than medical treatment" (# 27).

Emergency So-Called Contraception

I have long believed that Section 23 of Dignitas Personae calls for change at Catholic hospitals, regarding the treatment of women identified as victims of sexual assault. After trying to rule out pregnancy (and/or ovulation), the use of so-called "emergency contraception" (aka, "morning after pills") HAS been allowed at Catholic hospitals.  Yet,  it's IMPOSSIBLE to ensure that "emergency contraception" is NOT abortifacient:
  • "Such methods are interceptive if they interfere with the embryo before implantation and contragestative if they cause the elimination of the embryo once implanted....
  • "the use of means of interception and contragestation fall within the sin of abortion and are gravely immoral." 
 Though actually defended by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, Dignitas Personae offers NO guidelines for the supposed "moral" use of a potential interceptive or contragestative.  Fr. Juan VĂ©lez is an Opus Dei priest with a doctorate in dogmatic theology and an M.D.  Along with Rebecca Peck, M.D., Fr. Juan has more recently written:
  • "All physicians who value life, and especially Catholic healthcare institutions, have a duty to re-examine the available scientific information on Plan B. We think the data shows a small anovulatory effect and suggests a significant post-fertilization or abortifacient effect. Given this information, the Peoria Protocol, and other rape-based protocols should be abandoned, as use of Plan B during the critical fertile period, would not be expected to prevent ovulations in a majority of cases, and in fact, would lead to a significant possibility of post-fertilization effect.
  • "Moreover, as newer emergency contraceptives with better efficacies emerge, the precedent has been set for allowing agents with abortifacient mechanisms of action" ("Plan B’s Main Mechanism of Action: The Case for a Post-Fertilization Effect," Human Life International).
In the words of Human Life International, I pray that "Catholic bishops and those who advise them in these issues will see the urgency of revisiting the approval of Plan B for treatment of women who have been raped. These women deserve the absolute best life-affirming care possible, and this care should not include drugs that only compound the violence already suffered by causing abortions."

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Brain Death Criteria: Do Precaution and Respect for Human Life Prevail?

The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services for Catholic Health Care Services encourage us to provide for donation of organs to others in medical need, which we cannot donate while we are alive (e.g., the heart).  Common sense dictates that verification of any donor's death is absolutely essential!  Pope Benedict XVI addressed the issue of determining an organ donor's death: 
  • "individual vital organs cannot be extracted except ex cadavere....In these years science has accomplished further progress in certifying the death of the patient. It is good, therefore, that the results attained receive the consent of the entire scientific community in order to further research for solutions that give certainty to all. In an area such as this, in fact, there cannot be the slightest suspicion of arbitration and where certainty has not been attained the principle of precaution must prevail....the principal criteria of respect for the life of the donator must always prevail so that the extraction of organs be performed only in the case of his/her true death (cf. Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 476)" (Address to Participants at an International Congress Organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life, 11/7/08).
To reiterate, "there cannot be the slightest suspicion of arbitration and where certainty has not been attained the principle of precaution must prevail....the principal criteria of respect for the life of the donator must always prevail."

Do Precaution and Respect for Human Life Prevail, in an Absence of Certainty?

As per Pope John Paul II’s August 2000 address to the International Transplantation Society,
  • "the criterion adopted in more recent times for ascertaining the fact of death, namely the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity, if rigorously applied, does not seem [emphasis added] to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology." 
Highlighting the significance of the word "seem", Dr. Peter Colosi of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary notes that 
  • "if further knowledge reveals that brain death does seem to conflict with a sound anthropology, this would remove the moral certainty referred to later in the quotation, and it would follow that vital organ donations should not be done" (Bioethics of Organ donation, Our Sunday Visitor, 8/8/12)
While Colosi notes that Dr. John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, believes that "brain dead people (whole brain death) are [indeed] dead," he indicated that two other members of the Pontifical Academy for Life — Dr. Paul Byrne and Josef Seifert — cast doubt. In a letter to the OSV editor, I added that two other members of the Academy — Judie Brown and Mercedes Arzu Wilson — shared those doubts.

Past Pontifical Academy for Life Member and American Life Leage Founder Judie Brown

  • "The problem with using a diagnosis of 'brain death' to pronounce a person dead is that the definition of brain death itself is imprecise and can lead to killing a living person by removing a ventilator or feeding tube.  Removal of a ventilator causes death by suffocation, while removal of a feeding tube causes death by starvation. Either way, 'brain death' itself didn’t cause the death; death was imposed on the living patient....Because the 'brain death' diagnosis is inexact, it can easily be abused....Death is the total cessation of all brain activity, including the brain stem, combined with the cessation of cardiopulmonary functions. Neither the cessation of brain activity nor the cessation of cardiopulmonary functions alone is sufficient. A person is either truly dead or he is still living. The 'brain death' diagnosis indicates that, in fact, the patient is not actually dead" (Celebrate Life Magazine, March/April 2014)

Past Pontifical Academy for Life Member Dr. Paul Byrne

Dr. Byrne is a neonatologist, clinical professor of pediatrics and past president of the Caholic Medical Association (USA):
  • "Dr. Paul Adam Byrne...was...the only physician to stand in the public square and declare, regardless of the official diagnosis of brain death, that Jahi McMath was not dead. The medical, legal, political and religious communities almost without exception, were silent ....In order to understand why this declaration of brain death is so important to the medical profession and its association with organ transplantation it is necessary to know something about how and why this diagnosis was developed....
    "1967, South Africa, Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first heart transplant, from a living donor,  prior to any brain death declaration. Three days later, in New York, a heart was removed from a 3 day old baby and transferred into the body of an 18 day old baby. Both died, the 3 day old died when his heart was removed, the 18 day old died within hours of the transplant.
    "1968, An Ad Hoc Committee of the  Harvard Medical School published an article entitled, 'A definition of Irreversible Coma.' The first line of the article states that: 'Our primary purpose is to define irreversible coma as a new criterion for death.'
    "1971, The Minnesota Criteria, followed by 30 'disparate sets of criteria' including the 1975 American Bar Association - ABA - referred to as the Uniform Determination of Death Act, or UDDA.
"The UDDA codified several definitions stepping off from the basically recognized Common Law which was for a multitude of decades  the accepted criteria of cessation of heart and respiratory activity.  The UDDA added loss of brain and brain stem activity as another means of determining at least legally the death of a human being....
"The UDDA, according to Dr. Byrne, is a legal tool enabling the medical profession to bypass the understanding and reality of non-total death without placing the transplant doctor and team in the position of being charged with criminal activity when organs needed to sustain life are removed from one living body, causing instant death and placed into another living body to facilitate the continuation of that life....
"Truth, he says, is simple. Life begins at true conception (not what the abortion industry says is conception) and true death occurs when all bodily functions stop and decomposition begins, as opposed to what the UDDA declares death to be" (Dr. Paul A. Byrne: A Man on a Mission, Spero News, 3/11/14).
  • If you click here and move to 22:25, you will hear a radio debate between Dr. Byrne and National Catholic Bioethics Center President Dr. John Haas (NOT a physician)While Byrne suggests that Haas is "misleading the world" on so-called "brain death",  Haas speaks as though Pope John Paul II unequivocally endorsed brain death criteria" (Kresta in the Afternoon, 1/8/14). 

Past Pontifical Academy for Life Member Josef Seifert

  • "we are led to the conclusion that this new definition of death ought to be rejected....Given the immense practical pressure (from the established centers of organ-transplant medicine) on each institution regarding this matter, and given the duty towards the truth, we must certainly refuse to adapt to prevailing modern opinion on death simply because it prevails.  Each one of us must resist the temptation to adjust his position on any issue in accordance with social expectations and desires of hospitals....we have the task to speak out on the truth in season and out of season, while undertaking every effort to make the truth understood and accepted by men" (Is Brain Death Actually Death?, 1993)

 Current Pontifical Academy for Life Member Mercedes Arzu Wilson

  • "Is the Roman Catholic Church in imminent danger of becoming an accomplice in the sacrificing of 'brain dead' donors before their natural end? Many Catholic scientists, physicians, philosophers, and theologians are in deep anguish at having to plead with the Church's leadership to stop high-ranking Vatican officials from openly supporting the theory that 'brain death' constitutes a person's natural end. Such support would sanction the removal of organs from patients who are still alive....

    In November 2008, an International Congress entitled 'A Gift for Life' was organized by the Pontifical Academy for Life, in collaboration with the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and the Italian National Transplant Centre....the Scientific Committee of the conference included individuals actively involved in the billion-dollar business of organ transplantation, such as presidents of European and Italian transplant societies. It also included Transplantation Societies of Europe and Canada, a 'Catholic' bioethics center from the USA (not an official entity of the Catholic Church) [?] that is aggressively in favor of 'brain death' as true death, and others of similar special interests" (Save The "Brain Dead" Victims, The Wanderer, 2009).

excerpts from Pope Francis' 1/24/14 Address to the Roman Rota

"I am meeting with you for the first time....

"The juridical dimension and the pastoral dimension of the Church’s ministry do not stand in opposition, for they both contribute to realizing the Church’s purpose and unity of action....

"I would now like to sketch a brief profile of the ecclesiastical judge. Firstly, his human profile: to be a judge requires a kind of human maturity, that is expressed in calm judgment, detached from personal views....

"The second aspect is the judicial one. In addition to the requirements of juridical and theological doctrine, in the exercise of his ministry the judge is characterized by his knowledge of law, the objectivity of judgement and fairness, by judging with imperturbable and impartial equidistance. In his work he is also guided by the intent to safeguard truth, respecting to the law, without overlooking the delicacy and humanity proper to a pastor of souls.

"The third aspect is the pastoral one. As an expression of the pastoral concern of the Pope and Bishops, the judge is required not only to have proven competence, but also to have a genuine spirit of service. He is the servant of justice called to treat and judge the condition of the faithful, who with confidence turn to him, by imitating the Good Shepherd who cares for the wounded lamb....

"Your ministry, dear judges and officials of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, lived out in the joy and serenity that come from working where the Lord has placed us, is a special service to the God of Love, who is close to every person. You are essentially shepherds. As you carry out your juridical work, do not forget that you are pastors! In every case, every profession and every cause, people are waiting for justice.

"Dear friends, I thank you and I encourage you to proceed in your munus  with scrupulosity and gentleness. Pray for me! May the Lord bless you and may Our Lady protect you."

( )

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Those pesky Abington Perinatal Associates at St Mary Medical Center

Your Excellency, Dr. Haas, and Mr. Bozza,

Each of us would certainly agree that the Church's teaching on direct abortion is clear and unambiguous.

As you should know, Dr. Frank Craparo of Abington Perinatal Associates has been reported to be involved with fetal "reduction" – a euphemism for abortion (See  Previously, Craparo's name could actually be found on the physician directories of both St Mary Medical Center and the Mercy Health System!

Four years ago, one of Craparo's Abington Perinatal Associates, Dr. Stephen Smith, recommended an abortion to a young mom and patient at St. Mary Medical Center.  After that became public, an ethics investigation reportedly ensued, and Smith's name disappeared from St. Mary's directory (cf, Pope vs. Doctors: How New Vatican Orthodoxy Undermines Medical Ethics and Imperils Your Health, Huffington Post, 2/10/10).  While I can find absolutely no indication that Abington Perinatal Associates has ceased doing "reductions," Smith's name has returned to the directory of St Mary Medical Center!  Joining him are fellow Abington Perinatal Associates Richard Latta, MD and Marc Rosenn, MD.

St. Mary Medical Center does offer a disclaimer: "....Health Care practitioners at St. Mary Medical Center abide by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services while providing care at any of the St. Mary Medical Center campuses.  Many of these practitioners also provide services outside of St. Mary Medical Center where there is no institutional obligation to practice under the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services....." Common sense should tell us that allowing Abington Perinatal Associates at a Catholic hospital is akin to the proverbial fox in the hen house.  St Mary's disclaimer insults moral sensibilities and intelligence.

Just two years ago, there was fear in some circles that a proposed Abington-Holy Redeemer merger would result in the cessation of some immoral services, including "reduction" (cf, Abington Memorial Hospital and Holy Redeemer: Putting Women’s Health at Risk by Imposing Religious Doctrine on Patients, Women's Law Project, 7/11/12).  They must be having a good laugh at how welcomed Abington Perinatal Associates are by St. Mary Medical Center.


The Beatitudes from "Jesus of Nazareth"


Use of Emergency So-Called Contraceptives in Catholic Hospitals for Those Reporting Rape

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Book & Film Reviews, pt 2

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12/12/08 Interview with Rev. Tad Pacholczyk, Ph.D. of the National Catholic Bioethics Center

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