Archive for August, 2014


Recently Richard Dawkins created a stir with some thoughtless tweets about aborting people with Down Syndrome, and Live Action has a column about the motives of some who abort their babies with Down Syndrome. With respect to author Sarah Terzo, it is an untempered treatment of deep complexities not at all explicated in the article, nor even hinted at. In the interest of truth and justice for many post-abortive mothers, here is a deeper exploration. It comes by way of my own experiences as the father of a special needs child.

When Regina became pregnant with Joseph (our first) it was pure magic. This child we feared might never be conceived after four years of prayers and disappointments, our first baby, was on the way. Early on we were offered the AFP, which tests for fetal anomalies and has many false-positive results.

We refused.

Why chance a positive result which would require amniocentesis to confirm, especially when amniocentesis kills one in every two hundred babies on which it is performed? There was no way that we would abort our baby, no matter what. “Besides,” I added to our bewildered Ob, “If God has X number of handicapped babies He needs to send into the world, we’ll take one. Children with needs require more love, not less.”

I never really thought He would take me up on that little bit of bravado.

It just didn’t make sense to have tests, to eat our hearts out if there were some potential anomaly that couldn’t be fixed. (Fetal surgery was just getting going at the time.)

Freeze frame. That’s an incredibly vulnerable time in every way for a woman. Physically she is immunocompromised, and increasingly uncomfortable toward the end. There’s the exhaustion of the first and third trimesters. There’s all sorts of concerns. At precisely the moment that a woman needs all the support she can get, when standing by her means everything for the father, for family and friends, she is hit with a devastating diagnosis.

Joseph was turning five when after years of misdiagnoses he was finally correctly diagnosed by some of the best minds in the field:

Autism, moderately profound.
Mixed Expressive/Receptive Language Disorder (half of all tests he didn’t respond enough to establish a basal score)
Speech equivalent of 2.1 years
IQ tests: half very low average, half borderline.
Static Encephalopathy.
Cerebellar Defect.
Sensory Integration Disorder.

Shattering doesn’t begin to describe the pitch blackness I found myself in. It was a blackness so black that I couldn’t even see my wife’s pain and bewilderment. The upshot of it all was “What happens to Joseph when we’re gone?”

For the first time in my life I knew not only fear, but panic. So, I can relate to the parents who get the news when their baby is still in utero, when they are in a far more vulnerable state than we were. They also have an additional burden that I didn’t. I had Joseph for nearly five years. We had developed a relationship: I fed, bathed, changed, played with him. I dressed him, and took him everywhere I went. These parents know their child less concretely, more abstractly.

No one suggested that Regina and I kill our child. But it isn’t that way with poor prenatal diagnoses. I’ve met scores of women who were beset by the medical geneticists and their Ob’s to abort the baby. Far too many have recounted how they were burdened with blame:

“What do you mean you want to keep it? Why would you make your baby suffer that way?”

Lovely. Were that not bad enough, such news often comes when women have only one or two weeks left before they can no longer have an abortion (Statutory regulation).

Worse still are the fathers who pressure the mothers to abort, threatening financial, emotional and physical abandonment. “You’ll raise that freak on your own!” What a betrayal of trust and love, of all those little promises whispered when making love and begetting the baby.

More tragic still is the pressure from family and friends, and all too often, there stands the frightened, unsupported and completely besieged mother at precisely her most vulnerable moment.

So much for respecting women, for love and fidelity, for choice, for patient autonomy, for informed consent: Especially informed consent.

Parents are frequently not told of the surgeries, the therapies (medical, occupational, physical, speech, educational) that are available. They aren’t told of the Early Intervention program, of the advances made by those with Down Syndrome, of how many are now attending and graduating from college.

In other words, they are deprived of hope.

Comments made when they show up at an abortion center need to be evaluated in that light. In psychology the comments quoted by Terzo can be a good example of the defense mechanism called, “Reaction Formation,” which is the tendency to express the opposite of what one is feeling and threatened by, but cannot face.

So, how do we proceed?

Three years ago when I was National Director of Medical Students for Life, I approached some like-minded folks and with them brought to fruition a medical conference I had long envisioned as a means of enlightening the medical community. So, on January 21, 2012 at Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, DC, we held the first conference on Poor Prenatal Diagnoses and Therapeutic Interventions. It was live-cast and recorded and the entire conference can be viewed here. There will be more such conferences in the near future.

The purpose of the conference was to enlighten not only the medical community, but the rest of society; to give hope to those whose fear begets some of the ugly quotes in the Terzo article.

Regina and I were blessed with many beautiful and wonderful people who came into our lives and helped teach Joseph, most especially Mr. Robert Marinello who is one of the finest and most gifted speech therapists in the field. He got Joseph communicating in very short order, and gave me back my son. In the eleven years since we received the shattering diagnoses, Joseph has come into his own. He is poised to become an Eagle Scout in October at the age of fifteen, scored in the 98th percentile on his end of year testing this year, and is an accomplished athlete and dancer.

It took years, several years, to relax and trust that all would be well, to realize:

That God’s definition of well is not my own.

That God’s plans and dreams for Joseph are quite different from what I had envisioned when Regina gave birth.

That God was right beside me all of those sleepless nights I sat in the rocking chair beside Joseph’s bed, contemplating his future.

That God has an army of healers who do as a matter of routine what required the laying on of hands by Jesus two thousand years ago.

That God will use our fear and turn it into sacrificial love’s engine.

That God will then use special parents as the evangelists of this Gospel of Love.

In retrospect, what most made for the experience of being shattered was the fear of a loveless world and what it would do to our son. But God is faithful and He has shown us through our son an army of people who offer love, and hope, and opportunity.

Joseph is in good company among his peers with his particular style of learning and being in the world. The many therapists and professionals with whom he has worked have brought him and his peers not only into the realm of functionality, but of competitiveness with peers who are neurotypical. The same may be said of those with Down Syndrome.

News reports of parents seeking abortions for their special needs babies rightly anger and disgust us, but they don’t accurately portray all who receive these diagnoses. They also don’t delve into that pitch blackness in which I found myself, and in which these parents find themselves. The difference between us?

In my heart I knew that God would be faithful and what I was despairing of most of all was my own sense of smallness and inadequacy regarding the task before me. It was God’s fidelity as my father that empowered me.

I don’t judge these people quoted by Terzo. I agonize for them in their helplessness and hopelessness.

Take some time and watch the entire conference linked here. Then share this good news far and wide.

For many, all they need is the light of truth to begin to embrace their babies, to embrace their parenthood.

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Despite growing calls to the contrary in many Catholic circles, I took the ALS Ice Bucket challenge earlier today at a Boy Scout Eagle Service project. So, I gather folks might want to know why.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a terrible muscular disease in which people lose their skeletal muscle function, including the muscles that help us breathe. It was 75 years ago this summer that Yankee legend, Lou Gehrig, announced his departure from baseball in a speech that has become as iconic as the Iron Horse himself.

A major research and advocacy organization, the ALS Association (ALSA) has been the beneficiary of some $40 million raised in an awareness campaign that has as a simple device people calling out friends and family, challenging them to either give $100 or have ice water dumped on their heads. Many, such as your humble author (with a little frat boy left in him), have elected to do both. The problem for some is that ALSA has been an advocate for embryonic stem cell research, which tears apart a human being in the embryonic stage of development and uses its cells for research purposes. That’s a major hurdle. But now for some facts.

ALSA has said that they have one embryonic stem cell line that has been funded by a private donor, and that work on this line of cells is nearing the end of its lifespan. That’s not hard to believe . Almost nobody pursues embryonic stem cell research anymore. The reason is simple.

They. Just. Don’t. Work.

They are too young, immature, and undifferentiated to control. They grow into tumors. There are too many unknown variables. They are a nightmare that have produced zero return on investment, and for both parties in grant applications, that’s a big, big deal. Labs have been abandoning them like rats jumping from a sinking ship.

Researchers now use induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC’s), which are generated directly from adult cells. We also now have hundreds of therapeutic uses from adult stem cells. So, embryonic stem cells are yesterday’s failed experiment. Still, that won’t assuage some who are entirely intolerant of any organization that might have ESC’s still in research. For the faithful Catholic this is where the ethical waters get a bit muddy.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center recently weighed in, offering alternative organizations not using ESC’s. That’s fine, but consider that the same organization doesn’t have a moral problem with using vaccines cultured in cell lines derived from aborted fetuses:

Whether immunization with these vaccines is permissible depends upon whether their use involves the Catholic in cooperation with evil. Briefly, formal cooperation arises when an individual shares in the intention or the action of another who does what is wrong. Immoral material cooperation occurs when one who cooperates makes an essential contribution to the circumstances of a wrongdoer’s act. Thus the question about vaccines derived from aborted fetuses concerns whether or not their use involves the Catholic in immoral cooperation with the evil of abortion.

The answer, in short, would appear to be “no.” For it seems impossible for an individual to cooperate with an action that is now completed and exists in the past. Clearly, use of a vaccine in the present does not cause the one who is immunized to share in the immoral intention or action of those who carried out the abortion in the past. Neither does such use provide some circumstance essential to the commission of that past act. Thus use of these vaccines would seem permissible.

The author, Dr. Ted Furton, is from my conversations with him, and my reading of his material, a profoundly good, moral, and decent Catholic man and scholar. His rationale in the case of the vaccines in question can be applied to donating to ALSA, which is winding down its sole line of ESC’s (that have private funding). It’s an old cell line, just as the vaccine culture line is an old cell line. Unlike the vaccine cell line, ALSA’s one ESC line is on a dead end trajectory.

So, what’s really at issue here? Stem cell researchers are licking their wounds after more than a decade of fruitless endeavor. Virtually all recognize that the morally unproblematic ASC’s and iPSC’s are bearing great fruit, thanks to their being more mature and differentiated (hence more easily controlled). Ought we withhold funding from researchers at ALSA whose administrators today pay weak lip service (and no more money) to one of science’s greatest boondoggles?

For what it’s worth, as a Catholic Molecular Biologist who has raged for a decade at this ugly abuse of science, I think it’s more important to fund the research community’s redemption than to rub their collective nose in past sins. ALSA has many great minds on staff. New money goes to morally acceptable research. Like the son in the parable who initially refused his father’s request, they have come about and are now doing what we have called upon them to do for over a decade.

We need to stop pouring cold water on the Ice Bucket Challenge. I plan to donate to ALSA and to earmark the money for research on iPSC’s (kinda redundant, as the ESC line is funded by a sole donor). However, the earmark sends a message, a good message for a good cause.

I hope that it helps to end this dread disease and that we can look back and have ownership in having a part in it all, and having funded moral means to such a good end.

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Recently, noted philosopher Richard Dawkins made ripples across the pond when he tweeted regarding babies in utero diagnosed with Down Syndrome:

Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.

While one doesn’t flinch at the suggestion of abortion coming from Dawkins, that’s an interesting invocation of morality coming from the celebrated atheist. Immoral based on what? Perhaps an Enlightenment rationale rooted in utilitarianism? Dawkins seems to suggest as much in another tweet when he writes of people on the autism spectrum juxtaposed with people who have Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome):

People on that spectrum have a great deal to contribute, Maybe even an enhanced ability in some respects. DS not enhanced.

Actually, he might have that reversed in some respects. People with Down Syndrome tend to be the most happy and loving individuals on the planet. Their smiles, their affection are effusive, while whole swaths on the autism spectrum are noted for their lack of empathy and demonstrable affections. In this it is a safe bet to say that those with Down Syndrome are affectively enhanced. And what of using an Enlightenment approach to utilitarianism?

Dawkins and his ilk live outside of the Enlightenment, and even in reading the great authors of that several hundred year period, he seems to have missed the point of the movement entirely.

Thomas Jefferson lived in the Enlightenment, and apart from his own personal glaring contradictions, seems to have grasped its meaning rather well. This is not only evident in the Declaration of Independence, but also in a letter to his daughter, Patsy, where his Enlightenment utilitarianism shows all the humanity and warmth absent in Dawkins’ ice cold bastardization of that era. Jefferson writes:

Every human being must be viewed according to what it is good for; for none of us, no, not one, is perfect; and were we to love none who had imperfections, this world would be a desert for our love.

And there it is, the raison d’être of us all. We are here to love, to send out our love to be attached to another. Love, not in the romantic sense, but in the daily, self-sacrificial sense.

…and were we to love none who had imperfections, this world would be a desert for our love.

Dawkins’ morality is as arid as the loveless soil in which it is rooted. Judeo-Christian morality derives its life, its sustenance from the love in which it is rooted; Jefferson’s love, which has imperfect humanity as its object.

Jefferson’s utilitarianism sees the sender as imperfect, as well as the receiver. If one were to sit with Jefferson over a bottle of Madeira, he might well expound upon this advice to Patsy. He might well describe that it is the very imperfection of the recipient which requires our love, and in which our love takes root. He might well explain that our love cannot complete or complement in another those elements in the other which have already attained perfection, but rather, complement and complete the imperfections in the other.

Indeed, Jefferson might well have admonished that our perfection requires having a place to send our sacrificial love, a place where there is need of our love, a place where we find the healing of our own imperfection as humans by sacrificing for another.

One can scarce envision a population more given to unconditional love than the Down Syndrome community. Those such as Dawkins, who reject the very idea that there is a God who is love itself, who advocate the slaughter of babies for want of something that approximates normal function, are those most in need of love themselves. There is something in them that was frustrated along the way, perhaps the perception that their love was not welcome in those to whom it should have flowed, and from whom they should have received that love which could have completed what was lacking in them.

It is a frustration that has turned into a deadly philosophical rage, a world and worldview that has become a desert for Dawkins’ love.

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In the debate surrounding the purported link between abortion and breast cancer (ABC link), there has arisen a core of individuals whose demeanor can best be described as zealous. This group has all but abandoned the core scientific principle of allowing themselves to be led, without prejudice, by the preponderance of the scientific data. It is a dangerous tack that they have taken for as scientists we are trained in a method that is meant to protect us, and the public who listen to our informed opinion, from the errors that come with thinking not in empirical terms, but from hewing to outmoded orthodoxies. Scientists and physicians fall into this error time and again, which precludes being open to new information. Currently the abortion breast cancer debate swirling in Australia as one of the chief proponents of this link (Dr. Angela Lanfranchi) is there to give a presentation on the topic. This debate provides us a window into this issue of orthodoxies creeping into the scientific community and taking stubborn hold. The identity of the orthodox wing in this debate, and its machinations, may be surprising.

As the Canadian Nobel Laureate (Chemistry), Dr. John Polanyi, noted:

At the heart of science lies discovery which involves a change in worldview. Discovery in science is possible only in societies which accord their citizens the freedom to pursue the truth where it may lead and which therefore have respect for different paths to that truth.

While Polanyi’s words beg to be taken to heart, the reality behind the denial of the ABC link is rooted in precisely the abuse of intellectual freedom Polanyi abhors. For over a decade in the United States all major medical and cancer societies have adopted the position that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer. They have done so based upon a single workshop conducted at the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Louise Brinton, who dismissed the unambiguous data in the literature establishing an ABC link, chaired this workshop. In it only those on her side of the issue were given a voice. Brinton would go on to coauthor a paper six years later that included oral contraceptive use and induced abortion as risk factors for breast cancer. For an excellent update on the state of the international literature in the field, Dr. Joel Brind gives one here.

Far from discredited junk science, researchers all across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas continue to do research, publish in peer-reviewed journals, and continue to substantiate the ABC link. Their data, contained in two meta analyses discussed by Dr. Brind, all build on a devastatingly simple biological model that even the data deniers at NCI do not refute.

When a woman becomes pregnant her estrogen levels increase 2,000 times greater than baseline. The immediate effect is a swelling of breast tissue as the number of ductal cells roughly double. These cells are immature, undifferentiated, and cancer-prone. In the latter part of the second trimester and during the third trimester human placental lactogen is produced by the placenta, which matures and differentiates about 85% of the breast tissue from the cancer-prone Type 1 and Type 2 cells to milk producing and cancer resistant Type 3 and Type 4 cells. With breast-feeding and successive pregnancies the remaining 15% of cells are successively transformed to cancer resistant cells.

This is not only true in humans, but has been repeatedly demonstrated in animal models as well.

These facts are not in dispute by either side. Neither are the data showing that women who suffer first trimester miscarriage have no increased risk of breast cancer compared to women who have induced abortion, as their hormone levels never really increase appreciably. Neither in dispute are the data that demonstrate the earlier a woman has a first full term pregnancy, the lower her risk for breast cancer. Neither are the data by Danish epidemiologist Dr. Mads Melbye who discovered a 3% increased risk of breast cancer for every week after week seven of gestation where women have an induced abortion. He found an 89% increased risk of breast cancer after week eighteen in women who have had induced abortions. Melbye, it must be noted, denies the validity of his own statistically significant data.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Melbye, Brinton, and the rest of the NCI coterie deny the validity of their own data (as well as data from all over the globe), data that time and time again substantiate the ABC link. Their sole reason for denying the data in case-control studies (which are retrospective analyses) is the assertion that women who have had induced abortions are more likely to recall them, or report them if they have breast cancer. Dr. Janet Daling who included in one of her studies a test of this putative bias, studied women with cervical cancer and found absolutely no recall bias in her cases or controls. That makes sense because nearly all cervical cancers are caused by human papilloma virus. Janet Daling also publishes with the deniers.

That’s all they have: A disproven assertion, destroyed by one of their own.

That’s all there is behind the attack on results substantiating an ABC link in over seventy peer reviewed papers and two meta analyses. A small group of deniers with a large platform who didn’t give time or fair hearing at the workshop held to address this significant objection to results that cut across nations, cultures, religions, and reproductive practices and belief systems.

So how to explain all of this? The elephant in the room isn’t induced abortion as that which prevents attaining the protective effect of placental lactogen in the latter stages of pregnancy. The issue is the legality of induced abortion and what the frightening specter of breast cancer fifteen or twenty years later might mean. In other words, it’s scientists denying scientific data because of a political agenda. In the words of Dr. Leslie Bernstein who helped run the sham NCI workshop which so many scientific societies have swallowed uncritically:

The biggest bang for the buck is the first birth, and the younger you are, the better off you are….There are so many other messages we can give women about lifestyle modification and the impact of lifestyle and risk that I would never be a proponent of going around and telling them that having babies is the way to reduce your risk. I don’t want the issue relating to induced abortion to breast cancer risk to be part of the mix of the discussion of induced abortion, its legality, its continued availability. I think it should not be part of the argument.

This flies in the face of the freedom so essential to not only pursuing scientific truth, but in keeping the scientific community the free society Polanyi so eloquently proposes. Political orthodoxy has trumped the science and reason of hundreds of epidemiologists all over the globe, in scores of studies. Predictably the deniers will as a last resort point to the religious faith of some, suggesting that people of faith are incapable of adhering to the scientific method and discovering truth. Such orthodoxy prevents the funding by NCI of further studies along the ABC line of investigation, which only hurts women and their families in the long term.

This month, Australians have in their midst a physician and surgeon who boldly proclaims the truth of global discoveries. Can we all be wrong? And should a small band of highly placed scientific truth deniers sell the public on the scientifically heretical idea that there is such a thing as settled science around hotly contested issues? If one’s hypothesis isn’t open to being falsified by further research, then by definition one has exited science and entered the realm of orthodoxy. Such is the political orthodoxy, so truthfully stated by Dr. Bernstein, that has led so very many away from a small mountain of clear and convincing data on an issue impacting hundreds of millions of women who have had induced abortions.

This isn’t how good science is done. It is the very thing of which they accuse us: substituting political orthodoxy for science and reason.

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A few thoughts on the growing Ebola scare for my friends and loved ones…

This comes from the heart and mind of a medical microbiologist. Yes, I think that not enough is being done to shut down travel from the endemic areas, and this carries with it the potential for ebola’s introduction here. I also think the American aid workers should have been treated in the hot zone for the same reasons. While ebola is truly frightful, there is no cause for panic at this juncture.



What is needed is vigilance and sound policy decisions. This is the time to call your Congressional representatives. However, I’m seeing plenty of paranoid meanderings from folks who think that Obama wants to unleash ebola on the streets, that “THEY,” whoever “THEY” are, want to wipe out Africans in an attempt to conquer a continent with vast resources.

Look, biological warfare is indiscriminite. To aid an outbreak and shepherd it into a pandemic, thinking it will somehow limit itself to the despised class, is breathtakingly naive. There is a reason why nobody has deployed biological weapons in war. They are the gift that keeps on giving.

IF an outbreak occurs here, we’ll deal with all of the safety measures when that happens. Right now, there are no signs pointing to any outbreak. So let’s just put our trust in the Lord, be vigilant, be proactive and call our politicians regarding restrictions on travel, and in the words of Psalm 46:

“Be still, and know that I am God.”


(It isn’t airborne, either.)

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The internet social media sites have lately been swamped with photos and videos of mass executions, raped women, severed heads and blood flowing like a river. A monster has been unleashed on the civilized world once again, but to be fair to Islam, this monster has been seen before. Among some of the many practitioners have been the ancient Greeks, Romans, Caananite cults, Medeival and Renaissance Christians (Yes, Catholics!), Turks, Mongols, Chinese, Japanese, Communists (in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Soviet Union), etc.

Islam does seem to have a greater degree of recidivism, however.

In all of these episodic spasms of violence, it is not usually the civilization itself, but death cults that well up within them and sweep up many in much the same way ordinary people can find themselves easily swept up in a vigilante mob and doing what hours before would have been unthinkable. Much is the same in the latest spasm of satanic slaughter in the Middle East.

We are alarmed at the persecution of Christians, their wholesale slaughter, and that of rival Muslim sects as well. We are sickened at the sight of their slaughter and want to do something about it.

But what?

Beyond prayer and consciousness raising, what else can be done? The answer is military, but in a war-weary nation that actually helped precipitate this by the sudden withdrawal of our troops (creating the vacuum for ISIS) there is no political will or stomach for another fight. So the answer is what?

A steady diet of these photos will only produce compassion fatigue, the genesis of which is illustrated in the Venn diagram below:

Diagram - Compassion Fatigue

Moreover, there is a legitimate debate about the potentially voyeuristic participation in such atrocity and its effects on the psyche and soul. Such imagery becomes like pornography in requiring ever greater thresholds of depravity depicted in order to elicit arousal. This occurred with the nightly news images during the Vietnam War, which had no greater degree of atrocity than other wars, as the historical record continues to bear. Eventually we became outraged, then numbed, then seized with the desire to move on.

Teddy Kennedy led the defunding, we declared victory and came home. This created the vacuum for Pol Pot and his slaughter of over three million humans in just a few short years. In Iraq, history is repeating itself, and the question is what do we do with these images?

On FaceBook I have joined Deacon Greg Kandra in declaring that I will unfriend anyone who posts these images. I don’t need them on a daily basis, and their abundance will merely desensitize me. In just a few short weeks I have already lost the ability to feel shock and horror. It’s becoming just more of the same, and that’s the real shock and horror.

In a recent blog post, Fr. Dwight Longnecker declared that we dare not look away. I disagree. The real danger is incurring the fate of Lots’ wife, of turning to stone for having looked back.

If we truly care, we’ll act. We’ll actually DO something. That will begin with electing new national leadership and rebuilding our military. Death cults have only ever been stopped by military force, and this one is no exception. However, maintaining our edge means not looking on the horror with unfiltered gaze.

That’s the challenge.

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