A federal appeals court has permanently lifted the injunction that had briefly stopped federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research.
The Sept. 28 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit allowed funding for the research to continue while a lawsuit filed by Drs. James L. Sherley and Theresa Deisher proceeds.
The two researchers who work with adult stem cells have challenged the Obama administration’s guidelines on stem-cell funding, saying they faced the possibility of losing funding from the National Institutes of Health when NIH funding for embryonic stem-cell research was expanded.
NIH already had resumed the funding Sept. 9 when the appeals court temporarily lifted an injunction granted Aug. 23 by Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Lamberth said the guidelines violated the Dickey-Wicker amendment, approved annually by Congress since 1996, which prevents federal funding of research in which human embryos are harmed or destroyed.
Lamberth also ruled that “the guidelines threaten the very livelihood of plaintiffs Sherley and Deisher” because their “injury of increased competition … is actual and imminent.”
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said Lamberth’s August ruling was “a victory for common sense and sound medical ethics” that vindicated the bishops’ reading of the Dickey-Wicker amendment.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said he was “heartened that the court will allow NIH and their grantees to continue moving forward while the appeal is resolved.”
“President (Barack) Obama made expansion of stem-cell research and the pursuit of groundbreaking treatments and cures a top priority when he took office,” Gibbs said Sept. 28.
The Catholic Church opposes any stem-cell research that involves the destruction of human embryos. Catholic leaders and scientists have said therapies and treatments developed from adult stem cells and other morally licit research material have produced promising results, while no actual treatments have been developed from research using embryonic stem cells.
Dr. Francis S. Collins, NIH director, said the Lamberth ruling “pours sand into that engine of discovery when we were really gaining momentum” with embryonic stem-cell research.
“This decision has the potential to do serious damage to one of the most promising areas of biomedical research,” he said Aug. 24.
But Cardinal DiNardo told Catholic News Service he hoped the decision would “encourage our government to renew and expand its commitment to ethically sound avenues of stem-cell research.”
In testimony Sept. 16 at a hearing on “The Promise of Human Embryonic Stem-Cell Research” before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Labor, HHS and Education, Collins said NIH “is strongly committed to research using adult stem cells” because it has already “produced clinically validated and widely used treatments” and “there may be other clinical applications for which they prove useful.”
“NIH has invested many hundreds of millions of dollars over the years in adult stem-cell research,” he added. “Indeed, annually we are spending almost three times as much on adult stem-cell research as on human embryonic stem-cell research.”
In court documents, NIH officials estimates that the government spent $88 million for embryonic stem-cell research in fiscal year 2008 and $91 million in fiscal 2009 and that it would spend $92 million in fiscal 2010.
Catholics know about as much as Americans in general about religion, getting right only half of the 32 questions in a survey for the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
In the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey released Sept. 28 at a Washington symposium on religious literacy, Pew found that those most likely to answer the most questions correctly were atheists and agnostics, according to a Catholic News Service report. Panelists suggested that might be the result of the analytical process and study that many people go through before they decide to define themselves as atheist or agnostic.
That group on average answered 20.9 of 32 questions correctly, compared to the total average of 16; Jews averaged 20.5 questions correct and Mormons, 20.3. White evangelical Protestants got an average of 17.6 questions correct, while white Catholics averaged 16 correct answers and Hispanic Catholics averaged 11.6 correct answers. Black Protestants got 13.4 questions correct, while white mainline Protestants answered 15.8 questions right.
The questions tested general knowledge about various religions, about U.S. laws affecting religion and about key figures and beliefs of major religions. For instance, overall, at least two-thirds of those surveyed knew that public school teachers cannot lead a class in prayer; that Mother Teresa was Catholic; that Moses was the Bible figure who led the exodus from Egypt; that Jesus was born in Bethlehem; and that most people in Pakistan are Muslim.
Only about half of the entire sample knew that the “golden rule” is not one of the Ten Commandments; that the Quran is the Islamic holy book; that Joseph Smith was a Mormon; that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist; and that the four Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Fewer than one-third of the whole group correctly answered that most people in Indonesia are Muslim; that public school teachers are legally allowed to read from the Bible in class as an example of literature; and that only Protestants, not Catholics, teach that salvation comes through faith alone.
On the questions specifically about Catholicism, 55 percent of Catholics correctly identified the church teaching about transubstantiation, that the bread and wine used in Communion become the body and blood of Christ during the consecration. Overall, about 40 percent got that question right.
One of London’s two archbishops has asked Catholics to make their faith more visible in daily life in the aftermath of Pope Benedict XVI’s state visit to Britain.
Catholics should offer to pray for people, bless themselves openly with the sign of the cross or make such remarks to people as “God bless you,” said Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, the archdiocese that covers London north of the Thames River.
In a pastoral letter read out in 214 parishes at Masses Sept. 25 and Sept 26, Archbishop Nichols suggested that one first step would be “to be quicker to say to others that we will pray for them, especially to those in distress.”
“Prayer is the first fruit of faith in the Lord, and we grow so much by giving prayer its place in our homes and in our hearts,” Archbishop Nichols said. “Making faith visible is so much a part of the invitation the Holy Father has extended to us all.”
He said Catholics should see such public witness as a response to Pope Benedict’s wish, expressed during the Sept. 16-19 visit, that they become “ever more conscious of their dignity as a priestly people, called to consecrate the world to God through lives of faith and holiness.”
“The Holy Father has given us new heart for our mission,” Archbishop Nichols said, adding that in London’s Westminster Cathedral Sept. 18 the pope “spelled out that task.”
“He said we are to be witnesses to the beauty of holiness, to the splendor of the truth and to the joy and freedom born of a living relationship with Christ,” the archbishop said in the letter, according to Catholic News Service.
“In speaking of our faith, he was always so gentle and courteous, so sensitive to the achievements and anxieties of his listeners, so clear and reasoned in presenting difficult points, so humble and open-hearted,” he said. “We must strive for these same qualities when speaking about our faith, in witnessing to its truth.”
As nations are called to create a world free of atomic weapons, the international community must promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy, especially for development and cancer treatment in developing countries, a top Vatican official said.
The Vatican has long supported the nuclear nonproliferation treaty “as the basis to pursue nuclear disarmament and as an important element for further development of nuclear energy applications for peaceful purposes,” said Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, the Vatican undersecretary for relations with states.
Encouraging all nations, especially states with nuclear weapons, to ratify the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty is a major priority, as well as creating areas free from nuclear arms, especially in the Middle East, he said Sept. 21.
“Nuclear-weapon-free zones are the best example of trust, confidence and affirmation that peace and security are possible without possessing nuclear weapons,” he said.
The Vatican diplomat was speaking during the 54th general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna Sept. 20-24. The Vatican released a copy of his speech Sept. 22.
The Vatican continues to support the atomic agency’s work in letting all countries have fair access to the safe and secure use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and human development, Msgr. Balestrero said in a Catholic News Service report.
Nuclear energy, when tailored to the needs of individual countries, helps fight poverty and disease, and therefore contributes “to a more peaceful solution of the serious problems facing humanity,” he said.
A scientific forum discussing the challenge of cancer in developing countries was held in conjunction with the general conference.
Msgr. Balestrero highlighted the importance of bringing essential equipment and suitable technical and medical training for radiation diagnosis and therapy to developing countries. More than 50 percent of people diagnosed with cancer would benefit from radiation therapy either alone or together with surgery and chemotherapy, he said.
However, in the developing world “more than half of the number of patients suffering from cancer will not have access to radiotherapy due to the lack of appropriate equipment and sufficiently trained staff,” he said.
The atomic agency’s Program of Action for Cancer Therapy deserves special attention for trying to help member states in fighting cancer and “creating regional centers of excellence for radiotherapy,” he said.
Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson encouraged nations to keep their commitments to the Millennium Development Goals and said they “should be used to fight poverty and not to eliminate the poor.”
Cardinal Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, represented the Vatican at the Sept. 20-22 summit of heads of state and government on the Millennium Development Goals, which set out to halve poverty by 2015.
Addressing the leaders Sept. 20, the Ghanaian cardinal told them that he spoke not only as a religious leader, but also as an African and a man coming from a poor family.
The summit was convoked to assess the progress made in the past 10 years toward reducing poverty, combating disease, fighting hunger, protecting the environment and improving access to education.
The battle against poverty can be won, but it will require solidarity with the poor, favorable financial and trade policies, and assistance in fighting corruption and promoting good government, the cardinal said in a Catholic News Service report.
In addition, he said, more work needs to be done to reduce the foreign debt of the world’s poorest countries.
In his written intervention submitted to the summit, Cardinal Turkson called some of the earlier loan programs “situations of international usury” that plunged countries into an abyss of debt.
Economic policies and technology alone will not be enough to fulfill the development goals, he wrote.
Rather, the international community must work “to expand our vision from the donor-recipient paradigm to see each other for who we are: brothers and sisters with equal dignity and opportunity to access the same markets and networks,” he wrote.
The global financial crisis obviously has created new areas of poverty, including in wealthy nations, and has slowed progress in reducing poverty globally, but that is not because of the poor, Cardinal Turkson wrote.
“The unethical and irresponsible conduct of large private financial operators, together with the lack of foresight and control by governments and the international community, have all played a role,” he wrote.
War and violence and the related illegal trafficking of people, drugs and precious raw materials also contribute to stalling development, he said.
But the key to promoting development, the cardinal said, is to protect each individual’s political, religious and economic rights and freedoms; that is the secret to moving from “merely trying to manage poverty to creating wealth” and “from viewing the person as a burden to seeing the person as part of the solution.”
Virginia executed 41-year-old Teresa Lewis with a lethal injection Sept. 23, making her the first woman to be executed in the commonwealth since 1912 and only the 12th woman to be put to death since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976.
Lewis was convicted of planning the 2002 murders of her husband and 25-year-old stepson. The two men who killed the victims received life sentences.
The Virginia Catholic Conference was among the opponents of her execution and had urged people to petition Gov. Robert McDonnell to change his Sept. 17 decision to deny clemency to Lewis, stated Catholic News Service.
The alert noted that Lewis had acknowledged her crime and would expect to serve the same sentence as the two men who committed the murders, Matthew Shallenberger and Rodney Fuller.
A last-minute appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by Lewis’ attorneys to block the execution failed. They argued that her IQ of 72 put her almost at the level of disability that would exempt her from a death sentence.
Her supporters said she also suffered from a personality disorder that was manipulated by Shallenberger, her boyfriend, so that she would go along with the murder of her husband. The Catholic conference alert said that Shallenberger later admitted duping Lewis into believing he was in love with her and that they would take the money from life insurance policies and run away together.
Because Fuller confessed to the crime, he was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole. The judge in the case gave Shallenberger the same sentence.
Prosecutors said Lewis bore a greater responsibility than the two men because she planned the killings in cold blood.
In Kentucky, the execution of a death-row inmate remained on hold indefinitely after a Kentucky judge stopped it over questions raised about the man’s below-average mental abilities and possible problems with the state’s execution process.
On Sept. 10 in Frankfort, Ky., Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd blocked Gregory Wilson’s scheduled Sept. 16 execution, saying “the court has found serious questions about whether all statutory and constitutional requirements have been met.”
Wilson’s pending execution had been the subject of appeals to Kentucky’s governor and courts by death penalty opponents, including Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic bishops of Kentucky and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Wilson, 53, was convicted in 1988 of abducting, raping, robbing and murdering Debbie Pooley, an assistant restaurant manager. He has appealed his death sentence on a variety of grounds ranging from incompetent defense counsel to low IQ, but courts have repeatedly turned them back.
In his order, Shepherd raised questions about whether the state had adequately weighed whether Wilson is even eligible to receive the death penalty because of his low IQ. The Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that people whose IQ level establishes them as mentally disabled are not eligible for death sentences.
August in Madrid usually means a citywide exodus. As families vacation along Spain’s famous coastlines, the traffic eases and the capital becomes a bit less congested.
Next August promises to be very different.
Members of the Organizing Committee of World Youth Day 2011 expect that up to 2.5 million Catholics will descend on the city for the Aug. 16-21 international event. To accommodate this influx, the committee will secure space in Madrid’s three dioceses at locations such as universities, recreation centers and school gymnasiums. Many pilgrims will sleep on mats or in sleeping bags.
Soon the Vatican will release a list of more than 2,000 bishops who will conduct informal catechesis every morning followed by a number of cultural events in the evenings, according to Catholic News Service. Young Catholics can look forward to concerts, plays, and some of the best museums and palaces in the world.
By mid-September, 144,000 groups from outside Spain had registered for World Youth Day, with two-thirds of them scheduled to attend Days in the Dioceses, which allows them to spend time in other parts of Spain before World Youth Day begins Aug. 16. Sixty of Spain’s dioceses will participate in the Days in the Dioceses.
Registration for World Youth Days is still open. For more information go to http://en.madrid11.com.
The head of the bishops’ domestic policy committee has urged Congress to make the working poor a priority in current tax-policy debates.
“Too often the weak and vulnerable are not heard in the tax debate,” wrote Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., in a Sept. 20 letter to Congress. He asked Congress specifically to preserve and improve the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit.
The tax cuts for all individuals, enacted in 2001 and 2003, will expire at the end of the year unless Congress takes action to extend them. President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress are pushing for an extension of tax cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans, while Republicans want to extend the cuts for all taxpayers.
“Poor children and their families have compelling needs … yet they often lack powerful allies and influential advocates,” Bishop Murphy noted.
He particularly stressed the importance of extending the income eligibility requirements for the current child tax credit. He said if this provision is not continued, 600,000 more children will become poor and 4 million children already in poverty will fall into deeper poverty.
The bishop also emphasized the importance of retaining the current provisions of the earned income tax credit, which Congress modified in 2009. The tax credit currently helps families with three or more children and has increased the amount of tax relief for married couples. These changes, the bishop said in a Catholic News Service report, prevented 3 million people from falling into poverty in 2009 and increased the size of credit to 7 million families.
“This is no time to abandon these important parts of the safety net for low-income families and married couples,” he said.
Bishop Murphy drew on Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), which said that economic decisions have ethical consequences.
Quoting the document, he said: “The church’s social doctrine has always maintained that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus, every economic decision has a moral consequence.”
The bishop stressed that U.S. Catholic bishops have been strong supporters of the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit for years saying they help “workers and families raising children to provide the necessities of life.”
“Unless Congress acts,” he wrote, “these vulnerable workers and their children will be left worse off than they are now.”
Two officials of the U.S. bishops’ Office of General Counsel have told the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that it should not mandate that group and individual health plans include coverage of contraception or sterilization as part of what the federal agency considers preventive care for women.
“These drugs, devices and procedures prevent not a disease condition, but the healthy condition known as fertility,” said Anthony Picarello and Michael Moses, who are general counsel and associate general counsel, respectively, at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
They said contraception and sterilization “pose significant risks of their own to women’s life and health; and a federal program to mandate their inclusion would pose an unprecedented threat to rights of conscience.”
Picarello and Moses made the comments in a Sept. 17 letter that was hand-delivered to the HHS Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.
Their letter was sent as HHS continued its deliberations on a final list of required preventive services under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care reform bill signed into law by President Barack Obama in March.
Picarello and Moses said that contraception cannot be considered “preventive” on the grounds of preventing abortion because “abortion is not itself a disease condition, but a separate procedure that is performed only by agreement between a woman and a health professional.”
“Studies have shown that the percentage of unintended pregnancies that are ended by abortion is higher if the pregnancy occurred during use of a contraceptive,” they said.
“Prescription contraception as well as chemical and surgical sterilization are particularly inappropriate candidates for inclusion under mandated ‘preventative services’ for all health plans,” they said in a Catholic News Service report.
Such services are not like other preventive measures, for example blood pressure and cholesterol screening, diabetes screening, counseling with regard to tobacco use and obesity, and screening for sexually transmitted diseases, Picarello and Moses said.
“These services are emphasized because they can prevent serious or life-threatening conditions that once they do occur, will demand treatment to cure or reverse them,” they said.
“This rationale simply does not apply to contraception and sterilization,” they continued.
“The condition prevented by contraception and sterilization is pregnancy, which has its own natural course ending in live birth if not interrupted by medical intervention,” they said.
They noted that at least one drug already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for “emergency contraception” can actually cause early abortions, so a mandate of prescription contraception coverage as a preventive service would “be in direct tension with (the health reform law’s) statutory prohibition on mandating any abortion service.”
They also noted that such a mandate would threaten “rights of conscience for religious employers and others who have moral or religious objections to these procedures. In this regard, the (Obama) administration’s promise that Americans who like their current coverage will be able to keep it under health care reform would be a hollow pledge.”
They added that this “would also contradict long-standing federal precedents on respect for conscientious objection to such procedures and such coverage,” including the church amendment, which since 1973 has protected conscientious objection to abortion and sterilization.
A new public opinion poll released Sept. 16 shows that 47 percent of Americans oppose federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research, while 38 percent support such funding.
The poll, conducted by International Communications Research in Media, Pa., surveyed a random sample of 1,006 adults Sept. 8-14. It was commissioned by the U.S. bishops’ pro-life secretariat.
Survey respondents were informed that stem cells also can be obtained from adults, placentas, live births and other means that do no harm to the donor. They also were told that scientists disagree on whether stem cells from embryos or from such alternative sources may end up being most successful in treating diseases.
Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they favor funding only the research avenues that do not harm the donor, while only 21 percent favored funding all stem-cell research, including research that involves killing embryos.
The same day the poll results were issued the U.S. Senate held a hearing on whether federal money should fund embryonic stem-cell research.
“The Senate should not be misled on this important issue,” said Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
“Most Americans do not support federally funded research that requires destroying human embryos,” he said in a statement to Catholic News Service. “They want their tax dollars used for stem-cell research that is ethically sound as well as medically promising — the kind of research that has attracted the interest and commitment of more and more stem-cell experts in recent years.”
The new poll also shows continued overwhelming opposition to human cloning, whether to provide children for infertile couples — which 83 percent against — or to produce embryos that would be destroyed in medical research which 76 percent were against.
For this latest poll, respondents were contacted by phone where a number was available, or by mail and asked to complete the survey by calling a toll-free number. The margin of error was plus or minus3.07 percentage points.
In late August, U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth issued a preliminary injunction which temporarily stopped federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. In the 15-page ruling he said the research violated a 1996 law banning the use of taxpayer money to derive stem cells from embryos. An appeals court has since temporarily stayed that order until it can hear full arguments starting in mid-September.