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LIFE DIGEST: British scientist skeptical about embryonic stem cells; fund set up to aid pregnancy centers on Gulf Coast

WASHINGTON (BP)–Great Britain’s leading fertility expert says he looks upon the predictions of remarkable therapies from embryonic stem cell research with “growing skepticism.”

Lord Winston, president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, said at the organization’s meeting Sept. 5 in Dublin, Ireland, “Of course, the study of stem cells is one of the most exciting areas in biology, but I think it is unlikely that embryonic stem cells are likely to be useful in healthcare for a long time.”

The potential of embryonic stem cell research, which requires the destruction of the embryo, probably was oversold to the public and politicians in England, he said, according to BBC News.

“I was concerned that parliamentarians –- particularly in the House of Commons -– have been convinced that it was just a matter of a few years before we would be able to transplant stem cells and cure a lot of neurological disorders, like Alzheimer’s disease, for which I think it is going to be a hugely difficult problem and probably completely insoluble by stem cells,” Lord Winston said.

Among the problems with embryonic stem cells, he said in the BBC report, are their instability, “remarkable propensity to produce abnormal numbers of chromosomes” and the likelihood that faster-growing cells, which have more potential to be aberrant, may dominate other cells.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions. In addition to being extracted from embryos, the cells may be found in such non-embryonic sources as bone marrow, fat and placentas, as well as umbilical cord blood. While pro-life organizations oppose embryonic stem cell research, nearly all of them favor experiments with cells from non-embryonic sources because their extraction does not normally harm donors.

Embryonic stem cell research has yet to produce any human therapies, but non-embryonic stem cells have provided treatments for at least 65 maladies, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These treatments include spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia.

In the United States, President Bush’s policy allows federal funding for embryonic research only on stem cell lines already in existence prior to his August 2001 announcement barring funds for all other stem cell experimentation on embryos. The federal government provides grants for non-embryonic research.

The Senate is expected to take up legislation soon that would liberalize the president’s rule and provide funds for research using embryos left over after fertility treatments. The House of Representatives passed the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act in May, and supporters predict the Senate also will approve the bill. Bush has promised to veto it if it reaches his desk.

PP’s KATRINA KITS -– Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas (PPHSET) is making “emergency contraception” and birth control pills available to women who have fled their homes as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

Women who have either a Louisiana or Mississippi driver’s license may receive a free month’s supply of birth control pills and/or “emergency contraception,” the Planned Parenthood affiliate announced Aug. 29. “Many times [during emergencies like hurricanes], essential medication is left behind in the bathroom cabinet,” PPHSET President Peter Durkin said in a written statement. “We want the women from Louisiana and Mississippi to know that Planned Parenthood is here to serve them in their time of need.”

The affiliate’s “giving spirit” fits in well with Planned Parenthood’s mission to prevent or end pregnancies. Planned Parenthood Federation of America operates the country’s largest abortion chain.

“Emergency contraception,” also known as the “morning-after” pill, can act after conception as an abortifacient, pro-life advocates contend. While it acts to restrict ovulation in a woman, it also can block implantation of a tiny embryo in the uterus, thereby resulting in an abortion, pro-lifers point out.

Some pro-life physicians also say there is evidence that birth control pills also can act as abortifacients by preventing implantation.

The “morning-after” pill is basically a heavier dose of birth control pills. Under the regimen, a woman normally takes two pills within 72 hours of sexual intercourse and another dose 12 hours later.

“I’m sure Planned Parenthood would claim it is not a publicity stunt,” said Jim Sedlak, executive director of the American Life League’s STOP Planned Parenthood project, “but how else do you explain the fact that Planned Parenthood lists its clinics in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana that are closed because of the storm, along with a listing of the clinics’ phone numbers? If the clinics are closed, you don’t need the phone numbers — unless you are trying to drum up future business. If Planned Parenthood really wants to help, it should donate a portion of the millions of dollars in profits it makes every year to aid in the victims’ plights.”

CARING FOR CAREGIVERS –- While Planned Parenthood is handing out oral contraceptives and abortifacients, the pro-life organization Care Net is seeking to aid crisis pregnancy centers and their workers affected by Hurricane Katrina.

The hurricane has caused major damage to pregnancy centers on the Gulf Coast, and many workers at a Care Net-affiliated center in Biloxi, Miss., have lost their homes, said the organization’s president, Kurt Ensminger. As a result, Ensminger announced Sept. 1 that Care Net has set up an emergency fund to be used to help rebuild and repair centers lacking adequate insurance and to prove for the immediate needs of pregnancy center workers.

Information on the fund is available at Care Net’s web site, www.care-net.org.

Care Net, based in northern Virginia, provides support for more than 850 pregnancy centers in the United States and Canada.

ILLINOIS PROTECTS BABIES -– Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who ordered pharmacists to provide “emergency contraception” and birth control pills against their consciences earlier this summer, signed into law without notice in mid-August a measure providing legal protection for fully delivered babies, LifeNews.com reported.

The Democrat signed the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which clarifies a newborn child fully outside his mother’s womb is a person to be protected under the law. The law also mandates that health care facilities provide care for newborns even when they are intended to be aborted.

The legislation, patterned after a 2002 federal law by the same name, targeted an abortion method in which newborns who survive are allowed to die. Jill Stanek a fellow nurse had testified before a congressional committee that the procedure, known as live-birth abortion, was used at Christ Hospital in Chicago. In the method, delivery is induced, and the baby is left unattended to die.

The new law “will be vital to protecting babies and to re-establishing a culture of life in Illinois,” Stanek told the Illinois Leader, according to LifeNews. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Stanek now is pro-life coordinator for the Illinois chapter of Concerned Women for America, according to LifeNews.