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LIFE DIGEST: House passes amendment giving ethical stem cell research a boost

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives gave a boost July 18 to federal funding for ethical stem cell research.

The House approved by voice vote an amendment to increase funding in the next federal budget for research on stem cells from umbilical cord blood to $15 million. The measure increases funding by $11 million from the amount originally designated in the bill for the National Cord Blood Inventory (NCBI), established by a law in 2005.

The NCBI “now gives us the opportunity to turn medical waste into medical miracles,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., sponsor of the amendment. “Without passage of this amendment, the current grant recipients would need to dramatically scale back their cord blood banking initiatives just as they’re ramping up to treat more patients.”

About 8,000 patients have received cord blood therapies for more than 70 diseases during the last two years, Smith said.

The NCBI is used to collect cord blood units and to make them available for doctors searching for matches for patients. The law authorized, but didn’t require, $15 million for the inventory.

The increase from $4 million to the annual amount authorized was approved as an amendment to the spending bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into tissues and other cells, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions. Extracting stem cells from non-embryonic sources –- such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow –- does not harm the donors and has nearly universal support. Among the afflictions treated successfully by non-embryonic stem cells are spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia.

Embryonic stem cell research is highly controversial because the extraction of such cells results in the destruction of the embryo. Research on embryonic cells has yet to treat any diseases in human beings and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.

President Bush instituted in 2001 a policy prohibiting federal funds for embryonic stem cell research that destroys embryos. He has twice vetoed bills seeking to weaken his ban.

PROTECTING ‘THE LEAST OF THESE’ -– Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., again is seeking to protect children diagnosed with Down syndrome or other conditions and to help their parents.

Brownback, with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., as a cosponsor, introduced July 18 the Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act. The same senators sponsored a similar bill in 2005.

The bill requires parents who receive a diagnosis of Down syndrome or another impairment for their child before birth or until a year after birth be provided with the latest information on the condition and be informed of support services available. It also would establish a registry of families willing to adopt special needs children.

It is estimated about 90 percent of children diagnosed in the womb with Down syndrome are aborted. A similar abortion percentage exists for unborn babies diagnosed with spina bifida, cystic fibrosis and dwarfism, according to a release from Brownback’s office.

Americans “must offer as much protection as we can to ‘the least of these,'” Brownback said.

“The effect of our abortion policy at this moment is that we are in the midst of a genocide of children with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other in utero genetic conditions that medical analysis can detect,” Brownback said in a commentary in The Wichita Eagle. “If we think there’s a chance the child may have a disability, too often he or she is killed in the womb, and the system seems to push it.”

Some positive tests for Down syndrome and other conditions turn out to be false, Brownback said.

NO UNBORN LIFE –- South Korea’s Supreme Court has ruled an unborn baby is not legally a human being until a pregnant woman goes into labor.

The high court’s July 9 opinion affirmed a lower court’s acquittal of a midwife charged with negligent homicide, the JoongAng Daily reported. The court ruled a murder did not occur because the death of the unborn child took place before the 37-year-old woman under a midwife’s care went into labor.

The mother saw the midwife as her due date neared, according to the report. The 37-year-old pregnant woman did not have labor pains, so the midwife told her to wait another two weeks. During that time, the child died of brain damage.

The court followed previous decisions in 1982 and 1998 that an unborn baby is a person only when the birth process begins, according to the JoongAng Daily.

A Catholic bioethics specialist called the decision “shocking and deplorable.”

“We are living in an era in which a 21-week unborn child can be saved with an incubator,” said Lee Dong-ik, professor of medicine at the Catholic University of Korea, according to the newspaper. “It is unacceptable to see a verdict where a 42-week unborn is not considered a human being.”

PRO-LIFE SIGNS OK -– The Minnesota Supreme Court July 12 overturned lower court rulings against two men who had displayed anti-abortion signs on a public sidewalk.

The justices unanimously struck down the convictions of Rob Rudnick and Luke Otterstad, who were found guilty of violating public nuisance and city sign ordinances. The men had displayed four-foot-tall signs on a bridge over Highway 10 in Anoka. One of the signs included a photograph of an aborted baby.

“Pro-life advocates cannot be singled out for unfair treatment under the law,” said Charles Shreffler, a Minneapolis lawyer who represented the men on behalf of the Alliance Defense Fund. “This decision reminds law enforcement officers that they cannot arrest and prosecute pro-life advocates because those officials take offense at the content of their speech.”