News Articles

LIFE DIGEST: Stem cell transplant ‘bit of a miracle’; Supreme Court’s tilt toward Roe; pro-life options for hospitals challenged; re-examining the pill; woman’s bout with RU 486

WASHINGTON (BP)–Genevieve Claveau was dying of a rare type of rheumatoid arthritis less than four months ago. She could not walk or feed herself.

Now, the Canadian woman is working fulltime and even hiking in the mountains -– thanks to a treatment using stem cells from her own bone marrow.

Claveau, 23, calls her health reversal “a bit of a miracle,” The Montreal Gazette reported Dec. 5. “I feel so light, as if I’m walking on a cloud.”

Claveau’s miraculous recovery is another example of the therapeutic value of non-embryonic stem cells that can develop into tissue and other cells.

The results of Claveau’s experimental stem cell transplant in August have led doctors to believe more patients, even infants, also may benefit from such a procedure. Claveau’s condition, known as Still’s disease, is an autoimmune illness in which the body attacks itself, according to The Gazette. Infants with such conditions do not respond well to normal drug treatment, the newspaper reported.

“We hope it will lead to other transplants for rheumatoid arthritis,” said rheumatologist Jiri Krasny of McGill University Health Centre, according to The Gazette. “It’s a very devastating disease. But any inflammatory arthritis would be a possibility, even in children as young as [a] one-year-old.”

While Claveau’s rejuvenation could provide more evidence of why destructive embryonic stem cell research is unnecessary, there is no question it is unethical, most pro-life advocates say.

The use of non-embryonic stem cells –- from sources such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow — does not harm donors, but the extraction of embryonic stem cells destroys the days-old embryos. Though non-embryonic stem cell research has resulted in successful treatments for more than 40 afflictions, embryonic stem cells have yet to produce a therapy in a human being.

A Toronto, Canada, researcher says stem cells from umbilical cord blood alone could negate any need for embryonic cells, according to LifeSite News.

“Everything that people now talk about regarding stem cells, I think that cord blood can do,” Bob Casper told the London Free Press, according to LifeSite. “It could change the whole face of medicine.

“We already have these cells making insulin in a dish,” said Casper, a scientist at a research institute and a founder of a cord blood cell bank. “There are already animal models for spinal cord injuries and for diabetes. If all these things work out, the potential for the use of these cells is going to be hugely expanded.”

Cord blood is the blood that remains after a child is born and “is essentially treated like garbage,” Casper said.

In other recent developments regarding stem cells:

— A South Korean research team reported great progress in the paralysis and speech problems of some patients after injecting bone marrow stem cells into areas of the brain impacted by cerebral infarction, according to The Korea Times.

— A type of stem cell that exists in adult hair follicles and has the capacity to differentiate into a variety of cells was recently discovered by a team led by a Medical College of Wisconsin researcher, Medical News Today reported Dec. 10. Experiments in mice have given the researchers hope the cells — known as neural crest stem cells — may treat such conditions as spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and bone degeneration, according to the report.

— Stem cells found in baby teeth may prove more adaptable than embryonic cells, according to research presented at the Australian Stem Cell Scientific Conference in October, The New Zealand Herald reported Dec. 4. Storage of the stem cells found in the pulp of baby teeth may result in treatments for strokes and Parkinson’s disease, according to the report.

IT’S 6-3, NOT 5-4 –- The myth of only one justice on the current U.S. Supreme Court standing in the way of a reversal of the 1973 decision legalizing abortion continues to be perpetuated by abortion rights advocates and in the news media.

In a Dec. 6 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, National Abortion Federation President Vicki Saporta bemoaned what she called an “anti-choice” Congress and White House, adding, “The safeguard –- which has always been the courts, particularly the Supreme Court –- currently hangs in a 5-4 balance, so if just one justice who currently votes to support [the Roe v. Wade decision] is replaced by one who would vote to overturn it, women in this country would lose their right to choose.”

Only one problem –- there is no such 5-4 split on the high court. Instead, supporters of Roe have a 6-3 advantage over detractors of the opinion among the justices.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are the only members of the court who have indicated their opposition to Roe, which when coupled with a companion ruling, Doe v. Bolton, had the effect of legalizing abortion for any reason throughout pregnancy.

Even Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor –- described often as swing votes on the court -– are on record affirming Roe. In the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion, Kennedy and O’Connor joined David Souter in permitting states to craft some restrictions on abortion. Their decision, however, protected the right to abortion established by Roe.

Associate Justice John Paul Stevens is a longtime defender of Roe. Fellow Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer -– who joined the court in 1993 and 1994, respectively — are considered solid votes for a right to abortion.

NO CHOICE FOR SOME -– A coalition of pro-choice organizations has gone to court to block a new federal law protecting healthcare providers from being forced to participate in abortions.

The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) filed suit in federal court Dec. 13 against a pro-life conscience clause that was signed into law five days before by President Bush as part of a $388 billion omnibus spending bill.

The pro-life conscience clause prohibits grants to federal agencies or state or local governments that discriminate against healthcare providers and entities that refuse to “provide, pay for, provide coverage of or refer for abortions.” The measure protects doctors, other healthcare professionals, hospitals, health maintenance organizations, health insurance plans and other healthcare entities. The clause will have to be renewed next year to remain in effect or be passed as a stand-alone measure, since it is part of a budget measure for only 2005.

The threat to healthcare providers was real, pro-lifers said. Hospitals in Alaska, New Jersey and New Mexico that have pro-life policies already have been targets of discrimination, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reported. The new measure was needed because current federal law has been interpreted to protect only doctors and medical training programs, according to the USCCB.

In a written statement, NFPRHA President Judith DeSamo charged the legislation “creates a gaping hole that provides a huge incentive to deny America’s most vulnerable women access to abortion services and coverage, extending even to referrals for this sometimes life-saving health care option.”

The lawsuit, a USCCB spokeswoman said, “is the height of hypocrisy: a ‘pro-choice’ group is suing so that health care providers will have no choice but to participate in abortion.”

“Over a million abortions are done every year by willing abortion providers in this country — now the abortion lobby wants Catholic and other health care providers with moral objections to be forced into the practice of abortion,” Cathy Cleaver Ruse said in a written release.

NFPRHA members include affiliates of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; local, county and state health departments; family planning councils; and international family planning agencies.

NO PILL BENEFITS — A recent study claiming health benefits for a contraceptive some pro-lifers consider abortifacient was unfounded, researchers with the federal government’s Women’s Health Initiative reported Dec. 10.

In October, the news media reported on a Wayne State University study that supposedly provided evidence use of the birth control pill protects women later in life from such ailments as heart disease and strokes. The WHI representatives said, however, analyses of the WHI data used were “exploratory.” The WHI’s reviews of the data “don’t support inferences of either cardiovascular disease benefit or risk,” Susan Hendrix and Ross Prentice said in a statement. Hendrix is affiliated with Wayne State, which is in Michigan, as well as the WHI.

Other studies, which “provide better scientific data,” have demonstrated women “who take [oral contraceptives] have a small increased risk for [cardiovascular disease], like blood clots, heart attacks and stroke,” the WHI said.

The birth control pill is an oral contraceptive that has been available in the United States for about 40 years but has been called into question for several years regarding its potential for causing abortions. In its first two mechanisms, the pill acts as a contraceptive. Its primary effect is to prevent ovulation, the release of an egg or eggs from the woman’s ovaries. A secondary mechanism is the thickening of the cervical mucus, which restricts a sperm’s path to an egg.

Another effect, and the one which has alarmed some pro-lifers, is the thinning of the uterine lining or endometrium. When the endometrium is in such a condition, it is less hospitable for the implantation of a recently conceived child. For pro-lifers -– who accept conception, not implantation, as the beginning of a human life –- such a rejection would make the contraceptive causing the action abortion-inducing.

The WHI is a 15-year program in the Department of Health and Human Services to study the causes of death and poor health in older women.

NEAR RU 486 VICTIM –- A New Zealand woman barely avoided being the latest addition to RU 486’s death list.

The woman, whose name was not released, was bleeding heavily when she was rushed to a hospital, a New Zealand government spokesman said, according to a Dec. 5 report by LifeNews.com. “Her life was endangered –- certainly it was potentially fatal,” said Lesley Rothwell, who monitors abortion for the government, to the Sunday Star Times, according to LifeNews. “She was admitted to [the] hospital in an extremely distressed state. The hospital staff were also very distressed by it.”

She bought the abortion drug on the Internet from Chinese sources, according to Medsafe, the New Zealand Health Ministry’s drug monitoring agency, LifeNews reported.

RU 486 has been legal in New Zealand since 2001, but women may be buying it illegally online because of embarrassment or a language barrier, Rothwell said, according to LifeNews.

Three women have died in the United States since RU 486 was approved in 2000, the Food and Drug Administration recently reported. The FDA announced in November it would strengthen the warning on the drug.

RU 486, also known as mifepristone, causes the lining of the uterus to release the embryonic child. RU 486 normally is used in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. A second drug, a prostaglandin, is taken two days after mifepristone and causes the uterus to contract, expelling the baby.