Stem Cells from Amniotic Fluid
by Tom Strode

Scientists have announced the discovery of cells that have much the same potential as embryonic stem cells but without their ethical drawback, even as the House of Representatives prepares to vote again to fund experiments that destroy human embryos.

A team of researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Children's Hospital in Boston found the stem cells in the amniotic fluid of pregnant women, according to The Washington Post. Unlike embryonic stem cell research, the extraction of the cells from the fluid that surrounds an unborn child does not require the destruction of a tiny human being. These cells have the ability to develop into a variety of tissues, a trait of embryonic stem cells, but do not have the tendency to form tumors, a propensity that has plagued research on cells from embryos.

The promising research, reported January 7 in the online version of the journal Nature Biotechnology, was announced only days before the House is set to vote on a bill identical to one President Bush vetoed last year. The vote on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, H.R. 3, was expected to take place by January 11. The measure would provide federal funds for research using stem cells extracted from embryos stored at in vitro fertilization clinics.

Last year, the House sought to override Bush's veto but fell fifty-one votes short of the two-thirds majority required. This year, passage of the measure, which has 211 cosponsors, would appear to be a certainty, but it may again fall short of the votes for an override.

The report on the stem cells in amniotic fluid was welcomed as "wonderful news" by Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, according to The Post. The Catholic Conference opposes destructive embryonic research.

The announcement of the newly discovered cells, however, did not deter at least some stem cell researchers from their plans to pursue destructive experiments. "They are not a replacement for embryonic stem cells," Harvard researcher George Daley told The Post.

The report, however, appeared to provide another blow to the years-long, and often misleading, media campaign on behalf of embryonic stem cell research. Research that destroys embryos has yet to treat any diseases in human beings.

Research using stem cells from non-embryonic sources, however, does not harm the donor and has produced treatments for at least seventy-two ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These afflictions include spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and sickle cell anemia. Non-embryonic sources of stem cells include umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat, and bone marrow.

Stem cells are the body's master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues.

Procuring stem cells from amniotic fluid is not risk-free. The extraction of the fluid, which is performed by a needle's insertion through the abdomen into the amniotic sac, reportedly may present a risk to the unborn baby and a possible threat of infection to the mother. The procedure, known as amniocentesis, does not increase the rate of miscarriage during the fourth to sixth months of pregnancy, according to a study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, Reuters News Service reported in November.

Amniocentesis is performed often to detect birth defects. The testing of the fluid also can determine the baby's sex.

The January 7 report showed stem cells in amniotic fluid may be isolated as soon as ten weeks after conception, according to The Post. The study's leader, Anthony Atala of Wake Forest, said amniotic fluid stem cell donations from one hundred thousand women would supply enough cells for the tissues needed by virtually all Americans, The Post reported.



Majority of Americans Reject Iraq Coverage

More than half of Americans, 56 percent, believe the mainstream media's coverage of the war in Iraq is generally inaccurate, and 61 percent of those say the media make the situation look worse than it actually is, according to a Gallup Poll survey released January 4.

"About one-third of Americans believe that the news media present too negative a picture of what is happening in Iraq; one out of five believe that the news media present too positive a picture, and the rest say that news media coverage is about right or have no opinion," Gallup said in a news release.

Furthermore, the opinions can be broken down by political affiliation, with two-thirds of Republicans saying the media's coverage is both inaccurate and makes the situation appear worse, and 55 percent of Democrats saying the coverage is accurate or if it's inaccurate then it's skewed toward the positive.

The survey was based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,013 adults between December 18 and 20.



FamilyNet Ranked #1 As Best Bargain

FamilyNet Television was ranked #1 as the best bargain among commercial channels in a survey of cable operators from over three hundred systems ranging in size from one hundred subscribers to well over one hundred thousand. The 12th Annual Network Evaluation Survey was conducted by Independent Cable News and published in the December 2006 edition. Survey participants were from member companies of the National Cable Television Cooperative and the American Cable Association.

A four-page questionnaire containing data on each of 125 national cable networks formed the basis for the survey. In addition to determining the best cable network bargain, other findings included: the most-carried cable networks, the number of digital channels being offered as compared to system size, and the perceived treatment of cable operators by various network representatives.

FamilyNet Television is a faith-based channel with award-winning programs which provides a reliable, safe, viewing destination for today's family. FamilyNet has programming which appeals to viewers of all ages, such as news and current events from a Christian worldview, music specials, and classic movies and TV series, along with original children's shows, documentaries, and the best in Sunday worship from churches around the country.

Based in Fort Worth, Texas, FamilyNet can be seen in approximately thirty million TV households and is owned by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. FamilyNet also operates the Christian talk channel (161) on SIRIUS Radio. For more information, visit the FamilyNet Web site at www.FamilyNet.com.



The Faith of President Ford

News magazines Time and Newsweek mentioned the issue of former President Gerald Ford's faith in the days after his death, noting that many of his actions signaled a relationship with God though he didn't speak about it much.

In a Time article titled "The Other Born-Again President?" authors Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy said the contest between Ford and Jimmy Carter for president in 1976 was between two born-again Christians, "but only one was willing to run as one."

Gibbs and Duffy are also authors of the book The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham's White House Crusade, which is due out in August. They focused their argument on Ford's close friendship with Billy Zeoli, founder of Gospel Communications and a frequent minister to professional athletes.

Zeoli preached on "God's Game Plan" once before a Redskins game, and Ford stuck around to talk with Zeoli about Christ and forgiveness, Time reported.

"I think that day is the day he looked back to as an extremely important day of knowing Christ," Zeoli said.

Each Monday morning while Ford was in the White House, a devotional memo from Zeoli would be waiting on his Oval Office desk, the authors said, and Ford believed the memos were divinely inspired.

Time also noted that for years Ford faithfully attended a weekly prayer session with some of his friends in the House of Representatives, though he didn't let it be known because he thought that if a person talked about going to Bible study, then people would get the idea that he thought he was somehow better than them.

Ford called Graham to talk about whether to pardon Richard Nixon, Time said, and the two had a prayer over the telephone regarding the matter.

During Ford's campaign for re-election, Zeoli urged him to let his faith be known similar to the way Carter was painting himself as a born-again Christian. But Ford told Zeoli he didn't think it was appropriate to advertise his religious beliefs, and he didn't want to take advantage of his faith to get elected.

Jon Meacham, Newsweek's managing editor, wrote that Ford was "in a quiet, unnoticed way, an important figure in America's public religion" because in his most critical moments in the White House, he drew deeply on theological imagery. Meacham quoted several of Ford's speeches in which he referred to "a higher Power" and made allusions to the Bible.

And when he pardoned Nixon, Ford said, "I do believe, with all my heart and mind and spirit, that I, not as president but as a humble servant of God, will receive justice without mercy if I fail to show mercy." Ford's essential message, Meacham wrote, was one of forgiveness and grace.



Marriage Matters
by Michael Foust

John Edwards Says "Gay Marriage" Issue is a "Personal Struggle"

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards apparently remains opposed to "gay marriage," although he says he personally struggles with the issue and believes America may one day support it.

The former U.S. senator from North Carolina told a town hall meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, December 29 that "gay marriage" is the "single hardest social issue for me personally" and that he has "great conflict" internally over it.

"Most of the [other social issues] I don't have a lot of personal struggle with," he said. "I have a lot of personal struggle with this one …. It's very easy for me to say, civil unions? Yes. Partnership benefits? Yes …. It's a jump for me to get to gay marriage, and I haven't yet gotten across that bridge. But it is something I struggle with."

He added, "I wish I knew the right answer, because I think some of it has to do with the time in history that we're in."

Edwards said his daughter and her friends, in their 20s, "believe that this issue will completely disappear with their generation." With some in the crowd already applauding, Edwards added, "And they could be right about that."

Edwards, the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president, is among a handful of Democrats who are 2008 presidential hopefuls. One of those, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (Illinois), has said he opposes "gay marriage" but also opposes the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that allows states to refuse to recognize another state's "gay marriages." Another possible Democratic candidate, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, said last fall that she supports DOMA but that her advocacy on homosexual issues "has certainly evolved."

Kolbe Speaks Out

For a decade, U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona was the lone openly homosexual Republican in Congress. Now that he's leaving — he didn't seek re-election last year — he's speaking out. He told the Tucson Citizen in an interview published December 29 that he believes the United States eventually will legalize "gay marriage."

"As much as the social conservatives might not like to hear it, there will be a time when your grandchildren say: 'What was the argument with gay marriage? Who cares?'" he told the newspaper.

Republicans have relied too much on social conservatives, he said, and have focused too much on issues such as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and "gay marriage."

"It's a terrible mistake," Kolbe said. "It takes the party in the wrong direction. It takes us away from our core element and our core values: fiscal discipline and a strong defense."

Conservative leaders, though, assert social conservatives played a key role in the re-election of President Bush in the 2004 and in Republicans gaining Congress in 1994.

Massachusetts remains the lone state to recognize "gay marriage." Since it became legal there in 2004, twenty-three states have adopted constitutional marriage amendments, bringing to twenty-seven the number of states nationwide that have them.

Court Decision Significant

When the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unanimously ruled December 27 that legislators had a "constitutional duty" to vote either up-or-down on a proposed constitutional marriage amendment, no one knew exactly what impact the ruling would have. In hindsight, the decision was significant.

The ruling came just days before legislators were scheduled to vote January 2 on the amendment, which opponents hoped to kill by adjourning without giving it an up-or-down vote. Adjournment on January 2, the final day of the session, would have doomed the proposal. But instead, legislators allowed a vote, and the amendment received sixty-two votes, twelve more than required. It now must pass once more in the next session if it is to make the 2008 ballot.

It was the same court that more than three years ago issued its decision legalizing "gay marriage," sparking a nationwide backlash.

"The S.J.C. decision really tipped the scales against us," Arline Isaacson, co-chairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus said, according to The New York Times.

It was the fourth time in recent months legislators had met in a constitutional convention. In the previous three instances, legislators used parliamentary maneuvers to recess without allowing a vote.

For more information about the national debate over "gay marriage," visit www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage.



Employers Accommodating Families

A single divorce in the United States costs state and federal governments about $30,000, and the nation's 10.4 million divorces in 2002 are estimated to have cost taxpayers more than $30 billion, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, said.

Whitehead was included in a four-part series of articles published by The Washington Times in late December on the changing views of marriage. She attributed much of the cost of divorces to the higher use of food stamps and public housing as well as increased bankruptcies and juvenile delinquency.

Some employers also have discovered that they're losing money when their workers get divorced and either are less productive or quit their jobs altogether, so they've taken steps to prevent the break-up of families.

One of the most popular ways employers are starting to support families is to offer their workers flextime, which they can use to spend more quality time with their spouses and children rather than pushing themselves too hard on the job only to neglect those at home.

The Families and Work Institute said the number of employees who have access to flextime increased from 29 percent in 1992 to 43 percent in 2002, The Times reported. And in 2005, 73 percent of employees who had access to flextime used it.

Another growing trend is telework programs, which The Times said are being used to retain employees who move to the suburbs and whose long commutes cut away from family time. The programs allow employees to work from any location using technology that helps them keep in touch with their employer throughout the day, The Times said.

Even as companies change their methods, some experts say an overriding problem still threatens marriages.

"My sense is companies are doing more than ever to help people maintain their home lives, but there is a culture in this country that drives people to work harder and that culture places a strain on marriage," Barbara Schneider, a professor of sociology and human development at Michigan State University, told The Times. "It is the mentality that has to be changed, and the burden is on businesses."

The Times also reported that the divorce rate in the United States has steadily declined in recent years, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. About one in three marriages ends in divorce these days.

    About the Author

  • SBC Staff