Today at The Catholic Thing, Robert Royal writes about his recent visit to the conference of the Catholic Medical Association. To say that Catholicism has a role to play in medicine is to say a number of things. First is the historical fact that the modern hospital system has its origin in Christendom’s Church-supported, religiously motivated charitable enterprises. Second, is that although we should be wary of reducing religion merely to charitable aid (as Pope Francis has said, we cannot think of the Church as just another NGO), it remains true that “faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:17) and that Christian charity extends not only to eternal but to temporal concerns. Therefore, it is fitting and proper that Catholics act vigorously in the field of providing healthcare to the suffering in society.
But the main point I wish to make is that Catholicism may have a particular role to play in recalling medicine to itself. As Royal notes, the Association “is a group that knows itself to be operating in a culture that is now at odds with the great tradition of medicine from … the Hippocratic Oath down to our own day.” Medicine is a powerful force; modern technology only makes it more so. Medicine has a tradition, even preceding Christianity, of attempting to temper its power and of focusing its treatment on the good of the suffering person. But when the fundamentals of medical ethics are questioned, and we see a proliferation of approaches that treat patients (born and unborn) as simply factors to be evaluated in some abstract calculus of personal or social convenience and utility, it just might be the case that an institution that a tradition of two millennia of serious thought about the questions of ethics and morals might have something substantial to bring to the table.
I came across this op-ed recently, and Rebecca Taylor at Mary Meets Dolly takes a closer look. Organ donation is, in principle, moral and even laudable, but it comes with some serious ethical concerns that must be rigorously addressed. Our medical and scientific culture’s tendency to put practical and technical questions before moral and ethical ones makes this area sadly contentious.
The Vatican Information Service reports:
“Vatican City, 5 April 2013 (VIS) – This morning in the Holy See Press Office, a press conference was held to present the Second International Vatican Adult Stem Cell Conference, “Regenerative Medicine: A Fundamental Shift in Science & Culture”, which will place in the new Synod Hall of the Paul VI building in the Vatican from 11–13 April. Participating in the press conference were: Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture; Dr. Robin Smith, president of The Stem for Life Foundation and CEO of NeoStem; and Msgr. Tomasz Trafny, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture’s Science and Faith foundation.
[Msgr. Trafny explained,] “We want “to have a cultural influence on society, pointing to research models of excellence that are, nevertheless, in tune with the highest moral values of protecting the life and dignity of the human being from the moment of conception. However, we are aware that you cannot permanently influence society and culture without the constant and far-sighted support that comes from religious, social, and political leaders, from the community of entrepreneurs and from benefactors who are ready to commit to developing long-term scientific, bioethical, and cultural research.”
Read the story here.
More information is also available from Zenit.
Gene therapy cures diabetes in early dog-based trial;
and Francis Phillips argues that virtuous atheism is not enough;
and the University of Queensland is still performing the world’s slowest experiment.
Links: NewScientist, Catholic Herald, and University of Queensland
Image: University of Queensland
The Pontifical Council for Culture, together with NeoStem, the Stem for Life Foundation, and STOQ International have announced next year’s Vatican-hosted conference on adult stem cell research. From the press release:
NEW YORK, Nov. 1, 2012 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The Stem for Life Foundation, NeoStem, Inc. (NYSE MKT:NBS), The Pontifical Council for Culture, and STOQ International today announced that they will host The Second International Vatican Adult Stem Cell Conference: Regenerative Medicine — A Fundamental Shift in Science & Culture, from within The Vatican, April 11-13, 2013.
This event is part of a five-year collaboration between The Stem for Life Foundation, a not-for-profit organization devoted to raising global awareness of the therapeutic potential of adult stem cells, NeoStem, an emerging leader in the fast growing cell therapy industry, The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture and its foundation, called STOQ International (Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest).
With renowned journalists serving as moderators — Meredith Vieira from NBC News, Bill Hemmer from The Fox News Channel, Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal and Dr. Max Gomez from WCBS-TV — The Second International Vatican Adult Stem Cell Conference will feature leading adult stem cell scientists and clinicians, thought leaders of faith, ethics and culture, business leaders as well as Ministers of Health, Ambassadors to The Holy See and regulatory officials from around the world. During the event, adult stem cell scientists and clinicians will present an array of medical advancements and ongoing research occurring throughout the world, including the ability to grow replacements for damaged and diseased organs; restoring heart function after a heart attack; growing new skin for burn victims; rebalancing our own immune systems, pushing back a rising tide of chronic disease; advancements in cancer therapy; preventing organ rejection and addressing a range of other conditions and trauma, such as MS, traumatic brain injuries and cardiovascular disease via adult stem cell therapies. Throughout the event, patients will share their own stories of the unique, powerful treatments that have helped address their disease and reduce suffering.
The website for the conference is online here.
“What Can We Learn from the Stem Cell Debates?” asks Brendan Foht at Public Discourse, writing about a new report from The Witherspoon Council which argues that “that even the noblest aspirations of the scientific enterprise must be guided by ethics and governed under political authority.”
“The Path to Ethical Stem Cell Research“, an essay by Chuck Donovan and Nora Sullivan of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, is up today at The Catholic Thing.
A report from the American Heart Association says that researchers were able to use adult stem cells obtained from elderly heart failure patients to rejuvenate heart tissues. A team led by Dr. Sadia Mohsin of the San Diego Heart Research Institute was able to retrieve cardiac stem cells from elderly heart failure patients, and then incubate the cells with a viral vector that expressed the enzyme Pim-1, which is known to stimulate cell metabolism and the growth and regeneration of cells. The incubated cardiac stem cells were then injected into the myocardial tissue of mice modified to model a damaged heart. They found that the stem cells treated with Pim-1 generated new tissue and enhanced the cardiac function in the mice, while mice that received untreated cells showed much less improvement. While the research has so far been conducted only in mice, and similar studies have been done in pigs, the team is optimistic that the technique could prove beneficial to humans and hopes to begin a clinical trial. Dr. Mohsin says, “We modified these biopsied stem cells and made them healthier. It is like turning back the clock so these cells can thrive again.”
The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
(American Heart Association)
Image: Green represents myocytes newly formed by the transplanted cardiac stem cells. Red represents myocytes, blue shows the nuclei of the cells. Red and green colors together means that the transplanted cardiac stem cells have formed new myocytes. Elsevier/American Heart Association/JACC.