Print Edition: March 8, 2015
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BY John Lilly
Cells: Victory Belongs to the Accurate
I am one of the scientists in the
picture that accompanied your article “Saved by Stem Cells” (July 2-8).
I am a pro-life stem-cell scientist
and have been active in the ethics of the embryonic stem-cell debate for quite
some time. I have two problems with what you wrote.
1. Your article suggests that
children with cerebral palsy can be cured by autologous
transplantation with cord-blood stem cells. The anecdote that you describe will
inevitably raise hopes in parents of children with similar conditions. However,
you completely fail to mention that there is absolutely no scientific proof
that cord-blood stem cells have any benefit in childhood neurological
conditions. There are no FDA-approved clinical trials and no data from animal
experiments that support this approach. In fact, one has to really ask how any
physician could conduct such an experiment. The apparent improvement in this
single case proves nothing. The Internet is replete with testimonies about
“cures” of all sorts, especially for desperate conditions such as cancer.
Again, let me state very clearly:
Your article as written (without the disclaimer regarding the lack of scientific
rationale for this treatment) is misleading and a disservice to your readers.
It could well drive some desperate parents into the hands of stem-cell quacks,
currently a growth industry.
2. Your article is an example of
the claim that “Adult stem cells can do everything embryonic stem cells can
do.” This statement has never been true and is not true now.
Let me use the example of hematopoietic stem cells, the bone-marrow stem cells used
for the treatment of severe blood disorders such as leukemia. These cells are
typically cited by Catholic publications as evidence that adult stem cells are
“just as good as embryonic stem cells.” While it is true that many patients
have been successfully treated by bone marrow transplantation over the past 20
years, the mortality rate still approaches 50% for patients who do not have a
matched donor, such as a relative who happens to share their blood type. That
is the majority of patients, more than half.
It now appears possible, however,
to make perfectly tissue-matched blood stem cells from embryonic stem cells and
then use them for transplantation. Scientists at Harvard have successfully
applied this procedure in mice. It goes something like this: Cloning (nuclear
transfer) is used to create an embryo from the patient’s skin cells. The embryo
is then destroyed to make embryonic stem cells, which are then converted into
blood stem cells in the lab. If this could be done in humans, blood stem-cell
transplantation would become much safer for the many patients who need it. I
use this example to illustrate that embryonic stem-cell technology likely will
have “benefits” even in the realm of classic adult stem cells. In addition, the
technology opens up many other opportunities for improved human health. It will
take time to get there, but it will happen.
It is important that we represent
the scientific facts truthfully even if they are inconvenient for us. I don’t
want us to be in a position of having to back-paddle a few years from now when
people are beginning to be cured with embryo-derived cells. In my opinion there
is a very high likelihood that this will happen. Our argument against embryonic
stem cells is not scientific — it is moral and ethical!
Regarding “Immigration’s 2
Catholic Camps” (June 25-July 1) by Father Andrew McNair:
A few further points need to be
made. Illegal immigrants took few jobs that any Americans wanted. The
prosperity of the ’80s and ’90s created a labor shortage in the factories and
warehouses amongst contractors in all law-paying service industries. American
businessmen broke the law openly, welcoming illegal immigrants and enriching
themselves. The authorities made few efforts to enforce the law.
Nor did the
Neither students nor dropouts showed any enthusiasm for mowing lawns or working
at Burger King, let alone a factory. Money could be made easier by getting a
union card from a relative or becoming a salesman or going into computers.
Illegal immigrants became essential to our economy.
We did not enforce the law because
we profited from illegal immigrants. I’ve worked around and I know. The illegal
immigrants were paid less. They were exploited. Still, they earned more than
was possible in their native lands. They also had children here, perhaps a few
million, all of whom are American citizens. Their children cannot be deported
for any reason. This creates a dilemma. What happens to the children of illegal
immigrants — American citizens — if their parents are deported? I have yet to
hear anyone in this debate ask about the children.
Interpreting the law of charity in
its strict sense, we owe an obligation to illegal immigrants. The unions now
feel threatened. Well, the unions are an elitist and highly non-productive minority
of American workers who have thrived for decades on patronage and Mafia
Then we have those who rant about
the hospital costs that illegal immigrants add to. This is pure nonsense. Illegals almost never use a hospital or public service. The
health-insurance system in America
is collapsing under the weight of our affluent seniors who have lifetime
benefits from their corporation, union or civil-service job, or for whom the
cost of insurance is a trifle. Every year they run up [enormous] bills that
The current gleeful and vociferous
attack on illegals is swamped with hypocrisy. The
only real solution, and charitable solution, is total, blanket amnesty.
Hackensack, New Jersey
Praise for the Priest Maker
I was thrilled to see one of my
favorite priests, Msgr. James McDonald, highlighted in your Inperson
interview, “Seminary Secrets of the Priest Maker” (July 9-15).
Seven years ago, I moved my family
to St. John the
Evangelist in Center Moriches, N.Y., just to be in his parish. While waiting
for the closing of my home, I drove by the church and saw a sight that warmed
my heart: Monsignor walking to Mass in his cassock, telling his well-worn
rosary beads. The first homily I heard from him, he talked about Satan, heaven
and hell. I knew I was in the right place for my family, and told him so.
Msgr. McDonald built a beautiful,
traditional church using the 100-year-old furnishings for the old church, and
even adding more statues to some of his favorite saints. He added a gorgeous,
medieval-style chapel for Eucharistic adoration. St. John’s had First Friday, First Saturday
and Miraculous Medal devotions. He preached incessantly about the necessity for
confession “to save your immortal soul.” He would scream as he paced the church
and walked into the pews during his homilies. No one ever read the bulletin or
dozed during a Msgr. McDonald homily! Often he would break into tears when
describing his love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
As devoted as he was to preaching
the truth, Monsignor was the epitome of the concerned pastor. He would hear
your confession at any moment, anywhere, and come to the home in the wee hours
to baptize a miscarried baby of more than one parishioner. He began a Spanish
Mass and an institute to train catechists and lay leadership. He had a St.
Gerard Majella feast day Mass with his relic, to
which many mothers attribute their children’s births. Parishioners in crisis
would call him on his cell phone.
We miss Msgr. McDonald at St. John’s but his legacy
remains, six years since his departure from our parish. And now Msgr. McDonald
— the man Bishop Murphy introduced to the Eucharistic Congress Youth Event as
“the priest I most admire, who has the best relationship with youth in the
diocese, a combination father and grandfather figure” — is where he can do all
of us in the Rockville Centre Diocese the most good: forming priests in his own
mold, that is in persona Christi.
East Moriches, New York
I was delighted to read your
article on marriage resources, “To Have and to Hold, Happily” (June 25 - July
1). However, I was disappointed to see that you did not mention one of the
largest Catholic groups strengthening marriages today — Worldwide
For more than 30 years, Worldwide
Marriage Encounter has been sponsoring weekends for married couples to give
them the tools to communicate better. They also offer ongoing marital-support
groups to encourage couples to continue with what they have learned on the
My husband and I went on a weekend
two years ago this month. We learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship
over the weekend, but we have also benefited from our monthly
get-togethers with other married couples. We’re constantly reminded that
marriage is a sacrament and needs to be nourished.
I would encourage your married
readers to consider making a weekend. It’ll change their lives. For
information, go to wwme.org.
Canal Fulton, Ohio
A Poorly Chosen
Regarding “Governor Fires Catholic
for Criticizing Homosexuality” (July 9-15):
I really hate to interrupt while
the authors, editors and even the august and reasonable Bill Donohue are all
busily patting Mr. Smith on the back for his laudable stance, but exactly what
would any reasonably politically aware political analyst expect?
Let me start by saying that I
agree the man’s words were consistent with Catholic teaching and therefore are
nothing to be ashamed of. That said, given the opportunity to make a point in a
political venue, he chose to hug the Catechism, using language he knew (being a
political analyst) was inflammatory. He could easily have made the point that
the state’s interest in the marriage relationship is and always has been to
safeguard the environment in which children are begotten and raised — for the
benefit of the children of the society, not for the benefit of those adults who
gaze longingly into the eyes of one and only one other. (The compelling
interests of our state governments do not wander within 50 feet of
interpersonal relationships among consenting adults, unless public health is
I am not at all ashamed of Church
teaching on this or any subject. But I am a bit chagrined that the author seems
to believe that throwing it in the faces of all within earshot, regardless of
the circumstances, actually qualifies as standing up for Church teaching, or
even apologetics. It does not. Logic and the natural law are the tools best
used among those who do not know, or do not ascribe to, the teachings of the
The one aspect of this I would
expect a politician such as Donohue to understand is that a political appointee
serves at the pleasure of the one who appointed him. His job is to serve by
executing the intent of the boss. The cardinal rule among political appointees
is to never become a burden to the boss. In a state that is 2-1 Democratic and
on a topic with such partisan implications, Mr. Smith’s choice to pick a street
fight rather than just arm wrestle was his own; the consequences for his
feel-good “defense” of Church teaching may yet be visited on many others.
Choose your fights well and win
El Paso, Texas
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