Friday, January 26, 2007

The Week in Review: 21-27 January, A.D. 2007

The March for Life
God bless, them, the Canadian-base LifeSite has covered the March for Life, and will do more of it in upcoming days. Their link is here:
I know there's a lot of links regarding the march in the Catholic blogosphere. I'm more concerned with the mainstream media because, you know what? That's where the folks I work with on a day to day basis get their information. They don't even know the Catholic blogosphere exists, much less do they get any information from it. Heck, for that matter, I try to limit my time on the internet, and this is why:
Study- Americans spend more time with computer than spouse...

Having said that, though,

Where did the March for Life go?
As of Wednesday morning, there was a media blackout regarding the March for Life. As of Friday morning (when I put this little piece together), there still is, among the mainstream media, including the mainstream "alternative media" like Drudge Report. Jeff Miller over at The Curt Jester commented on this on his Monday , 22 Jan post, "Newsworthy means advancing their agenda" (he also has an interesting link, but I won't put it here. Go to his blog). I didn't expect to hear anything about it on our local NPR radio station, and I can't say anything about what's on TV, since we don't have one. If I had to guess, though, on a multiple choice test regarding TV coverage, I'd check the answer, "Minimal coverage, and what there was came with lots of pro-abortion spin." But, nothing on Drudge Report, except the oblique reference to Bush's telephone call (linked below). WorldNetDaily? Nothing. Although WorldNetDaily, in general, does an excellent job regarding abortion and it's offspring, they have been silent on this. However, WNF did post an excellent commentary by David Kupelian,
Lies and fraud of Roe v. Wade

How about Catholic News Service? These two articles. The first is a pretty good overview,
Culture of life means changing hearts, president tells March for Life

The second is the usual namby pamby pish posh one expects from our frightened senior prelates.
Cardinal- 'Reasons for rejoicing' exist despite legalized abortion

I'd do considerably more rejoicing if some of our frightened senior prelates had the guts to go head to head with some of our "Catholic" abortion-supporting politicians... But never mind that, let's look at the data.
The most recent data available from the CDC is from 2003, and this data shows the number of abortions as showing, at best, minimal decreases, with the overall numbers holding more or less steady at around 850,000 (CDC) or around 1 million (Alan Guttmacher Institute
[1]) per year. Most abortions are still being performed on women who are unmarried (82%) white (55%) and under 25 years old (51%)[2]. Teenage girls (19 years old or less) accounted for 20% of all abortion in 1995, 18.8% in 2000, and 17.7% in 2003. Yes, that is a slight decrease. Women aged 20-25 accounted for 32.5% of all abortions in 1995, and 33.5% in 2003[3]. That's a slight increase and, interestingly, parallels the increase in out of wedlock pregnancy rate among 20 somethings (see link below). What we really have is a more or less steady state situation, with percentages in individual subcategories (such as age) swishing around a bit. Further, these data sets track primarily traditional surgical abortions. Medical abortions, on the other hand, are rapidly rising, and are far more difficult to track. In 2003 they were 8% of all abortions reported to the CDC[4], a small fraction of the overall number, to be sure, but an over 400% increase from 2001.[5] And, none of these data sets counts the unknown, and unknowable, number of early abortions caused by hormonal contraceptives - the birth control pill and all it's friends. Not to mention good old Plan B.

In the same article, Cardinal Rigali stated that the Church's position on abortion is "one of profound concern for the unborn..." Gosh, and all this time I thought the Church's position was that abortion represented the murder of an innocent person, an act which is a mortal sin and which could, if unrepented, land the one who had the abortion (as well as though one who performed it, and possibly those who assisted) in Hell for all eternity. Silly me.

Lest you think I'm being too hard on our frightened senior prelates, try this:
Bishop and Priest Hasten to Apologize to Pro-Abortion Politician for Homily Calling Him to Account
The deacon had some guts, and his superiors pulled the rug out from under him. Try this:
First Things' Fr. Neuhaus Criticizes Archbishop Wuerl on Pro-Abortion Politicians Fiasco

On the positive side, though, we have this:
Lawsuits threatens Planned Parenthood, other abortion clinics

And this:
Mom, meet your (unborn) child!

But, on the grim side, I have maintained that American medical students are simply marinated in the liberal left wing pro-death culture. Granted, I graduated from medical school twenty years ago this June (self disclosure! And, yes, Frank, it's true...two decades since we graduated. Who's the old man now? Huh?) so maybe things have changed. But Drudge ran a link a day or two ago, which apparently crashed the link's site, and has since been removed from Drudge. Or, at least I can't find it. But
Denise Hunnell over at Catholic Mom (
) commented on it, and now it's up at LifeSite:
“Roe v. Wade Week” at Yale Features Do It Yourself Abortions

The Society Section...
Informed Choice — Mental Health and Abortion

Informed-Choice Bill May Have Tough Time in Congress

Out-of-Wedlock Babies- Intended . . . Or Not-

Canadian City Councillor Fined $1000 for Saying Homosexuality “not Normal or Natural”

...and Entertainment:
SHOCK- Bestiality film premieres at Redford's SUNDANCE...,0,6997847.story?coll=sfla-home-headlines

No Buyers for Dakota Fanning Rape Movie,2933,246698,00.html

Pope Says Parents Must Counter Media’s “Formative” Influence on Children

You bet'cha.

Here's the financial news:
Payment For Stem Cell Eggs Debated


And foreign affairs:
Vatican says Chinese church growing; pope to write Chinese Catholics

FDA Considers Lowering Acceptable “Failure” Rate on Approved Contraceptive Pills

I've included this for interest, but also because there's a minor error in the article. As those of you who've been bravely soldiering on with the stem cell series will immediately recognize, it's not a zygote which is aborted by oral contraceptives (or, for that matter, the IUD or any other hormonal contraceptive method: injected, implanted, or pasted on), it's the blastocyst.

And, the Last but not Least department.
Contraceptive side effects study needed- panel

Lights 'not of this world' mystery finally solved

I told you so.


[1] "Facts in Brief: Induced Abortion in the United States" The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Washington, DC/NY,NY, 2005. Available at AGI is the pro-abortion arm of Planned Parenthood, but they keep good data, probably more accurate than CDC, which undercounts abortion data by 20% or more.
[2] "Abortion Surveillance - United States, 2003." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports Surveillance Summaries 24 November 2006, Vol.55/SS-11
[3] ibid, Table 1
[4] ibid, Table 8
[5] ibid, Table 1

Stem Cells Part IV: Human embryonic stem cells.

(A comment on illustrations: illustrations are helpful in working through this material. Unfortunately, I lack the time to produce them myself, and copying them gets into copyright issues. I recommend the illustrations found in the 2001 and 2006 NIH stem cell documents referenced at the end of this essay. They are available in downloadable format. Meanwhile, we shall persevere with words...)

We've seen that in the first week after conception, the pre-implantation human embryo goes through three distinct stages: single cell zygote, the morula, and the blastocyst. The zygote is the product of conception; that is, the union of the mother's oocyte and the father's sperm. The zygote is the earliest stage of a new human being, but it soon gives rise to the multi-celled morula, whose handful of cells all look more or less the same. By around day 5 or so, the morula has begun to differentiate into a blastocyst, an embryo of some 250 cells.[1] Most of these cells make up the outer shell, known as the trophoectoderm, which will become the placenta. The inside of the blastocyst is mostly hollow, with thirty or so cells stuck on the inside of the trophoectoderm shell as the inner cell mass. All this happens up in the fallopian tube, and by 5-7 days the blastocyst has made it's way through the tube, and implants in the uterus. Once implanted, the blastocyst begins to develop further, but it is the pre-implantation embryo which concerns us here.

The cells of the inner cell mass are not totipotent stem cells, because they do not normally give rise to the placenta[2]. That job is done by the cells of the trophoectoderm. However, the inner cell mass cells are pluripotent, being able to give rise to cells of any of the three germ layers, which gives them they value to medical researchers. In vivo, these cells are evanescent, existing only for a couple of days[3] between when the blastocyst forms, (day 4-5) and implantation, when the three primary germ layers appear (day 7-9). If human blastocysts could be formed outside of the body, in vitro, they could be mined for their inner cell masses, and the inner cell masses could be harvested, grown in petri dishes, and manipulated from there. What a great idea!

Human blastocysts have been being made in vitro for decades. Louise Brown, the first “test tube baby” (as they were then known), was born in 1984,[4] and in the quarter century since then the IVF - in vitro fertilization - industry has become a billion dollar business. It has also generated 400,000 leftover embryos[5], unwanted by their parents, residing in the freezers of IVF clinics across our land. In the late 1990’s, thirty six of these orphaned embryos were rescued from their indeterminate fate to become unknowing participants in a landmark study by Dr. James Thompson and his colleagues of the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison[6]. Actually, many of the 36 embryos were obtained frozen from the IVF Clinic at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, though at least one was obtained fresh from the University of Wisconsin IVF clinic.[7] Based on his work with nonhuman primate embryos, Dr. Thomson had identified three essential characteristics for embryonic (ES) cells: “(i) derivation from the preimplantation or periimplantation embryo, (ii)prolonged undifferentiated proliferation, and (iii) stable developmental potential to form derivatives of all three embryonic germ layers...”.[8] In order for his experiments to be considered a success, the resultant cells would have to meet those criteria. Of the 36 blastocysts, 14 proved to be viable, and these were subjected to “immunosurgery” to isolate the inner cell mass. With immunosurgery, antibodies are made which are directed against markers found on the surface of cells in the trophoectoderm shell, but not the cells of the inner cell mass. When the blastocysts are incubated with the antibodies, the trophoectoderm shell is dissolved, leaving only the inner cell mass behind. In the process, of course, the 5 day old human embryo is killed, just as surely as if, were your skin to be dissolved, you would die, although individual cells of your organs would continue to live for a short while, and could be harvested and kept alive in culture.

Once the embryos were destroyed and their inner cell masses harvested, the cells were plated out in petri dishes containing nutrient serum and a layer of mouse embryo “feeder cells”. These feeder cells are necessary for proper growth of the human ES cells in culture.[9] After being placed on the feeder cells, the ES cells were allowed to grow and multiply for a week or two, then they were removed, dissociated into smaller clumps, and replated on fresh plates with fresh feeder cells. This procedure is known as a “passage”. Repeated passaging is necessary to keep the ES cells in an undifferentiated state: if passaging is not performed, the cells begin to differentiate spontaneously and uncontrollably into mature cell types. The other problem with cultured cells is that they can develop chromosomal mutations: the useful cell culture is one whose DNA remains unsullied. Of the 14 inner cell masses they began with, five developed into “cell lines” which could be successfully passaged repeatedly, and while doing so, kept their chromosomes clean. The five original cell lines are named H1, H7, H9, H13 and H14. Three of the lines have a normal XY karyotype ("boy", H1, H13, and H14) and two have a normal XX karyotype ("girl", H7 and H9). Thus Dr. Thomson was successful in meeting the first two criteria: (i) cell lines derived from a pre-implantation embryo, and (ii) ability to replicate in culture while maintaining genetic stability and lack of differentiation. What about the third criterion, "stable developmental potential to form derivatives of all three embryonic germ layers..."?

There's several ways that a putative stem cell, can be shown to have the capability to differentiate into mature tissue types. Explaining them segues into the topics of chimeras and cloning both of which are necessary to understand in order to see where human embryonic stem cell research must go if it is to ever be used in human medical therapy. So, next week, chimeras, and the week after that, cloning.

[1] "Stem Cells: Scientific Progress and Future Directions June 2001" National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services pg. 13 Entire report downloadable in pdf format at
[2] However, embryoid bodies, which we will discuss later in this essay, have given rise to mature placental cells known as trophoblasts. See "Regenerative Medicine 2006", National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services pg. 8. Entire report downloadable in pdf format at In particular, see reference 53 of Chapter 1.
[3] "Stem Cells and the Future of regenerative Medicine" National Research Council/Institute of Medicine, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. 2002. Pg.31.
[4] Of nominal interest, Louise Brown recently gave birth to her own child, and apparently without the use of IVF.,2933,243705,00.html
[5] Hoffman, DI, Zellman, GL, et al. Cryopreserved embryos in the United States and their availability for research. Fertility and Sterility 79(5):1063-1069, May, 2003
[6] Thomson, JA et al Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Derived from Human Blastocysts. Science 282:1145-1147, November 6, 1998.
[7] Stem Cells 2001, ibid. Pg. C-1, Appendix C.
[8] Thomson et al, ibid.
[9] The need for mouse embryonic fibroblasts as feeder cells represents one of the major technological problems in the development of human ES cell cultures for medical use. The risk is transmission of mouse pathogens into the ES cells and then, potentially, into the human recipient of whatever therapy the ES cell is used in. This problem has been solved only partially as of this writing. The other big technical problem, of course, is that no one can control what sort of differentiated cell the ES cell will grow up into.

Baby Lay

Baby Lay[1] died when she was thirty hours old, having spent her entire life in one of the temperature controlled isolettes of a large urban neonatal intensive care unit.
She was born prematurely with severe fetal hydrops - fluid overload - from a congenital heart defect. The handful of hours in her life were filled with desperate attempts by the NICU physicians to get her stable enough for surgery. She was filled with lines and covered with wires, all to manage and monitor her physiology while the physicians repeatedly removed fluid from her, the rapidly accumulating fluid which was killing her, the fluid which her defective heart could not move around her circulatory system so that it could be balanced, regulated, and the excess eliminated by her kidneys in the usual manner.
Even had she been able to get to surgery Baby Lay’s prognosis was not good. As it was, though, she had too much going against her from the outset, and thirty hours after her birth Baby Lay’s soul was released from her body and from this world. Baby Lay never saw the clouds in the sky, and never saw the sunshine. And no one had her baptized.

The word ‘sacrament’ (L., sacramentum) in pre-Christian times referred to a solemn oath, pledging the performance of a service. In the Roman Army there was a military sacrament, pledging service to the Empire. In Holy Scripture the same word is used to express a mystery, a sacred thing which is concealed[2]. And so, very early on, the Church Fathers began using the word, sacramentum, to denote the outward sign of an inward grace.

But a sacrament was never understood as merely a sign. Rather, a sacrament, by virtue of its divine institution, causes the grace: it is the outward sign of the inward grace which it causes[3]. For a thing to be a sacrament, three parts are necessary: the outward sign, the inward grace, and divine institution. The outward sign, in turn, has two components: the matter (the element) and the form (the word). There are seven sacraments in the Church: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Matrimony, Holy Orders, Penance, and Extreme Unction. Each of these sacraments has it’s own outward sign, made up of a specific matter and form, and each confers a particular grace. While the ceremonies surrounding these Sacraments may be changed by the Church (but not by the minister) the matter and the form, being as they are instituted by Christ, cannot be changed[4]. Which brings us to the matter of Baptism.

‘Baptism’ comes from ‘baptizo’ (Gr.)meaning to wash or immerse. Thus, the matter of the Sacrament is water, as pretty much everyone knows. But what kind of water? Well, for the normal, planned, public Baptism it is to be water which has been properly prepared and consecrated beforehand at the appropriate solemnity. But in the case of emergency any water will do, as long as it is water[5]. Seawater, swamp water, water from dew or melted snow, clean water, dirty water (not preferred), or any water so long as it is “what men would ordinarily declare water...”. It can even have other stuff in it, so long as the majority of it is water. Note, however, that it is not to be beer, goat’s milk, saliva, or whatever other non-water thing may pop into someone’s head. The water, once procured, is to be poured on the forehead three times. Triple dunking is OK, but messy and not necessary.

The form of the sacrament is, “I baptize thee in the Name of the Father(pour) and of the Son (pour) and of the Holy Spirit (pour).” Not, “ the name of the Trinity”, “...of the angels”, “...of Mother Earth”, or whatever.

The minister of the sacrament is a priest in the normal, planned baptism. But in a true emergency anyone, even “sinners and heretics”[6] can baptize validly, provided that (1) they use the proper matter, (2) they use the proper form, and (3) they intend to do as the Church does. That means that even if the person administering the Sacrament in an emergency doesn’t believe anything about the Christian faith, as long as he, for whatever reason, sincerely desires to do what the Church does, even though he doesn’t believe it, the Sacrament is valid.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent lists five effects of Baptism. The first is the remission of sin, all sin, completely and without reservation. The new man, after Baptism, is “innocent, spotless, pure, upright, and beloved by God...”[7] It should go without saying that this presumes the adult has the correct intentions: that he understands the sacrament and truly desires it’s effects, and wants to seek a sinless life in the Christ. If so, in the adult, Baptism removes both original sin as well as the laundry list of actual sins committed. Were I, as an adult who had just received the sacrament rightly and validly, to be run down by a truck while walking out of the church, I would be received directly into the presence of God. No need to weep for me in that circumstance! But most of us don’t get ushered directly into Heaven upon our Baptism, and for us, the proclivity to sin, the “infirmity on concupiscence” as St. Augustine called it, remains. But that is beyond the scope of this piece.

The second effect flows directly from the first; it is the remission of all punishment due to sin prior to Baptism. Sins committed subsequent to Baptism are not included: these will be punished unless rightly and validly repented (the sacrament of Penance is also beyond the scope of this piece). Likewise, Baptism does not protect us from the effects of civil law and it does not protect us from the miseries of this life, lest there be any confusion on this point.

The third effect, and the most central, is the grace of regeneration which comes through Baptism. It is the grace which gives our souls a divine image, an imprint, a likeness to God which was lost in original sin. It is the grace which makes us Man, created in the image of God, and not just walking talking animals who wear clothes.

The fourth effect flows from the third: it is the infusion of virtues and the incorporation with Christ, “as members to their Head”[8]. It should not “excite our surprise,” as the catechist says, that these virtues are difficult to perform, conflicted as they are with what the world would have us do. But they are there, nonetheless. We will do well to remember that.

The fifth and final effect is the consummation of the first four: our souls are forever and indelibly sealed with the character of a Christian. This is a permanent imprint, it cannot be erased no matter how grievous the sin I may commit in the future[9]. That’s why Baptism is performed only once. It cannot be erased even if I publicly, repeatedly, and sincerely repudiate the Catholic faith and all it stands for. I can condemn myself after Baptism if I live outside of Christ as an unrepentant sinner or disbeliever, but I cannot remove this mark. The character is there, an indelible mark on my soul. What I do with it is up to me.

Once upon a time, priests were enjoined to frequently explain the effects of Baptism so that “the faithful maybe rendered more sensible of the high dignity to which they have been raised...”[10] Indeed, the Sermon Program developed out of the Roman Catechism assigned Baptism to Trinity Sunday, along with the topic of the Triune God. Further, the Church put great weight on the importance of the Baptism of helpless infants at the earliest opportunity, and placed the obligation for this squarely on the shoulders of those responsible for their care. Those caretakers who failed in this obligation were, the Church taught, committing a grievous sin. Woe to the person who allowed an infant to die without Baptism, were it in their power to have it performed[11]. That is how the Church taught then. But this is now.

The Church has never been certain of the exact fate of infants who die without Baptism. We “hope that there is a way of salvation...”[12] and over the millennia the Church has hypothesized about angels performing the Baptism, or the desire of the mother, or Baptism by blood (eg. as in an abortion) or some other way we do not know of[13]. The hypothesis of limbo, a place where unbaptised infants enjoy natural happiness, but are deprived of the Beatific Vision, has been around for centuries[14]. But it is only an hypothesis. The Church does not know. Therefore, all the more urgent, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not to prevent little children from coming to Christ by failing to provide the Sacrament of Baptism[15].

Baby Lay lived and died in a time when none of this is taken very seriously. She lived for thirty hours under the threat of immanent death: there was plenty of time to call a priest. Baptism could have been performed right there in the NICU. If a priest were unavailable a doctor, nurse, ward secretary or the guy who takes out the trash could have done it, even surreptitiously. But no one did. And the fate of the eternal soul of Baby Lay is uncertain, and those adults who surrounded her in this life have, just perhaps, incurred a judgment against themselves in their failure to discharge their obligation to that little child.

[1]Not her real name. This article was originally published as Baby Lay: On the Necessity of Infant Baptism” Linacre Quarterly: The Journal of the Catholic Medical Association, Aug. 2005.
[2] Catechism of the Council of Trent, pg. 123. 1926 English translation by J.A. McHugh, O.P. & C.J. Callan, O.P. Reprinted by Roman Catholic Books, Fort Collins, CO. Hereafter referred to as CCoT
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1127. 2nd Ed. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Citta del Vaticano, 1997. Hereafter referred to as CCC. See also CCot Part II, ‘The Sacraments’, for a lucid general discussion.
[4] Denzinger ‘The Sources of Catholic Dogma’, Systematic Index XII a. 1955 translation by R.J. Deferrari of Henry Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum, 30th Ed. Reprinted by Loreto Publications, Fitzwilliam, NH, Hereafter referred to as DNZ
[5] Catholic Encyclopedia, 1922 Ed., ‘Baptism’, Section VI (1)(a)&(b). Available on CD through Catholic Software, Murray, KY.
[6] DNZ, Syst. Index XII d.
[7] CCoT, p.183.
[8] ibid, p.188.
[9] CCC, # 1272.
[10] CCoT, p.182.
[11] An Explanation of The Baltimore Catechism of Christian Doctrine (also known as Baltimore Catechism No. 4), Q.154 Benzinger Bros., 1921. Reprinted by TAN Books and Publishers, Rockford, IL 1988.
[12] CCC #1261.
[13] My Catholic Faith, A Catechism in Pictures, pg. 253. Most Reverend Louis LaRavoire Morrow, D.D., 1954. Republished by Sarto House, Kansas City, MO, 2000.
[14] ibid.
[15] CCC, #1261.

Feast days of the week 28 January - 3 February 2007 (1962 liturgical calendar).

First part of the Liturgical Year: the Christmas Cycle.[1]
Season after Epiphany (The Christmas Cycle ends with Candlemas, 2 February.)

"This period, which begins the day after the Octave of Epiphany, is an extension of Christmastide. Jesus asserts His Divinity - not by the appearance of angels or the Star of the Magi, but speaking Himself as God. He subjects our hearts to His teachings, explaining His Divine doctrine with parables and manifesting the truth of His words and works by many miracles.

At the time of our Lord, Palestine contained four provinces: Peraea, Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. It was in the province of Galilee that the miracles and preaching of Jesus took place.

At Cana, He changed water into wine - His first miracle - at the request of His mother. At Nazareth, He preached His doctrine - and 'all wondered at these things that proceeded from the mouth of God,' says the Communion of the fourth, fifth, and sixth Sundays after Epiphany with the words of Luke. In Galilee, a word from our Lord cleansed the leper. From the shore of the Lake of Genesareth, He miraculously stilled the storm. All these miracles He performed to show His Apostles that He was God.

The Christmas cycle has a fixed character, and the Feasts of the Nativity and Epiphany always fall on December 25 and January 6."

Sunday, 28 January, 2007
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
"Jesus our Lord commands the uncontrolled forces in nature: the fury of the sea and the violence of the winds, and thus manifests His Divinity."
Epistle: Rom 13:8-10.
Gospel: Matt 8:23-27.

Monday, 29 January, 2007
St. Francis de Sales, Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church
St. Francis, Count of Sales, Bishop of Geneva, patron of Catholic writers, preached the word of God to the Calvinists and brought back sixty thousand to the Catholic faith. He founded with St. Jane Fremiot de Chantal the Order of the Visitation. He died A.D. 1622.”
Epistle: II Tim 4:1-8.
Gospel: Matt 5:13-19.

Tuesday, 30 January 2007
St. Martina, Virgin, Martyr
"This noble Roman Virgin was beheaded after the most atrocious torments, A.D. 228."
Lesson: Ecclesiasticus 51:1-8, 12.
Gospel: Matt 25:1-13.

Wednesday, 31 January 2007
St. John Bosco, Confessor
"Don Bosco founded the Salesian Fathers and the Order of Our Lady, Help of Christians, for the education of poor boys and girls. He died A.D. 1888.”
Epistle: Philip 4:4-9.
Gospel: Matt 18:1-10, down to +.

Thursday, 1 February 2007
St. Ignatius, Bishop and Martyr
"Like St. Polycarp, Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, was a disciple of St. John the Apostle. His letters are precious documents for our Faith. He was sent in chains to Rome and, when condemned to the wild beasts, exclaimed: 'I am the wheat of Christ; may I be ground by the fangs of wild beasts and become agreeable to my Lord!' A.D. 110."
Epistle: Rom 8:35-39.
Gospel: John 12:24-26.

Friday, 2 February 2007
First Friday
Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Candlemas Day
The Feast of Candlemas, which derives its origin from the local observance of Jerusalem, marks the end of the Feasts included in the Christmas cycle of the Liturgy. It is perhaps the most ancient festival of Our Lady. It commemorates not only the obedience of the Blessed Virgin to the Mosaic Law in going to Jerusalem forty days after the birth of her Child and making the accustomed offerings, but also the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, and the meeting of the Infant Jesus with the old man Simeon - the Occursus Domini, as the Feast was anciently termed. This is the principal theme of the liturgy on this day: Jesus is taken to the Temple 'to present Him to the Lord.' So the Lord comes to His Temple, and is met by the aged Simeon with joy and recognition.

The procession on this day is one of the most picturesque features of the Western Liturgy. The blessing and distribution of candles, to be carried lighted in procession, precedes the Mass today - a symbolic presentation of the truth proclaimed in the Canticle of Simeon: Our Lord is the 'Light for the revelation of the Gentiles.' The anthems sung during this procession, eastern in origin, will express the joy and gladness of this happy festival, and the honour and praise we give to our blessed lady and her Divine Son by its devout observance
Lesson: Malachias 3:1-4.
Gospel: Luke 2:22-32.

Saturday, 3 February 2007
First Saturday
Commemoration of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr
St. Blaise, bishop of Sebaste, was beheaded after terrible torments, under Licinius, A.D. 317.”
Epistle: 2 Cor: 1:3-7.
Gospel: Matt 16:24-27.

[1] Remarks are abstracted from The Daily Missal and Liturgical Manual, from Editio Typica of the Roman Missal and Breviary, 1962
(Baronius Press Limited, London, 2004, in conjunction with the Fraternal Society of St. Peter,

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Week in Review: 14-20 January, A.D. 2007

The big news, I suppose, is not from this week, but this upcoming weekend:
The 34th Annual March For Life - January 20, 21, and 22 - Washington, D.C.
Read all about it here -

And, just to remind yourself what it's all about,
Amazing pictures that show triplets bonding -- in the womb....

Meanwhile, some legislatures are preparing to do battle with Roe...
Georgia Prepares to Battle Roe v. Wade

While other legislatures just get more and more ridiculous...

Here is the CMA's take on the HPV Vaccine,
Catholic Medical Association Press Release on HPV Immunization

There is a link at the CMA site to their downloadable position paper as well.

From the National Catholic Bioethics Center,
Correction to the Fifth Edition of Health Care Ethics - Care of Permanently Unconscious Patients

First test-tube baby in the world gives birth – without IVF,,3-2545718,00.html

This week, we're discussing early human embryology in out little stem cell series, as a foundation to understanding embryonic stem cells, IVF, and a whole host of related topics. Next week we'll get into IVF a bit more specifically, since, at this point, IVF embryos are where many (not all) human embryonic stem cells come from. I'll grant you, a blastocyst doesn't look much like those hugging triplets, but the blastocyst is a biological human being just as surely as are the triplets, you, or I. And, when Louise Brown, born in England, 25 July 1978, began her life, she began it in a petri dish, and was a blastocyst, exactly as we will discuss next week. And, as a blastocyst in a dish, she could just as easily have been dissected for her parts rather than being placed in her mother's womb, to grow, be born, and one day bear children of her own. We will all do well to keep that in mind.

The stem cell wars are not going to go away. It'll be a race to the bottom, folks.
New York Legislature Pledges to Outstrip Competitors in Funding Ambitious Embryo Research Project

Pro-life groups decry House backing for embryonic stem cell research

Just to see what our brethren in the UK and north of the border are up to.
UK, Canada Ran Neck and Neck in 2006 Race to Exterminate Religious Freedom

And, to keep us from becoming smug here in these United States,
2006 Losses of Religious Freedom Should Make American Christians Wake Up

Congress preparing to criminalize critics-

And now,
51% of Women Are Now Living Without Spouse... The tone of this article suggests that the writers (three of the four of whom are women) think this is a good thing. It is filled with quotes from women - many in their mid or late 50's, and divorced, or never married - who are now liberated, and living fulfilling lives. There are also quotes from their daughters (granddaughters?) who have never been, and presumably, will never be, married. Yet our civilization will cease to survive without the family unit. Perhaps, if one has renounced the family, one doesn't really care too much about the future beyond that encompassed one's own life span. Meanwhile, those Muslims keep making babies...

In the miscellaneous department, first this:
2 cousin companies bet market for RFID chips will extend to humans before long

And, this...
WEATHER CHANNEL Climate Expert Calls for Decertifying Global Warming Skeptics...
Some time back, I ceased being under the illusion that there was any objectivity in medical research, understanding that instead that the public opinions of "medical experts" were instead shaped primarily by (1) the political agendas of the liberal left, and secondarily by (2) big money. I am saddened, but not surprised, to see the same thing happen to meteorology.

And, finally, this...
Air Force colonel reports lights 'not of this world'; Snaps images above Arkansas- 'I have no idea what they were'...
Why, you might ask, am I putting this in here? Well, not because I believe in UFO's. I don't. And, I know it has nothing directly to do with Catholicity and medicine. However, I do believe that we threw away our future when we turned our back on manned space exploration. The NASA of 1969 (not to be confused with the NASA of 2007) was completely capable of developing a colony on Mars, and could have done so by the mid 1980's. All it lacked was money: we, the people, said it was a waste of money. How much money, instead, have we spent since 1969 on pointless dead end social programs, not to mention cat and dog food? Despite the hundreds of billions we have poured, and still pour, down the drain labeled “entitlements” (far, far more than we ever spent on the moonships), today we have a vicious and ever expanding class of persons who truly live lives outside the boundaries of what was once known as "western civilization", and cats and dogs on weight control programs and Prozac. And, for good measure, the nation which once could send three men to the moon for a week can today barely get a man into low earth orbit. Here's a thought experiment: suppose, just suppose, that the NASA of 1969 had really been able to carry out its (then) very realistic plans of moon and Mars colonization in the last decades of the 20th century. Today we would have permanent colonies on the moon, and on Mars, and a growing and developing interplanetary transport system. How would our world be different?

Stem Cells Part III: Early human embryology.

As we saw last week, an embryonic stem cell is a form of pluripotent stem cell. Pluripotent stem cells are stem cells which can, in theory, give rise to mature cells derived from any of the three embryonic germ layers; in other words, any mature cell type in the body. Since an understanding of early human embryology is essential to battling in the stem cell wars (along with a lot of other battles), it’s time to review a bit.

In the beginning, there is mittelschmerz, that “middle pain” which so often occurs, along with ovulation, a couple of weeks after the end of menstruation. At ovulation, the ovary spits out a mature oocyte - an egg - and it lands in the opening to the fallopian tube, the muscular tube connecting the ovary with the uterus. The tube begins its peristalsis, the gentle muscular contractions milking the oocyte down the tube towards the womb. On the way, the oocyte may find itself within a swarm of sperm, the sperm having swum all the way up there after being left within the vagina. One of these sperm may penetrate the zona pellucida, the thick covering around the egg. Since the genes in the egg came from the mother, and the genes in the sperm came from the father, if this penetration of egg by sperm is successful, the mother’s genes are combined with the father’s genes, and a new, genetically and physiologically distinct single celled creature comes into existence, a being which is genetically human, and neither mother nor father. This is the moment of conception. It isn’t really a moment, of course, as the process of sorting of the parental gene contributions into a new genotype takes many hours. Nevertheless, a new single celled being results from this process, a totipotent stem cell (because it gives rise to all the cell types of the body, as well as the cells of the placenta), the human zygote.

Normally, in vivo (in life) conception takes place within the fallopian tube. After the first 36 hours or so of its new life, the single celled zygote divides into two cells. After another 36 hours, the two cells become four, then eight, and so on. Meanwhile, this embryo is now known as a morula, a “ball of grapes” (all of these stages, from zygote on up to, but not including, the fetus, are known as embryos), and is now making its way down the tube. The passage from ovary to uterus through the tube takes 5 to 7 days, and during this time the embryo has developed from the single celled zygote to the multi-celled morula. At the morula stage, the cells are already they are beginning to differentiate. The outer layer will become the trophoectoderm, the precursor to the placenta, while a central cavity is beginning to form within the inner mass of cells. The cavity will be known as the blastocoel, and once it forms, the embryo will be known as a blastocyst. At this point, about 5 to 7 days after conception, the little human embryo comes to the end of the fallopian tube, and enters the uterus.

After floating around for a day or two in the uterus, the embryo implants. By this point, the trophoectoderm, the outer shell of cells, has begun to form what will become the placenta. Meanwhile, the inner cavity, the blastocoel, has enlarged, and the inner cell mass, numbering around 30 cells, has begun to develop into two distinct layers. One of these layers will become the structures of the amniotic cavity, which will support and cushion the growing child throughout intrauterine life. By the beginning of the third week after conception, gastrulation occurs, where the primitive streak, the precursor to the central nervous system, appears. Now, the other layer of the inner cell mass begins to develop into the three germ layers we spoke of earlier, the precursors to all the mature cell types within the body. Not too long after this, a beating heart can be found.

There’s two important points to keep in mind about the sequence we’ve just gone through. First: conception, in vivo, occurs in the fallopian tube. Second: for the first 8 or 9 days of a human embryo’s existence, it’s free floating. The human embryo, from the zygote through the morula to the blastocyst stage, is increasingly being referred to as the pre-implantation embryo.

Everything we’ve just described occurs in vivo. However, conception of a zygote, and growth of that zygote up through the blastocyst stage, also can occur in vitro, in a petri dish. In fact, in is done, routinely, thousands of times a year, in in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics all across these United States. IVF is a billion dollar business, but that’s beyond the scope of this piece. Suffice it to say that oocytes are obtained from a woman, placed in a petri dish with sperm obtained from a man, and viola! Zygotes. The zygotes are allowed to develop in the dish to the morula stage, and are then graded according to quality (I’m not kidding). The best ones are selected for implantation in some woman’s womb, where they may (or may not) grow into full term babies. The rest go into the freezer. How many of these leftovers are there in freezers across our land? No one knows for sure, but best estimates from folks within the IVF industry put the number at around 400,000. What happens to these frozen IVF leftovers? Most are just sitting there, waiting. Some, though, are obtained by researchers, who will use them to obtain embryonic stem cells. And with this background, we will let the matter rest until next time.

A stinkpot by any other name.

First posted on Introibo ad altare Dei 7 December 2006

The United States Supreme Court has recently heard arguments the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in 2003. Subsequently stuck down by six federal courts, the whole affair is now in front of the Supreme Court. During the proceedings, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that partial birth abortion was "basically the same" as the procedure used in the second trimester, making it difficult to distinguish how a doctor could be prosecuted for performing the one procedure but the other. Although I'm certainly not privy to Justice Ginsberg's mind, her reasoning might go like this: the Partial Birth Abortion Ban bans only "partial birth abortions”. However, there's no meaningful difference between how a "partial birth abortion” is performed, and how other second or third trimester abortions are performed. Since the Ban doesn't ban these other abortions, but only "partial birth" abortions, banning only one procedure makes no sense. When asked by Justice Ginsberg if the two procedures were "basically the same", Solicitor General Paul Clement, arguing for the ban, said, "I don't think so, Justice Ginsberg."[1] With all due respect to Solicitor General Clement, I think Justice Ginsberg is correct on this one.

There are 6.6 million pregnancies in the United States each year.[2] About one quarter of them, 1.3 million, end in deliberate abortion.[3] The number of abortions has held more or less steady for years now, although it does not include the number of abortions caused by abortifacient contraceptives. That number is unknown, but it’s a topic for another essay. So, at what point in gestation are abortions typically executed? Most - 88% - are performed in the first trimester, before 13 weeks.[4] About 10% are executed between 12 and 20 weeks (second trimester), with about 1.5% of all abortions being "late second trimester or third trimester", over 21 weeks gestational age.[5] By the second trimester, the baby has grown too large to abort by simply vacuuming her out (the usual first trimester method). Instead, a dilatation and extraction or D&E, also known as a "sharp curettage" is performed. The cervix is dilated, followed by "mechanical destruction and evacuation of fetal parts."[6] In other words, the living unborn baby is cut into bits prior to removal. In late second trimester it recommended that the fetus be killed prior to the sharp curettage, by injecting a lethal medicine directly into the baby's heart.[7] This is not done out of some odd sense of mercy, as one would kill an animal prior to butchering it rather than butchering it alive. It is done because, as the National Abortion Federation Clinical Policy Guidelines 2005 states, "avoidance of a live birth is an important consideration."[8] You bet'cha. It's hard to imagine worse press for the local abortion clinic than to have a live, mutilated, armless, legless, or partially eviscerated aborted child lying around, mucking and mewling, gasping out her short life in her own blood and meconium. This is not rare event, as the London Timesonline has recently observed.[9]

By the third trimester, the baby is quite large. In fact, the age where she could have a reasonable chance of survival outside of the womb is around 24 weeks. However, if the mother chooses to abort her instead, she’s too big to simply chop up, so an alternative procedure was developed in 1992 by Dr. Martin Haskell, known as intact dilation and extraction (D&E or D&X).[10] Quoting Williams Obstetrics exactly, “In political parlance, this procedure has been termed partial birth abortion.”[11] How is it done? The physician first mechanically dilates the mother’s cervix. He then ruptures the amniotic sac, and snakes a long, thin, curved forceps into the cervix, slides it up, past the baby’s head (the baby is usually head down by this point in the pregnancy), along her body, up, up, until he can grab one of her feet. Once he’s clamped onto a foot, he pulls it, flipping the baby around feet first, and he keeps pulling until he pulls the foot and leg out of the cervix. He then grabs the other foot and pulls it out as well, sliding the baby’s bottom, belly, and torso out of the womb, until only the head is left up in there. Now the physician applies gentle traction on her tiny body with one hand, while, with the fingers of the same hand, he pushes the lip of the cervix out of the way, to expose the back of her neck and base of her skull. With the other hand, he pushes the point of a pair of closed scissors into the base of her skull. He removes the scissors, inserts a sucker, sucks out her brains, and her skull collapses.[12] She is now rendered dead, and the lifeless body is delivered the rest of the way. How often is the D&X performed? Using 1,300,000 abortions per year as a working number, 1.5% of which are done at over 21 weeks, this makes about 8600 abortions per year. Since D&X is the procedure of choice, it's not unreasonable to conclude that most or all of them are done using this procedure. How can this freak show happen 8600 times a year in these United States? Because, as Dr. George Annas, Chair of the Department of Health Law, Bioethics and Human Rights at Boston University School of Public Health has noted (more than once),
“An almost born child is not yet born, and is not a person under the Constitution.[13]

So, when Justice Ginsberg was saying she could see no difference between “partial birth abortions” and abortions bone earlier, I don’t know if she meant a D&X done at 40 weeks vs. a D&X done at 20 weeks, or a D&X vs. a sharp curettage. But I agree with her, in principle: there’s no meaningful difference between sucking the unborn baby’s brains out, chopping her to bits, or vacuuming her out if she’s small enough.

[1] "Justices have pointed abortion discourse." Mark Sherman, Associated Press, 8 November 2006.
[2] Saraiya, M. et al, "Estimates of the Annual Number of Clinically Recognized Pregnancies in the United States, 1981-1991." American Journal of Epidemiology 149(11): 1025-1029, 1999.
[3] "Facts in Brief: Induced Abortion in the United States" The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Washington, DC/NY,NY, 2005. Available at
[4] Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies, 4th Ed. Gabbe, S.G., Neibyl, J.R., & Simpson, J.L. (Ed's) Churchill-Livingstone, 2002. See Section entitled "Fertility Control and Health".
[5] ibid.
[6]Williams Obstetrics 22nd. Ed. McGraw-Hill, 2005, Ch.9 , pg 243.
[7] Gabbe, pg. 640.
[8] National Abortion Federation Clinical Policy Guidelines 2005, pg.17. Available at NAF website,
[9] "Fifty babies a year are alive after abortion." Timesonline, 27 November 2005, The Sunday Times edition, at
[10] Haskell, M. “Second Trimester D&X, 20 wks and beyond.” and a companion article, “D&E for late trimester abortions.” Originally presented at the 1992 meeting of the National Abortion Federation, and are available in original form through the Priests for Life website,
[11] Williams, pg. 243.
[12] There are numerous technical descriptions of the D&X procedure, including the original cited above. I developed this one from Gabbe (ibid), pg. 640.
[13] G. Annas, quoted in Gabbe (ibid), pg. 1350.

Feast days of the week 21 - 27 January 2007 (1962 liturgical calendar).

First part of the Liturgical Year: the Christmas Cycle. [i]
Season after Epiphany.

"This period, which begins the day after the Octave of Epiphany, is an extension of Christmastide. Jesus asserts His Divinity - not by the appearance of angels or the Star of the Magi, but speaking Himself as God. He subjects our hearts to His teachings, explaining His Divine doctrine with parables and manifesting the truth of His words and works by many miracles.
At the time of our Lord, Palestine contained four provinces: Peraea, Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. It was in the province of Galilee that the miracles and preaching of Jesus took place.
At Cana, He changed water into wine - His first miracle - at the request of His mother. At Nazareth, He preached His doctrine - and 'all wondered at these things that proceeded from the mouth of God,' says the Communion of the fourth, fifth, and sixth Sundays after Epiphany with the words of Luke. In Galilee, a word from our Lord cleansed the leper. From the shore of the Lake of Genesareth, He miraculously stilled the storm. All these miracles He performed to show His Apostles that He was God.
The Christmas cycle has a fixed character, and the Feasts of the Nativity and Epiphany always fall on December 25 and January 6."

Sunday, 21 January, 2007
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
"Jesus, our Redeemer, is God; He works wonders; the Angels of Heaven adore Him; Jews and Gentiles will be obliged to recognize His royal Divinity."
Epistle: Rom 12:16-21.
Gospel: Matt 8:1-13.

Monday, 22 January 2007
SS. Vincent and Anastasius, Martyrs
St. Vincent, deacon of Saragossa in Spain, suffered martyrdom in the persecution of Diocletian A.D. 304.
St. Anastasius, a monk of Persia, was put to death with seventy other Christians under Chosroes A.D. 628.

Lesson: Wisdom 3:1-8.
Gospel: Luke 21:9-19.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007
St. Raymond of Pennafort, Confessor
"St. Raymond, eminent minister of the sacrament of Penance, was a priest of the order of St. Dominic, celebrated for his virtues, his miracles, and his writings on Canon Law. He died A.D. 1275."
Lesson: Ecclesiasticus 31:8-11.
Gospel: Luke 12:35-40.
Commemoration of St. Emerentiana, Virgin and Martyr
“St. Emerentiana, Virgin and Martyr, foster-sister of St. Agnes, was stoned to death at the tomb of her friend. A.D. 304.”
Lesson: Ecclesiasticus 51:13-17.
Gospel: Matt 13:44-52.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007
St. Timothy, Bishop and Martyr
"St. Timothy, who is the best-known disciple of St. Paul, was Bishop of Ephesus in Asia Minor. He was stoned to death by pagans A.D. 97.”
Epistle: 1 Tim 6:11-16.
Gospel: Luke 14:26-33.

Thursday, 25 January 2007
Conversion of St. Paul
"Saul of Tarsus was full of hatred for Jesus and His Disciples. From a bitter persecutor he became an ardent apostle and the irresistible preacher of the Gospel."
Lesson: Acts 9:1-22.
Gospel: Matt 19:27-29.

Friday, 26 January 2007
St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr
“St. Polycarp, a disciple of St. John the Apostle, was Bishop of Smyrna for seventy years, and was martyred under Marcus Aurelius A.D. 169.”
Epistle: 1 John 3:10-16.
Gospel: Matt 10:26-32.

Saturday, 27 January 2007
St. John Chrysostom, Bishop, Confessor, and Doctor of the Church
“The holy Patriarch of Constantinople received his surname 'Chrysostom (golden-mouth)' because he was the most eloquent preacher and the most prolific writer of the Greek Church. He was persecuted by the empress Eudoxia and her courtiers. He died in exile A.D. 407”
Epistle: 2 Tim 4:1-8.
Gospel: Matt 5:13-19.

[i] Remarks are abstracted from The Daily Missal and Liturgical Manual, from Editio Typica of the Roman Missal and Breviary, 1962
(Baronius Press Limited, London, 2004, in conjunction with the Fraternal Society of St. Peter,

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Week in Review: 7-13 January, A.D. 2007

H.R. 3: Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2000 Passed 253YEA’s, 174 NAY’s
As of 2:30 PM EST on Thursday, 11 January, the bill was to be sent back for an amendment preventing human cloning. They're so silly - don't they understand that without cloning, embryonic stem cells are close to useless as therapeutic devices? Apparently they did, because the instruction failed, 189 YEA’s to 238 NAY’s. Eight minutes later, they took Role Call #20, and the bill passed, 253 YEA’s to 174 NAY’s.
Of interest (to me, anyway), Mike Michaud, the Representative from Maine's second district, and a politician who touts his Catholicism(see next item regarding Catholic politicians and our courageous and manly Bishops), is a co-sponsor of the bill. He did, of course, vote for it. Since I pay taxes to the great State of Maine, I suppose I contribute to his care and feeding in some way (sigh).

New D.C. Archbishop Washes Hands Over Nancy Pelosi Political Exploitation of Catholic Mass
The scandal, of course, isn't that Pelosi does this. Like all politicians (see Maine's Michaud, above), she's merely a political creation and not expected to be cognizant of real things like religious truths. The scandal is that, as usual, our Bishops, and the Vatican, stand to one side, in frightened silence, as politicians claiming to be Catholic once again make a mockery of the Church.

Christians hail ethical source for stem cells
Jeff Miller over at The Curt Jester ( it right with his 9 January post on the placenta cells: they will not solve the tissue rejection problem. That is why embryonic stem cell researchers repeatedly point out that so-called therapeutic cloning will be a necessary component of any medical future that utilizes products of embryonic stem cells in medical therapy. We'll get to cloning in due course in our little stem cell series...

Britain Set to Ban Human-Animal Hybrid Embryonic Research
Chimeras are no joke. The National Research Council said this about human-animal hybrids (chimeras): "...such conclusive evidence (of proper functioning of the products of embryonic stem cells) requires testing in blastocyst chimeras as is routinely done in (mouse embryonic stem cell research).[1] We'll talk about chimeras when the time comes...

A follow up to December's call for FDA input on vaccines using aborted fetal cell lines is available here:

More on Plan B.
New Report Admits- Emergency Contraception Does Not Reduce Abortion

More on the HPV vaccine.
Parents block plans to vaccinate nine-year-olds against sex virus

More on The Ashley Treatment.
Surgery to stunt disabled girl's growth raises ethical questions

Finally, I've linked this over on the right. It really works!
ProLife Search

[1] "Guidelines for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research" National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. 2005:pg. 33, "Scientific Background". My emphasis. and

Stem Cell Basics, Part II: What is a stem cell?

(Comment: At this point, being a low tech household, I lack the ability to provide diagrams. But, I'll work on it...)

All God's creatures have stem cells. Birds do. Bees do. Even flowers and trees do. Mice do, and men do, and much of the research on stem cells has been done in mice, although, of course, it is also done now, and will be done much more frequently in the future, in men. So, we'll begin at the beginning. What is a stem cell?

A stem cell, according to the National Institutes of Health, is "a cell that has the ability to divide (self replicate) for indefinite periods - often throughout the life of the organism. Under the right conditions, or given the right signals, stem cells can give rise (differentiate) to the many cell types that make up the organism. That is, stem cells have the potential to develop into mature cells that have the characteristic shapes and specialized functions, such as heart cells, skin cells, and nerve cells."[1]

What does all that mean? Fully mature tissues and organs are comprised of cells that are said to be fully differentiated. Every single cell within my body contains its own, complete copy of my genetic code, my genome. However, within each individual cell, only those specific parts of the code necessary for that cell to do its job are turned on. The rest of the genetic code is turned off. Thus, one of my liver cells looks like, and functions like, a liver cell because, within it, only those parts of my genetic code related to "liver cell-ness" are activated, while the rest of the genome is suppressed. My liver cell can only be a liver cell, and if it replicates itself, it can only make another liver cell. That's what is meant by differentiation. If I look at liver cells through the microscope, the morphology or microscopic appearance of the cells is that of liver cells, not, say, brain cells. This is true even though the two tissue samples may have come from the same individual and share the same genome. That is what is meant by "fully differentiated".

A stem cell is undifferentiated. Under the microscope, it doesn't look like any particular type of cell. It doesn't have the long axons of a neuron, or the striations of a muscle cell. It looks like the generic cell one finds illustrated in basic biology textbooks: a largish cell with a nucleus, where the DNA of the genome resides, and surrounding cytoplasm which house the little molecular machines which do the life work of the cell, all wrapped up in a cell membrane. But, this generic cell doesn't have any of the specialized molecular apparati or unique morphology of a fully differentiated cell. This lack of specialized form under the microscope reflects a lack of specialized function: the stem cell doesn't do anything special. It doesn't transmit nerve impulses or help you pick up the groceries. It just replicates, and makes more undifferentiated copies of its undifferentiated self. It does this self replication, under normal circumstances, within the organism. However, it can also be convinced to replicate itself in the petri dish. This property of self replication is not a property that fully differentiated cells, in general, possess. Mature neurons do not replicate under normal circumstances, nor do mature blood cells, mature muscle cells, nor many other differentiated cell types. This property, self replication, takes care of the first part of the NIH definition.

Concerning the second component of the definition, differentiation. We've seen that the stem cell is undifferentiated in its off-the-shelf form. What gives the cell importance is that it can develop and mature into any number of mature cell types. The most undifferentiated cell, for example, is the single cell zygote, the fertilized egg, the first step in the growth and development of a new creature. There is no qualitative difference between a human zygote, a mid term fetus, and a newborn. The difference is quantitative only. This fact regarding the nature of the human zygote is why the Church teaches it must be treated as a new human person, and must be kept in mind throughout the discussion on embryonic stem cells. The zygote is a totipotential stem cell, because it will go on to form every cell and tissue type within the body, as well as the placenta. Next on the list of stem cell types would be pluripotent stem cells. There are three germ cell layers in the early embryo: the endoderm (inner layer), from which parts of most internal organs develop; the mesoderm (middle layer), from which muscle, blood cells, and so forth develop, and the ectoderm (outer layer) from which skin, nerves, and the central nervous system develop. Pluripotent stem cells are stem cells which can give rise to differentiated cells from any of the three germ layers. Conversely, pluripotent stem cells don't give rise to placenta, umbilical cord, and placental membranes, like the totipotent zygote does. Embryonic stem cells, which will be the focus of next week's essay, fall into this pluripotent stem cell category. Finally, people speak of unipotent stem cells. These are stem cells which, under normal circumstances, give rise to mature cells of only one germ layer. In general, adult stem cells are unipotent. For example, a hematopoietic stem cell is a stem cell found in adults which can give rise to any of the red blood cells or white blood cells (mesodermal germ line origin) but not, under normal circumstances, an ectodermally derived skin cell.

So, some stem cells have greater flexibility and plasticity than others. Pluripotent stem cells can develop into a wide variety of mature cell types; unipotent stem cells have a more restricted menu. Can unipotent adult stem cells be convinced to be more flexible? Yes, but we get ahead of ourselves. The purpose of this week's little essay is to define stem cells in general. Next week, embryonic stem cells.

[1] "Stem Cells: Scientific Progress and Future Directions." Report prepared by the National Institutes of Health, June 2001. See Ch. 1, "The Stem Cell." available in downloadable format at

The HPV Vaccine.

posted on Introibo ad altare Dei 5 December 2006

Human papilloma virus, or HPV, is a virus which causes cancer of the cervix in women. The only way HPV is transmitted is by sexual intercourse, one doesn't get it from a toilet seat or by shaking hands. Since virtually all cervical cancers are related to HPV infection, it is correct to say that cervical cancer is a sexually transmitted disease. Interestingly, those of us who used to put it in those terms were pooh-pooh'd not infrequently. Now, however, with the advent of Merk's Gardasil HPV vaccine, everybody is talking about HPV, cervical cancer, and the vaccine. Let's flesh in some details.

There are over a hundred subtypes of HPV, and over thirty of these are associated with cervical diseases including genital warts ("condylomata") in both ladies and gentlemen, cervical dysplasia (pre-cancerous cervical changes) and frank, invasive cancer. The viruses don’t cause cancer directly, they cause dysplasia. The dysplasia may, in turn, progress to cervical cancer if left untreated. The dysplasia is detected by the Pap smear and its more modern derivatives. If the Pap smear detects dysplasia, especially of the high grade variety, a biopsy of the cervix is recommended. If the biopsy confirms the high grade dysplasia, a LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) is usually performed, where a thin strip of the cervix containing the abnormal tissue is removed. This is frequently, but not always, curative. Here are some important points: first, dysplasia is not invasive cancer. It is a precursor to cancer. Secondly, a lot of dysplasia spontaneously regresses without further treatment. Thirdly, some cervical dysplasia, if untreated, progresses. Progresses to what? Invasive cervical cancer. But the important thing is this: the progression is slow, orderly, and well understood. That's why the Pap smear works so well as a screening tool for cervical cancer: it detects the precursor lesions before they become cancer. HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world, and prior to the widespread use of the Pap smear in the 1950's, cervical cancer was the most common cancer killer of women worldwide. It still is in parts of the world where Pap screening is not done. In the U.S., cervical dysplasia is very common. LEEP’s for high grade cervical dysplasia are very common (this procedure is done several times per day in my hospital). Cervical cancer, however, is relatively uncommon, due to the Pap smear (5000-7000 cases in the U.S. annually). Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a vaccine that would prevent all this?

Enter Merck and Gardasil. Approved for use by the FDA in June, 2006, it protects against the four most common types of high risk HPV,[1] which account for 70% of cervical cancers, and 90% of genital warts. It’s a three shot series given at 0, 2 and six months, and need for a booster is unknown at this time. A second vaccine is under development by GlaxoSmithKline. On June 29, 2006, the Advisory Council on Vaccine Practices (ACIP - the group which formulates vaccine recommendations for the CDC) voted to “recommend” universal vaccination with the HPV vaccine for all girls age 11-12, but beginning as early as age 9[2]. ACIP recommendations, once accepted by the CDC, take the de facto force of law, as local school boards and others turn the recommendations into requirements. The ACIP recommendations that all adult nonpregnant women (>19 years old) be vaccinated were published in the CDC’s publication, Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Reports (MMWR) on 13 October 2006. The recommendations for the universal childhood vaccinations are scheduled to be published in November, but are unavailable as of this writing. Not too surprisingly, the medical machine, as represented by the New England Journal of Medicine, is all for this,[3] and well funded pro-teenage contraception organs like Advocates for Youth are simply livid that those religious conservatives might not think universal HPV vaccination for children is such a swell idea.[4]

Why isn’t it a swell idea? First. The vaccine does not remove the need for Pap smears nor will it do anything for a lady already infected. Second, it doesn’t do anything about other sexually transmitted diseases, although it’s easy to imagine a 12 year old (remember, that’s the target audience) who thinks it does. For that matter, I can easily imagine a 20 year old who might think it does, but that’s neither here nor there. Thirdly, there are concerns that the FDA has "fast-tracked" licensure of Gardasil, without adequate study of its safety in little girls.[5] Fourth, and most importantly, no one knows what effect universal vaccination of 9 year olds might have on adolescent tendency to have sex. However, the data of the past forty years of social experimentation suggest that it would tend to increase sexual activity. That’s been the outcome of all the other experiments on early immersion of young children into the fetid world of “sex ed” and teenage contraception, and there’s no reason this should have a different effect. Regarding the morality of the vaccine itself, its manufacture does not involve aborted babies[6]. So the moral problems attached to, say varicella or rubella vaccines do not apply here.

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. You don’t get it if the person next to you coughs, and you don’t get it from a water fountain or a toilet seat. Requiring HPV immunizations for young girls (and that is what ACIP “recommendations” amount to: requirements) is, in my view, no different from requiring that all school age girls be put on contraception. The decision to vaccinate one's little girl with Gardasil should reside strictly within the family. Legislating its use is inappropriately paternalistic. The National Catholic Bioethics Center has summarized it appropriately:

The NCBC considers HPV vaccination to be a morally acceptable method of protecting against this disease, but asks that civil authorities leave this decision to parents and not make such immunization mandatory.”[7]

[1] “HPV and HPV Vaccine: Information for Healthcare Providers” Centers for Disease Control, August, 2006.
[2] “ACIP Provisional Recommendations for the Use of Quadrivalent HPV Vaccine”. available at
[3] Steinbrook, R. “The Potential of Human Papillomavirus Vaccines.” NEJM 354(11):1109-1112; 16 March 2006.
[4] “Will the Politics of Teen Sex Stop a Cancer Vaccine?” Advocates for Youth Media Brief,
[5] "Merck's Gardasil vaccine not proven safe for little girls." National Vaccine Information Center, Press Release, 27 June 2006.
[6] Gardasil package insert, Merck & Co., 2006. Available at Institue for Vaccine Safety,
[7] NCBC Statement on Vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). National Catholic Bioethics Center, 11 July 2006.