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The Point - May 13, 2013

In this edition of The Point:

Article/Commentary #1

Responding to a just-released article in the journal Cell, the 16,000-member Christian Medical Association, the nation's largest faith-based association of physicians, cited ethical, practical and safety concerns regarding the cloning of human embryos to harvest stem cells.

CMA CEO Dr. David Stevens noted, "Just when ethically uncontroversial stem cell techniques offer a platform for consensus on stem cell research and development, a small band of outliers want to revive the notion of cloning and destroying living human beings to harvest stem cells. As it was years ago when first attempted and discredited, human cloning remains unethical, impractical and unsafe.

"Unlike methods such as iPSC (induced pluripotent stem cells) or adult stem cell research that have gained a growing consensus of approval, human cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT) requires the deliberate creation and destruction of living human embryos.

"Practically speaking, iPS cells are much better and more easily created for lab models. Most importantly for the patients our physicians treat, adult stem cells already show proven superior achievement at treating patients.

"So why would we want to turn back the clock by reverting to a technique that stem cell science has already passed by? When neither iPSC nor ASC requires subjecting women to the significant health risk of ovarian hyperstimulation, why would we want to commodify human eggs and women who are described by the study authors as having "premium quality human oocytes"?

"Besides the immediate harm of killing living human embryos, embryo-destroying cloning also has the potential to lay the groundwork for reproductive cloning--bringing a cloned human being to birth."

Article #2

Excerpted from “Vermont about to become 4th state with aid-in-dying law,” CBS News. May 14, 2013 -- Vermont is poised to join three other states permitting doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients after the state House approved a compromise bill similar to Oregon's 1997 law. The bill, approved on Monday, now goes before Gov. Peter Shumlin, a strong supporter of the legislation. It marks the first time a state has granted legislative approval to such a measure. By a 75-65 roll call vote, the House concurred with a Senate version of the bill that largely mirrors the Oregon law for three years and then shifts to a system with less government monitoring.

Critics continued to voice their concerns during House debate on Monday, while supporters, who knew they had the votes to pass the bill, were more muted. "There is potential here for abuse of the disabled," said Rep. Carolyn Branagan, R-Georgia, "especially disabled elders," she said. "This is not medical care. It is the opposite." Sen. Richard McCormack, D-Windsor, watched the debate from the House gallery. "This bill makes no judgment about the value of anybody's life," he said after the vote. "It makes a very positive judgment about the value of personal freedom and the right to make one's own choices."

If Shumlin signs the bill, Vermont would become the fourth state, and the first east of the Mississippi, to allow doctors to help patients die by writing a prescription for a lethal dose of medication. Oregon passed the first-in-the-nation law by referendum; Washington state followed suit in 2006; and a court order in Montana made it legal in that state. Debate included two packed Statehouse hearings in which supporters and opponents took turns voicing their views on the legislation, sometimes dubbed "death with dignity" by backers and "physician-assisted suicide" by opponents. After July 1, 2016, Vermont would move to a model pushed by some senators who complained the Oregon system has too much government intervention. Those changes would require less monitoring and reporting by physicians. However, there's widespread expectation that lawmakers may push to eliminate the changes set to take effect in 2016, leaving an Oregon-style law in place.

Commentary #2

CMDA CEO David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics): "CMDA members, as part of the Vermont Alliance of Ethical Healthcare and the leadership of CMDA board member and renowned Christian bioethicist Dr. Bob Orr, have successfully fought legalization of PAS in Vermont for around 10 years. As happened in other states, proponents just keep coming back and finally got the numbers they needed.

The Vermont Senate originally passed a much more liberal one page bill simply stating that a physician couldn’t be held legally responsible if they prescribed pain medicine knowing that the patient was going to take an overdose and a physician or family members could be present as the patient killed themselves. It was so loosely constructed that it could have easily allowed a physician to start an IV, hook up pain medicine drip and then allow the patient to start their overdose, bringing us that much closer to legalized euthanasia. The bill passed, which will likely be signed by the governor, only puts the ineffective Oregon style law (two oral, one written request, second opinion, two week waiting period and reporting) into practice for three years with the assumption that the state will remove all monitoring and “safeguards” then.

The domino on the eastern side of the U.S. has fallen. Legalization is already being considered in New Jersey, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Proponents, now emboldened with this success, will push even harder. George Soros and other well-heeled funders will throw their pocketbooks open wider with the goal of getting liberal Western and Northeastern states to join the lemmings heading over the cliff. They will then sweep across every state in between. PAS may be in your state soon.

CMDA is fighting this tsunami of death that will destroy patient trust and the doctor-patient relationship while also endangering our patients. The right to die will quickly become the duty to die and will expand from the terminally ill to the chronically ill, from the physical ill to the mentally ill, from assisted suicide to euthanasia and from those who can give consent, to those who can’t and finally to those who won’t. The tragedy we have seen in Holland, Switzerland and Belgium will be our reality too.

It isn’t time to wring our hands and despair. It is time to dig in and fight. The key is you – individual doctors standing up as prophetic voices to their government and the people in their state. CMDA will train you, equip you and go with you into the battle. We will pray for you and rally others to your side, but our success will be in direct proportion to the number of Christian doctors who will stand up.

We’ve lost the battle in Vermont but the war continues. It is still winnable. All we need is faithful men and women to enlist in the fight. Will you answer the call?"

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
— Edmund Burke

Article #3

Excerpted from “Boston IVF Receives $1 Million From U.S. Health and Human Services To Develop National Protocol To Promote The Use Of Embryo Donation As A Family Building Option,” Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2013 -- A leading medical practice providing specialized infertility treatment since 1986, has received a two-year federal grant, totaling $1 million, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to improve patient understanding of and interest in donating frozen embryos resulting from in vitro fertilization (IVF) to others undergoing infertility treatment. The second half of the grant funding is to develop the Frozen Embryo Donation Service, including training protocols for infertility clinics aimed at enhancing clinician and patient awareness and interest in embryo donation. There will be a development of educational services for patients with embryos in storage, as well as potential recipients, to increase the number of patients willing to consider donation. New procedures, including appropriate patient consent forms, laboratory protocols and legal and financial materials will also be created as part of this initiative.

"A major goal of the Frozen Embryo Donation Service is to develop training programs for infertility clinics, including physicians, nurses and mental health counselors, and facilitate new protocols to support embryo donation in the U.S.," said Alison Zimon, MD, a Reproductive Endocrinologist at Boston IVF and Principal Investigator for this program.

Working with researchers from Brandeis University, data on donor attitudes and responses, recipient knowledge and interest, and changes in patient behavior, including donation rates, are being evaluated. Changes in clinical staff knowledge and attitudes are also being studied. "By educating clinicians and other key staff, and enhancing patient communication, we hope to establish frozen embryo donation as a realistic, cost effective and successful treatment option for many patients undergoing infertility treatment," added Zimon.

The Office of Population Affairs (OPA) within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health (OASH), within HHS, is conducting a multi-year public awareness campaign, to increase public awareness of embryo donation and ultimately promote the use of embryo donation as a family building option. Since 2002, nine organizations have received grant funding as part of this effort. Boston IVF is the largest infertility practice to be selected by HHS to participate in this grant program. Full story can be found here.

Commentary #3

Medical Director for the National Embryo Donation Center Jeffrey Keenan, MD: “Currently, there are more than 600,000 human embryos cryopreserved in clinics and storage facilities around the country. We applaud the grants that have been provided by the federal government over the last 10 years to increase awareness and provision of embryo donation and adoption services. These grants have been quite effective in achieving their goal, as evidenced by more than a 50 percent increase in the number of donor embryo transfers during that period. For the first time, more than 1,000 donor embryo transfers were performed in the U.S. in 2011 (the most recent year for which we have data). Pregnancy rates are uniformly high with this procedure and costs significantly lower than for in vitro fertilization and donor egg IVF. In total, we estimate that about 4,500 babies have been born as a result of embryo donation/adoption.

"Perhaps more importantly, this form of assisted reproduction provides the embryo donors with a life honoring alternative for their remaining embryos if they cannot use them personally for any reason.

"It is a shame that the federal government has ended funding for this valuable and effective program. In view of all the well-documented fraud seen with the distribution of government monies, it would appear that other programs could have been better candidates for termination.

"The National Embryo Donation Center was also a grantee for the funds mentioned in the article, and we are just now rolling out a national database where donors and recipients from around the country can go to facilitate this process. The NEDC is also still in need of affiliates in other parts of the country to assist in our backlog of donors and recipients desiring our services. To contact the NEDC please call toll free 866-585-8549."

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