Saturday, January 27, 2007

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Stem Cell Controversy at Buffalo Church

It seems that the latest stem cell debate has crossed the line of civil decency in a church:

Political confrontation in Buffalo church for NY lawmaker

January 24, 2007, 2:14 PM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Buffalo congressman Brian Higgins walked out of a Catholic church service Sunday after a deacon berated him during a sermon for the lawmaker's recent vote supporting stem cell research. The public tongue-lashing came during morning Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic church, where deacon Tom McDonnell criticized the Democratic lawmaker. Higgins, who was baptized and married in that church, walked out with his wife and son.

"Leaving was the appropriate thing to do," the two-term lawmaker said Wednesday, adding that he apologized "to the good people of St. Thomas Aquinas for their having been subjected to this whole, unfortunate and avoidable mess... Those people deserved much better."

The pastor of the church, the Rev. Art Smith, offered an apology from the pulpit after the congressman left, the Buffalo News reported in Wednesday's editions. Higgins was criticized by McDonnell for voting earlier this month for a bill that would allow federal funding for research involving stem cell lines derived from surplus embryos created in fertility clinics.

Should the deacon publicly point out every "sinner" known to him in the sanctuary of the church? Could he have approached the Congressman privately, away from his family, to express his disappointment about the vote? And then we have this follow-up article from today's Buffalo News:

Anti-abortion group says cleric ‘did his job’


News Staff Reporter


The Buffalo Regional Right to Life Committee on Wednesday hailed a deacon who criticized Rep. Brian Higgins during Sunday Mass in St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. Deacon Tom McDonnell’s rebuke of the Buffalo Democrat for voting for federal funding for embryonic stem cell research led Higgins to walk out of the church during his sermon.

“God bless the deacon a thousand times. He did his job. If every bishop, every clergy member of all faiths did their jobs, we wouldn’t have the shedding of innocent life in our country,” said Stacey Vogel of the Buffalo Regional Right to Life Committee. The anti-abortion group’s position was in stark contrast with the phone calls and e-mails at Higgins’ Buffalo and Washington offices, which were running in his favor by a nearly 4 to 1 ratio, according to a staff member.

Higgins said his relationship with St. Thomas Aquinas Church, where he was baptized and married, is “very deep, very meaningful and very long.” He apologized earlier for the congregation’s having to be subjected to criticism of him during the morning Mass. “The lesson here is that the Catholic Church has enough problems and should take greater care before allowing nonpriests to use the church as a forum to advance what clearly was a political agenda,” Higgins said. “I think the letters and e-mails speak for themselves and show the inconsistencies in what the church leaders have said,” he added. One of the callers to his office, Marie Fitzgerald, a 45-year member of St. Thomas Aquinas parish, told The Buffalo News she was appalled by what happened.

“I think it was terrible the way [the Mass] was done. It’s an embarrassment to Brian and to a lot of a parishioners who were there,” Fitzgerald said. She said she held the Rev. Art Smith, the church’s pastor, partly responsible. “I think he’s the boss, and I think he should have put a stop to it,” Fitzgerald said. She also said McDonnell owes the congregation an apology. “I think he should make a public apology to all of us and to Brian in particular,” Fitzgerald said. Vogel said she did not understand why anyone would be rallying to the congressman’s side. “You shouldn’t care so much about Brian’s feelings so much as Brian’s salvation,” Vogel said. She also said the clergy owed McDonnell an apology for any criticism of him for “doing his duty” and said her committee would be giving him an award at its fall dinner.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Polio Success Story

A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health looked at the economic impact of the first 50 years of polio immunization, from 1955 to 2005. They found that the US has benefited from the polio vaccine, with a net savings of over 180 billion dollars.

The researchers, Professor Thompson and Dr. Radboud Duintjer Tebbens, a research associate at HSPH, estimated the costs and the effectiveness of historical polio vaccination strategies. They found that the U.S. invested over $35 billion between 1955 and 2005 and will continue to invest billions into the future to pay for polio vaccination. They estimated that these historical and future investments translate into over 1.7 billion vaccinations that prevent approximately 1.1 million cases of paralytic polio and over 160,000 deaths, thus saving Americans hundreds of billions of dollars in treatment costs.

One positive impact of this study is that it illustrates the huge economic savings that can come from such a successful public health initiative. Score one for biomedical research!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Soup's On!

It's a cold winter's day here. Would anyone care for some soup?

Hat tip to the John Crerar Library exhibit on scientific humor:

Thursday, January 11, 2007

All Stem Cells, All The Time...

The House passed H.R. 3 today, known as the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. Unfortunately, it looks like there are not enough votes to override Bush's veto. Here is a report on today's news from the Houston Chronicle:

The House voted to expand government-financed embryonic stem cell research Thursday, but for the second time in two years lawmakers were unable to muster enough votes to overcome a promised presidential veto. Still, the 253-174 vote was a high watermark in the stem cell debate, drawing advocates closer to the two-thirds vote threshold needed to override President Bush's objections.

With stem cells offering hope for major health care cures, lawmakers on both sides of the issue punctuated the debate with poignant personal stories and clashed over the ethics of the science. Addressing "those who do not have the will to stand up against a presidential veto," freshman Rep. Zach Space, D-Ohio, described his 16-year-old son's battle against juvenile diabetes and wondered aloud what awaited him as an adult. "This research represents the only meaningful hope for a cure in my son's lifetime," Space said.

Embryonic stem cells hold the promise of medical breakthroughs because they have the ability to become any tissue in the body. But the research typically involves the destruction of frozen embryos created for in vitro fertilization, a step that stirs passions over the beginning of life.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., blind in one eye, said she would benefit from stem cell science to replace a detached retina. But she said the federal government should emphasize research into adult stem cells, not those derived from embryos. "Killing human life does not have to be accomplished to create efficacious treatment for people and diseases," she said.

The legislation would lift Bush's 2001 ban on the use of federal dollars spent on deriving new stem cells from fertilized embryos. Bush vetoed similar legislation last year and actor Michael J. Fox elevated the issue into prominence with political ads during last fall's congressional elections. Democrats credit that issue, among others, for helping them drive Republicans from power in Congress.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Update on the Stem Cell Bills

I promised to keep you updated on the status of reintroduction of the stem cell bills. Here is the latest:

From the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) :

Dear Eyedoc333,

We wanted to give you an update on House and Senate activity on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act in the 110th Congress. On January 5th both chambers convened for business and Members of Congress had an opportunity to introduce legislation for the first time this year. Among the bills introduced were HR 3 and S 5, the House and Senate versions of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. The House has scheduled HR 3 for floor consideration next Thursday 11 January. The Senate will likely take the bill up late this month. The Senate is planning a joint hearing with the Senate Labor-HHS-Ed Appropriations Subcommittee and Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee around the 3rd week in January. Details for that hearing are not yet available.

Given the prompt Congressional action on these bills, your immediate and continued efforts to reach all Members of Congress, especially the new Members, and urge their support for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, are critical.

You can find phone numbers and email addresses for elected officials on :

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Stem Cell Stocks Rising

With the new stem cell bill coming up in Congress, I find this fascinating:

Shares of biotech companies working on stem cell-related therapies surged Thursday as Democrats in Congress prepared to promote once again legislation that would increase government-funded research in this area.


Ask yourself this--Why is it that biotech stocks are rising despite the fact that the new bill promotes federal funding for stem cell research? Could it be that the new bill would benefit private companies as well? You bet! The National Institutes of Health have funding programs for both academic labs and small businesses. And on top of that, even the larger pharmaceutical companies rely on academic studies, funded by the feds, to assist them with their own research. This new bill is good for business. This is a bill that even corporate America can support.