Roundup: Vatican Issues Statement on Bioethics; FDA Panel Votes in Support of Female Condom


Vatican Issues "Sweeping" Statement on Bioethical Issues
The Vatican has issued its most "authoritative and sweeping document on bioethical issues in 20 years" on Friday, reports the New York Times. A few of its significant conclusions:

The
Vatican says these techniques violate the principles that every human
life — even an embryo — is sacred, and that babies should be conceived
only through intercourse by a married couple…to bioethical questions raised in the 21 years since the congregation last issued instructions…

It bans the morning-after pill, the intrauterine device and the pill RU-486,
saying these can result in what amount to abortions." The document,
however, does not take a clear stand on "adopting" embryos generated
through IVF but unused…

The document does little to clarify the Vatican’s position on
whether couples can “adopt” surplus embryos that have been frozen and
abandoned. Such “prenatal adoption,” although rare, has been promoted
by some Catholics and evangelical Christians. The document says that
while “prenatal adoption” is “praiseworthy,” it presents ethical
problems similar to certain types of in vitro fertilization — in
particular, surrogate motherhood, which the church prohibits." 

On the Women’s Bioethics Blog, Kelly Hillis has a different take on the Catholic Church’s stance on "prenatal adoption":

The second, and much larger issue, is the chapter on "The use of human
“biological material” of illicit origin". This chapter discusses the
obligation of researchers to refuse to use materials of illicit origin
– that is, human cell lines obtained from stem cells, aborted fetuses,
etc. Many, if not most, news outlets are reporting this to mean that
the Vatican has said that Catholics may not use vaccines which are
grown on human cell lines created from the lung tissues of aborted
fetuses (the Meruvax rubella vaccine, at the very least).

Reading
the chapter, though, instead of relying on news reports, gives a
slightly different interpretation. While the document is clearly
against researchers using any biological material of so-called illicit
(theologically) origin, and suggests that ethical researchers will
refuse to use these mediums, it draws a different line for the general
public. The document allows that

Grave reasons may be
morally proportionate to justify the use of such “biological material.
Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit
parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of
illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to
make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system
make other types of vaccines available.

Unfortunately,
this again raises more questions than it solves. If there is such a
thing as a single grave reason that may be morally proportionate to
justify the use of illicit biological material – vaccinating your child
from a deadly disease – then why are there not other grave reasons?
Isn’t this suddenly a large degree of "wiggle room" that will allow
individuals an out, who can say that this document is not intended for
the lay Catholic but the scientist Catholic, the researcher who spends
their life in this and thus needs to consider ethics and morality at a
different level than the average person (or at least average Catholic)?

Thanks to Christine Cupaiuolo at Our Bodies, Our Blog for the links.

FDA Advisors Support Approval of Female Condom

An FDA committee voted unanimously to approve a second-generation
female condom, a quieter and cheaper version.  Reports Reuters,

"The current version requires welding sheets of polyurethane to form
a sheath, then welding rings at each end. The newer one, made of
synthetic rubber, uses a simpler process similar to male condoms that
should cut costs, the company said."

"The key in the
U.S. has always been cost," Mary Ann Leeper, an adviser and former
president of the company, told Reuters. A female-initiated STI prevention method is critical to stemming the HIV epidemic, say reproductive health advocates:

More than a dozen health advocates urged panel support of FC2,
saying its use was critical to help more women protect themselves.
Unlike male condoms, the female product can be inserted well before
sexual intercourse begins.

"Female condoms are the only woman-controlled method of safer sex,
and we also know what the birth control pill did for women: it allowed
them an unprecedented control over their reproductive status," said
American Social Health Association Vice President Deborah Arrindell.


Ross Douthat Misses the Point, Again

Even if only three percent
of Planned Parenthood’s costs are related to abortion services, anti-choicers aren’t misguided in their campaign to
defund the reproductive health organization, says Ross Douthat on the Atlantic online.
"[E]ven if their non-abortion business were enormous enough to make
that three percent claim legitimate – they would still be performing
more than 250,000 abortions a year. That’s a 2, a 5, and four
zeros – a figure that accounts, by Allen’s reckoning, for somewhere
north of $100 million in annual revenue for the organization, and that
contrasts rather strikingly with the number 1,414, which is how many
women the organization referred to an adoption agency in 2004-2005.
(They’ve since stopped even reporting the adoption-referral number,
apparently.)," writes Douthat.  But federal government funding – what the anti-choice
groups like Family Research Council are protesting – isn’t funding
abortion. Thanks to the Hyde Amendment, federal Medicaid dollars cannot
be spent to cover abortion care for women.  Instead, federal funding
provides contraceptive access and sexuality education counseling to
low-income women.  How is the number of abortions Planned Parenthood
performs relevant to the conversation?

On Slate, William Saletan, meanwhile, calls Planned Parenthood a highly effective pro-life organization:

The campaign to defund Planned Parenthood is really about abortions. FRC would like to see fewer of them. So would I. And that’s the crux of the idiocy: The single best thing you can spend money on to reduce the number of abortions, not just in this country but around the world, is Planned Parenthood.

I’ll say that again: If you define pro-life as preventing abortions, Planned Parenthood is the most effective pro-life organization
in the history of the world. No, it doesn’t give teenagers the idea of
having sex. That idea comes to them quite naturally, thank you very
much. What Planned Parenthood does, more comprehensively than anyone
else, is to distribute the means and knowledge to control your risk of
getting pregnant when you don’t want to be pregnant. And those two
things, combined with pressure to exercise that control assiduously,
are the surest way to prevent abortions. If you wait till women are already unhappily pregnant, you’re too late.


Afghans Want More Children, Can’t Afford Them

Women in Afghanistan have an average of seven children, the highest fertility rate in Asia, reports the San Francisco Chronicle,
and yet "Today, many Afghan couples are torn between adhering to
the tradition
of large families and the financial reality of caring for many
children…Indeed, a faltering economy has caused many villagers to
reduce the
size of their families and turn to family planning services that offer
birth control pills and injections and condoms." But economic factors should not be the only determinants of desired family size in that country, the Chronicle suggests:

A U.N. Population Fund report released in July warned that
Afghanistan’s current population growth rate will more than double the
demand for water and land, stress the country’s inadequate
infrastructure and damage the environment.

Experts say increasing population has already contributed to
astounding levels of maternal and infant mortality, which are among the
highest in the world. In Afghanistan, there are 1,600 maternal deaths
per 100,000 births, a rate 123 times higher than in the United States.
The infant mortality rate is 154 deaths per 1,000 live births. In
contrast, the U.S. rate is 6.3 per 1,000 live births, according to CIA
data.

The U.N. report also said that easing population growth would allow
the Afghan government to direct more attention to reducing maternal and
infant deaths, while improving services for children’s health and
education, and developing the country’s roads and energy sources.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.