July 27, 2009

The Doctor Is In: Saint Panteleimon

Please see this link to a most beautiful and inspiring miracle story of the birth of a healthy baby boy, despite doctors' questions about the mother's infertility. Saint Panteleimon, pray for us!

July 13, 2009

"Know that the Lord is God! It is He who made us, and NOT WE ourselves..." (Psalm 99:3)

But we want to make more 'selves', literally, with reproductive cloning.
I recently came across a gaudy and unscientifically sound website of a man named Panayiotis Zavos--an American scientist of Greek Cypriot heritage, whose namesake, ironically, is the Panayia (the all-holy Mother of God). He claims to clone human beings in order to 'help' infertile couples have children because he believes it is their 'constitutional right' (see this link). And by 'help', I mean, charging them $40,000 or more for a procedure that involves pain, side effects, and no clear result of the creation of real human being. In a previous posting, I provided a summary of the normal biological process of fertilization and emphasized how a new person develops and has his or her own, new, and unique complete genome. Above all, this new and unique person bears the image of God, and therefore, is holy. As such, the human gametes or reproductive cells themselves are also holy because they have the potential of creating life within them. If you notice the ads on the left column of Dr. Zavos' website (i.e. "FertMart", "Z-bay", and "Home Gender Selection"), the human gametes are shown not as the seeds that give rise to a new life bearing the Divine Image, but rather, as manufactured products to be sold for the lucrative ambitions of so-called scientists. There is danger in messing with holy things. To summarize reproductive cloning, recall Dolly the sheep. This animal was created by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT). It involves taking a female sheep's egg, removing its nucleus (all of its genetic material), and inserting a nucleus from a somatic (body) cell, specifically, from sheep breast tissue. Eventually, with chemical and electrical signals, out of 277 cell and nucleus fusions, only 29 early embryos developed and placed into the wombs of surrogate mothers. After all of this commotion, only one pregnancy succeeded, hence, we got Dolly, who lived for about 6 years. Our friend, Dr. Zavos, claims to use such tactics with human beings, and by the way, performing these procedures secretly outside of the U.S. In one of his published works (link is here), he proudly claims to have created a cloned embryo at the 4-cell stage. In the end, this embryo did not result in pregnancy. To summarize this paper, a married couple who could not conceive because the man's sperm levels were too low, were in want of a child. The man's skin cells were biopsied and grown in a dish (they are referred to as 'fibroblasts'). The woman underwent ovarian stimulation with hormones, which prompted the release of 3 eggs (note that this occurs outside of the normal menstrual cycle), and they were then collected by a highly invasive and quite painful process for the woman--see this link for the gory details. The nucleus of each egg was removed, and a fibroblast nucleus was inserted into each. One of these three reconstructed eggs proceeded to the 4-cell stage of early embryonic development, as judged by the authors, within 60 hours. This 4-cell embryo was then transferred to the woman's womb--by so-called "standard embryo transfer methods", of which there was no citation in this paper for a concrete and detailed procedure approved by the scientific community. She was treated with injections of progesterone for two weeks, checked for signs of pregnancy, and found none in the end. He blamed it on the problem that this embryo was 12 hours behind in developmental schedule, which was due to a delay from the somatic cell nucleus trying to adapt in the new egg cell environment. My response: duh. The cytoplasm of the egg supplies important materials and nutrients that are in place to help support the growing embryo as it travels to the womb to be implanted during normal conception, suggesting that these materials are specifically designed for reproductive, not somatic, subcellular targets. Further, in order for proper embryonic development to occur after fertilization, a sperm cell nucleus is essential in making the contribution of a mitotic spindle, a type of machinery that is necessary for proper cell division to take place. As you can see, even at the reproductive molecular level, there must be contributions from gametes of both mother and father for the proper development of a new person. If one element (sperm or egg) is missing, it is highly likely that the result will not be a normal human embryo. To view the deeper meaning, the mother and father must each give of themselves (down to their gametes) to each other in sacrificial love, in order to see the fruit of that love in the newly-formed person, their child. But if one loves his or her self more, then why not try to clone himself rather than sacrifice himself or herself for the other? The word 'clone' is derived from the Greek word "κλωνάρι", which means 'branch', as from a tree or bush. If you were to remove a branch from a fig tree, for example, and transplant it to another location of rich and fertile soil in the right climate, you'll get a fig tree that is IDENTICAL to the original tree. The reproductive process described above is quite similar: the goal of this process was to make a person who was the same exact genetic copy of his father, because as you recall, there was NO genetic contribution by the mother, since they removed the nucleus from her egg. This takes away the unique and holy attribute of normal human conception as described before, as well as the concept of a new person being the fruit of marital love. Some would argue that in this study each person did give of themselves, such as skin cells and egg cells--but this occurred in an artificial and highly manipulative fashion, with no end result, except, as one would gather, a lot of heart-ache and disappointment at the failure of a pregnancy to take place. Even after this, Dr. Zavos' conclusion still insists: "Even though no pregnancy was established, human reproduction via SCNT may be possible and applicable in the future for patients with severe male or female infertility that have no other alternative options for procreating their own offspring." He audaciously and stubbornly insists to continue doing this process when he has proved that it is NOT working. Usually, such insistent behavior is characteristic of the works of the evil one... It is understandable that barren married couples have fervent desire for a child, and we cannot generalize about the reasons for each couple's desire. But let us note examples of couples in the Scriptures who had this same desire, but also, had great faith and love for God, as exemplified by their holy lives: Saints Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos; Saints Zacchariah and Elizabeth, the parents of St. John the Baptist; and also Hannah, the mother of Samuel the Prophet. They all fervently desired to have a child, and their desire was not a self-centered one, as evidenced in their promises to dedicate their child to the Lord. Their desire to have a child stemmed from their desire to please God, to give glory to Him, and not to themselves. It seems that the modern issues of infertility and reproductive cloning, and even abortion, may come from a different view of childbearing--one of self-centered desire rather than one of self-sacrifice. Perhaps this is a cultural view of today that seems to receive much encouragement from the decisions of our leaders. For holy examples, we need not look to the lives of holy people in the Scriptures alone, but also to some holy people who live among us today. As I will keep their names private, I will mention one example of miraculous birth. A family who is very dear to me was blessed with the gift of triplets: a boy and two identical girls. The probability of having a triplet birth without the assistance of fertility drugs is about 1:6000 to 8000 births. My friends who had the triplets already had two children, and simply desired to have another child. With the guidance of their spiritual father, they simply prayed with fervor and with love. They received their blessing, and to this day, they glorify God in the holy way in which they live and raise their children, by dedicating themselves to Him. I do not wish to hurt the feelings of people who deeply desire to have a child and for some unknown reason, cannot. Although one could find positive contributions by modern medical technologies, unfortunately, we see that they can be misused and can lead to actions that are far from glorifying our Lord. May God give us the enlightenment and motivation to live a life of self-sacrifice and to have a greater awareness of the sanctity of human life.