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Posts Tagged ‘medicine’

There are so many reports in the press and adverts on the tube for IVF that you’d think it was the only form of fertility treatment on offer to couples who are struggling to conceive a child.

A friend of mine,  Leonora Paasche Butau, has been studying bioethics, theology of the body, and fertility management for the last few years. I recently read this report from her on the ICN website about the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, and the pioneering alternatives to IVF that they have been developing.

The Pope Paul VI Institute is the brainchild of the bold and courageous Dr Thomas Hilgers, MD and his wife Sue Hilgers who founded the institute in 1985 as a response to the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae. Pope Paul VI, in this encyclical letter, expressed the Catholic Church’s longstanding tradition on marital life and love and called on “men of science” to direct their research to reproductive healthcare which fully respects life and the dignity of marriage and women. Dr Hilgers, as a young medical student in 1968, felt that the Church was speaking directly to him through this letter and by December of that same year he started his first research project to better understand natural fertility regulation and women’s health care.

The results of years of study and research have been phenomenal. The Pope Paul VI Institute has developed a new and superior approach to women’s reproductive health care which embodies the best principles of medicine and builds up the culture of life in a world which finds its solutions in contraception, sterilisation and abortion.

The Institutes 30+ years of research has seen the development of the highly successful Creighton Model Fertility Care System (CrMS) and NaProTechnology (Natural Procreative Technology) which has reached 14 countries around the world.

NaProTechnology allows a couple to observe certain biological markers to determine when they are naturally fertile and infertile so that they can either avoid or achieve pregnancy. In addition to this, it is a very effective tool in identifying and treating underlying causes of infertility with success rates up to three times higher than In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). It would seem that the current philosophy of reproductive medicine does not seek to treat underlying diseases meaning that millions of women suffer from infertility without ever knowing the reason. Although IVF is by far the most common approach to the treatment of infertility, the women who undergo treatment using IVF would still remain with the underlying diseases which are causing the infertility to begin with.

As well as being used to treat infertility, NaProTechnology helps to obtain proper diagnosis and effective treatment for a range of other health and gynaecological problems and abnormalities such as recurrent miscarriage, premenstrual syndrome, postpartum depression and abnormal bleeding ‒ offering great hope to women.

Another of the unique contributions of NaProTechnology is the empowerment of women that comes with the knowledge and self-awareness of their bodies and their reproductive cycles.

Dr Anne Carus, a NaPro Specialist doctor from Life Fertility Care in Leamington Spa, states: “with NaProTechnology couples cycle charting empowers them through education.  We find couples value the active contribution that they are able to make to the diagnostic and treatment process. NaProTechnology provides an individualised medical support. Our annual audit indicates that 89% of our clients would have found it helpful to receive information about NaProTechnology from their GP practice. Couples find it difficult to find real support to natural conception within the NHS.”

The research of Dr Thomas Hilgers – at a time when it is difficult for many obstetrician-gynecologists to practice their profession without prescribing oral contraceptives, carrying out sterilisations or referring patients for procedures such as IVF ‒ is testament to his faith in Christ and commitment to responding to the challenges of Humanae Vitae.

For more information see the website of the Institute here. See the articles here from the UK Life Fertility Care site. And for more general issues about fertility and for practical help in the UK see the Life Fertility Care site itself.

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I’ve managed to get to the 40 Days for Life vigil in central London a couple of times since it started on Ash Wednesday. People gather outside the BPAS abortion clinic in Bedford Square, between Tottenham Court Road station and the British Museum. They pray. They witness peacefully to an alternative vision of life to that offered by the abortion culture. And they offer practical and loving support to women and men who perhaps think they have no alternative to seeking an abortion. It’s non-confrontational and non-judgemental, and it takes place across the street from the clinic so that people visiting there do not have to walk directly past a row of people they would rather avoid. One hour there were two or three people; another time there were about ten.

If you have time, why not try to visit and join the vigil, even if it is just for a few minutes. I know many people will feel uneasy about this – I did myself. There is a natural nervousness about doing anything in public as Christians, and a fear that this could become confrontational, and perhaps a genuine question about whether this kind of witness might be unhelpful and even counter-productive. I had all these questions and all these fears.

In the end, three thoughts persuaded me to go. First, the fact of simply praying must be doing some good. Second, I know not just from reading about it but also from friends involved that this witness has really helped a few people to re-think what they are doing and supported them in keeping their babies; it’s given some people not just a new hope but also the practical support to do what deep down they wanted to do. It’s helped to really change hearts and minds. And third, I am often tempted to go round in circles considering the pros and cons of an argument, and I thought that I should just go and experience for myself what it is all about.

I won’t pretend every moment is easy. Every now and then someone will walk past and make a comment (‘It’s none of your business’, ‘A woman’s right to choose’), and in these moments I feel very awkward, and question what we are doing. But there is a pervading sense of peace and prayerfulness, and a heartfelt charity towards all those involved in the clinic. People at the vigil are not there to judge, but to pray and to offer hope. And you feel the reality of this prayer and hope when you are there, even if it highlights the starkness of the choices many people are facing.

It’s also true that the vigil becomes a small and rare sign in the middle of London, to ordinary passers-by, that abortion is an everyday reality in our city, and that there is another view, another possibility. Abortion is for the most part an unquestioned part of the tapestry of British life. I’m not judging anyone here; I’m judging the culture that normalises abortion and makes it seem strange that people would stand in vigil to offer an alternative voice.

I came away with my faith strengthened, glad to have been able to offer a small witness to life. I also came away encouraged in a very concrete way by the knowledge that when we were there one of the women on the vigil had been able to have a long and much appreciated discussion with someone visiting the clinic. What happened in the end I don’t know, but at least something was offered.

Another strange and unexpected effect on me was the sense of standing with those who are suffering, with those who have no-one else to stand with them – even if it has no ‘practical’ consequence. These innocent human beings who are being aborted have been ‘forgotten’ by their parents, by the doctors, by the nurses; but at least a few people are trying to show that they are not forgotten. It reminded me of the women standing at the foot of the cross – offering their compassion to the crucified Christ, even if this didn’t seem to help him directly.

So the 40 Days for Life vigil seems to me to be about prayer, witness, support and solidarity; things that are undeniably good, even if there remain complex questions about what they mean and how best to express them.

The main website about the London event is here. You can see the international site here. The London Facebook page is here.

This ‘mission statement’ is from the blog.

40 days of peaceful prayer, fasting, and outreach to bring an end to abortion. We will help any person, whether mother, father, relative or friend, facing difficulties and considering an abortion. We also care about those that work at the abortion clinic. We pray for them and hope for their release from the culture of death, recognising that they too are wounded by abortion. We work for a change of hearts and minds, and a culture that defends life from conception.

And this is a summary of what the vigil is all about:

A peaceful and prayerful vigil opposite the abortion facility were countless unborn children are killed everyday. We stand in witness and prayer for the unborn children, their parents, and the people who work in the abortion industry.

Please join us daily anytime between 8am and 8pm, seven days a week.

We ask that each of our participants sign the statement of peace, abide by the law, and remain prayerful.

It is a really great help to the organisers if you could sign-up online and book which times you are able to join us at the vigil. This helps us to know which times are covered and which times need people present. Simply go to this link, sign-up, and choose you days and times.

Location:  North West Corner of Bedford Square, London WC1B 3HP (Directions)
Dates:   February 22, 2012 – April 1, 2012
Time:   STARTS: 8:00 AM     ENDS: 8:00 PM

Here is the ‘statement of peace’ you have to sign if you go as a registered participant:

1. I will only pursue peaceful solutions to the violence of abortion when volunteering with the 40 Days for Life campaign

2. I will show compassion and reflect Christ’s love to all abortion facility employees, volunteers, and customers

3. I understand that acting in a violent or harmful manner immediately and completely disassociates me from the 40 Days for Life campaign

4. I am in no way associated with the abortion facility/Planned Parenthood or its affiliates by way of employment, informant, volunteer, client, or otherwise

While standing in the city right of way in front of the abortion facility:

5. I will not obstruct the driveways or sidewalk while standing in the public right of way

6. I will not litter on the public right of way

7. I will closely attend to any children I bring to the prayer vigil

8. I will not threaten, physically contact, or verbally abuse the abortion facility/Planned Parenthood employees, volunteers, or customers

9. I will not vandalize private property

10. I will cooperate with local city authorities

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Is medicine only about healing and restoration? Or is it also about restructuring human nature so that it is capable of doing far more than it could left to itself?

This debate about the relationship between therapy and enhancement is going to become more and more important. “Transhumanism” is the label given to the work of clinicians and bioethicists who believe that science should be used to transform the human condition and not just to heal it. Remember Lee Majors and the Six Million Dollar Man?

The 2002 version of the Transhumanist Declaration states:

Humanity will be radically changed by technology in the future. We foresee the feasibility of redesigning the human condition, including such parameters as the inevitability of aging, limitations on human and artificial intellects, unchosen psychology, suffering, and our confinement to the planet earth.

This is from an article by E. Christian Brugger:

Transhumanism is really a set of ideas that has developed in response to the rapid advance of biotechnology in the past 20 years (that is, technology capable of and aimed at manipulating the physical, mental and emotional condition of human beings). Conventional medicine has traditionally aimed at overcoming disorders that afflict the human condition; it has prescribed leeching, cauterizing, amputating, medicating, operating and relocating to dryer climates, all in order to facilitate health and militate against disease and degeneration; in other words, the purpose has been to heal (i.e., has been broadly therapeutic).

Technology is now making possible interventions that in addition to a therapeutic aim are intended to augment healthy human capacities. There is a gradual but steady enlargement taking place in medical ideals from simply healing to healing and enhancement. We are all too familiar with “performance enhancing drugs” in professional sports. But biotechnology promises to make possible forms of enhancement that go far beyond muscle augmentation.

Germ-line gene therapy, for example, still in its infancy, aims to genetically modify human “germ cells” (i.e., sperm and eggs) in order to introduce desirable intellectual, physical and emotional characteristics and exclude undesirable ones. Since the modifications are made to cells in the “germ line,” the traits would be heritable and passed on to subsequent generations. Drugs to improve mental function such as Ritalin and Adderall are increasingly being used by the healthy in order to enhance cognitive abilities. One study has shown that close to 7% of students at U.S. universities have used prescription stimulants for enhancement purposes. That number appears only to be increasing.

Research is rapidly progressing on advanced technologies such as direct brain-computer interfacing (BCI), micromechanical implants, nanotechnologies, retinal, neuromuscular and cortical prostheses, and so-called “telepathy chips.” While it is true that each of these technologies may play a role in transforming the lives of disabled patients to enable them better to communicate, manipulate computers, see, walk, move their limbs and recover from degenerative diseases; transhumanism sees them as potential instruments for transforming human nature.

Their most radical proposal is to overcome death. Although the aim sounds fanciful, there are influential scientists and philosophers committed to it. The prominent transhumanist scientist and inventor, Dr. Ray Kurzweil, argues that for most of human history death was tolerated because there was nothing we could do about it. But a time is rapidly approaching where we will be able to isolate the genes and proteins that cause our cells to degenerate and reprogram them. The assumption of death’s inevitability is no longer credible and ought to be retired.

Brugger is uneasy about these developments:

I fear that the only thing presently preventing wide-scale affirmation of the transhumanist imperative is an emotional “yuck” factor, which we can be sure will gradually subside under the gentle and inexorable prodding of secular opinion. When it does, our rationality insulated by this extreme notion of autonomy will find itself helpless against the technological imperative which says: if we can design our perfect child, if we can be smarter, stronger, and more beautiful, if we can extend human life indefinitely, then we should do it. If embryos are sacrificed through the experimental process required to perfect this technology, or if inequalities are introduced to the advantage of some and disadvantage of others; these are the costs of progress!

I’m certainly against the exploitation of human embryos in any form, and the creation of designed children. But I’m not convinced that you can argue against transhumanism by referring to the inequalities it will create, as these already arise through ordinary medicine. Is it wrong to improve the physical and mental functioning of someone who already exists through medical interventions? In itself, I don’t think so. But there are deeper issues floating around, and I don’t think I’ve puzzled out what they are yet.

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Today, they preserve not just your head, but your whole body, in the hope that years from now — with advances in medicine and technology — they will be able to reanimate your corpse and give you back your life.

This is the science of cryonics, as described by Simon Hattenstone. Only it is more a hope and a science. Or, as some would think, an emerging science that has only been embraced by a few prophetic ‘early adopters’.

In a bungalow in Peacehaven, by the east Sussex seaside, a 72-year-old man and his 62-year-old wife are planning their future. There’s no discussion of anything morbid, like death, because, as far as they are concerned there is no such thing as death. When they stop breathing, they will pass into a state of suspended animation. They will be frozen in a giant flask of liquid nitrogen at almost -200C, which will preserve their brains and organs in as fresh a state as possible until technology has advanced to the stage where they can be revived.

Many cryonicists choose to have only their heads frozen – because that contains all the vital matter – and by the time people can be brought back to life it will be easier, and preferable for some, to attach a new body. But Alan and Sylvia Sinclair will have their whole bodies frozen.

Alan now runs Cryonics UK, and every month he holds meetings with fellow cryonicists and potential converts to discuss the practicalities and potential problems of their suspension – of which there are many. First, upon so-called “death”, a team of experts must rush to their sides, pump out their blood and fill them with antifreeze. This is complicated because virtually all the members of Alan’s suspension team at Cryonics UK have practised only on dummies, rather than real people – and if, for example, air bubbles enter the pumping system, the brain will be irreversibly damaged. Second, there are no storage facilities in Britain, so patients will have to be transferred to the US or Russia. Third, science has some way to go before we can bring people back to life.

When you see this in a science fiction film, with the mood music and the beautiful actors, you think ‘why not?’ But the thought of my body stored in a warehouse in Arizona for 50 years sends shivers down my spine. Perhaps this unease is irrational, like the fear of being trapped in a buried coffin.

hai von der seite by loop_oh. 

The idea behind the science is not new:

It was Benjamin Franklin who first suggested, in 1773, that it might be possible to preserve human life in a suspended state for centuries. And that was that for close on 200 years, until physics lecturer Robert Ettinger published The Prospect Of Immortality in 1962, in which he argued that, since we keep food fresh by freezing it, we can do the same with the human body until such time as we have discovered how to defeat death.

The term “cryonics”, derived from the Greek kryos, meaning cold, was coined in 1965 when Karl Werner founded the Cryonics Society of New York, and the premise is that memory, personality and identity are stored in cellular structures, principally in the brain. So, if you can preserve the brain in decent nick, technology permitting, you can eventually restore people with their personalities intact. The cost varies from $28,000 for head-only preservation to $155,000 for full body.

The largest cryonics organisation, with more than 800 members waiting to be preserved, is the US company Alcor. It was established in 1972 and has frozen 87 patients. The Cryonics Institute, also American, and founded by Ettinger in 1976, has frozen 95. The two groups are rivals. When men walked on the moon at the end of the 60s, eternity did not seem such a huge leap for mankind. But progress has not quite kept up with our dreams.

I find it all rather freakish, even gruesome. But it raises lots of questions: About life and death and the borderline between the two. About personal identity and consciousness and the soul. About our deepest fears and hopes. Why is it perfectly acceptable to seek another decade in life through exercise, healthy eating, or medical interventions, but decidedly weird to seek another century or two through cryonics?

If the science were proven, and the technology reliable, and the contractors trustworthy — wouldn’t you do it? And if not, why not?

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