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November 14, 1997     The Message
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November 14, 1997
 

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0 -- The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana Bishops find hope, peril in genetic By JERRY FILTEAU Catholic News Service WASHINGTON (CNS) A panel of U.S. Catholic bishops has called genetic screening a valuable medical tool but warned of dangerous misuses. In consultation with scientists, the seven-bishop Com- mittee on Science and Human Values has summarized its findings in a new brochure, "The Promise and Peril of Genetic Screening." "Increasingly, genetic screening is part of the normal practice of medicine," the bishops say. They cite standard current uses, such as screening newborns for PKU, or phenylketonuria, a potentially severe genetic defect but easilY treatable bv diet. They also predict that screening for a variety of disorders wiil soon be widespread. But they warn sharply against use of genetic screening to discriminate against some groups of people, to abort babies with genetic diseases, or to embark on eugenics programs aimed at rooting genetic flaws out of human socie00. "We all carry, misspellings in our genetic code; we are all mutants," they say. "But God created us in his image, and Christ, embracing his cross, loves us in our irre- ducible imperfection." The brochure on genetic screening, published this fall by the U.S. Catholic Conference Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, is the result of a meeting in Septem- ber 19% of the Committee on Science and Human Values with a team of scientists, including several specialists in genetics. It is a companion piece to a similar brochure on genet- ic testing released by the same committee ffi 1996. The new brochure starts by distinguishing between genetic testing -- a targeted analysis of a person and pos- sibly family members based on illness or other evidence that might indicate a genetic disorder  and genetic screening -- the checking of "large numbers of people, even a whole population" for information on one or more genetic factors. "Children can be screened for neural tube defects before birth," the brochure says. "Screens are now avail- able for relatively common ailments that affect one's off- spring, like cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease and sickle- cell anemia." "The principal medical justification for screening," it adds, "is as a tool for finding the incidence of disease in a population, thus opening the door to prevention or ther- apy." It says such screening will and should become more widespread, since "it has the potential to extend many lives and prevent much suffering .... The church applauds every medical advance that promises healing without violating moral law; and genetic screening is no exception." It says, for example, that a per- son with a gene for cystic fibrosis may use that knowledge to avoid marrying another carrier of the gene, or parents who both have the gene "may seek prenatal diagnosis in order to pre- pare for the birth of an affected child." But it warns against use of such screening to promote abortion. Whatever is learned from screening, it says, "abortion is never a morally acceptable response. Rather, it is a raw and lethal assertion of one human being's power over another." It also warns against those who advocate sterilization as a means of preventing transmission of genetic traits regarded as undesirable or burdensome to society. "The logic of discrimination is inexorable," it says. "Once a socie b' defines any group as lacking basic rights, . as the United States once did with African-Americans and other nations have done with female babies, every group becomes a potential victim. The di human person is fundamental." The bishops pose questions about the information by "health and government welfare agencies and em for denying coverage, benefits or em viduals with a genetic predisposition to other expensivemedical conditions. The brochure indicates that rapid human genome project, a massive .... map out every human gene, gives questions. "Within 10 ops say, a misspellings in reliable genetic our genetic code .... but God created us in his image.., and Jesus loves us .... all citizens. "The database and creates a atic denial of fidentiality is to protect us from er, then to F tems we have created." The bishops promise use of the teaching, sacramental preparation, research and Catholic health care practice "a clear and realistic moral vision" of both the the dangers of genetic screening. The( ed bv Bishop Edward M. Egan of Brid "The Promise and Peril of Genetic for $1 per copy as publication No. 5-076 Confi'rence, 3211 Fourth St. N.E., Washin Telephone (800) 235-8722 or order vhz www. uccbuscc.org. ...... ' Health groups oppose Oregon's physician-assisted ting doctors and institutions to refuse to provide assisted sui- cide, but if a patient requests it, they are required to refer the egalizing assisted is the simplistic, answer to a difficult wrong and complex problem. patient to another provider who will offer the service. It also forbids hospitals that do not provide a.sisted suicide from disciplining employees who assist in suicides else- where. The CHA, which represents more than 1,200 Catholic-spon- sored facilities across the nation, - said, "The law makes it difficult for Catholic organizations to sustain an environment where appropriate and compassionate care is possible." Cardinal Bernard E Law of Boston, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities, urged other states not to follow Oregon's path. "Since Oregon voted to legal- ize assisted suicide in 1994, no other state has followed its lead instead, more states have passed laws against the prac- tice," he said. "There is no rea- son for any state to act differ- ently now." He added: "Oregon has made itself a laboratory for testing a for other classes "The conse( vote are F ing," said president ed for Life, a' law and zation that legal aid to opP assisted suicide court cases. "Can am that the depressed will to establL, ed suicide?" Fors "Suicide in remain 'voluntary', predicted Laura spokeswoman al Right to Life called the debate over assisted suicide "a defining moment" that "ch;dlenges us to remain true to the values of life and faith." John Haas, president of the Pope John Center for the Study of Ethics in Health Care in Boston, said the Oregon law repudiates the Hippocrat- ic Oath taken by generations of physicians: "I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel." Many critics warned that if the law is implemented, it will be a short path from voluntary suicide of the ter- minally ill to involuntary deaths and legalized suicide radical policy. It will discover what the experience of the Netherlands has already shows: This deadly experiment will do great harm to the helpless, subjects it claims to help." In Michigan, where Dr. Jack Kevorkian has gained national fame for assisting at dozens of suicides, Cardinal Adam J. Maida of Detroit urged citizens "to affirm the dignity of life and death bv sav- in,, 'no' to assisted suicide." He reminded Catholics of the joint pastoral letter on living " ' tY ! and dying issued bv Mlchoan s bishops in September, which Protesting abortion focus of By TRACY EARLY Catholic News Service UNITED NATIONS (CNS) The Vatican nuncio to the Unit-" ed Nations protested medical aid in refugee camps that was "sometimes almost exclusively in the form of reproductive health measures." Speaking at U.N. headquar- ters in New York, Archbishop Renato R. Martino said these measures included abortifa- cients and abortion-related pro- cedures. Thev are carried out under "certain interpretations" that view the action plan adopted bv the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development as support for including abortion within population activities. "An examination of that plan shows that it does not authorize such interpretations," the nun- cio said. Archbishop Martino voiced the Vatican objections in a state- ment delivered Nov. 4 to a com- mittee, of the U.N. General Assembly reviewing refugee needs and programs. The staterhent followed up on a 1995 protest the nuncio made at the United Nations against new directives from the U.N. tlJgh Commissioner for WASHINGTON (CNS) The Catholic Health Association and the American Medical Association sharply criticized the decision of Ore- gon voters to reaffirm the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. "The AMA will con- tinue its unyielding opposition to physi- cian-assisted suicide," said Dr. Thomas Rear- don, chairman of the AMA Board of rrustees "'We will do everything in our.pover to see that this practice neter becomes a generally accepted option to quality patient care." "[_egalizing assisted suicide is the simplistic, wrong answer to a difficult and complex prob- lem," the CHA said in a state- ment Nov. 5. In a statewide mail ballot tal- lied Nov. 4, Oregonians voted -by a 6(M0 margin to retain their 1994 Death With Dignity Act. The same day attorneys on both sides of a court battle over the law learned that on Oct. 27 the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had lifted a three-year- ' old injunction against imple- menting the law. Predicting "moral and legal dilemmas for Catholic health care providers in Oregon," the CHA urged the state's governor and Legislature to "amend the lawto include an adequate con- science c!ause." The law has a clause permit- Refugees to rec counseling for became rape. On Oct. 1, Rep. ! Smith, R-N.J., to News Service blower" U.N. High Refugees and tion Fund a manual on Health in tio.ns," and the Organization companion The doc to a "radical polio}; he said. .....