- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2000

Sacrificing human lives for scientific progress

Is a human embryo really a human being? If so, should we deliberately sacrifice people to (perhaps) prolong the lives of others? On Dec. 19, British legislators answered this latter question with an unblinking "Aye." Many Americans will applaud the British Parliament's vote to allow lethal experiments on human embryos.

Scarcely a generation has passed since revelations of the Nazis' lethal medical experiments shocked the world. The world doesn't shock as easily today. Nor does the world seem to heed the tragic irony of attempting to save human lives by killing other human beings for their cells. Few perceive the pathology of pursuing cells from human embryos when scientific breakthroughs strongly suggest that non-lethal research on adult stem cells could produce the same therapeutic results.

Reflected in the debate over which human stem cells to use is an even deeper question facing us all. That question is: What kind of society do we want to advance?

Do we want to live in a society that values all human beings as created equal and endowed by their Creator with the unalienable right to life? Or do we want a society in which a powerful elite decides that the most vulnerable among us are valuable only as human sacrifices on their altar of "progress"?

JONATHAN IMBODY

Senior policy analyst

Christian Medical Association

Springfield

Unnecessary FDA restrictions on abortion drug

Contrary to Teresa Wagner's claims ("A rush to market, not a remedy," Commentary Dec. 2), mifepristone (RU-486) was never on a "fast track" to approval in the United States.

The Population Council submitted its application for mifepristone's approval to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in March 1996 following clinical trials that had begun in 1983. The FDA issued final approval of mifepristone this September. If this time line represents an accelerated approval process, the state of medicine in this country is in serious trouble.

The FDA based its approval of mifepristone on careful review of three complete phases of clinical trials that took place in the United States and France and involved thousands of women. The data from these studies clearly indicate the safety and efficacy of this drug.

By calling into question mifepristone's long-established safety record, Ms. Wagner commits a serious disservice to her readers. In the past 10 years, the drug has been approved for use in 18 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and now, after a long wait, North America. Since 1989, more than half a million women in Europe alone have used mifepristone as an early and safe option for ending an unintended pregnancy.

The only glimmer of truth in Ms. Wagner's column comes when she criticizes the FDA for classifying pregnancy as a "life-threatening illness." This misclassification, however, did not come about at the behest of abortion-rights groups, as Ms. Wagner suggests. Quite the contrary.

By classifying pregnancy as a "life-threatening illness," the FDA took advantage of the extra authority it has to regulate drugs that, unlike mifepristone, have gone through a truncated and accelerated approval process. The FDA used that authority in this case to impose medically unnecessary restrictions on the distribution of a drug that had gone through the standard review process.

This was an 11th-hour move by the agency, one taken long after the drug had gone through clinical trials, long after the first approvable letter had been issued in 1996, and long after the agency itself had determined the drug to be safe and beneficial to women.

It is unclear why the agency took this unusual step. What is clear is that approving mifepristone under these terms had nothing to do with either motive Ms. Wagner ascribes to the agency: There was no rush to market, and there wasn't any kowtowing to the abortion-rights lobby.

LORRAINE KENNY

Public education coordinator

Reproductive Freedom Project

American Civil Liberties Union

New York

Column mischaracterizes UNICEF AIDS efforts in Africa

Michelle Malkin's Dec. 16 Commentary column, "Risky milk mindset" presents an agonizingly complex situation in a dangerously simplistic manner and omits many facts.

Miss Malkin alleges that UNICEF is doing little to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Africa. She claims UNICEF is holding a grudge against the infant-formula industry and spends its time in a breast-feeding "crusade" that is a "homicidal mission." Miss Malkin cites a Wall Street Journal article that presented an incomplete set of facts. She did not bother to contact UNICEF for a response.

UNICEF does provide free infant formula to HIV-positive women who need and want it. Two years ago, working with governments, local groups, the U.N. program UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, UNICEF began projects in the 11 countries where AIDS is most prevalent. These projects are focused solely on preventing mother-to-child transmission of AIDS. They provide voluntary and confidential HIV testing; drugs that help prevent HIV transmission; counseling on feeding options; and, for HIV-positive mothers who choose it, a free and steady supply of infant formula, along with instruction in preparing the formula safely. UNICEF acquires the formula needed for these women by purchasing it the same way it gets vaccines for children.

The key to preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV is knowing which mothers are HIV-positive. Fewer than 5 percent of adults in sub-Saharan Africa know their HIV status. The first, crucial step is to make it possible for all people to obtain voluntary and confidential testing and counseling. That's what UNICEF's projects do. Voluntary and confidential testing not only enables us to help those who are HIV-positive, it also supports those who are HIV-negative in staying that way. Miss Malkin omitted all of these facts.

Even in areas where UNICEF and its partners have offered confidential testing and counseling, up to 50 percent of women have declined to be tested. An enormous amount of fear, misinformation, stigma and denial exists regarding HIV. UNICEF doctors, educators, nutritionists and social mobilization experts work hard to overcome these challenges every day.

UNICEF does not encourage all mothers in high-risk HIV areas to use commercial formula because for women who do not have HIV, breast-feeding is far safer for their infants than formula feeding.

Miss Malkin did not identify the well-documented dangers of formula use in the developing world, where the vast majority of women are HIV-free. An extensive body of scientific research in the developing world shows that children who are formula-fed are four to six times more likely to die of infectious diseases than children who are breast-fed. (This is, in part, because formula must be mixed with potentially contaminated water and because it does not build the immune system as well as breast milk.

Unsafe drinking water wreaks disaster for children in the developing world, carrying diseases that cause diarrheal dehydration, one of the top five killers of children.) WHO estimates that breast-feeding can save the lives of 1.5 million children every year far more than are threatened by HIV transmission through breast milk.

Finally, we must respond to Miss Malkin's outrageous claim of an "anti-corporate" atmosphere at UNICEF. Miss Malkin should know that UNICEF is recognized widely as having excellent relationships with corporations. In the past two years alone, UNICEF has received more than $200 million in cash and in-kind donations from the private sector. Many outstanding companies have supported UNICEF for both its mission and its unflinching resolve to put children's needs ahead of outside interests and pressures.

UNICEF is only too aware of the enormous and horrific challenges presented by the HIV pandemic. Our staff in 161 countries is fully invested in intensive efforts to provide AIDS education, protect children orphaned by AIDS and prevent the transmission of AIDS from mother to child.

CHARLES J. LYONS

President

U.S. Fund for UNICEF

New York

No D.C. taxation

Your Dec. 19 editorial "Who votes for D.C.?" correctly notes that D.C. residents pay the federal income tax without having a voting representative in Congress. Despite the many unique benefits of living in the nation's capital, such taxation without representation troubles many city residents.

Instead of granting the D.C. delegate a vote, as you suggest, why not attack the problem from the other end? I gladly would accept continued disenfranchisement in exchange for exemption from the federal income tax.

Forget representation, give me no taxation.

AARON LUKAS

Washington

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide