PRO-LIFE NEWS IN BRIEF
By Liz Townsend
Boy Cured by Umbilical Cord Stem Cells
Corben Campbell, a 17-month-old boy from Shreveport, Louisiana, suffered from a rare blood disease that caused him to bleed and bruise easily. In an experimental treatment, he received stem cells harvested from an umbilical cord in an attempt to replace his bone marrow with healthy tissue. The procedure was pronounced a success, and Corben can look forward to a normal childhood, proving once again that there are ethically acceptable alternatives to lethally extracting stem cells from human embryos.
Ben and Holly Campbell were devastated when doctors diagnosed their son with Wiskott Aldrich syndrome, according to KXAS-TV. The syndrome is very rare, affecting three of every one million births, but is usually fatal.
"Most children with Wiskott Aldrich die before they're teenagers," pediatric hematologist Dr. Stanton Goldman told KXAS. Either uncontrollable bleeding or infection leads to death.
The Campbells took their son to North Texas Hospital for Children in Dallas, which has been conducting a National Institutes of Health study involving transplants of umbilical cord stem cells. These cells are harvested without harming an unborn baby.
In the procedure, doctors first destroy the diseased cells through chemotherapy, and then replace them with healthy cells. "Corben's body is fine, except for his blood cells, so what we need to do is give him a new way of forming blood cells," pediatric hematologist Dr. Carl Lenarsky told KXAS.
The procedure can be risky if the recipient's body rejects the foreign cells or fails to form a new immune system. However, the Campbells felt that it would give their son his best chance of survival. "It could save his life or take his life," Holly Campbell told KXAS. "It's hard. It's extremely hard, but we want to keep him around as long as we can."
The procedure took a week to destroy the old cells and replace them with umbilical cord stem cells. The family then had to wait for three weeks before the doctors told them the good news - - Corben's body was accepting the new cells and his new immune system was working, KXAS reported.
In mid-August, Holly Campbell gave birth to another son, Rylan, who also has Wiskott Aldrich syndrome. According to KXAS, the Campbells hold out hope that their second son can also receive the stem cell transplant and have the same success as Corben.
Mississippi and Kentucky Courts Acknowledge Some Rights of Unborn Children
Courts in two states issued rulings that acknowledge limited rights for unborn children. The state Supreme Court of Mississippi declared that an unborn child could be considered a "person" in a wrongful death claim brought by a mother whose child died in a miscarriage.
And the highest court of Kentucky refused to allow lawsuits that contended the birth of a disabled unborn child was an "injury" against the parents and child.
Tracy Tucker brought her case to the Mississippi Supreme Court, seeking redress for the miscarriage of her 19-week-old unborn baby in 1997. Tucker, of Bolivar County, alleged that emotional stress over a financial dispute and a doctor's misdiagnosis led to the death of her baby, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Tucker filed a "wrongful death" claim on behalf of her unborn child. A judge in Bolivar County declined to rule on the case in 2001 and instead allowed both sides to bring the case to the highest court.
In a 6-2 decision, the state Supreme Court ruled August 21 that Tucker has the right to file a wrongful death claim. The judges made a clear distinction between this case and abortion, the AP reported. "Tucker and the state share a common interest and goal to preserve the life of a fetus injured by the conduct of another," Presiding Justice Jim Smith wrote for the court. "Tucker's interest is to protect and preserve the life of her unborn child, not in the exercise of her right to terminate that life which has been declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court."
Smith added that it is still up to a jury to decide whether the parties being sued by Tucker actually caused the death of the unborn baby.
NRLC state legislative director Mary Spaulding Balch told NRL News that 36 states and the District of Columbia currently allow a wrongful death action for an unborn child. Eight states deny a wrongful death action, and six have no law.
Pro-abortion groups spoke out against the Mississippi ruling and the court's recognition of the unborn child as a "person." "Anytime the fetus is recognizable as a person it chips away at the foundation of Roe," Sondra Goldschein, state strategies attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the AP.
The case was returned to the Bolivar County court for trial.
The Kentucky cases also concerned the legal status of unborn children. The state Supreme Court ruled on two cases in which the doctors misinterpreted ultrasound exams and the babies were born with disabilities, according to the AP.
"Carlei Grubbs was born with severe spine and head deformities and is paralyzed from the waist down," the AP reported. "Nathan Bogan was born without eyes or brain but has a brain stem that supports minimal life functions."
Carlei's and Nathan's parents sued the doctors for "wrongful life," which means that the parents contend the babies would have been aborted if they had accurate information. Although two trial courts denied the families' claims, the Court of Appeals ruled that the births of Carlei and Nathan constituted medical negligence by the doctors, according to the AP.
However, in a 6-1 decision issued August 21, the Supreme Court justices overturned the appeals court and denied the wrongful life claims of both families. They stated that such a claim warrants proof that the doctors caused an injury to the child, the AP reported.
"The plaintiffs contend injury was in their taking an unwanted pregnancy to term," according to the opinion, written by Chief Justice Joseph Lambert. "We are unwilling to equate the loss of an abortion opportunity resulting in a genetically or congenitally impaired human life ... with a cognizable legal injury."
A concurring position argued even more strongly against the appeals court decision that equated the birth of these children with an injury against their parents and themselves. That reasoning "would place the courts in the position of affirming that death, or nonexistence, is preferable to life," Justice Donald Wintersheimer wrote.
"The argument that there is a kind of 'quality of life' ethic is without any merit," Wintersheimer continued. "If logically extended, it could produce a culture that condones the extermination of the weak by the strong or the more powerful. The Nazi regime under Hitler is a not too distant reminder of this kind of eugenic approach."
Stem-Cell Transplant Helps Bring Partial Vision to Blind Man
Donated stem cells transplanted into the eye of Michael May, blind since age three, have helped him regain his vision. After the stem cells, harvested without harming the donor, became established in May's eye, doctors at St. Mary's Hospital in San Francisco replaced his damaged cornea with a new one, the Baltimore Sun reported.
When the bandages were removed, May was astonished to see colors and shapes for the first time in 40 years. "Seeing my wife and her blonde hair, and all the sudden I'm seeing that her hair is all these different colors," May said on the Today show. "I thought blonde was blonde, and here I . . . see dark streaks and light streaks and so forth."
May was blinded in 1959 when a bottle containing powdered calcium carbide lantern fuel exploded in his face, according to the Sun. His left eye was destroyed in the blast and had to be removed, and his right eye was badly damaged by scar tissue. Although doctors tried to replace the damaged right cornea three times, the surrounding tissue was not strong enough.
Despite his blindness, May lived a full life with his wife and two sons. He started a business that develops navigational software for the blind, the New York Post reported, and even learned to ski.
In 2000, May decided to undergo experimental stem-cell surgery to help restore sight in his right eye. The procedure was a success. The transplanted stem cells provided the support necessary for the new cornea to work.
"It's like being with someone - - someone described it as being with an intelligent three-year-old, because he went through so many experiences," May's wife Jennifer told CNN. "'Oh, wow, what's that? Oh, it's a heating vent.' I mean, everything was fascinating. So it was quite exciting."
May's case is providing researchers with valuable data on the sense of sight and how the brain interprets what we see.
In the September issue of Nature Neuroscience, scientists reported that they were able to see variations in the level of "plasticity," or the ability to learn and adapt over time, between different parts of the brain.
"What we've found is that different areas of the brain have totally different types of plasticity beyond the first three years of age," study author Ione Fine, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, told the Sun. Deprived of visual stimulation, some "just spiral out of control and stop responding. Other parts don't care and just stay until the 'lights' go back on."
May's ability to see color and motion as soon as the bandages were removed indicate that those parts of the brain are developed very early in life or are present from the beginning. However, May had a much harder time interpreting more complex, three-dimensional objects such as faces, indicating that this aspect of sight needs to be developed over time.
May said on the Today show that he still can't distinguish between his sons, 9 and 11, by sight, although he can tell them apart immediately by touch. "I just don't get the detail of the shape of the nose and the curve of the lip and all of those sorts of things that a fully sighted person gets to develop the image of what somebody looks like," May explained. "I don't see that information."
"The odd thing is that my eyeball actually picks up the information, so the signal is going from the eye to the brain, and it's at the brain where the breakdown occurs," May continued. "My visual cortex, because it was interrupted at an early age and was not fully developed, I'm not actually able to see that detail and figure out what it means."
But even as he enjoys his new sense of sight, May insisted that his life as a completely blind person was just as valuable and just as fulfilling. The ability to see is "a beautiful thing," May told CNN. "It's enjoyable. But being blind and being a fully actualized blind person is fantastic as well."
Arizona Abortionist Goes on Trial for Sexual Misconduct
Arizona prosecutors began their case against abortionist Brian Finkel August 18. Finkel is charged with 67 counts of sexual abuse and assault against 35 women who went to his Phoenix clinic for abortions, according to the Arizona Republic. Finkel, 53, has denied all charges.
Finkel was arrested in October 2001 after many women came forward to accuse him of touching them inappropriately and making lewd sexual remarks when he was examining them, according to the Arizona Republic. The Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners in Medicine and Surgery suspended his license just before his arrest.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Blaine Gadow told the jury that Finkel betrayed the trust between patient and physician, the Phoenix New Times reported. Gadow said that Finkel assaulted the women "in what may be their most vulnerable position," sedated, their legs in stirrups, waiting for an abortion, according to the New Times.
Finkel's attorney, however, told the court that the women's complaints had more to do with his client's bedside manner than with assault. "This whole case is not about what he did, it's about his manner," attorney Richard Gierloff said, the Associated Press reported.
The first witness was Kathe Kalmansohn, 39, who testified that she went to Finkel's clinic for an abortion in early 2000. She said he touched her breasts and made other inappropriate advances before her abortion, according to the Republic.
Kalmansohn said that she felt "panicky" after Finkel's actions and asked to see her boyfriend, who was in the waiting room, because "I needed a hug." After the abortion, she woke from the sedative to discover Finkel lying on top of her, fondling her breasts, according to the Republic. Kalmansohn testified, "I pushed against him and he said, 'I thought you needed a hug?'"
The trial was expected to last several weeks, with prosecutors scheduled to call 53 witnesses, the Republic reported. If convicted, Finkel could face many years in prison. Seven of the charges are felonies, each carrying a jail term of 5 to 14 years.