For families that have a member with a chronic illness, disability, or special need, medicine is as much a part of our days as the air that we breathe. Many of our children take controlled or expensive drugs, injectables, and treatments that aren't necessarily available at your corner pharmacy. These prescriptions can mean improved quality of life or even prolong the lifespan. While pharmaceuticals can play a critical part in our families' lives, we can too easily fail to properly educate ourselves on them, deferring to the recommendations of doctors. We do this to our own detriment.
Less than a year ago, The Center for Medical Progress stunned the nation with a series of upsetting expose videos. The under cover sting operation seemed to reveal that executives at Planned Parenthood were dealing in a market for the body parts of aborted babies who were at a gestational age advanced enough to distinguish various critical organs such as kidneys, liver, and thymus. The entire investigational series was beyond horrific.
Regardless of how one views this type of "gotcha reporting" and the truth of what was shared, the images and verbal descriptions used were heart-wrenching. Leading an organization that values life at every stage and ability level, I was brought to tears by the CMP investigation more than once.
It made me angry. What sort of sick researchers create the demand for fetal body parts obtained through late term abortion? How DARE drug companies explore creating pharmaceuticals to save one life by destroying the life of another?
In December, this story became a more sobering reality to me.
Regular readers of this blog know that our son has Hemophilia A - Severe, a life-threatening, genetic, chronic bleeding disorder. He infuses synthetic clotting factor intravenously at home three times per week. In the past year, a new generation of longer-acting clotting factor has come to market, which offers the opportunity to eliminate one of the three infusions administered per week. One less infusion per week hasn't sounded all that enticing to our family, so we haven't made a change of product at this time. However, other new products that would cut infusions to only once a week are in the pipeline with pharmaceutical companies. That promises to be even more exciting for patients like our son. Regardless of whether we are currently using them or not, these longer-acting drugs are the subject of much conversation within the bleeding disorders community.
Given all of this conversation, you would think I would have done more homework on this next generation of product. I am ashamed I didn't do enough. I found myself caught off-guard when in a discussion about these drugs a couple of months ago. I was speaking with someone in the pharmaceutical industry before the holidays and was shocked to learn from them that several brands of the new, longer half-life clotting factors are created using the human embryonic kidney (HEK293) cell line. At first I was confused and skeptical, until I saw it in writing. This friend laid before me the package insert full prescribing information from at least 2 different brands of clotting factor.
As a mother who has prided herself on being an educated parent advocate, I was embarrassed that these products had been on the market for months without me being aware of their use of embryonic stem cells. I sat at the table stunned, face numb, feeling like my pants were down around my ankles in public. Up to this time, the use of aborted fetal cells created outrage in me over what might be done with them. Now this was REAL. I felt sick to my stomach. This happened much more quickly than even I had anticipated.
As it turns out, I probably shouldn't have been as shocked as I was. Apparently, this embryonic cell line has been used in various ways for decades without the general public being fully cognizant of it. In fact, it is likely that all of my children were vaccinated with immunizations that were grown in those same fetal tissues.
Let me explain to you how this process takes place. Certain drugs are propagated or grown within live cells. These drugs are not produced in a way similar to baking a cake where you throw ingredients into a big bowl, mix them together, then turn them out. Rather, they are grown in a way similar to bacteria reproducing in a nutrient compound within a Petri dish. For the type of next generation clotting factor I am describing, some brands are actually propagated in the cells still kept alive and reproduced from the kidneys of a baby that was aborted, known as the HEK293 cell line. Other brands are propagated in Chinese hamster ovary cells, thus removing the bioethical dilemma.
The Pontifical Academy for Life 2005 statement, "Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared From Cells Derived From Aborted Human Foetuses," is very clear in its position on this topic. Says one Catholic expert off the record, "If at all possible, we ought to avoid using any product derived from aborted babies. However, if it is necessary to use such a product, then those using it have a grave responsibility to avoid giving scandal by voicing their conscientious objection to those responsible for producing or providing the product in order to encourage them to find other morally licit means."
Now, for some people, the thought is that their drugs don't contain the actual fetal tissue that is used in the production process, so they have no trouble with this new generation of biologics. However, for our family, this is a point of great ethical discomfort. While the HEK293 line goes all the way back to a child likely aborted in the early 1970's, we still find it disturbing that 293 aborted fetal experiments had to take place leading up to establishing that cell line (This is where the number 293 originates in the name HEK293).
As we moved forward equipped with this knowledge, I wanted to confirm how my son felt about the topic. I sincerely feel that his opinion should be his own, especially as he draws closer to adulthood. To my surprise, he was firm in his opinion.
"No, Mom. That's wrong. Besides, it's too much like being a Frankenstein monster with that stuff injected in me. I don't want to be using factor made that way," he resolutely proclaimed.
When we went in to see his hematologist a few weeks after discovering this information, my son made his position clear, especially after the hematologist suggested that he may be recommending the longer half-life clotting factor for my son in the near future. I was proud of him, taking such a big position at such a young age. I was also pleased with his hematologist. While he didn't necessarily share my son's position, he respected it.
I share this personal story with you because I believe in being an INFORMED patient. I believe that Jesus calls us to bring to the light things that are going on in the dark. With a major cultural slide in morality, we parents cannot rest when it comes to staying on top of these critical facts. Your decision may not be my decision, but there is little I resent more than not having all of the information laid out in front of me to make my decision. If pharmaceutical companies have such a clear conscience about using these embryonic stem cell lines to develop their products, why do they bury it in the fine print of those long prescribing information package inserts rather than using it in their marketing material?
Those of us who have children diagnosed with rare and genetic diseases are especially vulnerable, needing to have a clear stance on this topic or we may find ourselves facing serious treatment dilemmas. Ours are the types of diagnoses that scientists try to use to justify some of their immoral experimentation and grant funded work. Research and vectors for gene therapies are topics on which we are morally obligated to educate ourselves. There is big money involved in all of this, so we remain naive at our own souls' and the culture's peril.
It is my clear, informed opinion that if we use these types of biologics without conscientious objection -- making manufacturers and doctors aware that we want more principled options in treatment -- no matter how long ago that baby was aborted, we continue to create a market for these trafficked baby body parts. If you or your child personally rely on such drugs as your only lifeline, you may feel very differently from me. Regardless, I love and respect you. I just think it is critical for all parents to know what they are doing and to keep fighting for morally ethical treatments.
I believe we should be clearly shown the facts so that we can each make that moral decision for ourselves. As for our family, we don't believe a child should die so that ours might live. We have held that position from the first day of our children's lives. We believe Someone already died in our place for us on the cross.
PRAY: Holy Spirit, reveal what is hidden so that we can make choices that honor You. Cover parents like us so that we do not make ungodly decisions where treatment is concerned. Help us to reflect Your goodness and glory in this depraved world.
~ Barb Dittrich
*For more reading to make your own informed decision visit:
- Children of God for Life's "About the 293 Cell Line,"
- "USA & CANADA - ABORTED FETAL CELL LINE PRODUCTS AND ETHICAL ALTERNATIVES (Nov 2015)."
- The Vatican's Statement on Vaccines Derived from Aborted Human Fetuses
- Proslogion: Thoughts from a scientist who is a Christian (not a Christian Scientist) -- Vaccines DO NOT Contain Fetal Tissue by Dr. Jay L. Wile
- HEK293 cell line: a vehicle for the expression of recombinant proteins.