Speakers outline some encouraging developments

Although many challenges persist on life issues, the focus was on the positive when the Ontario Provincial Pro-Life Conference 2004, hosted by Alliance for Life Ontario and Campaign Life Coalition Ontario, took place in Hamilton April 16 and 17.

An example of the positive emphasis was the Third Annual Gala Dinner in support of the Reaching Minds Through Media campaign, held at Carmen’s Banquet Centre as part of the conference. Almost 500 people turned out to hear Hamilton Roman Catholic Bishop Anthony F. Tonnos, microbiologist Dr. Clem Persaud, Birthright Hamilton director Teresa Hartnett and emcee Jakki Jeffs. The campaign seeks to provide life-affirming alternatives to women who may be abortion-minded. Surveys show such campaigns result in calls to pregnancy helplines increasing by up to 600 per cent.

In her talk, Hartnett noted that Birthright Hamilton helped 300 mothers bring their babies to term last year. She added that such developments show that we are actually living in a “culture of life,” rather than the culture of death that is so often talked about. She also said the future holds promise, as the family life office of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hamilton plans to launch a Project Rachel program that will offer support to post-abortive women.

Tonnos noted that 73 parishes in his diocese are supporting the media campaign, and encouraged the 50 others to come on board as well.

During the conference proper, Dr. Robert Walley, founder of the Matercare organization that seeks to bring obstetrical and gynecological care to Third World countries, quoted Pope John Paul II in observing that the medical profession is suffering fundamentally from an “identity crisis.”

“There have been terrible changes in obstetrics,” he noted, while adding that a developing shortage in obstetricians may offer the pro-life movement a “golden opportunity.”

Walley said maternal mortality is an enormous problem in the developing world, while obstetric fistula – prolonged and unrelieved obstructed labour – is a “forgotten disease,” with “no one doing very much about it.” In both cases, he said, there seems to be a “conspiracy of silence.” Thanks to Matercare, however, these problems are being addressed.

Dr. Peter Hollands, scientific director of Markham, Ont.-based Cells for Life and holder of a PhD in stem cell biology from Cambridge University in the U.K., spoke about the positive developments associated with banking umbilical cord blood – making the use of embryonic stem cells unnecessary.

He said medical research has shown a baby’s umbilical cord blood is a very useful source of stem cells. Unlike with embryonic stem cells, there is no controversy or ethical dilemma surrounding the storage of umbilical stem cells. In addition, collection of blood from the umbilical cord at birth is a safe and easy procedure.

Some 3,000 cell transplants have successfully been performed worldwide and the future “holds amazing benefits” from cord blood, he said. “We need to focus on it and get away from the embryonic (stem cell) nonsense,” he said to applause.

Steve Jalsevac, director of the LifeSite internet news service, and Dan Di Rocco, circulation manager of The Interim, offered insights into how pro-life news sources are making an impact on the media landscape.

Jalsevac said he is “astounded” at the numbers of influential people who read LifeSite. In fact, the service has become so successful, it is requiring an upgrade in order to deal with the increasing numbers of people accessing it, and other major news services that are linking to it.

“We shine a light on things that are usually hidden,” he said. “When you do that, people in the dark get very uncomfortable.” He added that pro-life media must continue to “exploit the truth” continuously.

Dr. Kenneth Stevens, president of Physicians for Compassionate Care, offered an overview of the situation in the U.S. state of Oregon following the legalization of assisted suicide there in 1994.

“The message is that doctors can do a better job of killing their patients than caring for them,” he said ruefully. “The focus should be on killing pain, not the patient.”

He said that depression is the leading cause of all suicides, and referred to the case of one Oregon man who suffered from chronic back pain – a non-terminal ailment – and requested assisted suicide simply because of cutbacks in Medicaid programs, which were causing him financial hardship.

Stevens said the financial motivation behind the spread of assisted suicide and euthanasia is proven by the statements of the Hemlock Society’s Derek Humphrey, who has pointed out that his deadly cause can help solve the problem of rising health care costs.

Stevens bemoaned the “wall of secrecy” that still surrounds assisted suicide in Oregon. Doctors involved in the phenomenon usually self-report on the matter. In addition, many doctors are not even present when a patient administers, or is administered, a lethal prescription.

Abortion-breast cancer expert Dr. Joel Brind offered his latest rejoinder to studies claiming to disprove the link between the two factors. He charged that a recent Lancet medical journal study was co-authored by one individual who has been “covering up” the abortion-breast cancer link for over two decades.

He pointed out the Lancet article was an exercise in “careful manipulation,” consisting of “glaring violations of scientific methodology.” It suffered from “massive misclassifications” of data and was the result of an “end justifies the means” mentality that sees pro-abortion advocates willing to say anything to prop up their cause, he said.

On the other hand, Brind took some satisfaction in noting that the pro-abortion side’s regularly coming out with papers attempting to discount the abortion-breast cancer link is proof of pro-life advocates’ effectiveness.

Brind concluded by re-emphasizing that an abortion increases a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer at some point in her life by anywhere from 20 to 50 per cent.

The conference also heard from Catholic Insight magazine editor Fr. Alphonse de Valk on the moral and spiritual climate in Canada, Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition on euthanasia issues, lawyer Geoff Cauchi on privacy and personal health information, Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes on the upcoming federal election and Dr. Debra Zeni on abortion’s after-effects on women. The annual meeting of Alliance for Life Ontario was also held, with reports being submitted from directors in various regions of the province.