By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
When it comes to science, it’s often the smallest things that can cause the biggest trouble.
One example is stem cells. These microscopic cells renew themselves and adapt to become different gene types within the body. They can take the place of cells that die or are diseased, even very specialized ones like those in organs, nerve cells or the heart muscle. They could hold the key to curing many diseases.
Yet stem cells are at the center of a heated ethical debate because one of their sources is from aborted embryos that are four to five days old. This has galvanized those who oppose abortion to contact legislators, attend rallies and protest in the streets.
It has also encouraged many to educate themselves and others on the topic.
To that end, a Life and Truth Conference will take place on Saturday, Oct. 23 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Crown Plaza (formerly the Renaissance Hotel), 701 E. Genesee St. in downtown Syracuse. The topic of the conference will be “Stem cells, abortion and bioethics in a time of health care change.” The event is sponsored by Friends for Life, a pro-life educational organization.
“We saw a need to educate the community and we wanted to reach out on life issues because there’s so much new information coming out all the time,” said Mary Driscoll Byer, the public relations representative for the event.
There can be some confusion about ideas such as stem cells, she said, which are not of themselves an issue since they can be taken from adults rather than from aborted embryos. Clearing up these types of confusion is a key goal of the conference, and Friends for Life has sought four people who have spoken and published widely in their areas.
Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, or “Father Tad,” will begin the day with his talk “Making sense of bioethics.”
Father Tad, who is the director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, earned undergraduate degrees in philosophy, biochemistry, molecular cell biology and chemistry.
He went on to earn a PhD in neuroscience from Yale University where he studied cloning genes for neurotransmitters in the brain.
Father Tad worked for many years as a molecular biologist at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. He also did advanced work in dogmatic theology and bioethics in Rome. He has appeared on CNN International, ABC World News Tonight and National Public Radio.
After Father Tad, Erika Bachiochi will consider “The cost of choice: The myriad ways abortion impacts women.” Bachiochi is a lawyer, theologian and mother of five young children. She earned a master’s degree in theology from Boston College and a degree in law from Boston University. She has published in Touchstone magazine, the New York Post book review and The Washington Times. Her book, entitled Women, Sex and the Church, will be published this month by Pauline Books.
Angela Lanfranchi will speak about the biological basis of reproductive risks for breast cancer. Lanfranchi is a breast surgeon in Bound Brook, N.J. She graduated from Georgetown School of Medicine and is a clinical assistant professor of surgery at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Lanfranchi is also a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a co-founder of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute.
The day will conclude with a talk by Pastor Luke J. Robinson from the Quinn Chapel African Methodist Church. His talk is entitled “The urgency of now.”
Pastor Robinson is the director of the Word of Life and Truth Ministries in Frederick, Md. He has also spoken at the March for Life in Washington, D.C. It was there that he told the crowd that African Americans make up about 12 percent of the population and yet African American women have 34 percent of the abortions in the country. “In the last 36 years over 17 million African American babies have died by abortion alone. We need to change this picture,” he said then.
While the title “Stem cells, abortion and bioethics” may sound weighty, the organizers are not expecting the audience to be experts in the area. Originally, the event was aimed at professionals like doctors and lawyers, but Dorothy Scibetta, a co-director of Friends for Life, said the aim eventually changed to include anyone interested in life issues. “I think each one of the individual speakers will speak with enough authority that it will reach the individual,” Scibetta said. “It will not be over their heads.”
Driscoll Byer said that the conference is an opportunity for those who are interested or concerned to become educated. “I would challenge them to go outside their box because even if you take one thing away from each speaker, that’s something you can build on in the future,” Driscoll Byer said.
Margaret Driscoll-Cheah, the conference chair, said the orgainizers spent a year researching the speakers and another year planning the event. She said she hopes it will inspire listeners while reinvigorating the Pro-life movement in the diocese.
“If you want to be uplifted, if you consider yourself for life or even for choice and you wanted to be presented with the truth,” Driscoll-Cheah said, “then this is for you.”
The fee for early registration (by Oct. 1) is $40, and registration after Oct. 1 is $50. The fee for clergy, religious and students is $30. This fee includes a continental breakfast throughout the morning, a hot Italian buffet lunch and a dessert table. Scholarships are also available by calling Margaret Driscoll-Cheah at the Driscoll Law Office at (315) 422-1946.