Dr. Francis Collins, Scientist and Christian, Resigns as Director of NIH | Catholic National Register

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WASHINGTON – Dr Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and outspoken Christian, announced on Tuesday that he would step down as director after having held the post since 2009.

Collins was the longest-serving NIH director appointed to the presidency, according to the organization, having served under three US presidents after his 2009 appointment by President Barack Obama. Expressing his gratitude for his time as director, Collins said he believes “fundamentally” that “no one should be in this position for too long and that it is time to bring in a new scientist to lead the NIH in the future “.

During its 12-year tenure, the NIH partnered with pharmaceutical companies to help create an approved vaccine for COVID-19.

But Collins, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, differed from the teachings of the Catholic Church in his views regarding the use of fetal tissue from aborted babies in research. Earlier this year, he oversaw the cancellation of a moratorium on new NIH research on aborted fetal tissue.

Collins said he considered whether it was ethical to use human embryos and aborted fetuses for research an “important question for careful consideration.”

“I would be the first to say that we shouldn’t create or destroy embryos – human embryos – for research, and we shouldn’t stop pregnancies for research,” Collins told CNA during an interview in May 2020.

“But if there are any embryos left after IVF – and the hundreds of thousands that will never be used for anything, they will be thrown away – I think it’s ethical to consider the means by which the research could make it possible to use this information to help someone. “

“And likewise, if there are hundreds of thousands of fetuses that are otherwise thrown out by what is a legal process in this country, we have to ask ourselves whether it is more ethical to throw them out, or in rare cases to use them for research that could save lives, ”he said.

The 2008 Vatican document Dignitas personae sharply criticized research using human embryos and fetal tissue from aborted babies, saying researchers have a “duty to refuse” such material. Regarding the treatment of human embryos, the document states that “obtaining stem cells from a living human embryo… invariably results in the death of the embryo and is therefore seriously illicit”.

However, with regards to common vaccines – such as those for chickenpox and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) – which are derived from cell lines of aborted babies, the Vatican has said they could be used by parents for “serious reasons” such as danger. to the health of their children.

After Collins defended NIH research using fetal tissue in 2018 and said it “will continue to be the mainstay,” the associate director of the US Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities called his remarks “profoundly disturbing “. Pro-life groups Live Action and March for Life also called for Collins to be replaced as NIH director that year for his support for fetal tissue research.

In 2019, Trump administration rules imposed a moratorium on new NIH research with aborted fetal tissue. For federally-funded fetal tissue research proposals outside NIH facilities, the agency required approval from federal ethics advisory boards.

However, in April 2021, the Biden administration rescinded that moratorium, again authorizing federally-funded NIH research using fetal tissues and organs from aborted babies. The requirement that a federal ethics advisory board review all fetal tissue research proposals has also been removed.

During his tenure as director of the NIH, Collins oversaw the institutes’ collaboration with several pharmaceutical companies and government agencies to develop vaccines against COVID-19. Some Catholics have raised concerns about connecting COVID-19 vaccines remotely to aborted fetal tissue, using cell lines derived from fetal tissue from babies believed to have been aborted in the 1970s.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared that the three vaccines approved for use in the United States are “morally acceptable” due to the severity of the pandemic and the vaccines’ distant link to abortion. If one has the option of choosing a vaccine, the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines should be chosen because they were not produced with the controversial cell lines, as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was, the conference said.

Prior to joining the NIH in 2009, Collins was professor of internal medicine and human genetics at the University of Michigan, conducting research that uncovered the genes responsible for diseases such as cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington’s disease and Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a rare form of premature aging.

In 1993, he was appointed director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, overseeing the Human Genome Project, an international collaboration that succeeded in 2003 in sequencing the three billion DNA “letters” of the human genome.

Originally from Virginia, Collins was homeschooled until the age of 10 and studied chemistry at college and above, earning a bachelor’s, doctorate and later his MD, after which he was appointed Fellow in Human Genetics at Yale Medical School.

Non-religious until the age of 27, Collins said he was previously “very happy that God did not exist and that he was not interested in me.”

Collins was converted in part through his reading of CS Lewis’ classic book, Simple Christianity, which presents a rational case for the existence of God. Today he speaks openly about his Christian faith. He wrote a book in 2006 titled The Language of God: Scientist Presents Evidence of Belief, in which he describes how religious faith can motivate and inspire rigorous scientific research.

He and his wife founded the nonprofit BioLogos Foundation in 2007, which aims to foster discussion of the harmony between science and biblical faith through articles, podcasts and other media.

Collins is also a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, having been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

Collins was selected as the 2020 recipient of the Templeton Prize, an award recognizing his contributions to the understanding of religion through his work as a scientist.

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