Like all organizations, the International Foundation for Genetic Research popularly known as the Michael Fund began with an idea and an ideal. The idea to create a pro-life genetic research agency came from Dr. Hymie Gordon of the Mayo Clinic in 1977. The ideal was based on the therapeutic genetics research program of Dr. Jerome Lejeune, Professor of Fundamental Genetics at the University of Paris and the discoverer of the extra-chromosome that causes Down syndrome (Trisomy 21).
In 1978, Randy Engel, Director of the U.S. Coalition for Life contacted Dr. Lejeune at his Paris home and shared Dr. Gordon’s idea with him. Dr. Lejeune thought the phone call almost miraculous since his grant from the French government was coming to an end and he did not know where the money was going to come from to continue his research to find a cure or treatment for Down syndrome and related chromosomal disorders. Dr. Lejeune has always believed that there is no reason why chromosomal disorders that result in mental deficiencies cannot be cured. “There is no reason to believe that nothing can be done for mentally retarded children,” he said. “But research into the causes and cures for mental deficiency must have IMPETUS…If we continue to ‘treat’ mentally defective children by aborting them, we will never be in a position to cure them, to give them back their intelligence,” he said. “Instead of the National Institute of Death that abortionists try to make medicine into, we have to build an International Institute of Life which will try to tell scientists of the world that they have an enormous task which is to try to alleviate the difficulties of these children…” Dr. Lejeune concluded. Naturally, that very night, Dr. Lejeune agreed to become the Director of Medical Research for the future United States - based IFGR/MF that was formally incorporated in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania one year later. The new foundation’s International Advisory Board featured other prominent professionals including Sir William Liley of New Zealand, Drs. Marie Rethore and Marie Peeters, coworkers with Lejeune in Paris, Dr. Sigfried Ernst of West Germany, and Dr. Herbert Ratner of Oak Park IL and Professor Charles Rice of the University of Notre Dame Law School.
As most of you know, “Michael” in “The Michael Fund” is a real boy – Michael Policastro of Murrysville, PA, who was born on February 15, 1969 with Down syndrome. He is the son of Thomas and Patricia Policastro who helped create the Michael Fund. Michael received his pre-school education at St. Peter’s Development Center in Pittsburgh and his elementary and secondary schooling at Clelian Heights for Exceptional Children in Greensburg. Michael is now 34 years old. Ask him how life is going and he’ll tell you “Wonderful!” He is currently employed at Christopher’s Bakery in Murrysville. Michael is a senior resident at Clelian Heights where he has lent his talents to the Gourmet Dog Biscuits program. We hope to do a full interview with Michael this coming year.
Michael Fund Launches Special Campaign to Save Human Embryos
In addition to its Down syndrome research program, in 1994-1995, the Michael Fund launched the first organized battle in the nation against non-therapeutic human embryoresearch conducted by the National Institutes of Health and other governmental agencies and private commercial and foundation interests in the United States. An immediate issue was the nineteen-member NIH Human Embryo Panel that had been established in the fall of 1973 to create national guidelines for funding non-therapeutic research on human embryos. Attorneys for the Michael Fund charged that the panel was, by its own admission, stacked in favor of such research in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and that human embryo research involved the destruction of thousands of innocent human beings at the earliest stages of development. Money for the Michael Fund lawsuit against the NIH Human Embryo Panel was raised in a separate fund-raising effort specifically designated for the Human Embryo Defense project and was not taken from our research program. Thanks to Maryland attorney Martin Palmer and a special effort by Dr. Samuel Nigro head of the Cleveland Catholic Physicians Guild and regular supporters of the Michael Fund we were able to bring our law suit all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court which regretfully refused to take up the case. Defenders of human embryo research have stated that the killing of these tiniest of human beings is necessary to advance genetic research, but the Michael Fund has from its beginning always rejected the ‘health by death’ ethic. Dr. Lejeune harbored a special concern and love for the human embryo whom he called ‘the least of our kin.’ On August 10, 1989, he testified before the Circuit Court for Blount County in Maryville Tennessee in the now famous Davis v Davis Case (No. E-14496) that involved the disposition and custody of seven cryogenically frozen human embryos produced by in vitro fertilization and living in concentration cans at the Fertility Center of East Tennessee. Dr. Lejeune presented scientific evidence for the humanity of the frozen embryos and argued that they were not property that could be bartered or disposed of like inanimate objects. The judge agreed with Dr. Lejeune and awarded custody to the mother of the children, although a higher court later overturned that decision. In a conversation with Mrs. Engel a week before his death on Easter Sunday, April 3, 1994, Dr. Lejeune expressed his hope that the battle to defend the human embryo would go on. And it has.
The Michael Fund Comes Home
After the death of Dr. Lejeune and the breakup of his research team at the University of Paris, the Board of Directors voted to bring the Michael Fund research program home to the United States. Dr. Marie Peeters-Ney of Nova Scotia, Canada who had worked with Dr. Lejeune in France was appointed the new Director of Medical Research for the Michael Fund. She is a specialist in the effects of folic acid, vitamins and amino acids on children with Trisomy 21.
In late 1996, Dr. Peter Kummant, Chairman of the Board announced the foundation’s first U.S. grant for curative genetic research to Dr. Paddy Jim Baggot, Director of Maternal fetal Medicine and Human Genetics at the Paul VI Institute, Omaha, Nebraska. The $165,000 research grant project, Biochemical Analysis of Folate-Dependent Metabolites in Amniotic Fluid, incorporated some of the earlier research findings of Dr. Lejeune. Dr. Baggot’s research centered on the biochemical deficiencies known to be relevant to Down syndrome including metabolites of organic acids, amino acids, neurotransmitters and carbohydrates. As this newsletter goes to print, Dr. Baggot is completing his final report to the Michael Fund. These findings will then be submitted to medical journals in the United States for publication. Dr. Baggot has also finished a worldwide scientific bibliography on Down syndrome research that the Michael Fund hopes to publish at a future date.
Henry Foster Controversy
Unlike many advocacy groups for the handicapped, the Michael Fund has never had extra funds to pour into a national public relations campaign. Money has always just been too tight. Whatever local, state and national publicity we have gotten has generally come from pro-life groups and Down syndrome organizations and by word of mouth from one household to another. In mid-February 1995 however, the International Foundation for Genetic Research/Michael Fund made national headlines in the secular press when it identified Henry W. Foster, President Clinton’s nominee for Surgeon General of the United States as a skilled late-term abortionist specializing in the killing of genetically handicapped unborn children. Government transcripts from the Michael Fund’s extensive archives on U.S. eugenicists, documented Foster’s commitment to eugenic abortion including the killing of suspected sick-cell anemia children in the womb. Initially both the White House and Foster labeled the NIH transcripts a forgery or mistake. But the transcript was for real and virtually overnight the nomination was dead in the water. Shortly thereafter, the President removed Foster’s name from consideration as Surgeon General. The Foster controversy marked the very first time that the Michael Fund had received attention in the national press. With that publicity the foundation was able to reach out to thousands of Americans who prefer that their charity dollars go toward healing not killing of children with birth defects.
Michael Fund Newsletter Tops With Donors
One of the most important features of our foundation over the last twenty-five years has been the Friends of the Michael Fund Newsletter. Unlike the typical organization newsletter, ours has featured original articles related to historical and contemporary information on the genetics and eugenics.
The fall 1998 issue on “The Geranium in the Window” – the story of the Kinderhaus murders in Nazi Germany that were carried out against handicapped children at the famed Eglfling-Haar Psychiatric Institute outside Munich, was probably one of the best received newsletter the Michael Fund has ever published.
The fall 2002 newletter on “BABI: Another Anti-Life Genetic Baby Package” that exposed the horrors of pre-implantation diagnosis was also among the most informative and thought-provoking articles we have published. Copies of these and other back IFGR/MF newsletters are available to all donors upon request.
Raising a Pro-life Genetic War Chest
Financially speaking, when the Michael Fund was created in 1979, it had to start from ground zero. Luckily, we were blessed by a start-up grant from Harry John of the DeRance Foundation of Milwaukee, WI. that helped us with the legal costs of setting up a charitable tax-exempt foundation. Later we also received a series of grants from the Human Life Foundation of NYC, James McFadden, Chairman. Last year we received a generous grant from the Laboratory for Education and Research in Neuroscience, Detroit, MI. that enable us to close the accounts on the Baggot research grant. However, the largest portion of the Michael Fund budget over the last twenty-five years has come from individual donors like you. The first Michael-Fund Walk-a-thon was held in 1980 in Long Island, NY. It was organized by veteran pro-lifer Dolores Andreski, who later became our National Fund Raising Chairman. John (Jack) Short, Associate publisher of Down Syndrome Today and Charlie Williamson of the Knights of Columbus were also instrumental in developing support for the Michael Fund on L.I. One of the Michael Fund’s most memorable fundraisers was the 1982 Jeff Steinberg Concert held at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Jeff, known as the “Ambassador of the Handicapped” was born without hands or arms and with two malformed legs. He is one giant of an entertainer and his performance was one that the audience will remember for a lifetime. The well-know rock band Three Way Street based in Philadelphia has also made the Michael Fund the recipient of profits taken in from its record sales. “Actually, there shouldn’t be any controversy when it comes to the Michael Fund’s positive approach to the prevention of birth defects,” says Brian McCafferty, a consultant to Three Way Street. Individual chapters of the Knights of Columbus throughout the United States have also supported the research program of the Michael Fund.
We would like to especially recognize the Father James J, Kelly Council, No. 3632 of the K of C of Verona-Cedar Grove-West Orange New Jersey, Stanley W. Butler and John A. Sommer, Jr., Chairmen. For many years the Fr. Kelly Council has supported the Michael Fund from funds raised by its annual K of C fund drive to benefit mentally and physically handicapped children. In 1985, the Michael Fund was also selected by the Knights of Columbus of Illinois as one of the beneficiaries of its Walk for Life statewide project to aid the handicapped child – born and unborn. We also owe a great debt to the many physicians of the National Catholic Physician’s Guilds throughout the United States who have helped the Michael Fund in times of special financial need.
Parents of children born with Down syndrome have been among the Michael Fund’s most enthusiastic financial supporters and many have served on our National Advisory Board over the years. A special thanks to Jessie Bennett founder of Down Syndrome International, Mr. and Mrs. Donald Buell, and Drs. Richard and Leonie Watson for their inspiring assistance from day one of the founding of the Michael Fund.
The Michael Fund would also like to recognize those donors who have designated our agency (#185) as their charity of choice under the donor-option program of the United Way-Pittsburgh.