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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 30 August 2000

30 August 2000

30 August 2000 Following the concerns expressed by Professor Vivette Glover that unborn babies might experience pain during abortions [reported in yesterday's digest], the UK's Department of Health has said that it is awaiting a report on the issue from the Medical Council's Foetal Pain Expert Group, expected early next year. Meanwhile, Professor Susan Greenfield of Oxford University, who is director of the Royal Institute and described as Britain's most prominent neuroscientist, has expressed her own concerns. She said: "As soon as something has a nervous system, however primitive, we have to tread more cautiously." [Daily Telegraph, 30 August] The governor of Guanajuato in Mexico has effectively vetoed a ban on abortions in cases of rape which was passed by the state's legislature on 3 August. Governor Ramon Martin Huerta yesterday sent the bill back to the state congress for further study after commissioning a public opinion poll which was said to indicate that most state residents opposed the measure. Miguel Cortes, a state legislator and member of the National Action party of which both the governor and president-elect Vincente Fox are also members, said that the opinion poll was based on "lies and falsehoods". [Washington Post, New York Times&ABC News, 29 August] The Russian Orthodox Church has condemned abortion, as well as experimentation on human embryos and all human cloning. In a document entitled The Church and the Nation, which has taken several years to draw up and which addresses a number of social issues, the ruling synod of the Church equates abortion with murder and rules out any attempt to clone humans for whatever purpose. [The Tablet, 26 August] It has been estimated that 70 percent of all pregnancies in Russia since 1994 have ended in abortion. Abortion is provided free on demand during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The Soviet Union was the first country in the world to legalise abortion in 1920, and now only Romania has a greater number of abortions per live births. The Russian population is said to be shrinking by 2,500 every day. [ABC News, 18 May 2000; Daily Telegraph, 24 January 1999] An Australian government minister has expressed his personal opposition to abortion. Senator Herron [who is minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs and also a general surgeon by profession] represents Dr Michael Wooldridge, Australia's health minister, in the senate. When asked whether he thought the abortion of an unborn child with a non-fatal form of dwarfism at 32 weeks' gestation was appropriate, as happened in a recent high-profile case, Senator Herron said that he would have to seek clarification from Dr Wooldridge but then affirmed: "I have been a constant opponent of abortion throughout my life, since medical student days, and I personally would not support the practice ... outlined." [The Age, 29 August] Pope John Paul II personally condemned so-called therapeutic cloning in an address to the Transplants Society congress in Rome yesterday. The Pope praised organ transplantation and encouraged scientific research into the use of adult stem cells, but said that "attempts at human cloning with a view to obtaining organs for transplants, insofar as these techniques involve the manipulation and destruction of human embryos, are not morally acceptable, even when their goal is good in itself." Meanwhile, Salvatore Mancuso, director of the Institute of Gynaecology of the Catholic University of Rome, proposed the establishment of placenta banks from which, in the future, one's own stem cells could be taken and grown into replacement organs. He said that great quantities of stem cells are found in the umbilical cord and placenta, and that if these were systematically collected and stored there would be no medical need to generate cloned embryos in order to obtain such cells. [Zenit news agency, 29 August]

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