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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 1 December 2000

1 December 2000

1 December 2000 Two more studies suggest that adult bone marrow cells can be used as an alternative to human embryos and so-called therapeutic cloning. Both studies were published in today's Science journal. Dr Helen Blau and her team at Stanford University suggest that cells derived from bone marrow naturally migrate into several regions of the brain, and that a normal brain is in fact maintained by such cells. This means that stem cells extracted from adult bone marrow could be used to replace damaged brain cells, and thus to treat a variety of brain diseases. Dr Eva Mezey of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke shows how the descendants of bone marrow cells injected into mice converted into nerve cells in the brain four months later. [The Daily Telegraph and BBC News online, 1 December ] The Japanese parliament has passed a bill which appears to outlaw human cloning. The law, which passed the lower house in November, was passed in the upper house by 229 votes to 11. It specifically outlaws reproductive cloning and also prohibits the creation of any human embryo by inserting somatic cells into an unfertilised egg [presumably whether or not the resulting cloned embryo is later implanted inside a woman]. The law also bans the creation of hybrid embryos with human and animal cells. However, the legislation calls on the government to draw up guidelines to govern cloning technology and one British newspaper described this as "an apparent loophole... [which] allows the use of human embryos or cells for research purposes under conditions strictly defined by the government". [Zenit news agency, 30 November; Daily Mail, 1 December] The French national assembly voted yesterday in favour of legislation to increase the legal gestational time-limit for abortions from 10 to 12 weeks. Debate is continuing on another section of the same bill which concerns whether minors should need parental consent before obtaining abortions. [CNN online, 30 November ] The Catholic bishops of the Netherlands have added their voice to condemnations of the vote this week in the lower house of the Dutch parliament to legalise euthanasia. A statement issued by the bishops stated that "the law proposed endangers the protection of life for all the members of society" and insisted that "the principle of protecting all human life ... has always been fundamental in our society". [EWTN News, 30 November ] A Catholic news agency has asserted that Holland is by no means the only country where euthanasia is legally permitted or tolerated. To 'assist in suicide' is not a crime punishable by law in Sweden, and in France euthanasia is now admitted in "exceptional cases". The constitutional court in Colombia authorised euthanasia in May 1997 for terminally ill patients who specifically requested it, and in China euthanasia is practised on terminally ill patients in hospital. [Zenit news agency, via EWTN news, 30 November ] The French government plans to introduce legislation to permit research on human embryos. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said that the proposed law, which would be submitted to parliament next year, would authorise research to improve in vitro fertilisation techniques and also to develop the use of embryonic stem cells to treat incurable conditions in adults. A French law passed in 1994 currently bans any research using human embryos. Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, archbishop of Paris, condemned the plans, which he said would "mortally offend the respect due to that which on this earth has absolute value, the human being". [Zenit news agency, 30 November]

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