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News, 22 December 2000

22 December 2000

22 December 2000 A senior Vatican bishop and bioethicist has delivered a strongly worded attack on the vote by members of the British House of Commons to authorise destructive stem cell research on cloned human embryos. Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and director of the bioethics institute at Rome's Catholic University, described the vote as a "criminal act, catastrophic for the future of humanity". He insisted that "to legitimize the suppression of human beings, our own children, for the purpose of experimentation represents a trauma for humanity never seen before". He also rejected the notion that embryos younger than 14 days old were not human beings, describing this as "in addition to a crime against life, a crime against truth." Bishop Sgreccia made the point that the decision violated European conventions for bioethical practice, and concluded: "It is necessary to abolish this decision from European history. If we do not reverse directions, we are creating a whirlpool that will gobble up human beings." [Zenit, 21 December] Research which has demonstrated the potential of adult stem cells to convert into different types of tissue has been accorded fifth place in a respected top ten of the year's most important scientific advances. The top ten was published in the US magazine Science, which publishes the run-down every year. The magazine highlighted the fact that prior to this year it had been thought that adult cells could not be converted into other types of cell, but that various studies over the past 12 months had demonstrated this assumption to be false. The magazine's editors decided that genome sequencing was the most important advance in the year 2000. [BBC News online, 21 December ; Daily Telegraph, 22 December] Adult stem cell technology provides an ethical alternative to the use of embryonic stem cells and so-called therapeutic cloning. Mr Alan Milburn, the British secretary of state for health, has stressed the importance of a woman's right to choose [an abortion] during a debate in the British House of Commons on adoption. Mr Christopher Chope, the Conservative MP for Christchurch, asked Mr Milburn whether he thought "that many more children would be born rather than aborted if the system enabled the birth mother to identify prospective adoptive parents in advance". Mr Milburn appeared to skirt the question and replied: "...what counts is choice. He does not have the right to make the choice for others any more than I do. It is the woman's right to make the choice, and she should be free to do so." [Hansard, 21 December] Research published in the British Medical Journal has suggested that male unborn children are more vulnerable to damage inside the womb than female unborn children. The study by Sebastian Kraemer, a consultant psychiatrist at an English hospital, also asserted that boys are born four to six weeks less developed than girls. [Reuters, via Yahoo! News, 21 December ] A national opinion poll conducted in the United States by Zogby has indicated that 58 percent of the population would like to see the president sign a federal ban on partial-birth abortions. [LifeSite Daily News, 21 December ]

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