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News, 7 December 2000

7 December 2000

7 December 2000 The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) learned today that a vote in parliament on the British government's proposals to allow research on cloned human embryos is likely to take place on Wednesday 20 December. This follows an announcement earlier today that another adjournment debate on embryology will be held in the House of Commons tomorrow-week (15 December). John Smeaton, SPUC's national director, pointed out that most MPs would be away from parliament on the day of the adjournment debate, a fact which further demonstrated the government's desperation to avoid debate on this controversial issue. Mr Smeaton also wondered why the promised legislation to outlaw reproductive cloning was omitted from yesterday's Queen's speech. He observed that the government's proposals went even further than the recommendations of the Donaldson committee into cloning, and said: "The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was enacted six years ago after the Warnock report, yet this government can't even allow six weeks to debate the destruction of countless human embryos." [SPUC media release, 7 December ] The parents of Siamese twins Jodie and Mary have spoken about their recent experiences for the first time. Michaelangelo and Rina Attard from Gozo, Malta, received 150,000 pounds for an interview to be screened as part of the Tonight with Trevor McDonald programme on British national television this evening. The parents described how they held Mary's body after she had been killed in the operation to separate the twins. Mr Attard said that Jodie was growing stronger every day, but that "she might realise something is missing from her". He continued: "We still love them the same, they are both our daughters." [BBC News online, 7 December ] Two early day motions have been tabled in the British House of Commons which call for the withdrawal of the government's proposals to authorise research on cloned human embryos for so-called therapeutic purposes. The first motion, which is entitled Request for full debate on human cloning and has so far attracted 14 signatories, denies government claims that issues relating to cloning were sufficiently covered during the original debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in 1990 and affirms that members of parliament should have adequate opportunity to consider "these issues of profound ethical importance". The second motion, which is simply entitled Human cloning and has so far attracted 35 signatories, also regrets the lack of debate and urges the withdrawal of the statutory instrument until such time as "this House and the people of this country have had a full opportunity to judge the long-term implications of human cloning." [House of Commons Hansard, 6 December] Researchers in the US have claimed that 75 percent of the patients whom Dr Jack Kevorkian, the American euthanasia advocate, helped to die were not terminally ill. A team from the University of South Florida looked into 69 cases of so-called assisted suicide involving Dr Kevorkian and found that only 17 of the patients were likely to have had less than six months to live. Dr Kevorkian was involved in more than 100 cases of assisted suicide or euthanasia in Michigan between 1990 and 1998. He was convicted of second degree murder in April of last year and sent to prison for 10 to 25 years after he allowed himself to be filmed administering a lethal injection. [Reuters, 6 December; from Pro-Life Infonet] The province of Anhui in eastern China has banned sex-selective abortions for so-called non-medical purposes. The law, which came into effect last month, prohibits clinics and family planning agencies from using ultrasound equipment to ascertain the sex of an unborn child, unless it is deemed necessary for so-called medical purposes [e.g. to abort babies of a certain sex who might be carrying a hereditary disease]. The new regulations also prohibit all abortions after the 16th week of pregnancy, except in cases of "serious disfigurement" or a threat to the life of the mother. [Chinese People's Daily online, 6 December; from Pro-Life Infonet] A judge in Missouri has ruled that the state's Infant's Protection Act, which seeks to outlaw partial birth abortions, does not prevent any other form of abortion and does contain an exception to protect the health of the mother. The ruling has been regarded as a victory for the state as it continues to argue for the law's constitutionality in the light of the US Supreme Court ruling earlier this year which threw out Nebraska's more rigid partial-birth abortion ban. Planned Parenthood is challenging the law and may also appeal against the St Louis circuit judge's ruling. [St Louis Post-Dispatch, 5 December; from Pro-Life Infonet] The health minister of New Brunswick, Canada, has confirmed that the province will continue to refuse to fund abortions in private clinics, despite claims that the policy violates federal law. New Brunswick is reportedly the only province in Canada which refuses to recognise private abortion facilities. It funds abortions at only two hospitals and requires the recommendation of two doctors in each case. Henry Morgentaler [a prominent Canadian abortionist] runs his own private clinic in New Brunswick and described the province's policy as "an obscene kind of attitude". [CBC News, 7 December ]

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