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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 13 July 2000

13 July 2000

13 July 2000 An English judge has abandoned the traditional notion of doctors having a duty to sustain life in ruling that a brain-damaged boy can be left to die. The case came to court because the child's parents objected. The boy, known only as 'I', is 19 months old and has a lung condition. His mother and father, who have dedicated themselves to his care, had argued that their son was able to derive enjoyment from life. He can smile with recognition, indicate feelings with his hands, and has even begun to show signs of some vocabulary. In giving a London National Health Service trust permission not to prolong the child's life, Mr Justice Cazalet, while expressing sympathy for the parents, directed that the child's life could be ended by use of "palliative care". The ruling is believed to set a new precedent and has been condemned by campaigners against euthanasia. [The Times&Metro, 13 July] In this case, the judge decided that continuing to keep the child alive was not in his best interests. Since the case of Tony Bland in 1993, life has no longer been seen as an intrinsic benefit in all cases under English law. A report published in Australia has indicated that 80 percent of obstetricians support the abortion of unborn children with dwarfism, although the study conducted by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute also suggested considerable variations in attitudes. Whereas more than 70 percent of clinical geneticists and obstetricians around Australia continue to support selective abortion at 24 weeks' gestation, only 14 percent of obstetricians in the state of Victoria support it at such a late stage, compared with 78 percent who would agree to it at 13 weeks. Three Australian doctors who allegedly aborted an unborn baby with dwarfism at 32 weeks' gestation, and who will face the medical practitioners' board for professional misconduct, resumed work last Thursday. [The Age Company, 4&11 July] Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, used World Population Day to renew the call for sexual and reproductive rights. "It is more obvious than ever before that humanity needs to stabilise its numbers," he said. A recently published UN document stated that nearly half of all countries were experiencing problems with population shortages. [Zenit news agency, New York, 11 July] A medical consultant to the Cord Blood Registry in the United States has reacted to the decision by the American Heart Association to support embryo stem cell research by stressing the potential of umbilical cord blood as a source of stem cells. Dr Paul R Billings said: "Umbilical cord blood represents an easily accessible and high quality source of stem cells that does not involve foetuses, but rather a unique and invaluable by-product of a new life." He observed that stem cells from umbilical cords could be grown into muscle, nerve or bone tissue cells and have a number of advantages over bone marrow stem cells including longer telomeres (which may control ageing) and the fact that they are immunologically immature enabling easier matching between donor and recipient. Over 20,000 babies in the USA have so far had their umbilical cord stem cells stored with the Cord Blood Registry. [PR Newswire,, 6 July; Reuters, Yahoo! News, 26 June] Hopes have been raised in Mexico that the new president will bring about full religious liberty and promote respect for the rights of the unborn. Manuel Gomez, director of the Mexican Institute of Christian Social Doctrine, said that the election of Vicente Fox "opens a new vision of hope". President-elect Fox, who will assume office on 1 December, has a policy "to promote respect for life from conception until natural death". [Zenit news agency, Vatican City, 12 July] The head of Catholics for a Free Choice, an American pro-abortion group, has dismissed claims that her views and actions mean she is no longer in communion with the Catholic Church. Frances Kissling, who admits to directing an abortion clinic 20 years ago, wrote: "Since no bishop or pope ... has chosen to excommunicate me or declare that I have automatically excommunicated myself, I am confident that I remain in good standing with the Church." [Catholic World News, 12 July] The US Catholic Bishops' Conference has said that no organisation which promotes abortion can legitimately call itself Catholic.

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