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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 27 November 2000

27 November 2000

27 November 2000 It has been revealed that the British government will probably try to authorise research on cloned human embryos this week. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has learned that the government plans to lay before Parliament tomorrow a statutory instument which would amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, and it is possible that debates could be held on the proposals as soon as Wednesday in the House of Commons and Thursday in the House of Lords. John Smeaton, national director of SPUC, said: "Despite the statement earlier this month by Margaret Beckett, leader of the House, promising a long-term debate on human cloning, Labour MPs on the government payroll will now be under pressure to support cloning." Mr Smeaton urged all pro-lifers to contact their MPs, asking them to vote against the plans, and affirmed that the cloning of human embryos for research purposes "involves the deliberate creation and destruction of individual human beings, thereby demeaning the value of human life and undermining the basis of civilised society." [SPUC media release, 27 November ] A British national newspaper has reported that an important component of the government's campaign to reduce teenage pregnancies will be to urge pregnant teenagers to opt for abortions. So-called pregnancy advisors, appointed by the government, will tell girls how to proceed with an abortion and might even accompany them to an abortion facility. If a girl refuses an abortion, or if the pregnancy is too advanced, the girls would also be told about adoption. Rachel Garbutt, a member of the government's advisory committee on teenage pregnancy, said: "A lot of young people feel that they have only one choice--to continue with the pregnancy. This will be about increasing the information for young people who become pregnant... when an option is chosen, [the pregnancy advisors] will help them to take every step towards it." [Sunday Telegraph, 26 November] A British company has developed a new test to screen test-tube embryos for low intelligence before implantation. The kit, which costs 125 pounds, is being marketed by Cytocell, based in Banbury, Oxfordshire, and was developed by scientists at the Institute for Molecular Medicine in Oxford. The test analyses teleomeres, the ends of DNA strands in each chromosome, and scientists claim that it could identify 2,000 of the 21,000 children born each year with learning difficulties. Doctors in the USA and Spain have used the technique to screen out retarded embryos using pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, commented: "Low IQ is not life-threatening. This is a significant step towards eugenics." [The Sunday Times, 26 November ] Primary care officials in Basildon, south Essex, have applied for permission to the South Essex Health Authority to make the morning-after pill available from pharmacists without a doctor's prescription. The pilot scheme would start next spring and last for six months. It would be the first such scheme in Essex [although other schemes are already under way in a number of other areas]. Jane Richards, senior health promotion specialist in sexual health, acknowledged that girls under the age of 16 could attempt to obtain the drug by providing false information, and also that the scheme could attract other women from outside the area, but insisted that it was not the aim of the initiative to encourage promiscuity. [Evening Echo, week of 20-24 November ] A British national newspaper has reported that an Australian company took out a European patent in 1999 on technology which could lead to the creation of mixed-species embryos, or human-animal hybrids. The patent, awarded to Amrad, covers the creation of embryos containing cells from humans, mice, sheep, pigs, cattle, goats and fish. The details of the patent do not specify the use to which any hybrid embryo would be put, although Amrad's chief executive insisted that human cells would not be used. [See news digests for 9 October and 10 October for related stories.] [The Observer, 26 November ] Professor Stephen Hawking, the well-known British physicist, will tell a meeting in Switzerland tomorrow that genetic engineering will lead inevitably to 'improved' super-intelligent human beings within the next few centuries. The professor said that humans could be given much larger brains as soon as technology allowed them to be grown outside the confine of the womb, and observed: "It may not be in accord with democratic or egalitarian principles, but evolution has never been politically correct." [Metro, 27 November] The general availability of the RU-486 abortion pill in China has resulted in a major increase in the number of abortions, according to a report issued by the American embassy in Beijing. The report claimed that, even though RU-486 remained a prescription-only drug, it was easily obtainable on the black market in many Chinese cities for as little as 30 US dollars. There are said to be about seven million abortions in China each year, and the US report observed that many of them are sex-selective with the illegal use of ultrasound machines. [The Age, 26 November ]

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