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Defending life from the moment of conception

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9 October 2000

9 October 2000

9 October 2000\r A judge in the English High Court issued orders last Friday giving two hospitals in the north of England permission to withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration from two patients considered to be in permanent vegetative states. This follows the precedent set by the case of Tony Bland in 1993, since when hospitals have been allowed to withdraw food and fluids from about 20 patients in similar conditions. Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the High Court's family division, decided that the Human Rights Act, which came into effect at the beginning of last week, could not be applied to prevent the orders. This Act incorporated certain aspects of the European Convention on Human Rights into English law, including the right to life in the second article and the right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment in the third article. Dame Elizabeth's written judgement will address the relevance of these and other articles, although the date of its publication is not known. The orders read out in court included reference to the patients' "best interests" for the first time. Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: "This judgement will appal anyone who supports the notion of the Human Rights Act as a bulwark for the rights of the weak, the disabled and the dependent against the power of the establishment." [BBC News online, SPUC media release and eye-witness report, 6 October] A junior doctor has claimed that he was turned down for a job at a hospital in Glasgow, Scotland, because he refused to have anything to do with training which involved abortions. Dr Everett Julyan said that, when the hospital informed him that his application had been unsuccessful, they volunteered the information that his answer to the question about abortions had been the reason. He was making his allegations public in order to stop other doctors facing the same discrimination. North Glasgow Universities Hospitals Trust has launched an investigation into Dr Julyan's claim. [BBC News online, 7 October; Guardian, 9 October] The 1967 Abortion Act includes a so-called conscience clause which allows doctors not "to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection". A doctor at Basildon hospital in Essex, England, has been suspended while allegations of so-called mercy killings are investigated by the police. A police spokesman confirmed that a number of deaths were being looked at, although it is reported that no children were involved. The police statement confirmed that they were "investigating allegations ... concerning inappropriate use of medicines on seriously ill patients ... following concerns raised by an internal investigation." A spokesman for the hospital trust said that the woman doctor concerned had been suspended "some time ago". [BBC News online, 7 October; Southend Evening Echo, 6 October] It has been reported that there are now 19 British families seeking to create and select test-tube babies in order to treat their older children, following the case of Molly Nash whose brother Adam was selected and born in Minnesota recently to provide her with stem cells for transplant. Six of the British couples approached Dr Yury Verlinsky at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago where Adam Nash was created, and the others have approached four of the five clinics licensed to carry out pre-implantation genetic diagnosis in England. The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority will have to decide whether to authorise the technique in the UK. [Sunday Telegraph and Zenit news agency, 8 October] Greenpeace, the environmental pressure group, has claimed that two genetics companies have already conducted experiments which involved mixing human and pig embryos. The group claimed that the nucleus of a pig cell was removed and replaced by one taken from an unborn baby, and that the resulting embryo was allowed to grow for a week. It said that Stem Cell Sciences (Australia) and Biotransplant (United States) had applied for a patent on such technology. [Zenit news agency, 6 October] Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, commented: "It appears that these companies are trying to overcome one of the major obstacles to wide-scale human cloning--the problem of obtaining supplies of human egg cells. This raises the question of whether the biotech industries are working for or against the interests of humanity." The mayor of Manila in the Philippines has said that he will arrest any government official and raid any importer's warehouse should they attempt to import the RU-486 abortion drug. Mayor Lito Atienza, who is also president of Prolife Philippines, described RU-486 as a "do-it-yourself murder kit" and said that he was sworn to uphold the constitution of the country which explicitly protects the unborn from the moment of conception. It was reported that the mayor's announcement came in response to comments by the country's health secretary that the drug could be authorised for use by victims of rape or incest. [Zenit news agency, 8 October]

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