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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 27 October 2000

27 October 2000

27 October 2000 A mother who pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the suicide of Nigel Goodman, her 42-year-old terminally ill son, has walked free from court. Judge Graham Boal gave Heather Pratten, aged 63, a conditional discharge for a year but warned that others might not be treated so leniently. Nigel Goodman was suffering from Huntington's disease, a hereditary illness which also afflicted Mrs Pratten's other son and her late husband. The judge said: "Human life is precious; many regard it as sacred. It follows that only in the rarest and most exceptional cases can those who contribute to the death of another be sentenced to other than immediate imprisonment. But your case is indeed exceptional." [The Independent and Daily Telegraph, 27 October] The two patients in so-called permanent vegetative states whose feeding tubes were removed following an order by the English High Court three weeks ago have both died. Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, who heard the case, released her reasons yesterday for judging that the new Human Rights Act did not prevent the withdrawal of feeding tubes with the intention of causing death. She acknowledged that article two of the European Convention on Human Rights [given particular status under English law by means of the Human Rights Act] not only obliged states to refrain from taking life intentionally, but also imposed a positive obligation to safeguard life. However, she said that the withdrawal of nutrition and hydration did not constitute an intentional deprivation of life because it was an omission rather than a deliberate act. [The Guardian, 26 October ] A British government minister has confirmed that the government sees no reason why the so-called therapeutic cloning of human beings should not be conducted for profit. Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, parliamentary under-secretary of state in the department of health, was replying to a question on whether article 3(2) of the draft European Charter of Fundamental Rights (which prohibits the making of financial gain from the human body or its parts) applied to cloning. He pointed out that the charter had no legal force, but went on to conclude: "Thus, permitting researchers to make financial gain from clinical solutions for, for example, the treatment of diseased or damaged tissues or organs which have been developed from research involving cell nuclear replacement (therapeutic cloning) would not be inconsistent with article 3 (2)." [Hansard, House of Lords, 25 October] It has emerged that the RU-486 abortion drug is available and has been used in the British overseas territory of Bermuda. Its legal status is unclear because women seeking an abortion in Bermuda must first secure the agreement of a general practitioner, psychiatrist and gynaecologist. If all three agree to the abortion, the case then has to be approved by a 'therapeutic' abortion committee. Dr Terrylynne Emery, head of obstetrics at Bermuda's King Edward VII memorial hospital, said that he believed RU-486 would be subject to the same regulations as surgical abortions, but added that the whole subject of abortion processes in Bermuda was under review. [Bermuda Sun, 27 October ] The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) has launched an advertising campaign in three American states urging voters not to vote for Ralph Nader, the pro-abortion Green party presidential candidate, because this could take votes away from Al Gore, the pro-abortion Democratic candidate, and let in George W Bush, the Republican candidate who has pro-life credentials. Kate Michaelman, NARAL president, said: "A woman's constitutional right to choose [an abortion] is lost if George W Bush is elected. We have to make that point a little more directly and strongly in these key states where Gore should be winning." [AP, 24 October; from Pro-Life Infonet] The provincial government of British Columbia, Canada, has amended the Pharmacists' Act and announced that the morning-after pill will be made available without a doctor's prescription from 1 December. 800 of the province's 3,000 pharmacists have so far received specialised training to dispense the drug. [CBC, 26 October] Further information: Before the introduction of the new Levonelle-2 morning-after pill in the UK last year, one million packs of the PC-4 morning-after pill were distributed in Britain annually. Despite the facts that PC-4 only had a 57% success rate, and that only 8% of women who request the morning-after pill could actually have conceived when they last had unprotected sex, it is a fair estimate that use of PC-4 resulted in perhaps tens of thousands of early abortions each year. In each of these, a newly-conceived human being was denied the right to life even before implantation. Levonelle-2 has fewer side-effects than PC-4, an 85% success rate and could be made available from pharmacists without prescription. Clearly these facts mean that the number of abortions induced by the morning-after pill in the UK is set to rise considerably. [SPUC, London]

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