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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 20 September 2000

20 September 2000

20 September 2000 Italian scientists have revealed that adult neural stem cells have been found to be unexpectedly pliable and have been successfully converted into muscle tissue. Undeveloped brain stem cells naturally occurring in adult mice were re-programmed to behave like muscle cells by being placed in close proximity to mature muscle cells. The same result was then achieved using neuronal stem cells taken from an adult human volunteer. The research, published yesterday in the Nature Neuroscience journal, was undertaken by a group of scientists from the National Neurological Institute and the Institute for Stem Cell Research, based in Milan. Dr Vescovi, co-director of the Institute for Stem Cell Research, commented that the research had not yet demonstrated that adult stem cells had the same potential as embryonic stem cells, but added that he hoped adult stem cells could be converted into any tissue. He said: "As a scientist I am wary of generalisations. I hope, though, that this is the case. The implications for therapy of human diseases would be astounding." [AFP, 19 September, from Yahoo! news; BBC News Online&The Daily Telegraph, 20 September] A newspaper has reported that the National Health Service in England is making use of Cardinal Thomas Winning's Pro-Life Initiative, based in Glasgow, Scotland. One family planning clinic in England has referred 20 women to the Cardinal's scheme, which offers help to women who face financial hardship if they choose not to have an abortion. Sr Roseann Reddy, co-ordinator of the scheme, pointed out that the English clinic had a budget for contraception and could easily arrange abortions, but did not have the means to support women who wanted to keep their babies. She said: "The clinic staff are quite embarrassed and quite mortified about it, and they are trying to change things. They say it is deplorable that they have to go to the Church for help for these girls. But if they don't, they know they are sending them out with nothing." [Scottish Sunday Times, 17 September] The family of unborn twins killed by the terrorist bomb which exploded in Omagh, Northern Ireland, on 15 August 1998 will formally ask a coroner next week to count the twins among the victims. The family, who also lost a grandmother, mother and older child in the blast, issued a statement which read: "We refer to the weekly, if not daily, reference to the families of the 29 victims of the bombing, when in fact 31 lives were lost." Averil Monaghan was 34 weeks pregnant when she was killed almost immediately by the bomb, but her unborn twins may have lived for a few minutes longer. [Irish Independent, 20 September] A booklet published by the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin in Ireland which promotes the full inclusion of disabled people in the life of the Church includes forewords written by President Mary McAleese and Prime Minister Bertie Ahern. In launching the booklet, Archbishop Desmond Connell of Dublin said: "Through this publication, we are reminded that our defence of life and rejection of the culture of death demand that we acknowledge the dignity and the positive contribution of our brothers and sisters with a disability that can lead to a rejection of the gift of human life through abortion or euthanasia." [Zenit news agency, 14 September] It has been reported that doctors in Iran are refusing to comply with a fatwa (written decision on a point of law) issued by the country's religious leadership which approves the abortion of unborn children with thalassemia, a genetic blood disorder, up to the tenth week of pregnancy. The statement issued by Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, Iran's supreme religious leader, read: "If there exists a definite diagnosis in the embryonic stage, to deliver or raise such a child amounts to sin. It is advisable to abort the foetus before it is given a soul." The religious decree has not received the backing of parliament and so doctors in state hospitals are refusing to carry out the abortions, which remain illegal in most cases under Iranian law. [Reuters, 18 September; from OnHealth]

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