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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 26 February 2001

26 February 2001

26 February 2001 The same company which cloned Dolly the sheep has announced a new discovery which could further enhance the potential of using adult stem cells as an ethical alternative to human embryos and so-called therapeutic cloning. The American subsidiary of Edinburgh-based PPL Therapeutics has succeeded in converting skin tissue from cows into beating heart cells. This was done by 're-winding' the genetic clock of the skin cells so as to create 'unprogrammed' master stem cells. Dr Ron James, managing director of the company, said that he believed the technology would be equally applicable to humans. News that the direct re-programming of human cells might be possible was welcomed by Dr Donald Bruce, a spokesman for the Church of Scotland, who described it as an "encouraging breakthrough" and "certainly a step in the right direction". [BBC News online, 23 February ] Researchers have claimed that some women may be having abortions on the basis of "grossly inadequate" or "frankly misleading" information. A study into the way parents were told about sex chromosomal anomalies in their unborn children, published in the British Medical Journal, found that parents were often given the impression that the effects of such anomalies would be more pronounced that would actually be the case. Dr Lenore Abramsky and colleagues at Imperial College, London, asked 29 health professionals how they informed 23 patients after an amniocentesis test identified an extra X or Y chromosome. Six of the patients had abortions. [The Daily Telegraph, BBC News online and EWTN News , 23 February] A paper to be published by the Royal Statistical Society claims that high abortion rates in Britain will lead to a significant long-term rise in the incidence of breast cancer. Patrick Carroll, the author of the paper, claims that the rise in abortion rates and a decline in fertility rates will lead to an increase by 1.6% per year in the incidence of breast cancer over the next 30 years. He suggested that the annual number of diagnoses would rise to 50,000 by 2030, from the present total of 30,000. Mr Carroll pointed out that the trend in Britain was for women to have abortions younger and give birth to children later than in the rest of Europe, where abortions are more often obtained by women who have already had children. Another study has claimed that women who have an abortion before giving birth to a live child increase their risk of breast cancer by up to four times. [The Observer, 25 February ] Virginia's House of Delegates has insisted that girls under the age of 18 must obtain parental consent before obtaining the abortifacient morning-after pill without a doctor's prescription. Both the state senate and the House of Delegates had already approved over-the-counter sales of the drug [see news digest for 22 February ] but the senate's amendment striking out the parental consent provision failed to pass the House of Delegates after the vote was evenly split 46 to 46. [AP, via Pilot Online, 22 February ] A British national newspaper has devoted almost a whole page to the youngest baby to be born alive and survive in the UK. Just over two years on, Alex Franks is a "normal, boisterous little boy" despite having been given only a one percent chance of survival when he was born after less than 23 weeks' gestation. The Daily Mail observes that he was born exactly 15 days before the legal time-limit for most abortions in Britain, weighing only one pound and one ounce. [Daily Mail, 26 February] A US Supreme Court justice has implicitly criticised the 1973 judgement in Roe v Wade which declared a constitutional right to abortion. In a speech last Friday, Justice Antonin Scalia said that judges who read new rights into the text of the constitution were "impoverishing democracy". He said that access to abortion should be the subject of a law rather than a new interpretation of the constitution which, he affirmed, "means now what its text reasonably conveyed to intelligent and informed people at the time it was drafted and ratified". [AP, 24 February; via Northern Light ]

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