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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 27 February 2001

27 February 2001

27 February 2001 A company in the UK is planning to offer parents the chance to have stem cells from their babies' umbilical cords stored in liquid nitrogen. Cyro-Care UK, which describes its service as the "ultimate health insurance", will charge around 600 pounds to store the stem cells, initially for a guaranteed period of 20 years. Derek Tuffnell, a gynaecologist and obstetrician at Bradford Royal Infirmary in England, will extract stem cells from a baby's umbilical cord next week to test the company's storage facility. [The Times, 26 February ] The small amount of blood which can be extracted from umbilical cords is rich in stem cells and provides an ethical alternative to the destructive use of human embryos and so-called therapeutic cloning. The leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales has vowed to "speak out with a clear moral voice" on life issues after being made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II last week. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, archbishop of Westminster, said: "My mission is to teach and to preach what the Church believes to be true and to speak out on issues such as marriage, the family and the dignity of human life." [The Daily Telegraph, 22 February] The United States Supreme Court yesterday allowed a 27-page book of regulations for abortion providers in South Carolina to stand. Lawyers acting for four doctors in the state had claimed that the regulations constituted an attempt to undermine abortion rights. The regulations cover a wide range of areas, including the training of abortion facility workers. Charles Condon, South Carolina's attorney general, hailed the Supreme Court decision as a victory for common sense and the rights of states. His spokesman confirmed that the state would now try to enforce the regulations quickly, even though abortion providers have said that it could take months to meet the new licensing requirements. [AP, 26 February; via Northern Light ] A Canadian Catholic bishop has criticised politicians who claim to be Catholic while espousing pro-abortion views. Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary, Alberta, wrote a column in the Calgary Sun newspaper in which he described such conduct as "scandalous" and stressed that "no Catholic can responsibly take a 'pro-choice' stand when the 'choice' in question involves the taking of innocent human life". [LifeSite, 26 February ] Scientists in California have produced mice in whose brains a quarter of the cells are human. A team led by Professor Irving Weissman of Stanford University injected human neuronal stem cells [the source of which was not made clear in the reports] into the brains of newborn mice and observed that these had converted into active human cells within seven months. Professor Weissman is now considering injecting human stem cells into the brains of mice whose own brain cells have been programmed to die as the animal develops. The professor explained: "In that way we might be able to produce mice in which the vast majority of neurones are human." He claims that his research has therapeutic potential. [Financial Times, 24 February; Daily Mail, 26 February] 80 Nobel Prize winners have urged US President George W Bush not to block federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. In a joint statement, the scientists said that "it would be tragic to waste this opportunity to pursue the work that could potentially alleviate human suffering". Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, responded to such arguments by stating: "But when the remedy involves the intentional destruction of human lives, the cost of curing any disease can't be justified." [EWTN News, 23 February ; ALL press statement, 27 February]

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