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News, 28 February 2001

28 February 2001

28 February 2001 The British government has admitted that no thorough clinical trials have been conducted to assess the safety of the abortifacient morning-after pill for girls under the age of 16. Gisela Stuart, a health minister, insisted in a written parliamentary answer that there was no evidence that younger girls would respond any differently to the drug than older women, but admitted that most women involved in trials had been aged between 16 and 48. Although the morning-after pill is only available from pharmacists without prescription to women aged 16 and over, it is reported that this regulation is being openly flouted. Moreover, girls under 16 can obtain the drug from nurses in some schools, and a pilot scheme was recently started in south Wales through which girls of any age can obtain the morning-after pill from chemists' shops free of charge. The Conservatives have pledged to reverse the reclassification of the morning-after pill as a drug available from pharmacists without prescription should they win the next general election. [Daily Mail, 28 February] Researchers in the United States have successfully converted human fat cells into cartilage. Scientists at the Duke University Medical Center used material collected from liposuction procedures and used a combination of enzymes to convert the cells. It is hoped that the new technique could mean that a victim of an accident in which cartilage was damaged could have new cartilage produced using their own cells. [BBC News online, 28 February ] This provides yet another example of the potential of alternatives to the use of embryonic stem cells and so-called therapeutic cloning for the production of new body tissue. Pro-lifers in the Irish Republic have reacted with concern at news that Ireland's abortion rate has risen by 43% since 1995. 4,921 women obtained abortions in Britain during the first nine months of last year, compared with 3,444 for the same period in 1995. Ms Geraldine Martin, a spokesperson for the Pro-Life Campaign, said: "It is naïve to suggest that the increased figures are simply attributable to more women giving their Irish addresses. The reality is that, as part of any government strategy to help reduce our abortion rate, the disastrous effects of the 1995 Abortion Information Act must be acknowledged. The Act which made it legal to provide the names and addresses of abortion clinics, and for clinics to advertise in Irish newspapers, has singularly failed in the then government's stated intention of reducing abortions." [Pro-Life Campaign media release, 23 February] New guidelines have been released in the UK intended to end the confusion over when it is acceptable not to resuscitate a patient. The guidelines were issued jointly by the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and the Resuscitation Council. Age Concern, a charity which has campaigned against do not resuscitate (DNR) orders' being made on the basis of age, welcomed the guidelines, which include closer consultation with the patients themselves. [BBC News online, 28 February ] Last year, accusations that elderly patients were routinely being given DNR orders stirred fears of creeping euthanasia. See news digests for 16 May 2000 and 28 June 2000 . The unregulated use of misoprostol by women to procure abortions in South Africa is causing concern. Misoprostol was developed by G D Searle as a treatment for ulcers, but is now used in conjunction with RU-486 to complete abortions. Van Eeden of the Doctors for Life group in South Africa said that off-label use of misoprostol [on its own] to induce abortions had reached crisis proportions and a growing number of women were dying from haemorrhages or uterine ruptures. The doctor commented: "This really caused an ethical dilemma for pro-life health professionals ... because these women come in bleeding and you are ethically obliged to attend to them. You can't just leave them. And so you end up ... completing the abortion for the abortionist." [Focus on the Family, 21 February; from Pro-Life Infonet]

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