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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 29 November 2001

29 November 2001

29 November 2001 The House of Lords, England's highest court, has dismissed Mrs Dianne Pretty's request for a "right to die". The panel of five law lords ruled unanimously that human rights legislation existed to protect life and that, in the words of Lord Bingham, "mercy killing is in law killing". The coalition of three pro-life groups which had intervened in the case (SPUC, the Medical Ethics Alliance and ALERT) welcomed the ruling, which they said safeguarded the right to life of vulnerable sick people. The coalition had been allowed to submit legal argument but had not been allowed by the court to submit medical evidence provided by Dr Nigel Sykes, a leading expert in terminal care for sufferers of motor neurone disease, demonstrating that much could be done to alleviate Mrs Pretty's suffering. Mrs Pretty has indicated her intention to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights, although such an appeal would probably take some time. A spokesman for the British Medical Association welcomed the House of Lords' decision. Mr Tony Blair, the prime minister, said that he did not support the legalisation of mercy killing, despite the fact that his government refused to support an anti-euthanasia bill last year. [SPUC and BBC News online, 29 November ] The European parliament voted today to reject the Fiori report on human genetics at the end of a tumultuous plenary session in Brussels. Debating a resolution aimed at accepting the report prepared by the temporary GENE Committee, members of the parliament first voted to adopt a set of anti-life amendments. These amendments would have authorised destructive research on supernumerary IVF embryos, so-called therapeutic cloning and the alteration of the human germ line. However, at the last moment, MEPs voted to reject the whole text of the report as it had been amended during the course of the preceding debate. Organisations promoting human dignity expressed their satisfaction at the vote, because the rejection of the report was better than the adoption of a bad report. Resolutions of the European parliament technically have no legal force but nevertheless carry significant moral weight. [Euro-Fam , 29 November] A fertility expert in the US has warned that so-called selective foeticide is becoming increasingly common. Mark Evans, chairman of obstetrics and gynaecology at MCP Hahnemann university in Philadelphia, said that women who put off having children until their 30s or 40s felt that they could only cope with one child and so often requested the selective abortion of one of their babies when they became pregnant with twins. Foetal reductions usually involve the injection of a toxic substance into the heart of the selected unborn child. [The Age, 28 November ] Selective foeticide appears to be used frequently by mothers conceiving twins naturally and not only by those using in vitro fertilisation. Pope John Paul II has urged doctors to "defend without compromises the life and dignity of the person, in respect of the moral law. Addressing a group of doctors at the end of yesterday's general papal audience, the Pope condemned human cloning and said: "True humanism can never allow methods and experiments that are scientifically and systematically programmed threats against human life." [Zenit, 28 November ]

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