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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 23 October 2001

23 October 2001

The student union at Sheffield University in England has been forced to climb down over its decision to block the establishment of a university pro-life society. The union had refused to allow an official pro-life society on the basis that it would contravene policies against "discrimination, harassment and intimidation" [see news digest for 21 May 2001], but the union has now admitted that its actions were illegal. Tom Rogers, president of the pro-life society in Sheffield, said: "Naturally we are very pleased to have been vindicated ... I never fail to be astounded by the lengths some will go to in order to silence any defence of the unborn." [Student LifeNet media release, 22 October]

Scientists in the United States are trying to create human embryos by parthenogenesis to provide a source of stem cells. The technique involves the coaxing of unfertilised eggs to grow into early embryos without the introduction of sperm. The Times newspaper in Britain reports that the embryos "would be incapable of developing into children" but this assertion is rejected by the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute in Australia. A spokesperson points out that Dr Jerry Hall and Dr Yan-Ling Feng in Los Angeles have managed to make eggs duplicate their own chromosomes to create the number needed to start cell division. This means that each new embryo generated through parthenogenesis would have a full compliment of 46 chromosomes and would be an individual human being. Parthenogenesis is, therefore, a form of cloning. There is no reason why such embryos should not be able to live into adulthood, other than that the technique involved is currently flawed and undeveloped. The spokesperson adds that the embryos would have to live for at least five or six days in order for the inner cell mass to develop. It is from this that stem cells are extracted. In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has said that the creation of human embryos by parthenogenesis for so-called therapeutic uses would be legal. [The Times and Adelaide Advertiser, 23 October]

Members of the British House of Lords have called on the government to stop funding organisations complicit in China's one-child policy and other coercive population control programmes, citing the United Nations Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Moving an amendment last week to the International Development bill, Conservative peer Baroness Cox, an evangelical Christian, said: "British taxpayers' money is giving financial sustenance to the coercive one-child policy. The evidence shows that in China today, British taxpayers' money may be being used to promote forced abortion and sterilisation." [House of Lords Hansard, 18 October]

A French court ruling which seems to give disabled people a right to be aborted has reportedly sparked heated controversy. After 13 years of litigation, France's highest court recently awarded damages not only to the mother of an 18-year-old handicapped man for his so-called wrongful birth, but also to the man himself. Nicholas Perruche is severely disabled because his mother contracted German measles during pregnancy. Mr Perruche's mother says that she would have had an abortion if her measles had been confirmed, but doctors failed to diagnose it. Medics, ethicists and advocacy groups for the handicapped have expressed concerns about the implications of the ruling. Jean Hauser, professor of family law at the university of Bordeaux, said that, if doctors were to be held responsible for the condition of babies they allowed to be born, they would be more likely to recommend abortions at the first suspicion of abnormality. [New York Times, via Orange County Register, 21 October]

A British rock band has released a recording of a song about the abortifacient morning-after pill. The track by Turin Brakes [who have been nominated for the music magazine Q's best newcomer award] is entitled "72". Speaking on BBC Radio 1, two members of the group explained: "It's about the 72 hours after the romantic interlude with somebody that you have to find the morning-after pill. We just thought it was kind of a funny, modern thing everyone we know in the whole world has been through at least once." [Ananova, 17 October]

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