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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 16 April 2002

16 April 2002

16 April 2002 The people of Switzerland will vote in a referendum on whether to legalise abortion on 2 June. While abortion officially remains illegal, it is already tolerated and there are thought to be between 12,000 and 13,000 abortions carried out each year. If the referendum proposal is passed, abortion would be legalised in the first trimester of pregnancy, but the plan faces strong opposition from a number of political parties and religious groups. 119 political and Church representatives have issued a joint statement opposing abortion and affirming that human life begins at conception. [NZZ online, 16 April ] Scientists in China have called for national legislation to permit human cloning for research purposes and ban the implantation of clones in women. 20 biologists, doctors and philosophers in Shanghai have urged the city's government to establish an ethics committee to monitor embryonic stem cell research after claims were made that Chinese Professor Lu Guangxiu had successfully created more than 100 human clones for destructive research. The calls were supported by Chinese participants at the Human Genome Organisation's international conference last weekend. [The Guardian, 16 April ] The former chairwoman of the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has said that fertility clinics should be made to pay financial penalties when twins and triplets are born as a result of in vitro fertilisation treatment. Professor Ruth Deech said that the penalties were necessary to limit the number of multiple births which were burdening the National Health Service. There were 285 sets of triplets born in the UK in 2000. In the same year there were 37 cases of so-called selective reduction, whereby one or more unborn babies in a multiple pregnancy were selectively aborted to reduce the number who would be born. [BBC News online, 13 April ; Office for National Statistics, abortion statistics 2000 ] Pope John Paul II has warned that the pursuit of profit in the pharmaceutical industry is leading to unethical medicine. In a letter addressed to the apostolic nuncio in Poland and released by the Vatican last Thursday, the Pope wrote: "The pharmaceutical industry has favoured research which has already placed on the world market products contrary to the moral good, including products which are not respectful of procreation and even suppress human life already conceived." By way of example, the Pope observed that destructive embryonic stem cell research had received heavy investment while "acceptable and scientifically valid programmes using adult stem cells for the same therapies, with no less success, draw little support because lower profits are anticipated". [EWTN News, 12 April ] A representative of the Anglican church in The Gambia has told a meeting on population and development in the capital Banjul that abortion contravenes the teachings of Christianity as a religion which recognises the sanctity of human life. Rev Sam K Anumihe was speaking on behalf of the Anglican bishop of The Gambia at an inter-denominational meeting aimed at formulating a common Christian position on population and development issues. [, 15 April; via Northern Light ] Dr Jack Kevorkian, a prominent campaigner for euthanasia in the United States who is serving 10 to 25 years in prison for a so-called mercy killing that was filmed and broadcast on national television, has had his request for a new trial rejected by the supreme court of Michigan. Dr Kevorkian claims that his conviction was unconstitutional, but the court rejected his arguments on a 6-1 decision. Dr Kevorkian's lawyers now hope to take the case to the US Supreme Court. [CBS News, 11 April ] Byron R White, one of the two US Supreme Court justices who dissented from the 1973 Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton judgements which declared a constitutional right to abortion, has died aged 84. In his dissenting opinion attached to the Doe v Bolton judgement, Justice White wrote: "In a sensitive area such as this, involving as it does issues over which reasonable men may easily and heatedly differ, I cannot accept the Court's exercise of its clear power of choice by interposing a constitutional barrier to state efforts to protect human life and by investing mothers and doctors with the constitutionally protected right to exterminate it." [AP, 15 April ; text of US Supreme Court judgement, 1973 ]

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