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News, 4 April 2002

4 April 2002

4 April 2002 John Howard, the Australian prime minister, has disappointed pro-lifers by writing to the premiers of all Australia's states and territories to propose the authorisation of destructive stem cell research on surplus in vitro fertilisation (IVF) embryos. Ahead of tomorrow's meeting to decide on a national policy, Mr Howard urged the premiers to support a comprehensive ban on human cloning but to authorise strictly regulated research on surplus IVF embryos. He said that all members of his coalition government, including ministers, would be allowed a free conscience vote on the proposals. Mr Howard claimed to be against abortion, but continued: "The central ethical issue here is that I have been personally unable to find a huge moral distinction between allowing the human embryo to succumb as a result of its exposure to room temperature, and ending it through research." [Sydney Morning Herald and The Age , 4 April] SPUC has praised a speech given by the United States representative at this week's United Nations Commission meeting on population and development in New York. Mr Sichan Siv, the US ambassador to the UN Economic and Social Council, condemned the term "reproductive health services" because it could be interpreted as promoting the legalisation or expansion of legal abortion, and insisted that the promotion of sexual abstinence was the most effective way of ensuring adolescent health and preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Peter Smith, the chief administrative officer for SPUC at the United Nations, said: "The new US administration is finally showing its true colours. The speech by Ambassador Siv captured the essence of President Bush's policy on population and related issues. In the last eight years of attending UN conferences, I have never heard a speech so good." In contrast, delegates from European Union countries spoke strongly in favour of the pro-abortion United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). [SPUC, 4 April; LifeSite, 3 April ] It is reported that the terminally ill woman whose intention to kill herself has aroused a debate on euthanasia in Australia [see news digest for 26 March ] may reconsider her decision after successful pain relief treatment. Nancy Crick, a 70-year-old with bowel cancer, was admitted to the palliative care ward of a hospital two days ago and given morphine. In her diary, published on her own website, she writes: "So far this has helped me a lot with the pain control and I'm pleased with the way things are going." [The Age, 4 April ] Pro-lifers in Nebraska are taking legal action against Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the USA, for its policy of writing open prescriptions for the abortifacient morning-after pill. Planned Parenthood announced last month that it was providing blank prescriptions for the morning-after pill which women could fill in when they needed it, but Bob Blank, president of Nebraskans United for Life, claims that this is "nothing less than making the morning-after pill equivalent to a non-prescription drug". Mr Blank has asked the attorney general to determine whether the practice is legal and, in response, the Nebraska Health and Human Services System has been asked to investigate. [Omaha World-Herald, 29 March ] New research has suggested that high levels of certain chemicals found in British indoor swimming pools may be harming unborn babies. A report published in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal by Dr Mark Nieuwenhuijsen of London's Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine warns that trihalomethanes, which are formed when chlorine in swimming pools reacts with organic matter such as skin cells or body care products, could be linked to miscarriages and developmental anomalies in unborn children. He called for levels of chlorine to be reduced. A spokesman for the British Swimming Pool Federation said that the findings demonstrated "the importance of pre-swim showering which simply cannot be overemphasised". [Sky News and London Evening Standard , 4 April]

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