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News, 29 August 2002

29 August 2002

29 August 2002 Protestants and Catholics in Scotland have condemned plans to establish the UK's first embryonic stem cell bank. A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said that the Church was completely opposed both to the use of embryos in research and to asking parents to donate their embryos for this purpose. The Church of Scotland's board of social responsibility, despite its support for IVF fertility treatment, also condemned the plans, which it said amounted to cannibalism. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, Britain's third largest political party, welcomed the news, as did Dr Harry Griffin, assistant director of the Roslin Institute which cloned Dolly the sheep, and the charity Diabetes UK. [The Scotsman and Liberal Democrat press release , 29 August] A group of legislators in Iran have tabled a bill which would legalise abortion in cases of foetal handicap. The legislation would permit so-called preventative abortions in the first four months of pregnancy if three doctors certified that an unborn child was "malformed". Abortion is currently illegal in Iran except to save the mother's life. On Tuesday the Iranian parliament adopted a measure authorising IVF treatment for infertile couples, although this still has to be approved by the conservative Guardians' Council. [AFP, 28 August, via Pro-Life E-News] A team of scientists in London has succeeded in making stem cells extracted from human embryos grow in the laboratory for the first time in Britain. The scientists are based at King's College London, one of only two institutions in the UK currently licensed to carry out general medical experiments on human embryos. Dr Stephen Minger of the Centre for Neuroscience Research at King's College said: "What I hope we have here is a population of human embryonic stem cells. I would stress that it's early days, we have only had these cells in culture for about three weeks." [The Guardian, 29 August] The UK has some of the most liberal regulations relating to destructive embryonic research in the world. John Howard, the Australian prime minister, is reported to be reconsidering the $43.6 million government grant he announced in May for Professor Alan Trounson's Centre for Stem Cells and Tissue Repair in Melbourne. Professor Trounson has been accused of misleading MPs about the potential of embryonic stem cell research during the current debate on a bill to authorise the practice [see yesterday's news digest ]. Members of the House of Representatives, Australia's lower house of parliament, are now debating whether to split the bill into two measures so that the proposed ban on human cloning could be voted on separately. It is reported that a majority of MPs support destructive embryonic research but oppose human cloning. [The Canberra Times and ABC News , 29 August] China's state family planning commission has denied reports in the Western media that it plans to abolish its strict population control policy. The commission stated that the reports were simply not true, and that its system of birth quotas and permits would remain in place for the foreseeable future. A spokesman for the commission said that there might be changes within the next 10 to 20 years if economic conditions meant that families could afford to have more children, but that any changes would be incremental and not sudden. [Straits Times, 24 August ] China's coercive population control policy entails forced abortions and widespread use of the abortifacient IUD.

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