News, 10 January 2002
10 January 2002
10 January 2002 The French parliament today passed legislation overturning the "wrongful birth" ruling by the country's highest court in relation to handicapped babies. The new law, which states that "nobody can claim to have been harmed simply by being born", was passed in response to three recent legal cases in which children with developmental anomalies were granted compensation for the failure of doctors to recommend their abortion. French pre-natal specialists had refused to carry out any more ultrasound tests on unborn children until the law was changed because they feared claims for damages if any anomalies were missed. [BBC News online, 10 January ] The Catholic diocese of Limburg in Germany is continuing to participate in the statutory pregnancy counselling system, through which women may obtain the necessary certificate for an abortion, despite the fact that the first of this month marked the deadline set by the papal nuncio for all dioceses to withdraw from the scheme. Pope John Paul II said in 2000 that no Catholic pregnancy counselling centres in Germany should issue the certificate needed for a legal abortion, and Bishop Franz Kamphaus of Limburg is the only bishop who has refused to comply. It remains to be seen what action will now be taken against the bishop. [Frankfurter Allgemeine in English, 9 January] Britain's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against an advertisement placed by the UK Life League. The advertisement, which appeared in Catholic and Anglican newspapers, described abortion facilities as "death mills" and condemned "teenage sex clinics". The ASA ruled that the advertisement was offensive. [BBC News online, 9 January ] The ASA is also trying to stop SPUC referring to the morning-after pill as an abortifacient in its advertisements, although SPUC is defying the ruling. One in four rats which received injections of embryonic stem cells in an experiment to treat Parkinson's disease developed tumours. Researchers at the Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital in Massachusetts injected the cells from rat embryos into the brains of 19 rats which exhibited the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. While there was some success in treating the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, the incidence of tumours indicates the potential dangers of embryonic stem cell technology. [AP, via Yahoo! News , and LifeSite , 8 January] The use of adult stem cells, as an ethical alternative to the use of embryonic cells, does not appear to carry the same risk of developing tumours. A district court judge in Utah has ruled that murder can apply to an unborn child, whether or not the child could be born alive. Judge Michael Allphin was ruling in the case of Mrs Susan MacGuire who was shot and killed a year ago when she was 13 to 15 weeks' pregnant. Prosecutors charged Mrs MacGuire's ex-husband with two counts of capital murder, but defence attorneys claimed that there was only one death because the unborn child had not yet reached the age of viability. Judge Allphin said that the term "unborn child" in Utah's homicide laws clearly referred to viable and non-viable foetuses alike. It is likely that Utah's supreme court will now be asked to adjudicate on the issue. [Zenit, 8 January ] A Canadian woman is suing two doctors who failed to detect her pregnancy despite five visits to a clinic, one of which was less than a month before she gave birth to a daughter. The child is now three years old, but the woman from Quebec claims that she would have had an abortion if her pregnancy had been confirmed. [LifeSite, 8 January ] A gynaecologist and a scientist in the UK are facing charges of neglecting to take proper care of frozen human embryos by holding them without permission and failing to let them die. Paul Fielding, an embryologist, and Robert Bates, a gynaecologist, both from Hampshire, England, are set to be the first people to face prosecution under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. The men allegedly kept human embryos without permission and failed to follow instructions to let them die at the North Hampshire Hospital Fertility Centre and the Hampshire Clinic, both in Basingstoke. [The Times, 10 January ] A humanist counsellor in the Netherlands is facing charges of illegally assisting the suicide of an 81-year-old woman. Dutch prosecutors allege that the counsellor was present when the woman took an overdose of pills and then placed a plastic bag over her head. Active euthanasia became legal in the Netherlands on 1 January, but Els Borst, the country's health minister, said that she expected the national debate on euthanasia and assisted suicide to continue for another 10 years. Mrs Borst suggested last year that the law should be further liberalised to allow old people who had grown "tired of life" to take a suicide pill. [BBC News online, 4 January ; SPUC news digest, 17 April 2001 ] The new mayor of New York City is committed to making abortion a standard part of training for obstetricians and gynaecologists in the city's hospitals. Mike Bloomberg, who took over from Rudolph Giuliani on 1 January, included the pledge in his campaign documents. Pro-abortion groups have expressed their delight at the news. Lois Backus, executive director of Medical Students for Choice, said: "It's extremely brave. No other publicly funded system has had the courage to say, 'We're going to spend our tax dollars pursuing this priority,' to my knowledge." Lori Hougens of the New York State Right to Life Committee described the plan as a "tragic disgrace". [The Village Voice, 9 January ] A spokesman for Health Canada, the department of the Canadian federal government responsible for health matters, has said that there are no plans at present to reclassify the abortifacient morning-after pill as a drug available from pharmacists without prescription. Ryan Baker said: "We have to see evidence that it can be safe enough that you can pick it up off a shelf like Sudafed" [a popular decongestant]. However, the spokesman refused to comment on reports that doctors were giving women advance prescriptions for the morning-after pill, and added that individual Canadian provinces could reclassify the morning-after pill if they wished. [LifeSite, 9 January ] Researchers in the United States have claimed that exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) produced by electrical household appliances can cause miscarriages. The Kaiser Foundation Research Institute in California monitored 622 women and found that those who were exposed to high EMFs were three times more likely to miscarry in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy than those not exposed to the EMFs. Other experts have disputed the claims because there could be many other factors involved in miscarriage. [BBC News online, 9 January ] The David and Lucile Packard Foundation has pledged another $1 million to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) to compensate it for losing US federal aid. [IPPF, 2 January ] The IPPF, an international provider and promoter of abortion, is barred from receiving US federal funds under the so-called Mexico City policy, which was reintroduced by President Bush on his first working day in office.