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News, 24 April 2003

24 April 2003

24 April 2003 Scientists in the United States claim to have produced human embryos by parthenogenesis for the first time. A team led by David Wininger at the Stemron company in Maryland claims to have succeeded in growing unfertilised human eggs to the blastocyst stage - the point at which embryonic stem cells can be extracted for medical research purposes. The technique has already worked with mice and monkeys, but this is thought to be the first time it has worked with humans. [icCroydon, 24 April ; The Age, 25 April ] The scientists claimed that the technique avoided the moral objections to other means of obtaining embryonic stem cells because the resulting embryos had no chance of surviving longer than a few days. However, pro-lifers strongly disagreed. A spokesman for SPUC commented: "Parthenogenesis is a form of cloning whereby an unfertilised egg is manipulated in the laboratory to duplicate its genetic material and become an embryo without being fertilised by sperm. The resulting embryo has a full set of chromosomes and is clearly human. Theoretically such embryos could grow into adulthood; in any case, the status of a human embryo is not affected by how long he or she can be expected to survive." [SPUC, 24 April; see digests for 23 October 2001 and 1 February 2002 ] Two teams of researchers in Britain and Australia have concluded that the level of exposure to folic acid in the womb may affect an unborn child's chances of developing leukaemia in later life. The British researchers found that children with a gene variation which made their bodies unable to break down folic acid had a significantly lower risk of leukaemia, and the Australian researchers found that women who took folic acid supplements during pregnancy almost halved their children's chances of developing leukaemia. [BBC News online, 24 April ] Folic acid is already known to protect against neural tube defects such as spina bifida, and it was reported only this week that it might also protect against Down's syndrome. It is reported that one of the foremost promoters of abortion in the US senate has been asked by his local bishop to remove wording in his campaign material and congressional biography in which he identifies himself as a Catholic. Senator Tom Daschle, the Democrat minority leader in the Senate who represents South Dakota, self-identifies himself as a Catholic despite his vehement support for abortion, but a local newspaper reported last week that Bishop Robert Carlson of Sioux Falls had told him to stop. Neither the bishop nor Senator Daschle have denied the report, although a press release issued by Bishop Carlson's office noted only that Senator Daschle had been asked "to reconsider his position with regard to abortion". [LifeSite, 17 and 22 April] Campaigners in favour of abortion in Canada have complained that only 17% of hospitals in the country provide the procedure. The Canadian Abortion Rights Action League has released a report which claims that only 23% of hospitals in Ontario [Canada's most populous province] and only 5% of hospitals in Alberta [the fourth most populous province] provide abortions. No hospitals in either Nunavut or Prince Edward Island provide abortions, and abortions are only available at one centre in Manitoba. [The Winnipeg Sun, 24 April ] Pro-abortionists and pro-lifers in Canada are at odds over whether elective abortion is a "medically necessary procedure" which provinces are obliged to fund by law. Legislators in Mexico have passed a law which bans "all acts that hinder women's access to information about reproductive health and contraceptives or that prevent them from deciding on the spacing of their children" [UN Wire translation]. The legislation appears to be concerned with protecting women's reproductive, property and labour rights. [UN Wire, 23 April] Many forms of birth control described as contraceptives can work as abortifacients. Abortion law in Mexico is determined at the state level, and most states have restrictive laws.

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