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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 9 April 2003

9 April 2003

9 April 2003 A survey commissioned by British research organisations has indicated that a majority of the public support destructive medical research on human embryos in certain circumstances. The survey, commissioned by a coalition of organisations including the Parkinson's Disease Society and the Medical research Council (MRC), found that seven out of 10 people supported embryo research with a view to treating serious diseases and in fertility research. However, only a sixth of respondents supported embryo research for all types of medical research. Sir George Radda, chief executive of the MRC, said that he was encouraged by the results and added that the UK was "one of the world leaders in ethically developing this area of research within a strict legal framework". [BBC News online, 9 April ] A spokesman for SPUC disagreed and said: "The sacrificing of human life for medical research can never be ethical, and the UK has nothing to proud of in leading the world in moral infamy. Ethical adult stem cell technology is where the future lies." The final debate on a government bill to regulate human reproductive technologies has begun in the Canadian House of Commons. The bill would authorise destructive research on IVF embryos, but could also authorise human cloning despite an anti-cloning amendment already passed. Paul Szabo, an MP belonging to the governing Liberal party and an expert in this field, has warned that the bill could allow for the creation of human clones and their gestation up to nine months because it relies on the case law definition of "human being", according to which a human being is only recognised as such from birth. Despite the government's majority in the House of Commons, it is expected that the bill will have a rough ride because even a number of Liberal MPs have expressed grave reservations about it. [LifeSite and Globe and Mail , 8 April] The Republic of Ireland's National Maternity Hospital has claimed that the high number of Irish women who have abortions in Britain explains in part the decline in the percentage of women giving birth between the ages of 20 and 24. The hospital's 30-year analysis of births found a growing number of teenage births and also a growing trend towards women bearing children in their late 20s and early 30s, but a decline in births to 20 to 24-year-olds. Women in this latter age-group are also the most likely to travel outside the state to have abortions. In 1999, the number of abortions in Britain on women with addresses in the Irish Republic equated to 12% of the total number of births in Ireland. [Irish Examiner, 9 April] The state assembly of Nevada has passed an amendment which would prohibit pharmacists from refusing to dispense the abortifacient morning-after pill and other drugs on religious grounds. The move, which represented a victory for Planned Parenthood, completely altered the original intention of the bill which was to prevent employers from disciplining pharmacists who refused to provide drugs on account of their religious beliefs. A Republican assembly member is now planning to introduce a further amendment which would allow pharmacists to abstain from providing certain drugs if they had a "personal, ethical or religious" objection. [LifeSite, 8 April ; Review Journal, 4 April ] Dr Panayiotis Zavos has released a photograph of a single four-day-old embryo comprising of about eight to ten cells which he claims is "the first cloned embryo for reproductive purposes". The embryo was reportedly created by somatic cell nuclear transfer - the same technique used to produce Dolly the cloned sheep. Dr Zavos now plans to screen cloned embryos for 'defects' before he attempts to implant any inside women. Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts claimed to have produced a cloned human embryo in 1999, but this was for experimental rather than reproductive purposes. Claims by Clonaid to have produced five born-alive cloned babies remain unproved and highly doubtful. [SPUC, 9 April; with information from New Scientist, 3 April]

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