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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 17 January 2003

17 January 2003

17 January 2003 The Roman Catholic Church has insisted that Catholic politicians "have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life". The unambiguous teaching was given in an 18-page "Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life" prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and issued by the Vatican yesterday. The document, which was approved by Pope John Paul II, observes that "a kind of cultural relativism exists today, evident in the conceptualisation and defence of an ethical pluralism", but affirms that Catholic legislators "cannot compromise" on a "correct understanding of the human person" and must "defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death". In so doing, they must also "recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the embryo". The document states that for legislators, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote laws which attack human life, or to vote for them. However, an elected official may licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by a permissive abortion law when "it is not possible to overturn or completely repeal a law allowing abortion which is already in force or coming up for a vote". [News report and original Vatican document from Zenit, 16 January; International Herald Tribune , 17 January] Reports suggest that the German government is seeking to change its position on the extent of an international convention to ban human cloning. France and Germany have been the two main promoters of a proposal to ban only 'reproductive' cloning, in contrast to the position adopted by Spain, the USA and others in favour of a comprehensive ban. However, Kerstin Mueller, an official at the German foreign ministry, has claimed that the government now wishes to promote a worldwide cloning ban in line with German national law, under which cloning for all purposes is prohibited. However, it appears that the new German policy would allow countries to make their own reservations to an international convention which could leave the way open for cloning to continue. [C-FAM, 17 January ] The government of Chile has turned down a request from the Chilean Medical Association to grant special authorisation for a so-called therapeutic abortion. The case in question is that of Griselle Rojas, aged 27, whose unborn child is thought to have no long-term chance of survival and whom doctors believe is at risk of death if the pregnancy continues. However, abortion is forbidden in all cases under Chile's pro-life constitution, and the health ministry has confirmed that no body within the country has the power to approve the procedure. [Agencia EFE, 16 January; via Northern Light ] An inquest judge in the Canadian province of Manitoba has said that a law should be passed to protect unborn children from maternal substance abuse. The suggestion was contained within a list of recommendations made by Judge Linda Giesbrecht in her report on the suicide of a 15-year-old in 1999. The judge said that the teenager's psychiatric problems had started before he was born when his mother was a chronic alcoholic. A tendency to suicide in later life is thought to be one of the many effects of foetal alcohol damage. Previous Canadian court rulings have held that an unborn child is not a person and, therefore, is not permitted to any legal protection. [The Edmonton Sun, 17 January ] The health committee of the lower house of the Mexican Congress has promised legislation to ban human cloning for all purposes because cloning "damages human dignity and the right to life, consecrated by the Constitution." Maria Eugenia Galvan, the committee's chairwoman, said that the measure would be debated soon, and that all human cloning would "be banned in both its reproductive and therapeutic forms, namely, for use in tissue repair, as the technique can be carried out satisfactorily without using embryos, but using umbilical cord or bone marrow stem cells". [Agencia EFE, 15 January; via Northern Light ] Researchers in the US may have made a discovery which may help to explain how a human embryo implants in the lining of his or her mother's womb. The way in which an embryo stops at the right place in the womb for implantation is not fully understood. Now a team at the University of California at San Francisco has found that some embryos exude a sticky protein on their surfaces which stops them as they roll along the sides of the womb and interacts with another substance produced in the womb's lining when the time for implantation is right. Dr Roger Searle, director of anatomy and clinical skills at the University of Newcastle in England, said that the findings were more evidence of a "dialogue" between a newly conceived embryo and his or her mother's body. [BBC News online, 17 January ]

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