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News, 30 January 2003

30 January 2003

30 January 2003 The British government's Chief Medical Officer has written to all doctors warning them that the abortifacient morning-after pill is related to a high rate of ectopic pregnancy. Sir Liam Donaldson told doctors to be extra-vigilant when prescribing the drug, especially to women who had a prior history of ectopic pregnancy. He also ordered Schering AG, the makers of the Levonelle morning-after pill, to change the wording of the patient information leaflet to make it clearer that there was a risk of ectopic pregnancy. [Femail, 30 January; Department of Health, January 2003 ] John Smeaton, SPUC's national director, said: "This drug should immediately be removed from the market so that the available data can be fully assessed. It is being given out by the thousands of doses every day to unsuspecting women. It is immoral to continue to present it as an 'emergency contraceptive' when it is known to interfere after fertilisation. SPUC's efforts to insist that the safeguards of the Abortion Act should be applied to the drug were met with outright opposition by the Government and the drug's manufacturers, Schering AG, and were rebuffed by the legal authorities." The government of Poland announced this week that it will be seeking a special provision in its European Union accession treaty to safeguard Polish national sovereignty in the area of abortion legislation. The government has sent a note to Brussels insisting on a clause which states that "no EU treaties or annexes to those treaties would hamper the Polish government in regulating moral issues or those concerning the protection of human life". It is reported that the government's move is in response to the Catholic Church's demand for a protocol on abortion and concerns that pro-life opposition to EU membership could lead to a 'No' vote in the referendum on the issue later this year. [Guardian, 30 January ; AP, via Pro-Life Infonet, 29 January] Members of the British House of Commons from across the political spectrum have criticised the tactics of the pro-euthanasia lobby. 27 MPs have so far signed an early day motion on assisted suicides and euthanasia which regrets the fact that patients with motor neurone disease and similar debilitating conditions are being used by the pro-euthanasia lobby to further its ends. The motion accuses the lobby of frightening those in the early stages of such diseases, and "notes that palliative care is of such a high quality in the UK that these patients need not die in pain or fear". The motion concludes with a demand that the government "do not change the existing law, and that euthanasia in all its forms, including assisted suicide, should remain illegal". [SPUC, 30 January; EDM 568, via House of Commons Information Office ] The chief executive of Clonaid has testified on oath to a court in Florida that the world's first cloned baby is well and living in Israel. After Dr Brigitte Boisselier's testimony, Judge John Frusciante had no option other than to dismiss the petition to appoint a legal guardian for the child because the court had no jurisdiction. Clonaid, a company with links to the Raelian cult, has still not produced any evidence that the alleged cloned baby exists, and is now claiming that all contact with the baby's parents has been severed. Judge Frusciante made it clear that he was concerned about the cloning claim, but also questioned Clonaid's credibility. [FT and BBC News online , 29 January] The definitive debate on a government bill regarding reproductive technologies has begun in the Canadian parliament. LifeSite reports that the bill - which covers IVF, cloning, sperm donation and more - had been scheduled for a final reading and vote today, but that its complexity and the number of amendments meant that its passage will take longer. The Canadian Catholic bishops have praised certain elements of the bill but have urged MPs to amend it to ensure that experimentation on embryos and all human cloning are banned. Canada's Campaign Life Coalition is recommending that legislators defeat the bill because its poor definitions and other weaknesses would leave the way clear for human cloning. [LifeSite, reports 1 and 2 , 29 January] Doctors in California claim to have improved the vision of two patients with an hereditary eye condition by transplanting tissue from the retinas of aborted unborn children. A team at the Doheny Eye Institute in Los Angeles carried out the transplants on four patients with advanced retinitis pigmentosa, and recorded improvements in half of them. Alan Bird, an expert at the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, said that the results of the trial might mean that transplants of foetal eye tissue could be used to treat common eye conditions such as age-related degeneration, although other experts reacted cautiously and warned that the improvements may only be temporary. [Scotsman and BBC News online , 30 January] Legislation to ban human cloning for all purposes has been introduced in the US Senate. Senator Sam Brownback's bill is identical to a comprehensive cloning ban introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this month [see digest for 9 January ]. It had been expected that rival legislation to ban cloning for reproductive purposes only would be introduced before Senator Brownback's bill [see digest for 14 January ], but the supporters of a partial ban abandoned their plans at the last minute. [AP, via Pro-Life Infonet, 29 January]

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