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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 10 June 2003

10 June 2003

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has granted The Roslin Institute a licence to carry out human parthenogenesis. The process involves prompting unfertilised eggs to begin dividing, in effect generating embryos without fertilisation. Parthenogenesis would not necessarily generate a 'clone' of the mother, although the Roslin Institute has expressed an interest in developing human clones. In spite of assurances from the HFEA that embryo research would be carefully regulated, the technique has been criticised from a number of quarters. Archbishop Mario Conti, a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, has accused the Roslin Institute of concealing from the public the true nature of its research, whilst a spokesperson for the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute commented: "An embryonic human being is still an embryonic human being. Where there is doubt the embryo must be treated as a human being. The suggestion that this process bypasses difficult ethical issues where the destruction of embryos is concerned is not true." [BBC News, The Telegraph, The Herald, 10 June, SPUC source]

4 in 5 babies born with heart defects now survive, compared with 1 in 5 forty years ago, The Times reports. Only twenty years, a baby born with a major heart defect had little chance of surviving as far as adolescence, but with vastly improved diagnosis and surgical treatment, it is now possible for women with heart problems to have children of their own. The Times report focuses on the case of a twenty-six-year-old woman who gave birth to a healthy baby shortly after having heart valve surgery, thanks to the pioneering work of the High Risk Cardiac Obstetric clinic linked with the Great Ormond Street Hospital. However, many heart patients are unaware of the specialist help available during pregnancy or are wrongly advised against having children on health grounds. The British Heart Foundation is calling for more specialist services to be established nation-wide. [The Times, 10 June]

Health Canada has given initial approval to over-the-counter sales of the Morning After Pill, following an application by distributors in March last year. The Canadian Pharmacists Association and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada collaborated on the submission. The government will now request public feedback on the subject before changing the drug's status. Campaign Life Coalition has urged Health Canada to reject the change, as the pill 'acts upon the uterine lining to make it hostile to the implantation of the human embryo. This would be analogous to leaving a newborn baby alone in the desert and is clearly an abortifacient action.' [Canada LifeSite, 9 June]

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have discovered a protein that prevents alcohol from interfering with neuron activity during brain development, according to a report in New Scientist. It is hoped that this could pave the way for a drug to protect unborn babies from maternal alcohol abuse. Foetal Alcohol Syndrome currently affects up to 3 babies in every 1000 births in the United States and is the biggest preventable cause of mental impairment in American children. Mary Velasquez, a behavioural researcher at the University of Texas-Houston Sciences Center, said that a drug would be welcome but expressed concern about leaving women free to continue drinking throughout pregnancy because of the other social and health-related problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Alcohol Concern in the UK stresses that the consumption of 1 or 2 units once or twice weekly is unlikely to cause harm but recent studies have reported that even light drinking may be detrimental to foetal development. [New Scientist, 10 June]

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