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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 31 March 2003

31 March 2003

31 March 2003 Destructive embryonic stem cell research in Britain may be restricted or even banned by the European Union, according to one of the country's most influential research administrators. Dr Mike Dexter, who has just retired as director of the Wellcome Trust - the UK's largest research charity - said that future directives and funding decisions emanating from Brussels could regulate embryonic research so tightly that it would become impracticable. Dr Dexter, whose organisation has awarded grants worth £5.5 million for embryonic stem cell research, blamed the hostility in Europe to such projects on "religious views" and claimed that the British attitude was "more perceptive and thoughtful" than elsewhere in Europe. The UK has the most liberal legislation in the world on stem cell research and experimental cloning. [The Times, 29 March] Many European countries oppose destructive research on embryos, but the European Commission is known to support it. A group which represents Catholic doctors across Latin America is launching a campaign to increase awareness of the anti-life nature of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and the morning-after pill. Dr Francisco Díaz Herrera, president of the Latin American Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, warned that "death itself [wa]s beginning to be institutionalised" as issues such as the right to life from conception until natural death were being questioned as if they were simply a matter of opinion. [Zenit, 28 March ] Abortion is outlawed completely or tightly restricted in every Latin American country except Cuba and US-controlled Puerto Rico. The British government has announced that it will support a private members bill introduced in the House of Commons to allow IVF children to have their biological father named on their birth certificate even if he died before they were created. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Deceased Fathers) Bill, tabled by Labour backbench MP Stephen McCabe, is intended to close a loophole in the law highlighted by Diane Blood who was allowed by the courts to conceive IVF children with the sperm of her dead husband. The bill received cross-party backing when it was debated by MPs on Friday. [ePolitix, 28 March] Figures released by Canada's official statistics agency on Friday indicated that 105,427 unborn children were killed in registered abortions in 2000, 0.2% fewer than in 1999. The abortion rate of 15.4 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 was the same as in 1999, although the number of induced abortions for every 100 live births increased to 32.2 from 31.3 in 1999. The abortion rate increased in every province except Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia. The statistics do not include chemical abortions procured by RU-486 during the current testing phase, or early abortions resulting from use of the morning-after pill or abortifacient methods of regular birth control. Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, commented: "Statistics are cold numbers but each one of these precious babies before birth were human beings who were systematically dismembered by doctors in procedures paid for by the taxpayers." [LifeSite and The Daily from Statistics Canada , 28 March] A Christian interest group within Britain's opposition Conservative party has unveiled a policy proposal to ensure fully informed abortion consent. At a meeting organised by the Conservative Christian Fellowship in Glasgow, two Conservative party members presented a paper which recommends a change in the law to require women who request an abortion to be informed of the alternatives, the physical and emotional risks and the exact nature of the procedure. Women would also be given an ultrasound scan so that they could see their unborn child before deciding whether to proceed, and a waiting period of 48 hours would be mandatory to give women time to reflect on their decision. The writers of the document hope that the policy will be acceptable even to those who support access to abortion. There will now be a consultation process before the draft policy is proposed to the Conservative party leadership. [CCF, 31 March] The creator of Dolly the sheep, the world's first adult cloned mammal, has given his strongest warning yet about the dangers of human cloning. Professor Ian Wilmut said that there was "increasing direct evidence" that the cloning process led to the activation of certain genes at the wrong stages of development, and that any attempt to clone humans for reproductive purposes would result in late abortions, stillbirths and babies with very short life-spans. Dolly was put down earlier this year after developing a serious lung disease. [Scotland on Sunday, 30 March ] The inherent flaws and dangers of the cloning process not only cast doubt on the viability of reproductive cloning but also on the safety and feasibility of so-called therapeutic cloning. The Green Party in England and Wales has issued a statement which notes that women can suffer psychological as well as medical complications after an abortion. The statement quotes Martyn Shrewsbury, the party's spokesman on health and social services, who works as a psychotherapist in Wales and has first-hand experience of the "depression, numbness, loss and guilt" suffered by many women after they have an abortion. The statement calls on the government "to take action as the abortion rate continues to rise" and recommends more accessible contraception and better sex education in schools to reduce the number of abortions. [Green Party, 31 March ] There is no evidence that increased provision of contraception reduces the abortion rate, and many forms of so-called contraception, especially 'emergency contraception', can cause early abortions. The Green Party has no representation in the UK parliament but does have two members of the European parliament. Pope John Paul II has reminded Catholic bishops that they are "the first ones called to be untiring teachers of the Gospel of Life". In his address to Indonesian bishops on their five-yearly Ad Limina visit to the Vatican, the Pope quoted from his 1995 encyclical 'Evangelium Vitae' on life issues by warning of a true "conspiracy against life" appearing in many forms, including abortion, and insisted that "the Church's prophetic voice must loudly proclaim the need to respect the divine law written on every heart". [Zenit, 30 March ]

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