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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 30 May 2003

30 May 2003

An 84-year-old man has been told that he will not be prosecuted over the death of his wife last year, a New Zealand news agency has reported. Ralph Vincent, whose wife Vicky was found dead with a plastic bag over her head after years of ill health, was told by police that charges of assisting suicide would not be brought against him due to insufficient evidence. Mr Vincent left for Australia yesterday, where he is due to speak at a seminar organised by the Exit organisation. He stated, 'in those dire circumstances where a person considers life not worth living, then they should be allowed... to die with family around them and not have to slink off by themselves to die miserably and alone.' [, May 29]

In an open letter, Peter Smith, Archbishop of Cardiff and Chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship, has urged Catholic peers to speak out against Lord Joffe's Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill when it is debated in the House of Lords on June 6, and to vote against it. Archbishop Smith reminded peers that 'the first and foundational human right is the right to life, and the first duty of the state is to protect that right by safeguarding the lives of its citizens.' He warned of the 'massive social consequences' of legal euthanasia and the need for good, compassionate palliative care for those suffering serious or terminal illness. 'Such people need love,' he said, 'not an overdose.' He concluded by quoting the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics who in 1994 stated that 'the issue of euthanasia is one in which the interest of the individual cannot be separated from the interest of society as a whole.' [Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, May 25]

Lawmakers in New Hampshire have approved a bill requiring the notification of a parent or judge before girls aged under eighteen can have an abortion. Planned Parenthood of New England claim that the bill will end decades 'of libertarian heritage that respected reproductive freedom and medical privacy.' However, Governor Craig Benson who will be signing the bill shortly said, 'we ask children to get their parents' permission to get their ears pierced, to take an aspirin at school. I think this law finally puts all parental notification on the same footing.' The bill will not grant parents or judges the right to veto an abortion. [Worcester Telegram, May 29]

Researchers at the University of Idaho have produced the world's first cloned mule. Idaho Gem is the first member of the equine family to be successfully cloned. Though the implications of the breakthrough will largely effect the horse racing and breeding industries, it is claimed that the technique might shed light on the causes of some human cancers. [Guardian Unlimited, May 30, Ananova, May 30]

Researchers at Kyoto University have created a human embryonic stem cell line for the first time in Japan. The team, led by Professor Norio Nakatsuji, now hopes to donate around two million stem cells each to fifty institutes in Japan for use in a number of research projects. The projects must first be approved by the Ethics Committee of the Graduate School and Faculty of Medicine at Kyoto University. Japanese scientists have already conducted research using stem cells imported from the United States and Australia and guidelines are already in existence limiting the use of stem cells to 'basic' research. [Asahi, May 29]

UK researchers have identified a molecule or 'super cell' found in human embryos which allows the limitless multiplication of stem cells, BBC Health reports. Dr Ian Chambers, who isolated the molecule, expressed excitement at the discovery of 'a master gene', which could speed up the development of embryonic stem cell research. However, it is also hoped that the discovery could aid scientists in transforming adult stem cells into cells that have the same characteristics as embryonic stem cells. [BBC News, May 30] SPUC opposes the use of human embryos for experimental purposes but welcomes the developments being made in the area of adult stem cell research.

Liberty Counsel, an Orlando-based pro-life group which also campaigns for religious civil liberties, claim to have convinced a disabled woman to keep her baby. Last week, Judge Arthur Rothenberg gave permission to doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital to abort the 24-week-old unborn child, named 'Baby Doe' and to sterilise the woman. During the hearing on May 22, she reportedly expressed the wish for an abortion to Rothenberg with the words 'my baby no more.' Matthew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel said, 'we are very excited and very pleased with the result. We're very pleased that Baby Doe will have a chance at life now.' [The Orlando Sentinel, May 30]

The IVF clinic in which black twins were implanted into the wrong mother has been told to improve its procedures or it might lose its licence, Leeds Today reports. Following a warning from the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority that treatment at the clinic would be stopped if improvements were not made, a decision has been made to spend £750,000 on revamping the hospital. The hospital was also instructed to tighten witnessing procedures, staff have been ordered to reduce the number of monthly treatments and, following the most recent inspection, concerns have been raised about lack of space, storage and staff safety. A judge has confirmed that in the case of the twins, the black man is the official father but that they must remain with the white couple. The results of the inquiry into the error are still pending. [Leeds Today, May 30]

The decision in Melbourne to allow the withdrawal of tube feeding from a 68-year-old dementia sufferer has been criticised by the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute. A representative said: "This decision has serious implications for law and practice not only in the state of Victoria but also in other States and the Territories. To regard tube feeding as an optional medical treatment which can be removed at the direction of a guardian potentially affects all the elderly, handicapped, and unconscious persons who rely upon such assistance. Parliament never intended that such vulnerable people - people not otherwise dying - should be deprived of food and water or of the protection of law." [SPUC source]

Correction: On May 28, SPUC News Digest ran a story featured on the BBC website about the Laci Peterson murder case. The story stated that a double homicide charge could not be brought against her husband under US Federal law. However, Scott Peterson has been charged with two charges of homicide under Californian state law, which is supreme within its own jurisdiction unless it actually conflicts with federal law, which is not the case in this instance. We apologise for this error.

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