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News, 21 October 2003

21 October 2003

21 October 2003 The trial has begun in China of more than 50 people charged with selling baby girls, The Guardian reports. 118 babies are thought to have been sold to couples nationally by doctors and midwives since 2001, through a network of smugglers and intermediaries. As a result of the preference for boys in the country, there is a huge gender imbalance with 117 males born for every 100 females. In the Guangxi province, the ratio is 126 boys to 100 girls, with many baby girls being aborted. [The Guardian, 21 October ] Researchers at Stanford University Medical Centre, California, have discovered abnormalities in nerve cell structures that may be responsible for brain damage in people with Down's Syndrome. It is hoped that targeting the genes responsible could result in successful treatment of the condition in the future. "People thought that once you're born with Down Syndrome, that's it; you can't make the brain better. But we know that is not true about brains," said William Mobley, paediatric neurologist at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford. "Brains are plastic. We may not be able to cure this disease, but we may be able to make people's lives better." It is thought that drugs could eventually be developed to switch off the genes in the extra chromosome that causes Down's Syndrome, though drugs of this kind will not be available for at least 10 years. [Better Humans, 17 October ] Researchers have raised fears that the abortifacient contraceptive injection Depo Provera could increase risk of osteoporosis, the BBC reports. Dr Jennifer Walsh of the Bone Metabolism Group at Sheffield University said that women should not be alarmed or stop using the drug. "The amount of bone loss we are looking at is between 3-4%. It is not a big amount," she said. However, she added: "Bones grow until you are about 30, but if this process is interrupted in some way, an individual may fail to reach their potential peak of bone strength... Contraceptives which alter hormonal activity could have some effect." [BBC, 20 October ] The latest issue of the Australasian Bioethics newsletter has warned that a new test for Down's Syndrome could lead to the eventual elimination of Down's Syndrome babies. Journalist Mark Bannerman warned: "It's now clear that without a major education campaign to accompany mass screening for Down Syndrome, we may never see children like this again." 98% of women in Australia who discover that they are carrying a baby with Down's Syndrome have an abortion. [Australasian Bioethics, 14 October ] Alison Davis, co-ordinator of No Less Human, commented: "If we were speaking about a rare kind of animal, people would be appalled at its destruction. We should be equally appalled at attempts to eliminate a human minority by deliberate killing." [SPUC source] Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine have found that bone marrow cells can fuse with specialised brain cells and possibly repair damage, Science Daily reports. The findings seem to indicate that adult stem cells fuse with other cell types such as muscle or brain cells to form a single entity with two nuceii. According to Dr Helen Blau, this biological mechanism could be used to repair damage caused by stroke, injury or conditions such as Parkinson's. [Science Daily, 16 October ] The Florida House of Representatives has voted to pass a law that would place a moratorium on deaths by omission and could save Terri Schiavo's life. Governor Bush stated: "President King, Speaker Byrd and others in the Legislature recognise the unique and tragic circumstances of Ms Schiavo's case, and I am hopeful that Legislature will pass a bill immediately." [LifeNews.com, 20 October ] Terri Schiavo's husband Michael has asked for her body to be cremated if she dies, raising suspicions that he is trying to prevent an investigation into the causes of her collapse 13 years ago. A bone scan taken in 1991 showed that Terri had suffered 'previous traumas', indicating that she may have been beaten or abused, allegations that are denied by Mr Schiavo. [LifeNews.com, 20 October ]

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