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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 14 September 2004

14 September 2004

14 September 2004 The director of the disability rights organisation Changing Perspectives has warned that the Mental Capacity Bill 'creates an imbalance of power between decision-maker and person without capacity' and 'threatens the gains made by civil rights legislation and our right to make decisions for ourselves.' Changing Perspectives is a member of I Decide, a coalition of disabled people's organisations opposing the bill. [The Guardian, 10 September ] The UK high court has issued an adoption order to a couple whose IVF twins were born with five parents, one of whom is also their grandmother. The twins were donated to the infertile couple as embryos by an unidentified couple but the woman was incapable of carrying them and they were implanted into her mother's womb. Bryan Woodward, the embryologist who supervised the treatment claimed: "People's opposition to such arrangements is dying down." A spokesman for Comment on Reproductive Ethics cited abortion as part of the problem, as there are now almost no newborn babies for adoption. [The Times of London, 12 September ] A US federal court has struck down the law banning partial-birth abortion. US District Judge Richard Kopf said that the ban was 'unreasonable and not supported by substantial evidence', accepting the view of opponents that the procedure could be necessary to protect a woman's health. Judge Kopf is the third judge to ban enforcement of the ban, but the Justice Department has said that it 'will continue to defend the law to protect innocent new life from partial birth abortion' and has already appealed the San Francisco case. President Bush described the ban as affirming "a basic standard of humanity, the duty of the strong to protect the weak." [Reuters, 8 September ] The father of Holly Patterson, the 18-year-old from California who died after taking the abortion drug Mifepristone, is to begin a week of meetings with Food and Drug Administration Officials and congressional staff. Rep. Jim DeMint introduced a bill entitled the 'RU-486 Suspension and Review Act of 2003' last November which has 84 co-sponsors and, according to a spokesman for Senator DeMint, a large body of support in the House and Senate. [Medical News Today, 13 September ] SPUC welcomed the Royal College of Nursing's rejection of the legalisation of assisted suicide and its condemnation of the notion that some lives are 'not worth living.' The RCN received an 'overwhelming response' opposing the Joffe bill to legalise assisted suicide for the terminally ill, leading SPUC to question a recent Voluntary Euthanasia Society poll which claimed that nearly half of all Britons would consider travelling abroad to commit suicide and a similar number would 'help terminally ill loved ones die.' [SPUC press release, 9 September ] The Campaign Against Euthanasia has also questioned the VES survey. Alison Davis, who is an active member of the coalition, said: "Typically the VES's polls are presented in the media in distorted language to give them a pro-euthanasia bias... The VES claim that 82% want the law to change to allow terminally ill people 'medical help to die' but what they actually want is for doctors to be allowed to kill such people. They do not say what they really mean because they know that people would not support a question saying: 'do you think doctors should be allowed to kill their patients?' Yet this is what they really seek to legalise." [Campaign Against Euthanasia, 9 September] Professor John Harris of Manchester University has argued in favour of euthanasia before the House of Lords Committee considering the Joffe bill. Professor Harris used the scenario of a lorry driver trapped in a burning vehicle asking a policeman to shoot him as 'proof' that there was no principled objection to euthanasia, claiming that he knew of no one who disagreed with killing a man in that situation. [Manchester Online, 10 September ] A spokeswoman for SPUC commented: "Extreme and emotive scenarios have no place in a reasoned debate. However, even if that were not the case, Dr Harris's story is far from ethically watertight. What if that policeman knew that by killing a man in a desperate situation, he would be opening the doors for other policemen to kill members of the public at random?" The UK's Methodist Church has made a submission to the House of Lords committee, opposing euthanasia but stating that it "recognises the moral complexities found in some situations". The statement reminded the committee: "The Christian tradition insists on the infinite respect owed to every individual human being. This respect is not proportional to their level of well-being, nor to any assessment of how seriously ill, injured or disabled they are." The Methodist Church said that it would "continue to engage its members in this debate, recognising that there are some divergent views within the membership." [ Ekklesia, 13 September ] The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) has released a 10-year plan to establish a worldwide right to abortion on demand. IPPF's Strategic Framework 2005-2015 cites five 'strategic priorities' and a number of 'programme strategies' to achieve its goal of "a universal recognition of a woman's right to choose and have access to safe abortion." It also aims to "analyse opposition messages and tactics and formulate messages and strategies that anticipate, respond and counteract them." The Framework announced plans to tie the Millennium Development Goals with 'reproductive rights' by building "relationships with governments, NGOs and other key influential groups to demonstrate the linkage and importance of sexual and reproductive health rights to the wider development agenda (MDGs/Poverty Reduction Strategies) and by this achieve greater allocation of resources." [C-Fam, 10 September ] The European Commission is considering replacing the written warnings on cigarette packets with disturbing pictures such as miscarried babies as part of a drive to discourage smoking, The Guardian reports. Pictures could also include amputated toes and diseased organs. The UK government has confirmed that is it looking into using less graphic imagery. [The Observer, 12 September ] Pregnant women have been warned that alcohol consumption could damage their unborn children even if they keep within Government approved 'safe levels'. Studies in the US, South Africa and Scandinavia estimate that one in 300 infants are affected by Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, but UK doctors fear the problem could be worse in Britain. Dr Raja Mukherjee said at a FAS Awareness UK conference: "The only definitely safe level is no alcohol at all. Everyone who drinks during pregnancy is potentially at risk." [The Telegraph, 13 September ] A Spanish film about the suicide of a tetraplegic sailor has added fuel to the euthanasia debate in Spain. The Sea Inside tells the story of Ramon Sampedro, who was paralysed from the neck down as the result of a diving accident and eventually drank potassium cyanide after an unsuccessful right-to-die campaign. Prime Minister Zapatero said of the film: "The film, paradoxically, is a hymn to life. The defence of the freedom to die is, itself, a hymn to life." Luis de Moya, a Catholic priest who is tetraplegic, attacked the film for misleading people into believing that euthanasia was the answer for tetraplegics. Maria del Mar Cogollos, president of a Spanish spinal injuries association said: "This film will do a lot of harm to tetraplegics like myself who fight daily to get on with life." [The Observer, 12 September ] The UK abortion film Vera Drake, which features a backstreet abortionist working in post-War Britain, has won two awards at the Venice Film Festival. [U.TV, 12 September ] Anthony Ozimic of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children commented: "Although one must reserve full judgement until seeing the film, its reportedly sympathetic portrayal of the abortionist is unhelpful to the pro-life cause. By positing a false moral dilemma about backstreet abortion, this film is asking yesterday's loaded questions in the abortion debate, when today's questions are focused on the status of the unborn child. For first prize and the best actress award to go to this film, second prize and the best actor award to go to an explicitly pro-euthanasia film ("The Sea Inside") but no awards going to a pro-disabled film (the local favourite "The House Keys"), raises the question of whether the judges acted with anti-life bias." [SPUC source] Dutch paediatricians are urging that all decisions taken to hasten the death of babies born with severe multiple handicaps should be reported initially to committees of doctors and lawyers after the child's death rather than directly to the coroner's office, as currently required under Dutch law. Research indicates that some 100 babies with disabilities have their lives ended by doctors every year, through the withholding of treatment or, in approximately 20% of these cases, by lethal injection. Around 900 cases of non-voluntary euthanasia, that is euthanasia without the patient's request, occur every year in The Netherlands. [British Medical Journal, 11 September ] An article in the UK's Guardian newspaper has raised the question of whether China's rapidly ageing population will bring about the end of the one-child policy. The number of elderly people in China is expected to quadruple before 2040 to 397 million. Only 25% of workers are currently covered by a formal retirement scheme. [The Guardian, 9 September ] Researchers working on embryonic stem cells have told the British Association's Science Festival that they have found a way of producing unlimited quantities of cells carrying the genetic mutation that causes cystic fybrosis. They claim that these cells could be used in the future to develop therapies to treat the condition. Professor Stephen Minger of King's College London explained how IVF embryos are screened through pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and affected embryos are used for research or destroyed. [NetDoctor, 9 September ] UK IVF clinics are reporting serious shortages of egg and sperm donors, according to a Channel 4 News investigation. The drop follows a government announcement that the law on donor anonymity is to change next year to allow children to trace their biological parents. Some clinics have started advertising for donors, whilst others are sending couples abroad. The London Women's Clinic is considering stopping sales in the UK and abroad after having only 20 donors this year. [Channel 4 News, 8 September ]

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