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Australian RU-486 vote: Latest

16 February 2006

The Australian parliament has voted to overturn the veto on the abortion drug RU-486. The drug was previously available only on application to the Health Minister, Tony Abbot. After an impassioned debate in which speakers drew on personal experiences, the House of Representatives voted to scrap his power of veto by two to one. The Therapeutic Goods Administration will now have sole responsibility for RU-486 applications. There are fears over the risk of taking the drug, which has resulted in the deaths of five American women. [Yahoo, 16 February]

The Australian senate's decision to remove ministerial control over applications to use the abortion drug, RU486, does not represent the views of Australian women, according to a study by the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute (SCBI) in Adelaide. The SCBI, who commissioned the research, found that only 17% of people said RU-486 should be introduced now; 18% said it should not be introduced at all; and 59% said the decision should be delayed until more information, especially about the health risks, is available. 61% of women supported a delay, compared with 56% of men. A spokesperson commented: "The study shows the push to remove democratic oversight of RU486 applications comes from middle aged and older women who are very unlikely to have recourse to the drug themselves. The strongest resistance came from women of reproductive age, that is, younger women, who of course are the very ones who may have the drug prescribed for them." [The Australian, 14 February]

A Government-backed study has concluded that it is safe for women to have abortions at home. The study, which was set up by the Department of Health, monitored 172 women less than nine weeks pregnant, taking abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol in a health clinic under the supervision of a nurse. Shirley Butler, who is managing a pilot project to offer medical abortion outside a hospital, said that the study had been "successful" but many still have concerns for the effects on women. Julia Millington of the Pro-Life Alliance said: "Abortion in any circumstance is a traumatic experience. They haven't considered the psychological effects. I can't imagine anything more traumatic than for women to go through this alone at home." [The Telegraph, 16 February]

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is planning to relax the rules on human egg donation for embryonic stem cell research. Women who are not undergoing fertility treatment may be allowed to donate their eggs for cloning research, despite there being serious health risks involved in egg donation. These include fertility problems and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can cause kidney damage and has been known to be fatal. Up till now, only women who are undergoing IVF or gynaecological treatment have been allowed to be donors. The HFEA ruling body is to meet on Wednesday to decide whether or not to implement these recommendations. [Ananova, 14 February]

American researchers claim to have found cells in umbilical cord blood that have the properties of primitive stem cells and could be an additional source for ethical research. Scientists at the University of Minnesota Medical School say that this discovery will help them in their neurological research. Dr Walter Low, leader of the study and professor of neurosurgery at the Stem Cell Institute of the University of Minnesota, said: "We are excited by this discovery because it provides additional insight into how stem cells can restore function in the brain after injury." [LifeNews, 13 February]

The European Court of Human Rights has begun to consider the case of a Polish woman who says that she suffered severe sight problems after being denied an abortion in 2000. Alicia Tysiac alleges that she was told by doctors that she could become blind if she continued with the pregnancy but gynaecologists said that there was no medical reason for her to have the abortion. Abortion is legal in Poland in cases of rape, danger to the life of the woman and if the child is disabled. During the subsequent birth by caesarean section of her third child, Ms Tysiac experienced retinal haemorrhaging. She claims that the Polish government violated her human rights. [Medical News Today, 16 February]

Scientists have developed a sensor that can monitor a baby's oxygen levels during birth and can operate as a warning signal if there are problems. The researchers at Warwick University hope that the probe will enable doctors to know whether the baby is suffering from foetal hypoxia, which starves the baby's brain of oxygen. This will provide a more accurate idea of when an emergency caesarean is necessary. [The Telegraph, 15 February]

A multi-vitamin supplement has been found to help the unborn children of women with HIV, according to a study carried out in Tanzania. A team of researchers found that the supplement, which contains vitamins B, C and E, reduced the risk of motor-developmental delays, as well as delaying HIV progression and reducing complications such as low birth weight, premature birth, and foetal death. [Reuters, 14 February]

The father of an American woman who died after using the abortion drug RU-486 has said that a review of the drug is long overdue. Monty Patterson's daughter Holly died from septic shock due to an incomplete abortion after being recommended RU-486 by Planned Parenthood advisors. His comment came after the Food and Drug Administration in America announced that it is organising a panel of experts to study the risks of the drug. Mr Patterson said: "Women are paying the ultimate price with their health and lives. I will continue to speak for those who can't speak for themselves." [Life News, 14 February]

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