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Charges dropped in French 'mercy killing'

4 January 2006

All criminal charges have been dropped against a mother and doctor involved in a so-called mercy killing in France. The state prosecutor has announced that he has dropped the charges against Marie Humbert and Dr Frédéric Chaussoy, who helped Marie's son Vincent to die in 2003. Vincent Humbert, 19, was left paralysed from the neck down, mute and almost completely blind after a car crash in 2000 and repeatedly expressed his wish to die, once writing to President Jacques Chirac. Mrs Humbert gave him an overdose of sedatives and Dr Chaussoy later switched off the life support machine and injected a lethal dose of drugs. Both faced imprisonment for their actions but the case has now been dropped after the prosecutor, Gérald Lesigne, said that he had considered the "moral aspects of the offence, not its material and legal aspects." [The Telegraph, 4 December]

The Australian parliament is to consider legalising human cloning, in order to use their stem cells for a national stem cell bank. A review into the Australia's Prohibition of Human Cloning Act 2002 and the Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002 was carried out by a group of scientists, lawyers and ethicists and they recommended what would be the most permissive embryo legislation in the world. This would include the legalisation of the creation of hybrid embryos - embryos that would be part human and part animal. The Lockhart review also recommended "public education and consultation programs... to enable appropriate engagement and understanding" so that the Australian public can be persuaded of the necessity of human cloning. [MercatorNet, 21 December]

Hwang Woo-suk, the disgraced South Korean scientist whose work on embryonic stem cells has been discredited, reportedly forced women on his research team to donate their own eggs for research. A member of Hwang's team said that junior female researchers faced being excluded from academic recognition if they did not comply with painful procedures to extract eggs. The panel from Seoul National University, which is investigating Hwang for scientific fraud, is due to release its final findings next week. [Reuters, 4 January]

A study shows that women who have had an abortion are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders as well as anxiety disorders and depression. Problems continued for up to three years after an abortion, according to a report published in SLEEP, the official journal of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. [Medical News Today, 4 January]

American scientists have for the first time created human embryonic stem cell cultures without using any animal cells. The researchers in Wisconsin claim that the absence of animal cells will result in a more controlled and risk-free environment for growing cells. Tenneille Ludwig, one of the researchers, said: "All of the concerns about contaminating proteins in existing stem cell lines can essentially be removed using this medium. This work helps us clear some of the major hurdles for using these cells therapeutically." [The Guardian, 2 January]

The University of Kentucky has claimed to have achieved the first baby born from a frozen donor egg. The little girl, Avery Lee Kennedy, was born on December 31 at the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Centre. Her parents were unable to have a child on their own and used a technology in which women's eggs are frozen and stored, just as donor sperm have been for decades. [Medical News Today, 4 January]

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