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Defending life
from conception to natural death


Weekly Update: 19 - 24 January 2006

24 January 2006

Catch up on all the big news stories from the past week - here are some you may have missed:

A UK doctor has died in Zurich with the aid of the assisted suicide organisation Dignitas, the BBC reports. Dr Anne Turner, 66, a retired family planning expert, had the degenerative disease supranuclear palsy and claimed she attempted suicide with drugs before but failed. In an interview with the BBC before she travelled to Switzerland, she said: "Doctors should be able to help people to die. I always quote the fact that I had a cat and I had him put down because he was riddled with cancer, but we cannot do that with humans at all now." The Anglican Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, expressed regret at Dr Turner's actions and said it was not always right to accede to every request, pointing to the positive aspects of relationships in the final phase of life. [BBC, 24 January]

A woman who fought a legal campaign for parents to be informed before an abortion is performed on an underage girl lost her case in the High Court in London yesterday. Mr Justice Silber told Ms Sue Axon of Manchester that insisting that parents be informed might encourage girls to seek abortion from unauthorised sources. The judge found in favour of the secretary of state for health, whose 2004 guidance on confidentiality in giving sexual health advice to under-16s was supported in court by the Family Planning Association. Ms Axon said she does not intend to appeal against the decision. [Sky News, 23 January & SPUC eye witness] Paul Tully, SPUC's General Secretary warned in a press release that the ruling would leave parents angry and confused. "The demands from the pro-abortion lobby that it should be allowed to provide young teenagers with abortions secretly (keeping GPs as well as parents in the dark) shows how brazen it has become," he said. "Mr Silber's judgment will encourage the pro-abortion lobby to become more vehement in its demands. His inclusion of contentious statements, such as the claim that a 'right to abortion' exists in English law, is disturbing. Parliament's decision in 1967 to legalise abortion only in specific situations remains the law." [SPUC press release, 23 January]

Over 100,000 people took part in the March for Life in Washington on Monday, to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of Roe v Wade. Near Congress, pro-life speakers and members of Congress addressed the crowd, including Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo and Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey. President Bush left a message of support for protesters. In San Francisco, more than 15,000 pro-lifers took part in a march, 6,000 in St Paul, Minnesota and 1,000 attended a march in South Carolina. [LifeNews, 23 January]

A survey conducted by Brunel University has estimated that nearly 2,000 people were killed by doctors performing "involuntary euthanasia" in 2004. The BBC report claims that a further 936 patients were killed at their own request (voluntary euthanasia). Together, the figures suggest that about 0.5% of the 584,791 UK deaths in 2004 were 'euthanasia'. Although the report does not make clear whether the questions in the survey distinguished between active and passive euthanasia, it suggests that there were many other deaths due to withholding treatment in a patient's "best interests". The survey questioned 857 doctors and found that only 2.6% favoured changing the law to permit euthanasia or assisted suicide. Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, said that she was "concerned a tiny minority of doctors have apparently admitted they have acted illegally in deliberately ending a patient's life." [BBC, 17 January]

An 11-year-old girl in the US who was left in a coma after an alleged beating has begun responding to treatment twenty-four hours after a Massachusetts court ruled that her ventilator and tube feeding could be withdrawn. Haleigh Poutre was allegedly kicked and beaten by her stepfather Jason Strickland who could face a murder charge if she dies. Doctors had said that she was in a persistent vegetative state but she is now breathing independently and appears to be responding to stimuli. [BBC, 19 January]

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