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Defending life from the moment of conception

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"The embryo is human and can be nothing else"

10 July 2006

The Times newspaper has published an opinion piece about the humanity of embryos, which concludes that "the embryo is human and can be nothing else." The comment, written by David Quinn, criticised experimentation on human embryos and called on the courts to protect embryos rather than allow their destruction in the hope of cures for diseases. He wrote, "What is also extraordinary is how oblivious we seem to be to the fact that in the almost 20 years since medical experiments on embryos began, not one of the promised cures has been found. Why are we so confident that experimenting on stem cells derived from embryos will lead to these same cures? And why are we even countenancing embryo stem-cell research when research on adult and other stem cells is at least as promising, but has none of the ethical problems?" [The Times, 10 July]

The Pope has said that every human being is created as part of the divine providential plan. Speaking to 1.5 million people at a Mass in Spain, which was the culmination of a conference to promote the traditional family, Benedict XVI said, "Certainly we come from our parents and we are their children. But we also come from God who has created us in his image and called us to be his children. Consequently, at the origin of every human being there is not something haphazard or chance, but a loving plan of God." He spoke out in support of the traditional family describing it as "founded on indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman." His words were met with frequent cheering from the crowds. Spanish Prime Minister José Luiz Rodríguez Zapatero did not attend the Mass. [The New York Times, 9 July]

Britain's Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt has said that critics of a 62-year-old woman who gave birth last week are hypocritical. Mrs Patti Farrant became Britain's oldest woman to give birth after undergoing IVF treatment abroad with a donated egg. She has attracted criticism from some fertility experts and pro-life campaigners. Mrs Hewitt said that it was "hypocrisy" to criticise older women who have children but not older men who become fathers. Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe said, "Patricia Hewitt is not making a proper analogy because men can conceive naturally at that age and women can't. It is very selfish for women to have children at that age. Children should not be treated as goods." [Daily Mail, 9 July] The campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics has said that the birth was a distortion of nature. Josephine Quintavalle said: "What she has done is selfish..." [The Times, 9 July] MPs are insisting that the cost and effectiveness of IVF treatment given to post-menopausal women by private fertility clinics should be made public. A parliamentary committee is to recommend such action this week, amid fears that some vulnerable women are being exploited by clinics for financial gain. [The Observer, 9 July]

The Irish minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment is planning to vote for embryonic stem cell and cloning research. Micheal Martin represents Ireland on the European Council for Research and Competition, which is discussing ethical issues in the 7th Framework Research Programme. A decision is expected to be reached on July 24th. Mrs Kathy Sinnott, the Irish MEP, has written: "Under EU voting rules, dissenting countries can stop this approval of unethical research by forming a 'Blocking Minority'. As of now Ireland could be the decisive country in forming this blocking minority ...". Mrs Sinnott is urging pro-life people to ask Mr Martin to join Germany, Poland and several other EU states in this blocking minority, as well as voting against the EU funding of embryo destructive stem cell and cloning research. Pat Buckley of European Life Network in Dublin said: "I fully support this very timely initiative by Kathy Sinnott. Minister Martin's comments on the issue are disgraceful, and contrary to the wishes of the vast majority of the Irish people." Mr Martin's email address is michealmartintd@eircom.net [Mrs Sinnott and ELN, 10 July]

British scientists have criticised Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo who said that destroying human embryos in IVF was equivalent to abortion, and therefore invoked excommunication. The cardinal, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, made the comments last month in a magazine interview. Dr Stephen Minger, a stem cell expert, raised a Catholic, described the suggestion as "outrageous", saying that millions of embryos are routinely destroyed during IVF treatment. Professor Julian Savulescu, Uehiro chair in practical ethics at the University of Oxford said, "This amounts to religious persecution of scientists which has no place in modern liberal societies." Professor Allan Templeton, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which represents most abortion practitioners in Britain, said "I cannot really believe it represents the thinking of the Roman Catholic church." [BBC News, 8 July]

Parents of children at a British school have expressed outrage after the school decided to give out morning-after pills to pupils without parents' consent. Tewkesbury School in Gloucestershire is believed to be one of the first in the county to provide free birth control. Some parents have said that they were not informed or given sufficient opportunity to have input on the decision. Wayne Rogers, a youth worker who has a 13-year-old daughter at the school, said, "It doesn't make sense. The school nurse can't give my daughter paracetamol without my consent but can give her the morning-after pill. Until my daughter is 16 she's my responsibility. I want to ask the school not to give my daughter contraception without my consent but they've told me they can't do so. This sends a negative message out to kids. It tells them it's okay to have underage sex when it isn't." [This is Gloucestershire, 8 July]

The first person to be born by IVF treatment has announced that she is pregnant. Louise Brown, 27, often called the world's first test-tube baby, and her husband Wesley Mullinder are expecting their first child in January, who was conceived naturally. She described the discovery that she was pregnant as "a dream come true." [Daily Mail, 10 July]

Sperm grown from embryonic stem cells can be used to produce offspring, according to German scientists. Researchers from the Georg-August University in Göttingen took stem cells from embryonic mice and used them to develop sperm, which were then injected into female mouse eggs to produce further embryos. Eventually seven baby mice were born, six of which lived to adulthood although many others died before birth and displayed abnormal growth patterns. Professor Karim Nayernia, who led the research and who now works at Newcastle University in the UK, said, "For the first time we have created life using artificial sperm." [BBC News, 9 July]

A stem cell scientist is to speak at a Vatican sponsored conference about the breakthrough in umbilical cord research. Colin McGuckin, a Northern Irish professor of regenerative medicine at the University of Newcastle, will describe how it is possible to use stem cells from babies' umbilical cords to produce insulin in diabetics and grow human tissue for use in drug tests. The conference, which is to take place in September, will be attended by several cardinals and scientists speaking there will be met by the Pope. [The Times, 9 July]

A British fertility clinic has become the first in the world to use electronic security measures to prevent embryos, sperms and eggs being mixed up according to British Nursing News. The Essex Fertility Centre is trialling use of the equipment, which is being monitored by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Everything involved in the IVF procedure is to be given a label with small microchips that emit radio signals. Andy Glew, the chief embryologist at the centre, said, "Embryologists are working with these samples every day and, looking at this system, I am confident that it is impossible to unknowingly mix samples." [British Nursing News, 9 July]

The number of miscarriages suffered by women could be reduced after a Scottish study showed how unborn mammals feed in the early stages of pregnancy. Professor Malcolm Kennedy, who led researchers at Glasgow University, found that unborn horses feed on fat and protein molecules that are released into the womb in the 40-day period before the placenta forms. He said, "Humans also have a period when the embryo is without a placenta. If this early feeding mechanism fails then the pregnancy will not succeed. Understanding this could ultimately be useful in helping mothers with certain fertility problems, and also in improving the survival rate of embryos used for assisted fertility." [Scotsman, 9 July]

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