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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Government publishes end-of-life care guide

7 June 2006

The British government has published a guide to providing end of life care for residents in care homes. The guide, which has been produced in conjunction with the National Council for Palliative Care (NPC), includes advice on staff training, access to medical help and drugs, GP liaison, and the cultural and language differences of staff and residents. Eve Richardson, chief executive of the NPC said that she hopes the guide will "aid care home staff in delivering the best possible care for their residents" and "generate awareness of the important role of palliative care within care homes". [Community Care, 2 June] Alison Davis, national coordinator of No Less Human, who is a full time wheelchair user, said: "Much of the guide is very positive. However, while stating that advance decisions, as part of advance care planning, can be legally binding on doctors, it fails to note the dangers inherent in such decisions. Patients who make advance refusals of medical treatment may well find that they are not treated for potentially curable or reversible conditions. For instance, it is well known that easily-treatable conditions common in elderly people, such as urinary tract infections or constipation, can cause confusion. If a person had an advance decision declining all treatment in the event of becoming confused, they would not be treated for such simple conditions. They might not die, but their condition might well deteriorate, and become precisely the sort of situation they wanted to avoid."

Abuse and neglect of the elderly is becoming increasingly common in Britain, according to a survey by BBC Radio 2. 1000 people aged 16 were questioned and 25% of them said that they knew an elderly person who had been mistreated. Over half of participants believed that there was a great deal of neglect and mistreatment of the elderly in Britain. Broadcaster Jeremy Vine, who is launching a radio campaign called Respect Your Elders, said: "This poll is really shocking. Our elders deserve love and care but many, too many, are being hurt or neglected behind closed doors - just where we don't see what's happening." [BBC News, 5 June]

The Catholic bishops of Europe have said that human embryonic research is "not compatible with human dignity". The Executive Committee of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community issued a statement following the adoption of the budget for research and technology development for 2007-2013 by the Industry, Research and Energy Committee of the European Union, which includes funding for embryonic stem cell research. They said, "We reiterate our objection to EU-funding of research implying the destruction of human embryos. Such research raises fundamental ethical and anthropological concerns... The EU should concentrate its joint research efforts on the many other promising areas of research, also in other kinds of stem cell research, which offer promise." [Zenit, 2 June]

Two new stem cell research laboratories are to be opened in the north of England. The labs will be situated at Newcastle's Centre for Life and scientists from Newcastle University, who cloned the UK's first human embryo, will work there. The facilities, which cost £6.3m, have been funded by the regional development agency One NorthEast. Professor John Burn, Executive Director of the centre's Life Knowledge Park, said: "The new facilities will allow us to press ahead with stem cell research, putting Newcastle at the forefront of this competitive field." The source does not specify whether human embryos will be exploited in the new labs but the Newcastle centre has conducted such destructive research recently. [BBC News, 7 June]

British scientists are to investigate whether stem cells found in testicles could be used as an ethical alternative to embryonic stem cells to repair damaged tissues and organs. Fertility specialist Robert Winston is to lead a team of researchers at the Hammersmith hospital in London to harvest testicular cells and experiment on them. It is hoped that the research, which has been licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority may find a source of stem cells that would avoid the destruction of human embryos. [The Guardian, 6 June]

A new umbilical cord blood bank has been opened in Dubai. The Dubai Cord Blood and Research Centre (DCBRC) will store cord blood which is rich in stem cells and which can be used as an ethical alternative to embryonic stem cells. Researchers plan to use the cells to investigate possible cures for genetic diseases prevalent in the country such as thalassaemia and sickle-cell disease. Dr Mahmoud Taleb Al Ali, head of research at DCBRC said: "The use of cord blood removes any ethical questions that might arise. If it's embryonic stem cells, then that is different." [Gulf News, 7 June]

The American congressional delegation to Britain to learn about methods of embryonic stem cell research has called for federal funding of such research in the US. Michael Castle, a member of the delegation, has introduced a bill, which was improved by the House of Representatives last year, to expand federal funding for research using stem cells derived from embryos. Mr Castle said: "I'm concerned the US has fallen behind countries such as the UK and Asian countries because of the restrictions imposed on embryonic stem cell research ." President Bush has said that he would use his veto against the bill if it was passed by the Senate. [Medical News Today, 5 June]

The state of Louisiana is to place strict limitations on abortion. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has said that she will sign a bill approved by the state House and Senate which would ban almost all abortions in the state. An abortion would only be permitted if the life of the mother were at risk or if giving birth would permanently damage her health. The measure allows no exceptions in the case of rape or incest after an amendment to introduce these exceptions was defeated in the House and Senate. Under the new legislation, doctors convicted of performing abortions could be jailed for up to 10 years and fined $100,000. The law however would only come into effect if Roe v. Wade was overturned. [Life Site, 2 June]

Premature and low birth weight babies are more likely to suffer from hyperactive behaviour, according to a study carried out by Danish scientists. Researchers at Aarhus University Hospital found that babies born at 34-36 weeks have an 80% increased risk of hyperkinetic disorder (HKD). Charlotte Davies of the London-based baby charity Tommy's said that the study showed that more research into the causes of premature birth was urgently needed. She said: "All too often pregnancy complications, such as premature birth, are viewed as only affecting the family directly concerned, yet behavioural problems such as [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] or HKD can have an effect on society as a whole." [Reuters, 5 June]

Pregnant women who are overweight are endangering the health of their unborn children, according to a British study. Researchers at the University of Teeside found that there was a lack of advice and support for obese mothers and have called for pregnant women to have their height and weight monitored during pregnancy. Professor John Wilkinson, director of the North East Public Health Observatory, said: "Until the late 1980s the height and weight of pregnant women was regularly monitored. But this became unfashionable in recent years as it was felt this caused unnecessary concern and worry to women who had gained a couple of extra pounds. Our study recommends that a routine system of monitoring the height and body weight of pregnant mothers is extended to all maternity units." [BBC News, 5 June]

Some Swiss health insurance firms are giving discounts to women who are opposed to abortion and IVF treatment. At least five companies in Switzerland offer eligible women rate reductions of 10% to 40% which have been taken up by thousands of people. Josef Zisyadis, national adviser of the Popular Workers Party has called for this practice to be prevented but the Federal Council has said that it will not intervene against the companies. [Zenit, 5 June]

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