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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Irish woman in frozen embryo lawsuit

13 March 2006

An Irish woman has started a lawsuit against her ex-husband over custody of embryos created during IVF treatment and currently in storage. The woman wants the embryos implanted in her womb, but the father argues that this would violate his ownership rights. The Irish constitution protects the right to life of unborn children, so judges will have to determine whether the embryos can be regarded as the couple's joint property, and how to uphold the embryos' right to life. The case differs from that of the British woman Natallie Evans, decided in the European Court of Human Rights last week. In that case the court said that British law, which does not uphold the right to life before birth, is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. [Sunday Times, 12 March]

A Chinese human rights activist who investigated cases of forced sterilisation has been arrested with his brother and cousin. Chen Guangcheng and his companions were on their way to a police station to file a complaint about forced sterilisations carried out by officials in charge of China's one-child policy when they were arrested. Chen's wife Yuan Weijing said that her husband, who is blind, was already under house arrest. [The Guardian, 12 March]

Official figures record a decline in the number of abortions in Russia. Anatoly Vishnevksy, head of a Russian demographic centre, said that the ratio of abortions to live births has fallen. In 1990 there were 206 abortions to every 100 live births. Now the ratio is 122 to 100. The abortion rate per 100 women aged 15 to 50 is currently placed at 45 per year, as opposed to 114 in 1990. High abortion rates are regarded as a significant factor in the demographic problem in Russia, where pensioners outnumbered children and teenagers for the first time five years ago. [, 7 March]

In a feature in the Times, journalist Roger Dobson discusses the growing body of research suggesting that the period from conception to birth is the most important for deciding a person's future health, including any propensity to obesity and diseases such as cancer. Research at the University of Southampton, UK, and the University of Auckland, New Zealand, as well as elsewhere, has found that the foetus in the womb adapts its physical development to conditions in its environment, and health in later life depends on how well the post-natal environment matches up to pre-natal conditions. Professor Mark Hanson of Southampton University said: "The fundamental controversy now revolves around ... to what degree environmentally induced factors in early life are major determinants of disease risk". [The Times, 11 March]

The deputy director for pro-life activities of the US Catholic bishops' conference has given evidence before a congressional panel on the lessons to be learned from the South Korean cloning scandal. After speaking of exaggerated claims made concerning the scientific potential of human cloning, Mr Richard Doerflinger said: "Researchers have long been tempted to 'cut corners' on ethics, including the ethics of protecting human research subjects, to achieve their admittedly important goals... What is new is the dominance of a 'new ethic' that justifies such abuses in principle -- a utilitarian calculus that relativises and demeans human life and other values if they get in the way of the research prize". [Zenit, 8 March]

The Catholic Bishop of Allentown, Pennsylvania, writing about pro-life issues on the diocesan website, draws attention to the call to accept and care for the vulnerable. Most Rev Edward Cullen writes: "In the earliest and the latest stages of life, the individual is most in need of the help of others, and therefore most vulnerable to their neglect or even their outright rejection. To be vulnerable is to be at the mercy of others, and their lack of mercy can be cruel or even fatal. But mercy is exactly what we as Christians are called on to exercise. 'Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy'." [Allentown Diocese, 9 March]

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