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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Pope: Human life is "always and definitively" good

3 March 2006

The Pope has told the general assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life that human life is good, "always and definitively." Benedict XVI said: "The love of God does not distinguish between the newly-conceived infant still in its mother's womb, the baby, the youth, the grown adult or the elderly, because in each of them He sees the sign of His own image and likeness." The church had always proclaimed the inviolability of human life from conception till its natural end. [Vatican Information Service, 27 February] Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the academy, told a conference in Rome: "In [every] case, the embryo is a child: a boy or a girl, [who] has a special relationship with his parents and, for those who are believers, also has a special relationship with God." [Zenit, 24 February] Professor Adriano Bompiani, director of the International Scientific Institute of the Sacred Heart Catholic University, Rome, spoke of the need to promote an ontological study of the human embryo, since "In order to attribute a 'juridical status' to the embryo ... it is necessary to 'understand' its nature". [Vatican Information Service, 24 February] The conference, entitled "The human embryo prior to implantation: scientific aspects and bioethical considerations", was convened by the academy.

A French court has dropped charges against a woman who helped her disabled son to commit suicide, and against the doctor who co-operated with her. Mrs Marie Humbert's son, Vincent, campaigned for euthanasia after an accident in 2000 left him blind, mute and paralysed. Charges against Mrs Humbert and Dr Frédéric Chaussoy were dropped on the grounds that they had acted "in a particular context and under constraints that should exonerate them". Mrs Humbert expressed disappointment, saying: "Dropping the charges means nothing existed ... Even I, who have committed a crime, will not be allowed to speak to defend my son. It's not logical. I will continue to fight for a law". [Reuters, 27 February]

There are legislative battles in many states of the USA over the sale without prescription of abortifacient morning-after pills (known there as Plan B). The national Food and Drug Administration has yet to provide a ruling and, while some states have bills to allow wider access to the drug, others are enacting measures to restrict it. Ms Jackie Payne of Planned Parenthood accused pro-life activists of trying to "blur the line" by arguing that the morning-after pill is abortifacient. Ms Margie Montgomery of Kentucky Right to Life said: "Doctors tell us that Plan B can cause a very early abortion, and we oppose that." Ms Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America said that easier access jeopardised women's health and welfare. [Washington Post, 27 February]

The health authority in north Devon, England, has started a pilot scheme which will allow pupils as young as 14 free access to abortifacient morning-after pills. Added Power and Understanding Through Sexual Education will offer condoms, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and morning-after pills to pupils who have been through its sex education classes. Parents have expressed concern, especially because the scheme's confidentiality means they might not be told if their daughters are given morning-after pills. [BBC News, 27 February]

Brain tissue from aborted babies has reportedly been used to delay the progress of Huntington's disease, a genetic condition which causes brain degeneration. Researchers at the Henri Mondor Hospital, Paris, France, carried out neural transplants which were said to have inhibited the disease's spread in three out of five patients. [The Times, 27 February]

Special clothing which resembles the lower half of a wetsuit could save the lives of women who suffer haemorrhage during childbirth. The non-pneumatic anti-shock garment forces blood from the legs and abdomen to supply the vital organs. Trials suggest it can cut blood loss by 50% and keep a patient alive for up to two days until blood transfusions can be given. The garment, developed by the Women's Global Health Imperative at the University of California, San Francisco, could prove particularly helpful in the developing world, where maternal death in childbirth is widespread. [The Guardian, 28 February]

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