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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Archbishop of Canterbury to oppose Joffe Bill in the House of Lords

8 May 2006

The leader of the Anglican communion will oppose Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill in the House of Lords on Friday. Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has a seat in that chamber along with 25 other Church of England clerics. He says that compassion for the seriously ill: "... must not be an excuse for sleepwalking into a situation where the ordinary building blocks of trust ... in the whole legal fabric of our society can be abandoned". The Care Not Killing Alliance will deliver a 25,000-signature petition to the prime minister's official home on Friday, when disabled-rights activists will also launch Not Dead Yet to campaign against euthanasia. [Sunday Times, 7 May] Dr Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the [formerly British] Commonwealth, wrote in Saturday's Times newspaper: "The Jewish tradition, going back many centuries, is strongly opposed to such acts. Life is sacred. It is God's gift, not ours. It is the physician's responsibility to heal, not harm, even if the patient requests it." [Times, 6 May] An opinion poll commissioned by Care Not Killing suggests that the passage of the bill could put people under pressure to kill themselves. Some two thirds of the 1,000 respondents to the CommunicateResearch telephone survey thought the law would influence patients in that way, while around three quarters believed doctors would be under pressure to bring about the end of patients' lives. [Sunday Telegraph, 7 May] A man from Wales who had a tumour on his spine is opposing the bill. Hospice treatment on Mr David Williams meant that the cancer went into remission. He says he might have considered assisted suicide had it been legal, but he is pleased he survived so that he could look after his children after he was subsequently widowed. Mr David Cameron MP, the leader of the opposition Conservative party, has said he will oppose the bill. [Observer, 7 May]

A man has been arrested and questioned by British police after he arranged for his mother to commit suicide at the Dignitas clinic in Zurich, Switzerland. Mr Stefan Sliwinski travelled with Mrs Valerie Sliwinski, of Essex, who had cancer and multiple sclerosis. He is charged with assisting suicide and is on bail until August. [Mirror, 8 May]

The doctor who performed IVF for a 62-year-old British woman has defended his actions. Dr Severino Antinori of Rome has said: "The question of [Dr Patricia Rashbrook's] age is irrelevant. It is her biological age ... that counts." [This is Staffordshire, 5 May] Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics said: "[C]onsumer society wants absolutely everything, and never stops to think that a child is not a product. [Dr Rashbrook] is being selfish and sometimes greater love is saying no. [icWales, 5 May]

Women going for IVF who agree to donate half of their eggs could get the £2,500 treatment free, according to an offer from the London Women's Clinic in Cardiff, Wales. In some cases the clinic deals with women over 50. [icWales, 5 May] More than 20 IVF babies are born to women over 50 in Britain annually [Guardian, 8 May] Scotland's state health service is funding IVF for lesbian couples and single women. [The Sunday Times, 7 May]

The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has given its approval for a couple to select IVF embryos whose umbilical cord might be used in therapy for their 20-month-old daughter. Mr and Mrs Charlie Mariethoz of Leicester are raising £40,000 for treatment for Charlotte Mariethoz who has diamond blackfan anaemia. [This is Leicestershire, 5 May]

A 15-year-old girl in northern England was given forms to apply for an abortion and told that her parents' consent was unnecessary. Miss Leah Taylor of Pontefract subsequently decided to keep her child, who sadly died in utero. Mrs Elaine Taylor, her mother, is lobbying her MP and the lord chancellor (justice minister) for a change to the law. Government guidelines support confidentiality for under-16s seeking abortion. [Leeds Today, 5 May]

Mothers undergoing fertility treatment who take folic acid are reportedly more likely to have twins than if they do not take the substance. The conclusion comes from a report on a study by the Rowett Research Institute and Aberdeen University, Scotland, published in The Lancet medical journal. Researchers suggest folic acid increases embryo survival. [Reuters, 5 May] Folic acid is said to prevent spina bifida. IVF is more likely to produce multiple pregnancies than conventional reproduction.

A woman in Northern Ireland who was treated for cervical cancer has given birth. Belfast City Hospital was able to operate on recently-married Ms Rhonda Moore in 2004 without performing a complete hysterectomy. The procedure remains rare. [BBC, 6 May]

The British government is considering extending a scheme by which schoolgirls spend time looking after babies to help them understand the responsibility of parenthood. Ms Hilary Armstrong, social justice minister, described the intention after visiting the Teens to Toddlers project in London on Saturday. It is thought that the scheme could cut teenage pregnancy. [Observer, 7 May]

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