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Defending life
from conception to natural death


Three-quarters of UK physicians oppose legalising assisted suicide

10 May 2006

With the UK parliament due on Friday to debate a bill to legalise assisted suicide, nearly three quarters of respondents to a survey of members of the Royal College of Physicians oppose a change in the law. Some 73% of the 5,100 participating members agreed with the following statement: "[We] believe that[,] with improvements in palliative care, good clinical care can be provided within existing legislation and that patients can die with dignity. A change in legislation is not needed." More than 95% of palliative care specialists supported the statement. A second survey based on a statement with a different emphasis produced a similar result. The college's council has consequently decided to concur with the Royal College of General Practitioners' opposition to the bill. [Royal College of Physicians, 9 May] Palliative care specialists have described Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill as a bad solution to a difficult problem. They say that the bill's fatal flaw is the way in which allows for subjective judgement on whether a patient's suffering is unbearable. The 24 doctors' letter appeared in yesterday's Daily Telegraph. They are led by Professor Sam Ahmedzai, professor of palliative medicine at Sheffield university. They wrote that: "... the hard cases that are publicised could have been handled with respect for autonomy, with dignity and humanely within the present law by harnessing what has been learnt within palliative care." [Daily Telegraph, 9 May]

A clinic in north-west England storing embryos intended for surrogacy has agreed not to destroy them but to let them be transferred abroad. The law obliges Manchester Fertility Services to dispose of the six embryos five years after they were created for Ms Michelle Hickman and Mr Martin Hymers. The couple are having difficulty finding out where surrogacy is legal, though they know it is permitted in the United States. [BBC, 8 May]

A 22-year-old Virginia woman who confessed to shooting her unborn child in utero has been given a 30-day suspended sentence. The judge rejected a charge against Ms Tammy Skinner of inducing abortion, and ruled that she could not be charged with manslaughter because the child had not drawn breath. Ms Skinner sustained only minor injuries from the shooting on the day her daughter was due to be born. The sentence was for submitting a false report to police. The police refused to say whether they found the gun used in the incident [Mirror, 10 May]

The first live births as a result of IVF in Kenya have taken place. Two women have each had daughters in Nairobi, with the treatment reportedly costing £2,275. [BBC, 9 May]

A 74-year-old British man has been sent to prison for four weeks for sending pictures and a video of aborted children to a hospital. Mr Edward Atkinson mailed the images to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn, Norfolk. The hospital has now declined to perform a hip-replacement operation on him. A 50-year-old disabled woman was last week separately found guilty of sending pictures of aborted children to pharmacies in Birmingham. [Independent, 8 May]

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