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Defending life
from conception to natural death


Bioethics council rejects active euthanasia for disabled newborns - for now

16 November 2006

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, one of the UK's most influential bioethics forums, has recommended that babies born at 24-25 weeks' gestation, most of whom can survive with neo-natal intensive care, should not receive such treatment if the "level of suffering outweighs the baby's interest in continuing to live." The Telegraph notes that there has been discussion on the issue of infant euthanasia in anticipation of the report. [Telegraph 15 November, Nuffield website]. No Less Human, SPUC's disability group, pointed out that the decision not to treat a baby because it has a disability or low chance of survival is nothing short of eugenics. "Disabled people view this as an encouragement of the attitude that we are better off dead, and it represents a further step towards active killing of disabled newborns," said Alison Davis. [SPUC 15 November] The Church of England's House of Bishops and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales jointly welcomed the Nuffield Council's stance against active euthanasia for newborn babies. Their statement said that, while recognising that treatment that was disproportionately painful, intrusive, risky, or costly could be withheld or withdrawn, such cases should be treated individually, and should not be subject to a blanket ruling dependent on age. [Ekklesia 15 November] A medical ethics expert at the University of East Anglia welcomed the report, saying that babies younger than 22 weeks had little chance of survival. Dr Christopher Cowley suggested that a blanket rule was fairer than deciding who should receive treatment and who not. He acknowledged that parents and clinicians would often see things differently. The chairman of the medical ethics committee of the British Medical Association said that blanket rules were not helpful and that each case should be considered on its merits and circumstances. [Eastern Daily Press 16 November]

A judge in the High Court of the Republic of Ireland has ruled that frozen embryos are not protected by the constitution, as he considered that the term 'unborn' in the Irish constitution refers only to a foetus or embryo implanted in the womb. Mr Justice Brian McGovern gave a complex 26-page judgement on the issue, according to Breaking News. The ruling is part of the case of an estranged couple's disagreement over the fate of their three frozen embryos. [Breaking News 15 November] The director of European Life Network said the decision misinterpreted the constitution by ignoring the definitive Irish text, which makes no distinction between an embryo before or after implantation. Mr Patrick Buckley said that a government attempt to amend the constitution so that legal protection would only begin at implantation was rejected in a referendum. [SPUC 16 November] The Pro Life Campaign, expressing disappointment at the ruling, has called for a new law to protect the human embryo, since lack of clarity with regard to the right to life undermines the basis for all other rights. [Breaking News 15 November]

The outline of the British government's programme for the new session of parliament included: "Draft proposals will be published to reform the regulation of human embryology." [BBC 15 November]

The British MP promoting a review of the abortion law has admitted that its end is the liberalisation of abortion. Writing in the Guardian, Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said: "Since there is currently a large pro-choice majority in the Commons, pro-choice campaigners should recognise that it is sensible to have a rational review of the medical, scientific and social issues as a precursor to an early parliamentary debate on liberalisation." He was responding to accusations by Zoë Williams, a supporter of the group Abortion Rights, that he is secretly anti-abortion. He warned the pro-abortion lobby not "to attack their allies." [The Guardian, 10 November]

An Italian paediatrician has said that the request by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK for a debate on euthanasia for disabled newborn babies is motivated by the interests of third parties. Dr Carlo Bellieni told the Zenit news website that paediatricians find the suggestion disturbing because it would turn them into executioners, having to treat certain patients as of secondary value. [Zenit 14 November]

An investigation on behalf of the South African Broadcasting Corporation has revealed that young girls are having abortions under the mistaken belief that it is a form of contraception. [SABC 14 November]

The fifth circuit court of appeals in Chile has upheld a lower court's decision to continue to allow the abortifacient morning-after pills to be dispensed to minors without parental consent. Also in Chile a bill has been introduced that would decriminalise abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, providing it was carried out by a medical professional with the consent of the mother. Previously Chile did not allow abortion at any time in a pregnancy. [Life Site News 13 November]

Officials in some regions of China are encouraging some parents, neither of whom have siblings, to have two children instead of only one as required by the one-child policy. This new policy, which is applied locally but not nationally, is motivated by concerns associated with an aging population. [Medical News Today 15 November]

A report by Finnish researchers in the journal Paediatrics has found that children conceived through in vitro fertilisation have poorer health than children conceived naturally. Problems include poorer health around the time of birth, higher mortality rates, increased risk of hospitalization and cerebral palsy, and longer hospital episodes. Though this can be partly explained by the increased number of multiple births among IVF children, even singletons are adversely affected. It is suggested that reducing the number of embryos transferred would improve the health of IVF children. [Reuters 15 November]

A study in Israel has found that women who give birth after 50 have a higher risk of pregnancy- and delivery-related complications than women who give birth in their mid- to late 40s. The older women were hospitalised almost three times as often during pregnancy as the 45-49-year-old women, and twice as many delivered low birth-weight babies. The researchers at the Sheba Medical Centre said these findings were disturbing but also said: "It was encouraging to see that the pregnancy outcome in our (45-plus) population was generally good." [Fox News 13 November]

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