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Defending life from the moment of conception

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British doctors 'more cautious' about end-of-life decisions

18 October 2006

A study carried out at Brunel University, UK, suggests that British doctors are less likely to take decisions that significantly shorten patients' lives than their colleagues in other countries. They are also more likely to discuss end-of -life issues with patients and their families. [BBC 14 October] Alison Davis of No Less Human, SPUC's disability rights group, said: "Some media accounts of the study confuse the ethical withdrawing of treatment from those who are in the process of dying with the entirely unethical practice of withdrawing or withholding treatment from patients who are not dying, because of a judgement that they are 'better off dead'. All patients should be treated in accordance with their unique human value and dignity, and in accordance with their clinical best interests."

A woman in her 50s, acting as surrogate for her daughter, gave birth in spring 2005 to her grandchild, it was announced at a news conference in Tokyo. IVF was performed using an egg from her daughter, whose uterus had been removed due to cancer, and sperm from her son-in-law. Making the announcement, the director of the Suwa Maternity Clinic, Yahiro Netsu, said he wanted the issue of surrogate mothers to be debated. He has previously defied the guidelines of the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology banning surrogate births. [Japan Times 16 October]

"Leave It Till Later" is the headline message to British teenagers in the government's Teenage Pregnancy Strategy Unit, whose autumn document stresses the benefits of delaying sexual activity. The Daily Mail notes that this change in emphasis comes after spending £138 million since 2002 on a strategy focused on preventing or eliminating teenage pregnancy, not sex. This has failed to reduce the number of pregnancies, and STDs have accelerated rapidly. [Daily Mail 16 October] SPUC comment: Paul Tully, SPUC general secretary said: "In 2000, then-minister Yvette Cooper launched an advert announcing 'It's OK to be a virgin'. These occasional token messages supporting abstinence belie the consistent direction of the government campaign to insist that children are kitted out for sex from the earliest possible age."

A 37-year-old mother was refused the morning after pill, which can cause early abortions, by a Muslim pharmacist at a Lloyds Pharmacy. A spokesman for Lloyds. while apologising to Mrs Thomas, said that if supplying the drug was against a pharmacist's personal, religious or moral beliefs he or she was within rights not to supply it. [Telegraph 14 October ]

A British obstetrics expert has said that mothers should be discouraged from banking their babies' umbilical cord blood in the hope that it may help the child in a future illness. Dr Leroy Edozien, who works at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester, was quoted in the British Medical Journal as saying that the blood is highly unlikely to be used and that the practice puts too much pressure on maternity wards. Dr Edozien recommended that women should instead donate to public blood banks. He said: "Time spent on collecting cord blood is time away from the care of this mother, the baby, and, critically, other patients." The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, have also advised against the collection and storage of cord blood because of "insufficient scientific base and logistic problems of collection for NHS providers." [BBC News, 13 October] In a separate report, Dr Edozien is reported as saying that umbilical tissue should be donated to state-run blood-banks. [StaffNurse, 16 October]

The parliament of Nicaragua is to consider extending the country's ban on abortion to include cases where the mother's life is at risk. The proposed reform is to be put before the judicial commission for 10 days to decide whether it should be voted on by the full assembly. There has been considerable support for the reform of the abortion law, including from Mr Daniel Ortega, the front-runner in the presidential election, as well as a march which attracted thousands of participants. [BBC News, 13 October]

A man in America has been accused of attempting to hire someone to kill his unborn child, after learning that his ex-girlfriend was pregnant. Charles D. Young, 18, who lives in Colville, Washington, is said to have offered an undercover officer posing as a hit man $3,250 to attack his 17-year-old ex-girlfriend in such a way that the unborn baby would die. The case continues. [The Guardian, 13 October]

There is a safe and effective malaria treatment for pregnant women, according to British scientists. Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that treatment with amodiaquine, a cheap and widely available drug, can be used without harm to the woman's unborn child, after treating 900 pregnant women with the drug in Ghana. Doctors have previously been concerned for the effect of malaria drugs on the unborn child. Dr Harry Tagbor, a co-author of the study from St Theresa's Hospital in Nkoranza in Ghana said: "Amodiaquine is safe if it is used properly and it is one of the drugs that is available for us to use in Africa." [Reuters, 13 October]

Women who suffer from mental illnesses may find it harder to give up smoking during pregnancy, according to American doctors. Researchers at the Southern Illinois University carried out a study on a group of 744 pregnant women and found that women who continued smoking during pregnancy were 2.5 times more likely to suffer from a mental illness such as depression than those who did not smoke. Smoking during pregnancy is widely thought to be harmful to the unborn child. The researchers said: "Although typically women are highly motivated to discontinue tobacco use during their pregnancy, pregnancy smoking cessation programs are unlikely to be fully successful without attention to psychiatric disorders." [Reuters, 12 October]

In an interview Lord Harries, the former Anglican Bishop of Oxford, UK, who has taken over as the interim head of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in Great Britain, defended the IVF and embryo research as simply one way humans interact with nature. He described human/animal chimeric embryos as predominantly human; he regards the early human embryo as a bundle of multiplying cells without rights; he thinks same-sex couples can make good parents and that there should be no upper age limit for women to have IVF. He would like to see the number of abortions in the UK reduced, but does not want abortion made illegal. [Times 14 October]

The National Health Service in Scotland has launched a campaign to help pregnant women to give up smoking, through "smoking cessation midwives". [Herald 16 October]

Dr Niall MacFarlane, sports scientist at Glasgow University, has complimented runner Paula Radcliffe on continuing her sport into the third trimester of her pregnancy, and Emma Birnie of Bellahouston Running Club in Glasgow advises women who do regular sport and exercise to continue during pregnant except to avoid severe knocks and falls from sports such as ice hockey. Continuing to exercise, though at a necessarily reduced pace, benefits both mother and baby. [Herald 16 October]

A survey conducted by Food Watch reveals that more than a third of patients in UK hospitals do not eat their meals because they are so unappetising. Poor nutrition can delay recovery cause complications during surgery. [SKY 16 October]

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