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ECHR rules woman cannot use frozen IVF embryos

10 April 2007

The highest court with jurisdiction over the United Kingdom has ruled that a woman may not use frozen embryos created by IVF after her former partner withdrew consent. The grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, today ruled against Ms Natallie Evans, 35, of Wiltshire, England, who was found to have ovarian cancer in 2001. She and Mr Howard Johnston, the embryos' father, separated the following year. [BBC, 10 April] John Smeaton, SPUC national director, said: "The decision highlights the absurdity and tragedy of UK legislation which permits in vitro fertilisation for various purposes. Human embryos who are, in reality, tiny human persons are reduced to the level of mere commodities - to be frozen or destroyed or used in destructive experiments, or implanted in a womb with a view to living a full and natural life - all at the discretion of scientists or lawyers or parents or others." [SPUC, 10 April]

The British government's suggestion that it might restrict the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos has been attacked by MPs. The science and technology select committee have called for licensing and have said that a ban may encourage scientists to leave the UK. Phil Willis, chairman of the committee, called the issue "a test of the government's commitment to science." A letter to the Prime Minister has also been sent by 223 medical charities and patient groups urging him to reconsider allowing such research. [BBC, 5 April] The British Medical Association (BMA) has supported the call to allow cloning human DNA in animal ova. Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's Head of Science and Ethics, said the law already prevents such embryos being placed in the womb, and that the UK had a "robust" regulatory system, so it should be permitted, "with strict controls." [Medical News Today, 4 April]

The Royal Society and other scientific organisations have also called on the government to permit the creation of hybrid embryos. Sir Richard Gardner, chairman of the society's stem cell working group, said: "The technique to create human-animal cytoplasmic hybrids ... has only emerged in the past five years. We do not know what possibilities might emerge in the next five years so it is vital that new legislation can accommodate scientific breakthroughs." [Independent, 5 April] Paul Tully, SPUC General Secretary, commented: "It dilutes the dignity and status of the human person to use our genetic material to produce embryos whose humanity is uncertain. The Science and Technology committee argue that such embryos should be compulsorily killed before 15 days development, as if to underline the ethical misgivings at what they are demanding."

An American cardinal has urged the Senate to reject a bill would allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia and chairman of the Committee for Pro-life Activities of the US bishops' conference, said in a letter to the Senate that the legislation would "encourage deliberate attacks on innocent human life in the name of medical progress." He encouraged them to support research using adult stem cells, writing: "It seems virtually every by-product of live birth - amniotic fluid, amniotic membrane, placenta, cord blood, and the tissue of the umbilical cord itself - contains stem cells that may rival embryonic stem cells in their flexibility ... Please support medical progress that we can all live with." [Zenit on EWTN, 8 April]

The Texas courts consider the case of Emilio Gonzales again today. Emilio, a 17-month old baby, is believed to suffer from Leigh's Disease, a terminal illness that means that he is unable to breathe on his own. His mother Catarina Gonzalez is fighting hospital officials at the Children's Hospital of Austin who say that Emilio's life-sustaining treatment should be stopped. Joshua Carden, an attorney for the family, said that Ms Gonzalez has denied that her son is unresponsive, saying: "Every day that her son is alive and she gets to hold him and be next to him moving around is a precious day for her." The family had made a unified decision to keep Emilio living and said: "The hospital is making quality of life value judgments. That's a huge source of concern." [AP on Guardian, 9 April]

Another Mexican bishop has warned legislators in Mexico City that if they vote to legalise abortion they will stand excommunicated from the Church as soon as the first abortion is performed. Bishop Marcelino Hernandez, auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Mexico, made the statement after a similar warning was issued by the Mexican Episcopal conference in March. Bishop Hernandez explained that by supporting such legislation, Catholic members of the Mexico City legislative assembly would cutting themselves off from the Church. He said: "Life is not subject to a vote." [LifeSite, 5 April]

The Brazilian minister for health has called for a debate on abortion. Minister Jose Gomes Temporao, who has recently been appointed, said in a newspaper interview that the issue had only been debated on a "superficial" level and wanted it to be discussed on health grounds rather than on ethical and religious grounds. A recent opinion poll suggests that 65% of Brazilians are against changing the existing law, which permits abortion only when the life of the mother is at risk or in the case of rape. [BBC, 9 April]

African health ministers are meeting in Johannesburg from 9-13 April to discuss a proposal to legalise abortion throughout Africa. The proposal, called the Maputo Protocol, seeks to force all 53-member states of the African Union to legalise abortion. The allegedly approval given to the document by some African health ministers in October has been disputed.

Pope Benedict XVI has warned that the Maputo Protocol is "an attempt to trivialize abortion surreptitiously". [LifeSite, 5 April]

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