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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Tories accuse Health Secretary of 'misleading women' over home birth

4 April 2007

The Conservative party in Britain has accused the government of misleading women after the health secretary promised that all pregnant women would have the choice of where to give birth. Mr Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, challenged Ms Patricia Hewitt's promise that, from 2009, women could choose whether to give birth in hospital, in a midwife-led unit or at home. Mr Lansley said: "I find it astonishing that Patricia Hewitt can mislead expectant mothers and unemployed midwives by making this announcement without acknowledging the shortage of midwives, that ante-natal classes are being cut, or that Labour are divided over threatened maternity unit closures ... there is no evidence that Patricia Hewitt has substance behind this announcement about home births." [Conservative party, 3 April]

An American cardinal has urged Catholics to oppose a bill that seeks to legalise assisted suicide in California. Cardinal Roger Mahoney described the bill, which has been approved by the Assembly committee and will now be considered by the Legislature, as "an attack on life." He said: "Assisted suicide is totally unnecessary -- not only is it against God's law, God's plan; we simply don't need something like that." He criticised the Democrat Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who is a Catholic, saying that he "has not understood and grasped the culture of life but has allowed himself to get swept into this other direction, the culture of death." [CNA on EWTN, 3 April] Pro-life advocates in California have called for Nunez to be excommunicated. Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the London, Ontario, based Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, said: "If Nunez persists in his support for the bill, Mahoney should excommunicate Nunez...To support a bill that allows the intentional taking of human life is a grave act that cannot be condoned and must be treated with the strongest response by all people of goodwill who wish to build a society based on the common good." [Life Site, 3 April]

Pro-life groups are calling on Amnesty International to stay neutral on the issue of abortion. Fr Thomas Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, said in a statement: "The failure to see the plight of the unborn for the injustice that it is represents a grave moral blindness, not a sensitivity to the oppressed. If Amnesty International drops its neutral stance on abortion they will have become their own enemy, and become complicit in one of the greatest human rights abuses of all time: abortion on demand." [CNA on EWTN, 3 April]

A man has been accused of murdering 10 women and an unborn child in the US. Chester Turner, 40, is charged with raping and strangling the women from 1987-98 in Los Angeles, one of whom, Regina Washington, was pregnant at the time. The trial continues. [Irish Examiner, 4 April]

Suffering from depression in pregnancy could cause premature births, infant death and severe childhood illness, according to British scientists. Researchers at King's College London found that the stress hormones produced in women who are depressed could have detrimental effects on their unborn child, including breathing problems, vulnerability to infection, low blood pressure, anaemia and jaundice as well an increased risk of being born prematurely. Dr Veronica O'Keane, who led the research, said: "It's my opinion that this mechanism of over-stimulation of stress hormones is at least one of the main causes of pre-term birth. We might be able to prevent many thousands of pre-term births if there was more treatment of depression during pregnancy." [Scotsman, 4 April] Dr O'Keane expressed concern that many pregnant women with depression do not go to a doctor and do not receive the necessary support from the NHS. She said: "It's largely a hidden problem. There's a myth really that women are protected from depression during pregnancy and that they are happy during pregnancy. But this actually isn't true if you look at it scientifically." [Guardian, 3 April]

Womb transplants from dead donors could replace surrogacy for infertile women who want children, according to Swedish scientists. Researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy in Gothenburg have carried out successful womb implantations that resulted in pregnancies in four sheep, although these have been autologus, that is, the wombs were put back into the same sheep. They now plan to carry out a uterus swap between two ewes, and hope that the technique could be adapted for humans in the future. [Scotsman, 4 April]

A sociology professor has said that care for the dying in Britain is "shameful". Professor Allan Kellehear, from the University of Bath, has published a book called A Social History of Dying in which he claimed that 20% of the country's population will die alone, suffering from dementia and without dignity. He said: "Most people think only fleetingly about how they will die and usually it surrounds some romantic notion dying in our sleep at home. This couldn't be further from the truth - we are significantly more likely to die a prolonged death in a nursing home or hospital, preceded by multiple organ failure, pneumonia or dementia.." [Channel 4, 4 April]

The Food and Drug Agency in America has launched a web page aiming to discourage pregnant women from buying an acne drug that can cause severe side effects to themselves and their unborn children. Isotretinoin, which is sold under the name of Accutane on the internet, can cause birth defects and foetal death and may also cause depression and suicide among pregnant women. The webpage, which is designed to open when people conduct online searches for Accutane, says that the drug should only be taken under the supervision of a physician and a pharmacist and provides links to other information pages. [Kaiser on Medical News Today, 3 April]

Pregnant women in Britain are to receive longer paid maternity leave. All women will now receive a statutory maternity pay for longer, and will be able to take a full year of maternity leave, no matter how long they have been working for their company. Mrs Kerrie Hulme from Manchester, who has a four year old daughter Grace, and is now pregnant again, said: "Last time I was pregnant I was only entitled to 18 weeks off with pay and 40 weeks' leave in total. I am relieved the rules are changing, as last time I would have liked to spend more time with Grace before going back to work." [Telegraph, 31 March]

England and Wales have the highest teenage birth rate in western Europe, according to statistics revealed by the British government. The area with the most teenage pregnancies is reportedly the London borough of Redcar and Cleveland, which has a conception rate of 18.4 in 1,000. Professor David Paton, an economist at the Nottingham University Business School, said that he believed the government's attempt to reduce pregnancies by easy access to contraception and sex education could be counter-productive. He said: "The underlying social deprivation of an area, family breakdown rates and religion seems to have a greater effect on teenage pregnancy rates than more obvious policies such as sex education or providing access to family planning. The danger with this sort of approach is that it can lead to an increase in risky sexual behaviour among some young people." [Telegraph, 2 April]
The US Senate is expected to vote next month on a bill seeking to enable government financing of embryonic stem cell research. The bill, which has been sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin, aims to overturn President Bush's 2001 ban on taxpayer funded research on stem cells taken from embryos. A second bill, sponsored by Senator Johnny Isakson, will also be discussed. This would direct the Health and Human Services Department to establish guidelines for research on embryos and would ban some procedures by which embryos are created for the purposes of research. [Guardian, 30 March]

Pregnant women who eat apples and fish could reduce the chances of their children developing allergies and conditions such as asthma and eczema, according to Scottish scientists. Researchers at Aberdeen University found that the children of mothers who ate the most apples were less likely to be diagnosed with asthma by the age of five, possibly due to antioxidants called flavanoids which are found in apples. The presence of omega-3 fatty acids in fish could be the reason for a similarly reduced risk of eczema in the children of women who ate fish once or more each week. [Sunday Herald, 1 April]

Giving nitro-glycerine to women in premature labour can improve their baby's health, according to Canadian scientists. Researchers published a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, which showed that premature babies, especially those born very prematurely at 24-28 weeks, benefited from the therapy, with a reduced risk of perinatal death, brain damage and serious lung and bowel complications. Dr Graeme N. Smith, who led the research, said: "Our team is very excited about these findings. It is estimated that it costs the Canadian health system almost $2 billion a year to take care of premature babies and their medical complications. Given the immeasurable societal and family costs associated with preterm birth and having a sick baby or child, treatment with nitroglycerin may result in major cost saving and longer-term health benefits for these babies." [Medical News Today, 1 April]

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