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Defending life from the moment of conception

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'Dr Death' hopes new Australian government will lead to euthanasia law

31 December 2007

Pro-euthanasia lobbyists are hoping that the new Australian government will consider legalising voluntary euthanasia. Dr Philip Nitschke, a pro-euthanasia campaigner, is holding a workshop in Canberra to provide information on accessing voluntary euthanasia methods, despite being warned by the attorney-general's department that some of the material being shown at the meeting is illegal. Dr Nitschke said: "Maybe the foot will come off the throat a bit with the Kevin Rudd Government, although Kevin Rudd himself is quite hostile to this end of life issue and some of his senior ministers are too. But there are more people in this new Government who understand that this is an important issue for this century." [ABC, 19 December]

Baby units in Britain are suffering from staff shortages, according to a national report. The National Audit Office said that there were 459 vacancies for neonatal nurses, and inspectors warned that many of the 180 units in England were too full to give the best care to sick babies. [BBC, 19 December]

The Lancet, the UK medical journal, has published a call for the government to require folic acid, a synthetic B-vitamin, to be added to bread flour. The Food Standards Agency gave its approval in June. It is hoped that the additive will reduce the number of babies born with disabilities such as spina bifida. The suggestion has been held up by concerns that folic acid may increase the risk of colon cancer. [BBC, 14 December] Most spina bifida babies are detected in utero and aborted.

Burmese girls are being trafficked into China to supply the shortage of girls resulting from the country's one-child policy, according to an international charity. Mr Andrew Kirkwood, the Burma programme director for Save the Children, said: "There are millions of men with no chance of marrying. Brothers sell sisters, fathers sell daughters, across the border. It's hard to determine how much they know about what the fate of the girls will be." [Independent, 19 December]

A scientist who turned skin cells into pluripotential stem cells has warned that, since the same technique could be used to create sperm and egg cells, people could be generated who had just one parent. Professor Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University described the possibility as "strange and dangerous." The HFEA, the British fertility regulator, said it was a grey area but that there would be laws against it next year. [Telegraph, 13 December] Paul Tully, general secretary of SPUC, commented, "The generation of embryonic-type stem cells from adult stem cells has been widely welcomed, and appears to provide an ethical alternative to the creation and destruction of embryos for their cells. However, scientists need to ensure that alternative methods don't entail other moral problems."

A clinical trial has conducted by researchers at Duke University, North Carolina, has found that the umbilical cord stem cells can successfully be used to treat infants suffering from fatal congenital diseases. The study involved 159 children suffering from lysosomal and peroxisomal disorders, which include Krabbe disease and Hurler syndrome, and was conducted over a 13 year period. Infants received blood of unrelated donors selected to provide enzymes they lacked. A significant increase in survival rates was recorded following the treatment. [Reuters, 13 December]

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