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UK regulator to consider prescription-free birth control pills

5 February 2007

The regulator of medicines in Britain is to hold discussions to consider whether the hormonal birth control pill should be made available without a prescription. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) hopes the discussions will lead to the pill and other sexual health products being classified as pharmacy medicines, available with the agreement of a pharmacist but not requiring a doctor's prescription. [Guardian, 5 February] Such a reclassification of the pill as a pharmacy medicine would mirror the reclassification of the morning-after pill in 2001, which has led to cases of girls under the age of consent being able to obtain the potentially abortifacient drug with few or no questions asked.

It is reported that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has told parliamentarians that it does not want the government to ban the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos. [Independent, 5 February] It had previously been reported that the HFEA was inclined to support the government's position, but the HFEA then deferred its decision pending further debate.

The president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, has signed a decree allowing the morning-after pill to be given to girls as young as 14 without their parent's consent. The order is said to require that teenagers receive counselling when given the drug. Abortion is illegal in Chile, but the BBC claims that 35% of pregnancies are illegally aborted. No evidence is cited for the claim. [BBC, 30 January]

The highest court in Switzerland has ruled that certain mentally-ill people may lawfully be assisted to commit suicide. Ruling in the case of a man with a bipolar condition who had requested a lethal drug, the court said: "If the death wish is based on an autonomous decision which takes all circumstances into account, then a mentally ill person can be prescribed sodium-pentobarbital and thereby assisted in suicide." Elspeth Chowdharay-Best, honorary secretary of ALERT (Against Legalised Euthanasia - Research & Training), said: "I think this is a horrifying development. It takes one back to the Nazi era, when people with disabilities were considered disposable." [Scotsman, 4 February]

A medical board has cleared an Italian doctor who disconnected a patient's respirator. Dr Mario Riccio had disconnected the respirator of Piergiorgio Welby, a patient with muscular dystrophy who requested the disconnection and died subsequently. [BreakingNews.ie, 1 February] Pope Benedict XVI, marking Pro-life Day in Italy, said yesterday: "[E]choing the pastors of the Church in Italy, I urge you not to fall into the deception of thinking that one can dispose of life to the point of "legitimizing its interruption with euthanasia, masking it perhaps with a veil of human mercy." [Zenit, 4 January]

The Holy See has confirmed that it will not sign the convention on disabled people agreed at the United Nations in New York last month, citing pro-life concerns. (VIS, 1 February)

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