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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Foreign Secretary criticises Chinese treatment of pro-life activist Chen Guangcheng

24 January 2007

The British Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, has criticised the treatment of Chen Guangcheng, the lawyer who has campaigned against forced abortion and sterilisations in China. "I am deeply concerned by the news that the human rights defender, Chen Guangcheng has had his sentence upheld at appeal. The failure to uphold international fair trial standards in this case... suggests a backward step in China's progress towards building the rule of law. The UK has raised its concerns over the handling of Chen's case with the Chinese authorities on several occasions" The Foreign and Commonwealth Office describes the charges against Chen as "politically motivated by his highlighting of maladministration of the One Child Policy". [Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 15 January] SPUC comment: the UK government's statements seem calculated to avoid upsetting the Beijing regime, or criticising the one-child policy itself, which the Blair government supports.

The European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety is to vote on 30 January on a proposal for a unified market in medical products and therapies, which would mean such products would be legal in all Member States once given central authorisation. The group CARE (Christian Action, Research and Education) for Europe has expressed support for the principle of the proposal, which it is hoped will enable patients to gain access to treatments faster, but voiced concern over the lack of "ethical safeguards". SPUC has called for safeguards to exclude products derived from embryonic or foetal cells or human-animal hybrids; exclude products that involve germ line modification; and guarantee that all tissue and cell donations are voluntary and unpaid. SPUC has urged its members to lobby MEPs for the exclusion of unethical products from the proposals. [Christian Today, 16 January, and CARE and SPUC, 15 January]

Dr Carlo Bellieni, a neonatologist at the Le Scotte University Polyclinic in Siena, Italy and correspondent member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, has commented on the "encouraging" discovery of stem cells in the amniotic fluid. "Obviously, this leads one to wonder if it is reasonable to allocate copious funds to obtaining cells extracted from human embryos, with their consequent death, without having obtained or even perceived a clinical result... " Dr Bellieni said. He also said that use of the amniotic fluid raised some ethical concerns, namely that its use should not lead to privatizing a biological resource, and that the baby should not be put at risk by collection of the fluid. [Zenit, 16 January]

Doctors at a New York hospital are planning to carry out womb transplants to enable women who have had hysterectomies to have children. A womb from a woman who has died would be transplanted into the recipient, whose own previously frozen embryo would then be transferred. Once the mother had given birth (by caesarean section) the womb would be removed again to reduce the risk of tissue rejection. Dr Sherman Silber, an infertility expert from St Louis, warned of potential dangers in the procedure: "At any time during the nine months of pregnancy it could very easily reject, and if a pregnant uterus rejects you have got a serious medical problem". However, the leader of the project, Dr Giuseppe Del Priore, said: "Transplant medicine has improved sufficiently to allow us to consider non-vital transplants." [BBC, 17 January]

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