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Defending life
from conception to natural death


Inquiry into UK government's hybrid embryo plans

12 January 2007

An inquiry is to be held into the British government's plans to ban experiments using hybrid embryos. The Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology will investigate scientists' claims that banning the creation of part-human, part-animal embryos will seriously impede their research. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is expected to announce its decision on the issue later today. [Telegraph, 11 January] The president of the Royal Society has signed a letter to the Times newspaper supporting research with hybrid embryos. Professor Sir Martin Rees was among many signatories, which included, Professor Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the sheep, Professor Lord Robert Winston, fertility expert and Dr Evan Harris, a liberal democrat MP who is also a member of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology. The letter states: "...many patient groups, leading scientists, doctors and ethicists support this research being able to proceed under the regulation of the HFEA. We urge the HFEA to adopt a policy supportive of this sort of research, subject to its own strict licensing requirements and to the usual 14-day limit which applies to human embryos." [Royal Society, 10 January] The Church of England remains "profoundly uneasy" about stem cell research involving human genetic material. Spokesman Steve Jenkins said that this was the case "no matter how it is packaged." [Christian Today, 10 January]

A league table of fertility clinics has been published in Britain. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) produced the list, which ranks them on performance in several criteria, including risk management, safety and staff competence, in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The worst clinic, London's Reproductive Genetics Institute, was among six clinics which scored below -15, the ideal score being 0. At these clinics there was deemed to be "systemic problems caused by poor leadership and control" as well as problems with protocols, procedures in the laboratory, staff competence, qualifications and training. John Paul Maytum, a HFEA spokesman, said: "When you are looking at the performance of a clinic, it's not so much the problems you find that matter, it's how quickly the clinic addresses the problems and improves their performance and practice. A lot of these clinics had already addressed the problems by the time the inspection report was looked at by the licence committee." [BBC News, 10 January]

A US government report has said that embryos are humans "in their earliest developmental stage." The report, entitled "Advancing Stem Cell Science without Destroying Human Life" was written by the Domestic Policy Council, which is under the direction of President Bush. It stated: "We do not have to think that human embryos are exactly the same in all ways as older humans to believe that they are entitled to respect and protection. Each of us originated as a single-celled embryo, and from that moment have developed along a continuous biological trajectory throughout our existence. To speak of 'an embryo' is to designate a human being at a particular stage." The report commented on embryonic stem cell research, saying: "It increasingly appears that the qualities researchers value in embryonic cells may also exist in other stem cells that are easier to procure, more stable to grow, safer to use in therapies, and free of the ethical violations of embryo destruction...There is no reason to sacrifice longstanding moral concerns in a short-sighted rush for therapeutic payoffs." [Life Site, 10 January]

A woman suffered a painful death at a suicide clinic in Switzerland, according to German and Swiss media. A 43-year old woman suffering from a brain tumour reportedly took a fatal dose of poison at the Dignitas clinic in Zurich, which offers its clients a peaceful and dignified death. The woman is said to have cried out in pain for 4 minutes before falling into a coma for 38 minutes before she died, according to the Zurich SonntagsZeitung. Dignitas refused to comment on the story. [Life Site, 10 January]

A convicted murderer in a British prison and his wife have so far been given £20,000 legal aid in their fight to have a baby by IVF. Kirk Dickson, 34, was jailed in 1995 for a minimum of 15 years after he and a friend kicked George Askins, 41, to death for refusing to hand over his cigarettes. He and his wife Lorraine have tried for five years in a series of hearings to be allowed to have IVF treatment on the National Health Service. They recently went before 17 judges in the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. Peter Askins, the brother of the murdered man, said: "This is a man who brutally took the life of my brother. Why should taxpayers' cash be used to give him the opportunity to create another life? " [Daily Mail, 10 January]

A health care trust in Britain has apologised for temporarily withdrawing chemical abortion. The Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust withdrew drugs which cause abortion in an attempt to cut waiting times, meaning that women wanting an abortion had to have an operation. Valerie Howell, the trust's acting director of delivery, said: "In hindsight we realise it was a wrong decision to make and we are really sorry that the women of Cornwall were not offered the choice that we would normally offer them. We will be going back to offering both methods from the end of January." [BBC News, 10 January]

The first child to be born from IVF using a frozen egg in Britain has started school. Emily Perry, whose mother had her eggs frozen, stored and then thawed for use, was born in 2002 and is now four years old. [Daily Mail, 10 January]

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the public meeting in Caxton Hall, London, at which SPUC was launched in 1967.

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