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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Pro-hybrid scientists attack government and HFEA

5 January 2007

Scientists who wish to create human-animal hybrid embryos have attacked the government and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for reportedly planning to stop such experiments. The Times gives prominent and entirely partisan coverage to those leading the campaign: Professor Chris Shaw, Stephen Minger and Dr Lyle Armstrong. In the Times' print edition, the front page lead, two feature articles and an opinion piece all give uncritical coverage and implicit support to the creation of human-animal hybrids by transferring human DNA to the egg of a rabbit or cow. [Times, 5 Jan] Anthony Ozimic, SPUC political secretary, commented: "This hype is being generated by those with vested interests in money from the government's stem cell research fund. Yet again, patients with degenerative diseases are being given false hope and exploited by the profit-hungry biotech industry. Human embryos are full human beings from the moment of their creation, and nothing should be done to destroy human embryos or undermine human dignity." [SPUC, 5 January] Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics said: "This is creating an animal-human hybrid and that has to be acknowledged as something that does not meet with approval. We hope that the HFEA has found this is one hurdle too many and they are not prepared to jump over it." [BBC News, 5 January]

The husband of a British woman who suffers from Alzheimer's disease is seeking permission to kill his wife. Maureen-Anne Starr was diagnosed with the disease in 2004 and now lives full time in a nursing home. Her husband Bill said: "If this was an animal you would be able to put it out of its misery and the same should apply to humans. Her brain is shrinking and it is just downhill all the way from now. There needs to be a change in the law to allow euthanasia to go ahead for all those who need it. There should be voluntary euthanasia for all those who need it and one-on-one care to protect those who need to be kept from the dangers that they face." [Ashfield Today, 4 January]

A man who killed an abortionist in America is to have another trial in an attempt by the government to increase his sentence from 25 years to life imprisonment. James Kopp, 52, was convicted of second degree murder after fatally shooting Dr Barnett Slepian in his home in 1998. He is now to have a federal trial in New York, which will aim to imprison him for the rest of his life by arguing that by shooting an abortionist, Kopp violated the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. [The Guardian, 4 January]

The leading figure in Catholic education in Scotland has accused Glasgow City Council and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde of refusing to engage with the concerns of the Church and Catholic schools in a recent poll on sex education. Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said that the Church had wanted to take part in the survey but had had "serious concerns" about the appropriateness of some of the questions for young teenagers. He said that meetings had been sought with the council and health service to discuss the concerns but that neither had responded. Mr McGrath said: "Unlike some other health boards, Glasgow has taken a very negative view of being able to have a working relationship with us. They tend to view us as being against sex education, but that's not the case at all." [Times Educational Supplement, 5 January]

The second of a pair of twins conceived by IVF has been born five years after her brother. Lisa Callister underwent in vitro fertilisation treatment in 2000 after she had been diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition which affects the uterus and makes a natural conception difficult. The twins were conceived at the same time but the boy, Jack, was put into his mother's womb and born in 2000, while Lucie was frozen in storage for five years. Mrs Callister said: "Every time I look at them, I can't quite believe it. They are twins but Jack is nearly six whereas Lucie is only two months old. It's bizarre, but true." [Mirror, 5 January]

The Chinese premier has said that the country's one-child policy will continue. Speaking at a national conference on population and family planning, Wen Jiabo said that China "will adhere to the basic policy of family planning with improved services and stronger leadership." He emphasised the importance of maintaining a low birth rate among families in rural areas and called for more rewards and subsidies to encourage birth control in such regions. [Medical News Today, 4 January] A Chinese woman has been appointed head of the World Health Organisation. Margaret Chan, 59, said she would make women's health a priority. [Reuters, 4 January]

Pregnant women who have high levels of vitamin E tend to have bigger babies, according to a recent study by American scientists. Researchers from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey followed the pregnancy of 1,231 women and measured their blood concentrations of two forms of vitamin E at the start of the study and again at the 28th week of pregnancy. They found that mothers who had the highest vitamin E levels were three times less likely to have a baby which was smaller than average at birth. However, the researchers say that it is still not clear whether women should take any extra vitamin E supplements beyond standard prenatal multivitamins. [Reuters, 4 January]

Women who have had female genital mutilation are more likely to experience difficulties in childbirth and their babies are more likely to die, according to a new study by the World Health Organisation. It is estimated that in Africa 10-20 babies die per 1,000 deliveries as a result of the practice, which is usually undertaken for cultural or religious reasons. [Medical News Today, 4 January]

A woman has made an official complaint against a British hospital after her bed collapsed while she was giving birth. Linda Makin said that the entire birth at Leeds General Infirmary was a traumatic experience due to chronic understaffing and equipment failure. Mrs Makin said: "We kept getting told how busy they were, how understaffed they were, how they were pushed to their very limits, how they were trying desperately to get things done for us and for everybody there. But they simply couldn't manage all the tasks they were meant to do." [BBC News, 4 January]

The New York Times is likely to remove its position of public editor, after he revealed that the newspaper made a serious error in reporting on the criminal penalty for abortion in El Salvador. The Times claimed that women in the Central American country were imprisoned for thirty years for illegal abortions whereas in fact the case to which they were referring concerned infanticide of a full-term baby. Byron Calame, the current public editor, a position that had been instituted in 2003 to be an independent and unbiased voice within the paper, followed up concerns by pro-life groups, especially LifeSite, that the story had been wrongly reported and urged the paper's editors to issue a correction, without success. At a meeting on 15 December, the executive editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, raised the idea of axing the position of public editor. Mr Calame said: "Accuracy and fairness were not pursued with the vigor Times readers have a right to expect ... it is not a surprise to me that the New York Times...would want to sit down and think about whether they want to have a public editor." [Life Site, 4 January]

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