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Defending life from the moment of conception

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weekly update, 9 to 16 January

16 January 2007

weekly update, 9 to 16 January The HFEA has announced a public consultation over whether scientists should be allowed to create hybrid human-animal embryos. The Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority (HFEA) said it would not rule on any research applications until the consultation is completed in the autumn. The decision comes after ministers proposed outlawing the mixing of human and animal cells to create embryos after critical public opinion. Two UK teams want permission to carry out the controversial research in an attempt to find cures to conditions such as Alzheimer's. Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP, is co-ordinating the support for human-animal embryos and said such research was widely supported. [BBC Online, 11 January ] A parliamentary inquiry is also to be held on 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. [Telegraph, 11 January ] The president of the Royal Society 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, and Professor Lord Robert Winston, fertility expert. 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 ] The Church of Scotland said it was an ethical line "not to be crossed". A spokesperson said: "It is hard to see what respect is being shown in creating an embryo, purely to extract cells from it, which is both a hybrid of human and animal, and which is thereby so disrupted that it could never be viable." [Christian, 12 January ] Britain's most successful test-tube baby clinic is the subject of regulatory action after it was secretly filmed offering potentially risky treatment to women. The BBC's Panorama programme revealed several inconsistencies at London's Assisted Reproductive and Gynaecology Centre, including an undercover reporter being offered extensive IVF treatment despite neither she nor her partner having any history of fertility problems. Mohamed Taranissi, who runs the centre, is also accused of treating patients at a second, unlicensed clinic. The HFEA said the regulatory action was as a result of their own investigations. [BBC Online, 15 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 ] The Vatican has welcomed the new technique for isolating stem cells in amniotic fluid, saying that it is a significant advance in medical progress that does not go against the Church's beliefs. Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, said: "I am very glad to see this progress in the field of science for the good of humankind...The Church is not obscurantist and is always ready to welcome real scientific progress that neither threatens nor manipulates the sources of life." [Reuters, 9 January ] An Irish man who formerly worked at a hospice has said that while there, he assisted up to 10 suicides. The 31 year old man from Dublin has been arrested after he claimed that he had helped a number of patients to kill themselves at Our Lady's Hospice in Harold's Cross during 1997-8. The hospice has said that no deaths in this period were suspicious and are co-operating with the police investigation. [Belfast Telegraph, 10 January ]

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