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Defending life from the moment of conception

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HFEA grants licence to screen embryos for breast cancer gene

24 July 2007

A British couple who have a family history of breast cancer have reportedly won the right to screen their embryos for a gene that may trigger the disease. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) gave them the licence, which is the first of its kind in Britain. Gemma Wilkie, a spokeswoman for the HFEA, said: "I can confirm that the HFEA have granted a licence to University College Hospital in London to use PGD to screen for the BRCA gene which causes a susceptibility to inherited breast cancer. We have also received a further application for this condition which is still being considered." [Times, 21 July] Alison Davis of No Less Human said: "This case clearly shows yet again that, once killing is allowed for any reason, it is likely eventually to be extended to allow more and more killing, all in the name of supposedly 'preventing suffering.' The HFEA first allowed PGD 'only' for conditions it considered 'severe' and which inevitably caused disability. Now it has allowed it for a condition which has only 80% penetration. We can guess what will happen next, but the wrongness is not in the effects of the slippery slope but in the fact that it was allowed to start in the first place. The only ethical way to proceed is to stop trying to deal with disabling conditions by killing those who have them, and to welcome every child into the world."

A British IVF doctor under investigation by the HFEA may continue to work but has been told that he is no longer fit to have legal responsibility for his clinic. The HFEA licensing committee said that Mr Mohamed Taranissi must appoint another person to be in legal charge of the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre, the London clinic he has run for 12 years. The decision follows years of disputes between the authority and Mr Taranissi, which culminated in February after the BBC's Panorama television programme accused him of treating patients at an unlicensed clinic. Mr Taranissi said: "We are pleased to have been told that we can continue to work and my priority now is my patients." [Guardian, 24 July]

Police in India have found the body-parts of female embryos and newborn babies near an abortion clinic. The manager of the clinic in Nayagarh district in the state of Orissa has been arrested on suspicion of involvement in what officers believe may be female foeticide, a practice that has been banned but is still often carried out due to a cultural preference for male children. Police found the body parts of the baby girls in polythene bags in a dry well, not far from where seven female embryos were found a week ago. [CNN, 23 July]

Hospices in Britain are suffering from financial difficulties after the government reportedly failed to provide the funding it promised. A study of 186 out of 194 of the UK's charitable hospices showed that one in four of them was in deficit, despite government promises that funding for palliative care would be doubled. David Praill, chief executive of Help the Hospices, said: "We are asking the government to deliver Labour's election manifesto commitment to doubling the amount given for palliative care as a matter of urgency. Charitable hospices provide the majority of in-patient palliative care services as well as a range of day care, hospice at home, bereavement support services and training for doctors and nurses." [BBC, 23 July]

Chinese scientists claim to be the first to have cloned a rabbit. According to the China Daily, the rabbit was cloned using so-called fibroblast cells from a rabbit embryo and is now growing normally at an animal centre in Shanghai. Wang Hongguang, director of the China Centre for Biotechnology Development, was quoted as saying: "Chinese cloning research has reached a global advanced level. We can reproduce almost all the cloning results in top-class laboratories around the world. However, we are lacking in original creations such as the newly cloned rabbit." [Reuters, 24 July]

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