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Defending life from the moment of conception

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UK government confirms support for population control in Africa

11 July 2007

The British government has confirmed that it supports population control in Africa. Speaking in the House of Lords, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon said: "The Government are committed to improving sexual and reproductive health, including family planning, across Africa. In 2006, [the Department for International Development] provided £25.1 million to [the United Nations Population Fund] and £7.5 million to the International Planned Parenthood Federation to support work on sexual and reproductive health and rights. We also work at country level and are funding reproductive health services in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe, enabling women, men and adolescents to avoid unwanted pregnancy and HIV." She also said: "We firmly believe that policy should be driven not by moral ideology, but by a firm evidence base," adding that she meant this specifically in reference to issues such as abortion. [House of Lords Hansard, 9 July] Anthony Ozimic, SPUC political secretary, commented: "The British government's renewed commitment to spreading the culture of death abroad makes all the more worrying Baroness Amos' nomination to the post of European Union special representative to the African Union."

A British doctor accused of acting inappropriately when he administered an overdose of a paralysing drug to two seriously ill babies has been cleared by a medical panel. A General Medical Council panel has rejected claims that Dr Michael Munro was guilty of professional misconduct when he administered a large dose of pancuronium to a premature baby in the moments before he died. Dr J Mitton, chairman of the panel, said: "There was a lack of clear specific professional guidelines and it is undisputed that your intention was to relieve suffering rather than to hasten death." Dr Munro was, however, criticised by the panel for his inconsistent record taking. It emerged that Dr Munro had previously administered the drug to another premature baby in 2005 after having denied that he had ever used the drug before in similar circumstances. Dr Munro has rejected claims that this inconsistency impairs his fitness to practice. His case has caused further debate over the law and claims that guidelines for doctors are impossible to follow. Professor Sheila McLean, professor of medical ethics at Glasgow University, said: "We leave our clinicians in a very difficult position if we don't clarify what we will approve and what we won't approve in these cases." [BBC, 10 July, and The Scotsman, 11 July]

Amnesty International has defended its stand on abortion following criticism by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, told Rt Rev William S Skylstad, Bishop of Spokane, Washington state, and conference president, that the conference had "incorrectly asserted that AI has adopted a 'pro-abortion stand'." He claims, rather, that Amnesty "seeks to ensure that women and men can exercise their sexual and reproductive rights free from coercion, discrimination and violence." Until April, Amnesty International's official position on abortion had been neutral. A new series of decisions has treated abortion, in the cases of rape, incest or threat to the mother's life, as a human right. Widney Brown, senior policy and campaigns director for Amnesty, said: "Where women have unwanted pregnancies as a result of sexual violence, including incest, they should have access to abortions and those abortions should be safe."[LifeSite, 10 July]

Schools in Britain can now give abortifacient morning-after pills to girls as young as 11 without telling their parents. As part of the government campaign to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies, sexual health clinics which provide the pills and other means of birth control, are being set up in secondary schools. Norman Wells, the director of Family and Youth Concern, described the policy as "undermining the law on the age of consent." Gill Frances, chairman of the Government's independent advisory group on teenage pregnancy, said: "Of course we wish under 16s were not having sex at all, but if they are it is important that they are protected from sexually-transmitted diseases and having babies." [Telegraph, 9 July]

A Northern Ireland high court judge has declined to intervene over the decision of a hospital to stop the artificial life support of a dying woman. When the patient's daughter sought a judicial review over her mother's treatment, Mr Justice Gillen said that there was no obligation under the Human Rights Act to provide treatment for the 51-year-old woman who last month was admitted to a Western Health and Social Trust with liver failure. Speaking to the woman's family in the high court in Belfast, he said: "The sad truth is that this woman is going to continue to deteriorate and that her death will occur." He stated that, "everything was being done to ensure her death was a dignified as possible", but refused to grant leave for a judicial review of the way in which the woman had been treated by her doctors. [BBC (Northern Ireland), 10 July]

Doctors in Argentina have protested against the government's recent attempts to liberalise abortion. The Buenos Aires Catholic Doctors Consortium (CDC) has released a statement saying that doctors will not carry out abortions and that they have the right to conscientious objection. The CDC statement said: "Natural [law] teaches unequivocally that the right to life is the first of all human rights and no one can dispose of it. Therefore neither politicians, nor legislators nor authorities can expect doctors, who by vocation, profession and tradition swear to protect life and health, to practise abortion, killing the smallest and most helpless of all human beings." [LifeSite, 9 July]

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