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US embryo cloning bill defeated

8 June 2007

A bill designed to allow cloning of human embryos for destructive research while forbidding the birth of babies created in this way has been defeated in the US House of Representatives. The White House confirmed that President Bush would have vetoed the bill because it would have allowed the creation of embryos destined for destruction in stem-cell research. [Reuters, 7 June] Calling for legislators to reject the bill, Cardinal Rigali, chairman of the US Catholic bishops' committee for pro-life activities, pointed out several flaws in the bill, in particular that "For the first time in U.S. law, Congress would define a new class of humans it is a crime not to destroy." [Zenit, 6 June] The National Right to Life Committee explained that the deceptively named "Human Cloning Prohibition Act" didn't ban cloning at all, only the transference of cloned embryos into a uterus or its functional equivalent. [LifeSite, 6 June]

A Federal appeals court in San Francisco has ruled that forced abortion, as well as forced sterilization, are grounds for awarding asylum in the US. It further ruled that an official order to undergo an abortion constitutes force. Zi Zhi Tang's initial application for asylum, made when his work visa expired in 2002, was turned down on the grounds that his wife's abortion in China was not forced because she did not go into hiding when she received the order. [AP on Guardian, 7 June]

Several Catholic politicians in New South Wales, including the premier, Morris Iemma, have said they would defy Cardinal Pell's call to reject a bill that would legalize human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research. George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney and leader of the Catholic Church in Australia warned catholic lawmakers that supporting the bill would have consequences for their lives in the Church. Catholic Labour MP for Bankstown, Tony Stewart said "... if I go to hell I'm going to do so by saving a lot of lives, because that's what this bill is about." Others joined in Australian-style political barracking of the Cardinal. Nathan Rees, minister for emergency services suggested the Cardinal was a "serial boofhead". Federal Treasurer Peter Costello, a Baptist, defended the Cardinal's right to air his views, while saying that MPs should vote according to their conscience. [LifeSite, 6 June and World News Australia, 6 June]

Separate studies in Japan and America were published in the journal Nature on Wednesday showing that embryonic stem cells can be made by reprogramming some of the genes in adult skin cells, without having to create an embryo. The results of work on mice are preliminary, and proof of principle, according to Rudolf Jaenisch, a professor of biology at MIT and member of the Whitehead Institute, leader of one of the groups. But he claims that it is necessary to continue studying embryonic stem cells through traditional means, and expects increased funding for this work under a new presidential administration. [Financial Times, 6 June, and Guardian, 7 June] The Financial Times article also reports on a paper in Nature claiming that newly-created embryos, rather than ova, can be used for cloning in mice. The significance of this, if applicable to humans, is that frozen embryos could be used, which are more widely available than unfertilised eggs.

The number of women over 40 in Britain undergoing IVF treatment has increased more than tenfold over the last 15 years, according to statistics published by the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The majority of over-40-year-olds pay for IVF privately, at around £4,000 to £8,000 per cycle, as the NHS will not normally fund it because of the low success rates. The story quotes Angela McNab, chief executive of the HFEA, and Dr Gillian Lockwood, a fertility practitioner, whose comments suggest that the increase is due to women's career and lifestyle decisions. [Daily Mail, 6 June]

More unborn children may be damaged by alcohol than was generally believed, according to the British Medical Association (BMA). A report published on 4th June warned that many birth defects resulting from the mother's use of alcohol during pregnancy may be going undiagnosed. The BMA says there is no evidence that drinking only one to two units of alcohol a week harmed the unborn child. However, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the BMA, said, "the fact that we haven't yet got the evidence doesn't mean that there isn't evidence of a link." But she said that fetal alcohol problems were probably under-reported in the UK because there is no specific test. [Guardian, 4 June]

An American Catholic bishop has criticised Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani for being hypocritical about abortion. Mr Giuliani has said that, while he is personally opposed to abortion, he believes women should be able to decide on the issue for themselves. Bishop Thomas J Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, wrote in a column in a local Catholic paper: "Rudy's public proclamations on abortion are pathetic and confusing. Even worse, they're hypocritical... As Catholics, we are called, indeed required, to be pro-life, to cherish and protect human life as a precious gift of God from the moment of conception until the time of natural death. As a leader, as a public official, Rudy Giuliani has a special obligation in that regard" [Guardian, 5 June]

A sixty-five year old Polish man has awoken from a 19-year-long coma in Dzialdowo, northern Poland. Doctors predicted that Mr Jan Grzewski, who was injured in an accident at work on the railway, would never recover after they found a cancer in his brain. He has memories of events while apparently comatose, and can remember the efforts of his family to speak to him. He was looked after for years at home by his wife Gertruda. She said: "I would fly into a rage every time someone would say that people like him should be euthanized, so they don't suffer. I believed Janek would recover ... I cried a lot, and prayed a lot. Those who came to see us kept asking, 'When is he going to die?' But he's not dead." [LifeSite, 4 June]

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