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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Hospice care "may prolong patients' lives"

26 March 2007

A study published in this month's issue of the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management reports that hospice care may prolong the lives of patients. Among the patients being studied, suffering from one of six terminal illnesses, the mean survival was 29 days longer for those who chose hospice care than for those who did not. Researchers cited possible contributory factors such as the avoidance of over-treatment, improved monitoring, holistic care, and family support. "Those of us who have worked in the field have seen firsthand how hospice can improve the quality of and indeed prolong the lives of people receiving care," said Dr Schumacher, president of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, who sponsored the research. [Medical News Today, 22 March]

The Catholic bishops of Peru have declared that 25 March, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, will be celebrated as the Day of the Unborn. In its statement, the Family and Defence of Life Commission of the bishops' conference stressed the urgency of defending pre-born human beings. A number of other countries have also previously designated 25 March as a special day for life. [Zenit 22 March]

In an audience with members of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, Pope Benedict told health care workers that their efforts to respect and defend every human life were essential to maintaining their credibility. He also said that the ethical perspective, based on human dignity and its associated rights and duties, is strengthened by the commandment of love, which is the centre of the Christian message. [Zenit 23 March]

After a week of debate, the Vermont House of Representatives voted 82-63 against the Patient Choice and Control at End of Life, which would have permitted physician-assisted suicide. The result was achieved through the involvement and campaigning of many people of good will according to Alex Schadenberg, of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas had opposed the bill, while supporting the concept of death with dignity. The director of the Vermont Centre for Independent Living, Deborah Lisi-Baker said that there needed to be greater access to hospice and palliative care in Vermont. [LifeSite 22March]

A Catholic hospital in Austin, Texas, has been issued with a restraining order to delay the removal of a child's respirator. Mrs Catarina Gonzales now has until 10 April to find another hospital that will care for her severely handicapped 16-month old son, Emilio. Doctors at the Brackenridge Children's Hospital, part of the Seton Catholic Health Centre, have said that Emilio's treatment, which consists of a respirator and feeding tube, is aggressive and medically inappropriate. Texas has a Futile Care law, which allows doctors to discontinue life-saving treatment without patient consent. [LifeSite 22 March]

Improving the ethos of a school and raising pupils' self-esteem could help reduce the number of teenage pregnancies, according to a report in the British Medical Journal. Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine cite trials in US Australia that show that such measures reduce risky behaviours. "Young women who feel supported by their schools and confident about their future careers are less likely to view early parenthood as a way of finding meaning and gaining respect from their peers and communities." [Guardian 23 March]

The National Bioethics Committee of South Korea has said it would allow limited studies of human embryonic stem cells and the use of stored human eggs for research, thus lifting the ban imposed in 2006 after the discovery that the scientist Hwang Woo-suk had published fraudulent papers about his stem-cell research. [Reuters 23 March]

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that that the Polish Government should pay compensation to a woman who was refused an abortion despite a deteriorating eye condition. However, the ruling has been condemned as another effort by ideologues to pressurise Poland into recognising abortion as a right, since no medical expert deemed her eye condition qualified for abortion under Polish Law. Alicjia Tysiac, who brought the case, admitted at a news conference in Warsaw that pressuring Poland to accept abortion was her motive. [LifeSite, 21 March]

An initiative with a group of 14 to 16-year-olds has been launched in Norwich, UK, to try to stem the rising number of teenage pregnancies. Romance Academy, inspired by the BBC2 series No Sex Please, We're Teenagers, challenges the participants to got without sex throughout the 15-week course. At the weekly meetings they will focus on various topics, including building and sustaining healthy relationships and self-image. "There's a lot of media pressure on teenagers to have sex and it's easy to lose the whole relationship side of things." said Mr. David Lanchester, one of the two Christian youth workers who will run the course, which is organised by Pregnancy Crisis Norfolk. [Christian Today, 22 March]

Growing numbers of young women in US, Australia and UK are taking advantage of egg-freezing services in order to postpone childbearing, despite the fact that the technology has a relatively low success rate. Dr Gillian Lockwood, medical director of Midland Fertility Services which is the only clinic in the UK to have produced babies from frozen eggs, warns that egg-freezing should not be used as an insurance policy. [Telegraph, 22 March] Freezing human embryos, as opposed to unfertilised eggs, is a more widely practised technique.

A survey among elderly residents of care-homes has revealed that many suffer chronic pain needlessly, because they are not involved in discussions about pain management. Poor pain management can lead to limited activity, depression , disturbed sleep, and even suicidal thoughts. Deborah Klee, policy manager for Help the Aged, said that it was the responsibility of the local state health service to provide specialist care but that older people in care homes were not given the same medical priority as those living at home. [Channel4, 21 March]

Abortion campaigners in Mexico have filed a bill in the federal Congress to legalize first trimester abortions throughout the country. President Felipe Calderon has said he would veto the bill. The bill has been filed by the Democratic Revolution Party, whose leader, Sen. Carlos Navarete, claims the legislation will prevent deaths from illegal abortions. [, 21 March] The head of the Knights of St Columbus has condemned the bill being debated in Mexico City which would legalize abortion in the capital area. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson joined the Mexican Bishops' conference in their condemnation of the bill. [Catholic News Agency, 20 March]

The practice of removing organs before a potential donor is declared brain dead is becoming increasingly common, reports the Washington Post. "Donation after cardiac death" involves removing organs when the heart has stopped beating and doesn't re-start spontaneously after several minutes (usually 5 but often less), if order to preserve their quality. "It's worrisome when you stop thinking of the person who is dying as a patient but rather as a set of organs, and start thinking more about what's best for the patient in the next room waiting for the organs," said Dr Gail Van Norman, an anesthesiologist and bioethicist at the University of Washington in Seattle. [LifeSite, 21 March]

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