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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Embryo debate adjourned as peer collapses

20 November 2007

The second reading debate in the House of Lords on the UK government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill got under way on Monday. The debate was adjourned after Catholic Labour peer Lord Brennan collapsed in the chamber shortly after making a speech. Many peers expressed concern at the proposal in the Bill to omit the requirement to consider a child's need for a father when conducting IVF treatment. Others stressed the objections to allowing hybrid embryos under the new legislation. The recent announcement that Professor Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly the sheep, has abandoned (human) cloning technology to pursue stem cell research with adult tissue was noted by several peers during the debate. The debate will be resumed tomorrow (Wednesday). [SPUC, 19 November] Cardinal Murphy O'Connor, leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has criticised the bills plans to allow IVF treatment without the assurance of a father's involvement after the birth. In a letter to the Times he says that this provision "radically undermines the place of the father in a child's life, and makes the natural rights of the child subordinate to the desires of the couple." [BBC, 19 November, and Telegraph, 19 November] A statement two Scottish bishops raises the issue of the creation of animal-human hybrids which, they say, is a "dangerous and unnecessary precedent which does not respect the dignity of the human person." [Zenit, 18 November] Parliament will also the debate the possibility of allowing embryos which are the product of three parents to be implanted in women. The procedure is seen as a cure for mitochondrial disease and involves transferring the nucleus of a fertilised ovum with damaged mitochondria into an unfertilised ovum with healthy mitochondria. [Independent on Sunday, 18 November]

The Pope has called on health care professionals to give elderly sick people respect and support, and not to give way to the temptation of euthanasia. Speaking to participants in a conference called The Pastoral Care of Elderly Sick People promoted by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, Pope Benedict said that euthanasia was one of the more alarming symptoms of the culture of death. He also recalled the teaching and example of John Paul II, his predecessor. [Zenit, 18 November] Dignitas, the Swiss group which arranges assisted suicides, wants to extend its services to Germany. Ludwig Minelli, the group's head, told the Landbote newspaper that he had a contact in Germany who was prepared to risk prosecution to help seriously ill people to commit suicide. Last year, 57% of Dignitas clients came from Germany. [Reuters Africa, 18 November]

The head of Amnesty International in the UK has supported the organisation's new policy on abortion. In an interview for the Guardian newspaper, Ms Kate Allen dismissed the opposition of the Catholic Church as nonsensical, and revealed that only 222 out of a quarter of a million British members had resigned their membership, while 105 had increased their donations. [Guardian, 19 November] The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have written to all Catholic primary and secondary schools and sixth form colleges saying that they should no longer have ties with Amnesty and should not raise money for it. Catholics are urged to continue to work for justice by putting into practice the social teaching of the Catholic Church by supporting other organisations. [Times, 16 November]

Professor Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly the sheep, has announced that he will no longer pursue cloning to obtain human stem cells for therapies. He has decided that there is greater potential in a technique pioneered using mice by Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University, Japan, in which stem cells have been developed from fragments of skin. [Scotland on Sunday, 18 November]

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