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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Inquest into woman who died following IVF

21 November 2007

An inquest has recently been held into the death of a British woman who died after receiving IVF treatment. Mrs Nina Thanki suffered from endometriosis, which had made her unable to conceive, and which can cause blood clots. She had gone into hospital for an egg retrieval operation, but this led to several complications including swelling and bleeding and subsequently deep vein thrombosis developed in her leg and travelled to her lung where it blocked the absorption of oxygen. A verdict of accidental death was recorded. [Telegraph, 16 November]

An American team of researchers is to publish results confirming that embryonic-type stem cells can be derived from human skin. Professor James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has confirmed the work of Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University. A number of leading scientists note that this may obviate the ethical and practical difficulties of cloning embryos for stem cell research. Professor Thompson, who first isolated stem cells in human embryos in 1998 said: "The world has changed because of this new result." His work is to be published in the journal Science. [Independent, 21 November] The technique was also hailed by the director of a Catholic ethics institute in America. Fr Thomas Berg, executive director of the Westchester Institute, New York, said this advance put respect for embryonic human life on the same plane as the search for life-saving therapies, with the added advantage of using stem-cells that are patient-matched. [Zenit, 20 November] Yesterday we reported how Prof Ian Wilmut, creator of the first cloned mammal, had abandoned human cloning in favour of adult cell research.

The creation of embryos to save the life of a sick sibling usually results in the destruction of many other embryos, a bioethics expert told the Sixth National Bioethics Congress in Spain last week. Prof Justo Aznar, director of life sciences at the University of Valencia which hosted the conference, explained that it was rare that a suitable embryo was obtained at the first attempt, with the efficiency for the technique being between 1% and 3%. [Zenit, 20 November]

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, has criticised the Democrat party's policies on abortion and said that Catholics should not vote for pro-abortion politicians. Speaking to the Boston Globe, the cardinal said that support of such policies by Catholics sometimes "borders on scandal". [Catholic News Service, 15 November]

The Medical Association of Portugal has refused to comply with a government instruction to remove the condemnation of abortion from its code, in order to bring it into conformity with Portugal's new law allowing abortion in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. The code requires doctors to respect human life from its beginning and describes abortion as a "grave ethical failure". Dr Pedro Nunes, head of the association, said: "Having an opinion and ethical principles is what separates rational beings from a flock of sheep... The health minister threatened to take us to court if we did not change our code ... but the code can only be changed by doctors and not by a health minister". [Reuters, 15 November]

The Swedish parliament has passed legislation that will allow foreign women access to abortions for the first time, in line with most other European countries. Catholic Bishop Anders Arborelius, and evangelical leader Sten-Gunnar Hedin spoke forcefully against the amendment earlier in the year. They said, "We are sad that this proposal is backed by a Christian Democrat social affairs minister, Göran Hägglund. It is incomprehensible that he is supporting this proposal while claiming that it was required by the EU, something that this country's leading EU law expert, Professor Ulf Bernitz, insists is not the case." Bishop Arborelius and Mr. Hedin threatened to oppose the re-election of the Christian Democrat party, a move which they believe most Christian leaders in Sweden would support. [LifeSite, 20 November]

The Brazilian National Health Conference has rejected the legalisation of abortion. At least 70% of delegates voted against the proposal, in spite of the vague wording used. Eight years ago, the conference recommended the decriminalisation of abortion, and the reversal is attributed to the growing pro-life movement which has the support of 60% of the population. [LifeSite, 20 November]

A study of the incidence of stillbirth, which, Channel 4 reports, has not fallen in England and Wales in the past 20 years, indicates that placental development could be the most significant cause. Writing in the The Lancet medical journal, Professor Gordon Smith of Cambridge University and Dr Ruth Fretts of Harvard Medical School, Boston, say that the majority of stillbirths are due to complications linked to malfunction of the placenta. They suggest that developing new kinds of screening tests in early pregnancy may help in identifying stillbirth risk. [PA on Channel 4, 16 November]

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