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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Doctors' groups clash over conscience rights

2 October 2007

Medical leaders in Britain are in disagreement about proposals to extend the right of doctors to refuse treatment to which they have a conscientious objection. The General Medical Council (GMC), the doctors' disciplinary body, has issued draft guidance which says that unnecessary restrictions should not be imposed on doctors because of their "cultural preferences or religious or other convictions". The British Medical Association, the doctors' representative body, claims that this undermines fundamental principles by allowing doctors to discriminate against groups of patients such as same-sex couples, Jehovah's Witnesses and alcoholics. The only legal right, enshrined in abortion legislation, is for doctors who do not wish to participate in abortions, though it is also widely accepted that some doctors are not to be involved in providing contraceptives nor withdrawing life-prolonging treatment. The GMC has been under pressure to extend its guidance on conscientious objection to include other beliefs. [Independent, 29 September]

A survey for the Irish Times reveals that a majority of women believe that abortion should be legalised in that country. Of the 1,000 women questioned, 54% favour legislation that would permit abortions to be carried out. The greatest support for abortion was among young and single women, while 70% support it in cases of substantial risk to the mother's life, and 400 said that they knew someone who had had an abortion. [Irish Independent, 29 September] Miss D, the otherwise unidentified teenage girl who was the centre of a Irish high court case earlier this year and travelled to England to abort her disabled baby, is pregnant again. She said it was a shock, as she had intended to wait before having another baby, but she doesn't regret it, and is looking forward to giving birth. She is considering suing the health authorities over the handling of her case. [Irish Independent, 28 September]

A bishop of the Anglican communion in Ireland has criticised politicians for failing to enact legislation to allow for abortion following the X case of 1992, whereby the supreme court allowed a minor to travel to England for an abortion on the basis that her life and health were at risk. The remarks were in a homily by Rt Rev Michael Burrows, Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, during a service in a Dublin church to mark the new law term. The government has declined to comment. The Labour Party has included in every election manifesto since 1992 a commitment to introduce such legislation. [Irish Independent, 2 October, RTÉ, 1 October, and Irish Times, 2 October]

The Michigan Catholic Conference is launching an education campaign to promote research using adult stem cells, and to explain the Church's opposition to embryonic stem cell research. Finding Cures & Protecting Life includes distributing a DVD to Catholic households and encouraging parishes to consider the issue. The church describes claims about the therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells as almost entirely speculative, while pointing to dozens of conditions for which treatments have been developed using adult stem cells. The campaign comes as proponents of embryonic stem cell research are considering a ballot proposal seeking to overturn Michigan's ban on research that involves the destruction of human embryos. A spokesman for the coalition of groups that supports lifting the ban has welcomed the education campaign, saying that the well-informed people would enhance the discussion. [Detroit Free Press, 30 September]

There is growing support in the Scottish Parliament for legalising assisted suicide. Research by the Herald showed nearly a quarter of those members of the Scottish Parliament who responded to the survey supported a change in the law to allow physician-assisted suicide, while a further 20% were undecided. A bill was put forward in 2005 that would have allowed terminally ill, mentally capable patients to request medical assistance to die, but it did not receive enough support for discussion. Jeremy Purvis of the Liberal Democrats who proposed the law is considering a fresh attempt in the new parliament. [Herald, 2 October]

The Republican Party could lose a large body of support if Mr Rudy Giuliani is nominated as its candidate in the US presidential election in 2008. The former New York mayor's support for abortion is unacceptable to Christian groups, whose leaders agreed at a meeting over the weekend that they would prefer to vote for an independent candidate than a pro-abortion Republican. [Telegraph, 2 October]

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the UK has dropped a case against a Birmingham doctor accused of arranging an illegal abortion for her daughter abroad. Information submitted by an undercover journalist alleged that Dr Saroj Adlakha had arranged for the girl, then a teenager, to have an abortion at a clinic in Spain when her pregnancy was beyond the British limit of 24 weeks. The CPS said that it had not been possible to establish the authenticity of the records through official channels. [Birmingham Mail, 1 October, and BBC, 1 October] Disabled babies can be aborted at any time in pregnancy.

Research at the National Human Genome Research Institute in the US suggests that high levels of maternal cholesterol can increase the chances of premature birth. It also suggests that very low cholesterol levels during pregnancy also increase the risk of premature birth and low birth-weight. [Yorkshire Post, 2 October]

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