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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Scientist comes under fire for human-animal hybrid remarks

8 April 2008

A Nobel prize-winning stem cell scientist has said that there is misinformation about human-animal hybrid embryos of the kind reportedly created recently. Prof Sir Martin Evans, director of the Cardiff university school of biosciences in Wales, described such embryos as "artificial constructs created and used in the lab, and never going further than the lab, certainly not at the moment." He asserted that cell hybrids had been being created for some years, but it is not clear from our source whether he is referring to cybrid embryos, or other procedures involving human and animal genes. He said that raising the matter of human dignity showed ignorance. Such creatures could only live for a few days. [Telegraph, 7 April] John Smeaton of SPUC has accused those who criticise the Catholic church's opposition to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) bill of obscurantism. Mr Smeaton writes: "what the HFE bill proposes is not simply mixing human and animal cells to create more cells but creating whole living beings - embryos - which are genetically part-human and part-animal, in different proportions. Sir Martin seems to be using the classic anti-life line that early embryos are just clumps of random, disorganised cells, not whole individuals." [SPUC director's blog, 7 April] Also commenting on Sir Martin's remarks, Dr Helen Watt of the Linacre Centre pointed out that the HFE bill would allow human and animal gametes to be used to fertilise each other, as well as cytoplasmic hybrids which are more likely to be human beings. Dr Watt writes: "Just as incest is immoral whatever the impossibility of a child resulting, the same can be said of substituting human DNA for animal eggs or sperm." [Telegraph, 8 April] Countess Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics writes that scientists' therapeutic claims about hybrids lack credibility. Dr Robin Lovell-Badge of the National Institute for Medical Research says that claims about adult stem cell therapies are exaggerated. [Telegraph, 8 April] Mr Mark Durkan, Social Democratic and Labour MP for Foyle, Northern Ireland, writes of his opposition to the HFE bill: "In voicing our concerns at these elements does not mean we are taking an anti-science stance. Instead we are seeking to preserve the fundamental integrity of humanity by laying down a marker that we will not tolerate scientific joy-riding. It is unacceptable that experimentation should be permitted for experimentation sake." [Belfast Telegraph, 7 April]

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland, has called on Scotland's First Minister to set up a national store of umbilical tissue. The cardinal writes to Mr Alex Salmond MP MSP: "The clinical efficacy of cord-blood stem cells continues to be shown in research and treatments across the world." [Scotland on Sunday, 6 April]
Skin cells have been changed into stem cells by Harvard, Massachusetts, scientists seeking to treat diseases including diabetes, Down's syndrome, Huntington's and muscular dystrophy. Dr Willy Lensch of the Harvard Medical School said that the technique offered great potential, and it could help understand the early stages of disease. Dr Chris Mason of the UK National Stem Cell Network is extensively quoted in the piece. He says that induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells could overcome patients' natural rejection of alien tissue, as well as ethical objections to the use of embryos, but also warns that there are risks in their use. [BBC, 7 April, and Telegraph, 8 April] Note: in the BBC report, Dr Marita Pohlschmidt, of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, is quoted as saying: "For the development of therapies, it is too early to assume that this [IPS] technology will replace the use of embryonic stem cells ..." This may, misleadingly, suggest that embryonic stem cells are currently used in this research. They are not.

Advanced Cell Technology Inc of California claim they have produced many types of cell from human embryos. The work is being reported on in this month's Regenerative Medicine. [Medical News Today, 7 April] The Scotsman carries a report on stem cell research citing the chairman of the UK National Stem Cell Network, who says that stem cell therapies may be dangerous. Lord Patel of Dunkeld said: "We may find that stem therapy is quite a risky business. We had a lot of hype about gene therapy and, while we still use it in some cases, it did not deliver the great promise we thought it would because of the side-effects." The Scotsman also quotes Dr Willy Lensch of the Boston Children's Hospital who will speak in Edinburgh later this week.. [Scotsman, 8 April] Lord Patel has been active in the debate over the HFE bill, promoting wider scope for human cloning. Dr Lensch may have two hats - or a namesake.

The National Right to Life Committee has announced its support for Senator John McCain, Republican, as US president, citing his pro-life voting record and desire to overturn Roe v. Wade. The committee opposes the two Democrat potential candidates. [LifeNews, 7 April] Mrs Hillary Clinton, one such contender, reportedly supports Oregon's law which allows assisted suicide. [LifeSiteNews, 7 April] Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona has vetoed a ban on partial-birth abortion, to the disapproval of the Catholic bishops of Phoenix and Tucson. [EWTN, 7 April]

The Pope has told women who have had abortions not to abandon hope. He said: "If you have not already done so, open yourselves with humility and confidence to repentance: The Father of all mercy awaits you to offer you his forgiveness and his peace in the sacrament of Reconciliation. You can offer your child to the same Father and his mercy." Benedict XVI was addressing a conference in Rome on the aftermath of abortion and divorce. He also said that abortion was a serious offence. [Zenit, 6 April, and LifeNews, 7 April]

Mexico City authorities are reportedly refusing to acknowledge that eight women have died during abortions since the practice was legalised a year ago. Mr Jorge Serrano Limón of the pro-life group Provida says that officials will only acknowledge one of eight known maternal deaths due to abortion, and that 6,400 babies have been aborted. There had been 22 injuries to women. Provida claims to have averted 3,100 abortions in the past year. [LifeSiteNews, 7 April]

Old patients are being left to starve in English state-run hospitals and mothers are neglected during childbirth, according to an official inspection body. Complaints upheld by the Healthcare Commission included those asserting that patients were not being helped to eat, and that women having babies were left alone and without pain-relief. [Mail on Sunday, 6 April]

The European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology says that the UK has one of the continent's worst IVF safety records. This country ranked worst for ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), with at least two maternal deaths in recent years. The number of cases was nearly three times higher than in Germany, which had almost three times as many IVF treatment cycles, and the UK rate of OHSS was four times higher than France, which has nearly double the number of cycles of the UK. Furthermore, there is no official central register of cases here, so the rate may be even higher. The UK is among the most successful nations in terms of live births. [Telegraph, 7 April]

Putting foetal cells in Parkinson's disease patients' brains could be problematical according to two letters in the journal Nature Medicine, Yahoo reports. The transplanted tissue was attacked by Lewy bodies, the protein which causes the disease. A third study found no such effect. The patients involved had the transplants between nine and 16 years ago. . [AFP on Yahoo!, 6 April]

Research commissioned by the Scottish state health service alleges inadequacy in schools' sex education. The report, produced by Aberdeen sociologist, Dr Edwin Van Teijlingen is broadly critical of sex education provision, and criticises Catholic schools for teaching about sex in the context of marriage and for not referring pupils to contraception and abortion referral centres. Scotland has high rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. [Scotland on Sunday, 6 April] Our source does not indicate when or where Dr Van Teijlingen's report was actually published.

Chile's supreme court has banned the free supply of morning-after pills. The government is displeased but pro-life activists claim the decision recognises those pills' abortifacient nature. Details of the judgement have yet to be published and pills can still be sold. [LifeSiteNews, 3 April]

The Fundación Vida group in Spain plans to open a museum about abortion, claiming widespread ignorance of what the procedure entails. Mr Manuel Cruz said "Showing the reality of abortion is not enough to end this inhumane practice," but added that abortion was "just as evil as or worse than the Nazi holocaust. The thing is that very few pictures of the thousands of dead foetuses are shown, and abortion itself leaves women who have experienced it completely unable to speak about it." [CNA on Spero, 5 April]

Nurses were part of the Nazi euthanasia programme, according to an academic in England. Prof Linda Shields of Hull university is expected to tell a Royal College of Nursing conference about how nurses helped kill the handicapped. Those who refused to take part in various gruesome practices were customarily not punished, implying consent on the part of some staff. Prof Shields will urge nurses to consider how their colleagues in certain countries are part of present-day regimes which allow euthanasia. [Yorkshire Post, 5 April]

Maternal exercise in pregnancy benefits the unborn, according to Kansas City University research presented to the American Physiological Society. [Reuters, 7 April]
Mr Charlton Heston, the American actor who recently died aged 84, presented an introduction to Eclipse of Reason, Dr Bernard Nathanson's 1987 pro-life documentary. [LifeSiteNews, 7 April]

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