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NICE rejects 'rule of rescue' despite pressure from pharmaceutical industry

12 August 2008

The British government's advisory body on medicine has resisted pressure from the pharmaceutical industry to approve the very expensive drugs when they might save lives, regardless of the cost. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) rejected the majority view of its lay advisory body that the state health service should follow the so-called rule of rescue in such cases. Professor Peter Littlejohn, clinical and public health director, said: "We shouldn't have a formal rule of rescue because our general guidance took into account provision for exceptional cases. That can allow [the institute] to recommend treatment above our normal cost threshold." The British Medical Association asked: "So what if you waste a few pounds if you are doing your best for humanity?" [Independent, 12 August] SPUC's Paul Tully said: "This ruling exposes the shortcomings of NICE - which operates on the basis of utilitarianism. However, there is a difficult issue here. If the 'rule of rescue' were given wide application, drug companies might put forward many expensive drugs for those with terminal disease that gave just a modicum of benefit."

A court has agreed to a leaflet giving voters in California details of a 15-year-old girl who died after a secretly arranged abortion in 1994. Electors in the state will be asked to approve a measure to require abortion providers to notify an adult relative before performing the procedure on a minor. A judge ruled against objections by Planned Parenthood to the inclusion of mention of "Sarah" and of other abortions on under-age girls. Planned Parenthood could not refute the assertion by the leaflet's publishers that no girl had been harmed y parental notification. [Catholic News Agency, 11 August]

The US Democrats' new policy statement maintains the party's pro-abortion stance. [LifeNews, 11 August] Democrats For Life of America have proposed a measure to support crisis pregnancy centres, improve maternal and infant health care, and involve parents in abortions on minors. Ms Kristen Day, director, says: "As a party we have to remember we are the big tent and have to make room for people with diverse views on this issue." Our source suggests the party is actually beholden to abortion providers and lobbyists. [LifeNews, 11 August]

John Smeaton of SPUC has expressed concern about a Reuters report that suggests that morning-after pills simply prevent pregnancy. He points out that such drugs can also interrupt a pregnancy at an early stage. [SPUC director, 12 August]

The Catholic church in New Zealand has issued a guide for voters which states opposition to abortion, embryo research and euthanasia. Saying that the church does not tell people how to vote, the guide advises against "uncritical affiliation to a party, or some single issue or a personality cult." [New Zealand Herald, 12 August] There needs to be a general election there before 15 November.

An IVF child has been born in Wales after she was frozen as an embryo using a high-speed technique. So-called vitrification employs liquid nitrogen to bring down embryos' temperature rapidly to avoid the formation of crystals which are thought to damage the child as he or she is thawed. Evie Bloomer was frozen by Lyndon Miles of IVF Wales and is the first such child born in Wales. Dr Simon Fishel of Care Fertility, Nottingham, called the process "out of date", having used it since 1991. The groundbreaking develop, Dr Fishel claimed, was successfully freezing (unfertilised) eggs which his institute had recently achieved. However, Mr Miles claimed that he had improved the survival rate of thawed embryos from between 50 and 80% to 98%. [BBC, 12 August]

UN bodies say they will spend $50 million on stopping the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies. The UN childrens' fund, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and WHO's drug purchase facility were due to announce the move at a recent conference on the disease in Mexico. 10 million expectant mothers will be tested and more than a quarter of a million treated. [Midirs, 31 July]

The consumption of coffee in pregnancy may double the risk of miscarriage, according to a report on US research by Kaiser Permanente published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The survey corrected for some known risk factors, but was based only on interviews, not behaviour observation. [RINF, 11 August]

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