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No charges against assisted suicide doctor

22 December 2008

There will reportedly be no prosecution of a doctor who admitted going with a woman from Scotland to Switzerland where she killed herself with barbiturates. Dr Michael Irwin, 77, was investigated by police for two years after he went to Dignitas, Zurich, with Ms May Murphy, 75, who had multiple system atrophy. Surrey Police say they lack evidence to pursue the case. Dr Irwin, a former UN medical director, says he has provided plenty of evidence and would do it again. [Independent, 22 December] Dr Irwin resigned as chairman of VES (now Dignity in Dying) after conspiring to assist in a suicide on the Isle of Man in 2003.

Doctors in South Korea are appealing against a court order to stop giving food and drink to a 75-year-old woman in a coma who is not dying. Kim Ok-kyung's family asked that all support should be withdrawn at Severance Hospital, Seoul, saying her existence was painful and meaningless. [LifeSiteNews, 19 December]

A report on state-funded abortions in Australia reportedly found that babies born alive after attempts to abort them were being left to die. Senator Guy Barnett of Tasmania may propose that the Medicare system stops funding second and third trimester abortions, of which there have been more than 10,500 since 1994 [ABC, 22 December]

Scientists have used chemicals to make nerve cells from a young patient's skin tissue, which could help develop treatments for spinal muscular atrophy. The University of Wisconsin-Madison will be able to study the new cells which exhibit the characteristics of the currently incurable disease, says Nature magazine. [Daily Mail, 22 December] The team says the technique could also help with understanding Huntington's and other diseases. BBC, 22 December]

A state's supreme court has ruled that pharmacists and pharmacy owners can bring a legal challenge against a regulation requiring them to supply morning-after pills. Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois ordered in 2005 that pharmacists should dispense the drugs or resign. Americans United for Life said the ruling was "a huge victory for the freedom of conscience of all healthcare providers." [LifeSiteNews, 19 December]

A woman's obesity does not significantly reduce the IVF success rate, according to a study of 1,700 women in Aberdeen, Scotland, by the city's university; it seems age is a more important factor. The researchers, whose work is published in Human Reproduction suggest obese women should still lose weight to avoid an increased risk of miscarriage. [BBC, 21 December]

An opinion poll suggests public support in developed countries for IVF and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. The 22,500 respondents to a survey by the BBVA Foundation in Europe, the US, Japan and Israel were less keen on sex selection and on using technology to enable over-45s to have children. Most approved of the use of donated sperm if a man is infertile, but not to try to have an intelligent child. [Medical News Today, 21 December] The BBVA Foundation is a "social responsibility" body associated with the Spanish Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria. The full report is available here.

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