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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Study shows that 71% of premature babies survive

1 February 2008

A study at a specialist neonatal unit in University College London's hospital shows that premature babies' chances of survival more than doubled between the early 80s and the late 90s. By the end of the last decade, 71% of children born at 22 to 25 weeks lived on. The Telegraph claim that the study has "reignited" discussion of abortion. [Telegraph, 1 February] Anthony Ozimic of SPUC said: "We welcome scientific advances in saving both prematurely-born babies and unborn children, not least because the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says that children need special care and protection both before and after birth. From a political perspective, it is important to note that the viability of unborn children should not be used as a guide for reforming the law on abortion, because all unborn children should be given equal protection against abortion." [SPUC, 1 February] Mrs Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for mid-Bedfordshire, called for a reduction in the abortion time-limit to 20 weeks. [Telegraph, 1 February]

Three organisations are lobbying the British government to allow the creation of embryos (including hybrids) from dying children within the Human Fertilsation and Embryology bill. The Genetic Interest Group, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust, and the UCL Institute of Child Health have written to Lord Darzi, health minister. They oppose the requirement in the HFE Bill for a child to be able to give consent, wanting parents or guardians to be able to give permission instead. [BBC, 31 January] SPUC's John Smeaton has written a blog in response to the news.

The Pope has commented on problems to do with embryo freezing, pre-implantation diagnosis, stem cell research and cloning. These matters, he said: "clearly show how, with artificial insemination outside the body, the barrier protecting human dignity has been broken. When human beings in the weakest and most defenceless stage of their existence are selected, abandoned, killed or used as pure 'biological matter', how can it be denied that they are no longer being treated as 'someone' but as 'something', thus placing the very concept of human dignity in doubt". Benedict XVI was addressing a plenary session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican. [Vatican Information Service, 31 January]
A Dutch woman has been charged in her own country with murder after she went to Spain for an abortion at 27 weeks. The un-named woman was turned away from a clinic in the Netherlands because the limit there is 24 weeks. It is alleged that that clinic gave her details of a facility in Barcelona. It is unprecedented that someone should be tried in the Netherlands for an abortion overseas. [Daily Mail, 31 January]

Clinical trials are being launched by Joshua Miller, MD, a researcher in Chicago, Illinois, into the use of an organ donor's stem cells to prevent rejection in kidney transplants. Patients will receive bone marrow stem cells from their kidney donor in the hope that these will mature in the recipient's system into blood cells which will accept the donated kidney without the need for anti-rejection drugs. [Science Daily, 24 January]

Research suggests that use of morphine on premature babies may render them more sensitive to pain later in life. The research was carried out at the University of South Carolina using rats. Malcolm Levene of Leeds School of Medicine, England, said the research was important and plausible but cautioned that "ultimately we are interested in the option which causes the least amount of harm. The mortality rate is higher for unsedated babies ... " [BBC, 24 January]

A review by the University of Oxford indicates that taking birth control pills reduces the risk of ovarian cancer. Researchers looked at the results of 45 previous studies from around the world. They claim that in the near future 30,000 potential deaths from ovarian cancer will be avoided each year due to the pill. The pill has been associated with increased risk of breast cancer and cervical cancer, but the BBC quotes Sir Richard Peto who claims "The eventual reduction in ovarian cancer is bigger than any increase in other types of cancer caused by the pill.". The research has led to renewed call for the pill, currently a prescription drug, to be available over the counter. [BBC, 25 January]

Taking folic acid before conceiving a child could help avoid premature birth, according to a Texas university study. The study looked at 35,000 women over 4 years, but included only those who volunteered information on their folate supplement consumption. [Reuters, 31 January] A forum of British parliamentarians says that pregnant women should eat two portions of oily fish a week to help their babies' brains grow. [PA on Channel 4, 30 January] North Carolina university scientists suggest that, if you give magnesium sulphate to a woman in premature labour, it reduces the risk of cerebral palsy in the child. [Reuters, 31 January]

A new crisis pregnancy centre in the west of England will help women who have had abortions. The centre, in Plymouth, is associated with CAREconfidential and was opened by Mr Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for Devon south west. It will also help women with unwanted pregnancies. [The Herald, 31 January]

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