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Defending life
from conception to natural death


PM backs presumed consent for organ donation

15 January 2008

Mr Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, has expressed his support for a system of presumed consent for organ donation. This would mean that the organs of any person could be used for transplants after their death, unless they or their relatives specifically opted out. Britain currently operates a system whereby people must opt in to being organ donors. [BBC, 13 January] John Smeaton, SPUC's national director, said: "In an opt-out system, where most people's wishes are unknown, consent is absent and you can't really speak of organ donation any more. An opt-out system also represents a high level of interference by the state in personal life. The dead person's body effectively becomes government property. The worst situation would be where people's deaths could actually be hastened because their organs were needed for someone else. The evidence seems equivocal about whether such a change would increase the number of organs available. Some countries with opt-out systems do worse than the UK but some do better." [SPUC, 14 January] Rt Rev Tom Butler, Anglican bishop of Southwark, said a presumed consent system should not be introduced until every effort has been made to increase organ donation under the current system. [Telegraph, 14 January]

Members of the House of Lords have today been debating a UK government bill which would consolidate and extend the killing and abuse of early human life. SPUC's John Smeaton said: "The Government have tabled amendments aimed at making the bill sound better and at the same time trying to reduce any opposition to its main provisions. Anti-life Peers have also tabled some amendments to extend even further the scope of destructive embryo experimentation. In addition, some Peers have tabled amendments seeking to remove or ameliorate some aspects. Unfortunately, the bill is so fundamentally flawed, no amendments can make it ethical. "Whatever amendments may be agreed, pro-life supporters should lobby parliamentarians to urge them to oppose the bill in principle and as a whole." [SPUC, 15 January] A Northern Irish parliamentarian has warned that the bill will lead to "Frankenstein science". Lord Morrow, chairman of the Democratic Unionist Party, said: "The sanctity of human life is an issue which transcends any party political considerations. We tinker with the delicate fabric of human life at our peril and any moves which would undermine or reduce the value which we place on it must be resisted at all costs." [Belfast Telegraph, 9 January]

A senior Irish obstetrician has called for improved provision of pre-natal screening for congenital defects in Ireland. Professor Fergal Malone, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, said there was a need for more trained personnel to carry out ultrasound screening, and a national programme to make it widely available. Ireland is said to have the highest rate of Downs syndrome in the EU. [Sunday Business Post, 13 January] In Britain, the NHS has a nationwide screening programme and 90% of babies with Down's are aborted. Some girls and women travel from Ireland to Britain for abortion.

IVF clinics in Britain will have to reveal the likely costs of treatment to patients before they start to provide it, under new regulations from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. The decision came after a survey of 1,000 current and former IVF patients, which showed that, while 85% of patients paid for treatment themselves, only 20% of them were given a costed plan at the outset and more than 25% had to pay fees that they had not expected. [Times, 9 January]

Mexico City has passed a bill legalising the withdrawal of medical treatment from patients. The law, which came into force on 8 January, allows the rejection of "tenacious, disproportionate or useless" treatment, but states that medical staff may not "at any time and under any circumstances" administer medications or treatments that "intentionally cause the death of the patient in the terminal phase." A spokesman for the Catholic church in Mexico said that the church did not oppose the law, because it did not authorise euthanasia. However, our source suggests that the term is understood to refer explicitly to active termination of life, not killing by omission. [Irish Sun, 9 January]

Parents in China are suing a biotech firm suspected of concealing the fact that their children's stored umbilical cord blood was tainted. The company reportedly charged 16,000 yuan ($2,200) to collect umbilical cord blood in delivery rooms and keep it frozen for 20 years. Parents later received an anonymous text message telling them that the blood was tainted and therefore useless. [Reuters, 10 January]

Scientists in Singapore are planning to insert human genes into animal embryos for research such as testing drugs. Mr Lim Pin, chairman of the Bioethics Advisory Committee, which is consulting on the issue said,: "As Singapore moves into performing clinical trials for drugs, research in this field could prove to be a boon for scientists." He added that in the future, organs for human transplant might be grown in animals. [Irish Sun, 9 January]

Women can drink moderate amounts of coffee during pregnancy without increasing the risk of a miscarriage, according to American scientists. Researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City, surveyed 2,407 pregnant women, 258 of whom miscarried, and found no statistically significant relationship between the amount of caffeine a woman consumed and her risk of miscarriage. Researchers warned that, because the women studied consumed a relatively small amount of caffeine, the research could not show whether consuming more might be harmful. [Reuters, 9 January]

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