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Defending life from the moment of conception

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New UN human rights commissioner disagrees with the right to life

29 July 2008

The United Nations general assembly has unanimously approved the appointment as human rights commissioner of a South African judge who may support abortion. [Irish Times, 29 July] Ms Navanethem Pillay reportedly said about her country's constitution: "I wondered why the right to life was stated so explicitly. It is going to open up huge debates on the right of the fetus and so on. ... that is the one clause [the pro-life lobby] are going to latch on to for their cause ...". [LifeNews, 24 July] SPUC's national director writes: "[T]he United Nations' 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child says: 'the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.' If Ms Pillay still has problems with unborn babies' rights, she's in no position to defend them - in accordance with a UN resolution - as human rights commissioner." [John Smeaton, 29 July]

Police in Northern Ireland are investigating the death of a mother and the child she was expecting. Mrs Jean Quigley, 30, of Londonderry was two months' pregnant and had four other children. The police mentioned the unborn baby in describing the case to the media. [BBC, 29 July]

An Irish judge on the European Court of Human Rights has withdrawn from hearing a case concerning Ireland's restrictive abortion law. Dr Ann Power SC may have done so because she represented the Irish Catholic bishops at a parliamentary hearing on abortion. [Irish Times, 29 July]

Deficiencies in consent forms for embryo research may mean that some stem cell lines cannot be used for US state-funded research. A Wisconsin University researcher found that some forms significantly deviated from National Academy of Sciences guidelines. Universities are investigating and hope the National Institutes of Health or state governments could decide the issue. President Bush ordered in 2001 that federal funding could only go to research on pre-existing embryonic material. [Nature, 28 July] John Smeaton, SPUC national director, commented: "Firstly, these stem cell lines should not be used at all, because they were extracted by killing embryonic children. Secondly, those embryonic children were incapable of giving consent for the use of their cells, and no parent should give consent for procedures upon their children which are not in their children's best clinical interests. Thirdly, the manufacture of human life in the laboratory jeopardises human life and human dignity, by subjecting one set of human beings to the mercy of another set."

More than 70 doctors have expressed their support for a measure to recognise the unborn as legal persons in Colorado. A constitutional amendment will appear on the presidential ballot paper in November. It says: "... the terms 'person' or 'persons' shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization." Supporters say they have science and reason on their side. [LifeSiteNews, 28 July]

Doctors are campaigning to stop a disabled woman in Italy from being dehydrated to death with court approval. 25 medics have written to the attorney general pointing out that Ms Eluana Englaro does not depend on a machine to live, is not in a coma and is not brain-dead or dying. Her sustenance, they say, is not medical treatment. The letter says: "... the patient in a vegetative state is not a vegetable, but a human person." Ms Englaro was injured in a vehicle accident in 1992 and her father has been trying for 10 years to have her food and fluid withdrawn. [Zenit, 28 July]

The Dignity in Dying organisation has launched a document which supports the right to decide when to die, where, how and with whom present. The Charter for Dignity at the End of Life seeks to let those who "feel their suffering has become unbearable" have their death arranged for them. Dignity in Dying says most people support its stance. [PA on Channel 4, 28 July] An SPUC spokesman said: "People near the end of their lives can be given dignity through palliative care and other supportive treatment. The ultimate indignity is to have your death hastened, whether at your own hand and or another's, either with or without your consent. A regime of assisted death will lead to pressure on the long-term ill to ask to be killed because they feel they are a burden."

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