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Assisted suicide guidelines "breach human rights"

3 October 2008

Lawyers for a woman with multiple sclerosis have argued that her human rights have been breached because the chief prosecutor for England and Wales has failed to make clear whether her husband would be prosecuted if he took her abroad to commit suicide. Mrs Debbie Purdy's lawyers yesterday told the high court in London that her right to respect for her personal and family life, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, was not being honoured by the director of public prosecutions (DPP), whom she accused of cowardice. The DPP says the law which punishes those who assist suicide is clear enough. [Telegraph, 3 October] Lord Justice Scott Baker said: "It seems to me that it is something of a grey area between whether it is Parliament's province, if it is minded to do so, to narrow the offence - and the DPP doing it by the back door." [Times, 3 October] SPUC has intervened in the case, saying that the challenge threatens vulnerable people and undermines the law. [Press and Journal, 3 October] The hearing concluded this morning but judgement has yet to be given. [Telegraph and Argus, 3 October]

A judge in Italy has added three years' imprisonment to his sentence on a man who killed his girlfriend, because she was pregnant and the child also died in the attack. Judge Giuseppe Gennari, sitting in Milan, added the extra time to the 24 years he imposed on Mr Roberto Di Giacomo who killed Ms Veronica Figueroa and her unborn baby. Ms Figueroa reportedly refused to have an abortion, though she had had one for a previous child that the couple had conceived. Our source describes the sentence as making legal history. [Daily Mail, 2 October]

The chairman of the US Catholic bishops' pro-life committee has warned that a proposed pro-abortion law could undo most of the progress made in defending the unborn over 35 years. Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, said that the Freedom of Choice Act could cause the number of abortions to rise. It would undo virtually all restrictions, such as those on partial-birth abortion and state funding, and make abortion a woman's right throughout pregnancy. The cardinal was also concerned about embryo research and euthanasia. [LifeSiteNews, 2 October] Senator Barack Obama, Democrat candidate, has told Planned Parenthood that his first action as president would be to sign the act. [LifeSiteNews, 2 October]

Chorionic villus sampling is reportedly safe for some types of women. Washington University School of Medicine, Missouri, looked at data on pregnant women gathered between 1990 and 2006. Afro-American women and those under 25 who had the test did have a higher risk of miscarriage. The technique involves using a needle to remove tissue from which the placenta is formed. [Reuters, 1 October] SPUC's Alison Davis said: "It may be true that chorionic villus sampling appears not to cause raised miscarriage rates in most cases, but several risk factors remain. It is admitted that African-American women and women younger than 25 continue to have a higher miscarriage rate. The research may persuade more women to have the test on the grounds that it is safe, leading to more disabled babies being aborted. The technique remains the opposite of safe for these babies, who will continue to be aborted on the basis of the results of this test."

The Scottish government has launched a scheme for providing palliative care, including support for patients at home. It will spend £3m a year on 24-hour nursing and other services. Ms Nicola Sturgeon, health minister, promised "the best palliative care available" for all sufferers. [Evening Telegraph, 2 October]

The Catholic church has been criticised over its stance on the British government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which is due to return to parliament in the coming weeks. A letter to the Guardian newspaper says: "The Catholic church often speaks out against injustice and inequality, and supports the exercise of individual conscience in accordance with its beliefs. In contrast, sadly, its position on reproductive rights perpetuates injustice against women and fails to respect women's considered decisions, made in good conscience." Signatories include Mr Jon O'Brien of Catholics for Choice, representatives of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Brook and the Family Planning Association, an MP from each of the major parties. [Guardian, 3 October] In defending the rights of the unborn, churches and other religious bodies help to fight grave injustices committed against some of society's most vulnerable members.

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