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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Patient with Down's syndrome starves to death in British hospital

9 January 2009

A 43-year-old man with Down's syndrome, who could not swallow because of a stroke, was not provided with a feeding tube and starved to death "in agony" in a British state hospital. Doctors mistakenly thought nurses were feeding Mr Martin Ryan who died after 26 days without food. Once the mistake was discovered, it was too late to fit a gastrostomy tube. The Mencap charity says in a report that the health service has also failed other people with mental difficulties, citing a young woman denied cancer treatment and a young man who died during treatment for a broken leg. Anthony Ozimic, SPUC political secretary, said: "Mencap has identified institutional discrimination within Britain's healthcare services against people with learning disabilities. Yet lethal institutional discrimination against the disabled and vulnerable is enshrined in law and policy, particularly in the pro-euthanasia Mental Capacity Act which Mencap supported. Disabled adults will continue to die because of discriminatory attitudes whilst the Mental Capacity Act and the killing of disabled unborn children, which manifest those attitudes, remain law." An ombudsman has been investigating such cases as Mr Ryan's and is expected to report soon. [Telegraph, 9 January]
The leader of the majority party in the US House of Representatives has told the International Herald Tribune of her continued support for government funding of human embryo research, and says she would support a law to enforce it. Ms Nancy Pelosi, Democrat, of San Francisco claims she is a practising Catholic, yet bishops have reprimanded her for allegedly suggesting vagueness and inconsistency in church teaching on when human life begins. Most Rev George Niederauer, the archbishop of Ms Pelosi's city, has offered to discuss the matter with her. President Bush banned federal funding of new embryo research by a 2001 executive order and also vetoed bills which would have permitted it. He said: "Destroying human life in the hopes of saving human life is not ethical," nor was it the only option. [CNA on EWTN, 8 January]

Scientists experimenting on mammals have made bone marrow release stem cells into the bloodstream so that the body repairs damaged blood vessels, bone and cartilage. An Imperial College London, England, team gave mice the mozobil drug and the VEGF growth factor, according to a report in Cell Stem Cell. Trials on animals are planned for later this year and the technique might also treat patients with immune disorders. The British Heart Foundation co-funded the research. Our source acknowledges concerns that therapeutically applied embryo cells can become cancerous. [Guardian, 9 January]

A treatment for uterine tumours is a minimal threat to young women's fertility, say Spanish researchers. Last month's Fertility and Sterility reported on how Monteprincipe Hospital, Madrid, found that the danger posed by artery embolization in cases of fibroids was minimal in the under-40s. [Reuters, 8 January]

The 43-year-old French justice minister has been criticised by a British parenting charity for returning to work five days after her first child was delivered by caesarean section. Ms Mary Newburn of the National Childbirth Trust said: "There needs to be a balance between work and family life and [Ms Rachida Dati's early return to work] would seem not to reflect the kind of balance we would be looking for. It is really important that women have the time to recover and to get to know their baby and it is important that we value families and giving a good start in life to babies. Employers and society need to recognise that babies need time." British law forbade women from going back to work sooner than two weeks after childbirth. An American survey of 700 new mothers found that, on average, they had six symptoms of post-natal problems. The Scottish Widows insurance company says financial problems have forced four million British mothers back to work. The United Nations Children's Fund has expressed concern at the number of families in developed countries where young children are reared by strangers. [Belfast Telegraph, 9 January]

A health service worker has defended a scheme at an English secondary school which, for five years, has provided so-called sexual health services to pupils. Ms Carol Kelly said the facility at Fearns Community High School, Bacup, Lancashire, was succeeding and that counsellors encouraged young people to talk to parents or other trusted adults. The service provides morning-after pills and other birth control. [Lancashire Telegraph, 8 January] Although the providers of such services sometimes say they persuade students to talk to parents, in at least some cases confidentiality is observed, including with minors. Tony Mullett of SPUC's office in Lancashire said: "SPUC will be warning families in the area about what's going on in the school. One of the ways the morning-after pill works, according to the manufacturers, is that it makes the womb hostile to any conceived baby and prevents the baby from implanting, thereby causing an abortion. This applies to other contraceptive drugs and devices too. It's important that local families hear the full truth about what's happening at Fearns Community High School."

A priest in America who defended Catholic bioethical teaching has died. Father Richard John Neuhaus, 72, who was Canadian-born and had been a Lutheran minister, wrote, lectured and debated widely. He is said to have advised President George W Bush. Fr Neuhaus compared pro-life campaigning to the US civil rights movement of the 1960s, and said unrepentant pro-abortion Catholic politicians should be denied holy communion. [Catholic News Service, 8 January]

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