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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Unconscious mother's life-support switched off after daughter delivered by caesarean section

13 January 2009

An unconscious woman's life-support was discontinued after her daughter was delivered by caesarean section. Mrs Jayne Soliman, 41, of Berkshire, England, had a brain haemorrhage and was declared dead when 25 weeks' pregnant, though her heart was kept beating and she was given steroids. The child, who is in intensive care, was put on her mother's shoulder before the machine was switched off. [Telegraph, 13 January]

A British woman expecting twins who share a body has been inspired by two similar 18-year-old girls in America. Ms Lisa Chamberlain of Hampshire, who was advised to have an abortion, used the internet to find Abigail and Brittany Hensel, university students of Minnesota. [Sun, 13 January] The Life organisation said: "This young mother knows it will be difficult but she is focusing on the fact that she is already the proud mother of these babies and accepts them however they are. [Mrs Chamberlain's twins] may not be perfect in the eyes of the world but they are fully human and as such should have the same value and right to life as any other human beings." [Times, 13 January]

A widow in western England wants to use her late husband's stored sperm to get pregnant. Mrs Angeleen Leckie-James, 30, of Bristol says it would have been his wish. Mr Chris James, who was 29, had the gametes saved before chemotherapy for a brain tumour and died last month. His mother is also keen that such a child should be conceived. [Western Daily Press, 12 January] Our source does not say whether artificial insemination or IVF is planned.

Abortion will be one of the subjects addressed at a two-day conference in Rome about grave sin, organised by the Catholic church's Apostolic Penitentiary. Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, deputy head of the tribunal, said the meeting was to show: "that we are not a bureaucratic department but one of grace and mercy, charged by the [pope] with giving life and meaning to confession, one of the most important of the sacraments. We deal with the ultimate goal of the Church - the salvation of souls". [Times, 12 January] The Times says that abortion (and other serious offences) require papal permission for forgiveness: this appears to be a misunderstanding of the present rules. We understand that any priest can offer absolution for any sin, but certain "ecclesiastical crimes" (not abortion) carry penalties which only a bishop or the pope can remit.

The US National Stem Cell Bank in Wisconsin, which was established in 2005, has finally collected all the embryonic stem cell lines which have been approved for federally funded research. Two remaining lines recently arrived from Sweden. [Chicago Tribune, 12 January] President Bush vetoed state funding for research on newly created human embryos, but permitted it for research with cell-lines from pre-existing embryos.

Almost 280 human-cow hybrid embryos have been created at Newcastle University, England. Dr Lyle Armstrong of the so-called Centre for Life complains, however, that lack of funds stops him from extracting stem cells from them. Professor Stephen Minger of King's College London, another of three holders of a licence to create hybrids, says the refusal of a grant application meant he could not proceed. Warwick University has yet to apply for funds. Prof Minger wondered if those evaluating applications for funding had ethical objections to hybrids. [Independent, 13 January]

A University College Dublin, Ireland, psychologist has written about the effect of life in the womb on children's later development. Dr Marie Murray, director of psychology and student counselling, writes: "Life begins not at birth but before it." Research had found that babies responded to sounds they had heard in the womb, including being able to recognise their mothers' voices and they remember stories they had been read before birth. Dr Murray infers that discordant behaviour in the home could affect the unborn adversely. [Irish Times, 13 January]

Thalidomide could be used in Scotland to treat blood cancer. The national regulator has allowed its use with melphalan and prednisone to treat multiple myeloma. The substance caused developmental problems in the unborn and was banned 48 years ago. The Scottish Medicines Consortium have let thalidomide be supplied only if it is accompanied by measures to prevent pregnancy. [Herald, 13 January] Our source does not make it clear what these measures are.

There is more evidence of the damage done to unborn babies by smoking in pregnancy. The Cancer Institute of New South Wales, Australia, studied more than one million births and found that children with a low birth weight were more likely to get cancer. Maternal smoking is one way in which birth weight can be diminished. It also made asthma more likely in offspring. [Zinhua on Mathaba, 12 January]

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