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Defending life from the moment of conception

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SPUC condemns Hewitt's assisted suicide bid

23 March 2009

SPUC has condemned an attempt by Mrs Patricia Hewitt, a former British health minister, to change the law to make it legal to take people abroad to commit suicide. Mrs Hewitt's amendment to the Coroners & Justice Bill is an unwarranted threat to disabled and vulnerable people. Paul Tully, SPUC's general secretary, said: "Mrs Hewitt's amendment sought to exempt from prosecution anyone assisting a person's travel to another country for the purposes of committing suicide legally there. The pro-euthanasia lobby is seeking to change the public perception of suicide - to make it seem like a reasonable and proper course of action for people who are suffering. [SPUC, 23 March] Ms Hewitt also wants assisted suicide legalised in Britain. She says she would help her husband kill himself. [Times, 21 March] The chairman of the English and Welsh Catholic bishops' Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship warned that Ms Hewitt's amendment would put pressure on patients to consider suicide. Most Rev Peter Smith wrote of many people "who might persuade themselves, or be subtly persuaded by others, that [assisted suicide] is the best course for them -- and for those around them." [Times, 23 March]

Women in Northern Ireland will reportedly find it easier to have an abortion under new government guidelines. Family doctors who cannot cooperate with a termination will be required to refer patients to a doctor who will do so. The majority Democratic Unionist party opposed Guidance on the Termination of Pregnancy: The Law and Clinical Practice in Northern Ireland in the province's executive. Our source says that nearly 100 abortions take place in the province annually, and some 40 women go to Britain every week for abortion. It claims that fewer women will need to travel. [Sunday Times, 22 March] SPUC says the guidance is flawed. Mrs Betty Gibson, SPUC Northern Ireland chairwoman, said: "Abortion is a criminal offence in Northern Ireland not a medical procedure. A medical intervention to save the life of a pregnant woman is lawful, even if it risks the death of her unborn child. However, it is never lawful to perform any operation solely aimed at taking the life of a child. This remains the law and the guidance published by the department of health cannot change that. The guidelines are incorrect in relation to a medical professional's refusal to facilitate to an abortion. The DHSSPS guidance cites advice from the General Medical Council in an attempt to convince objecting doctors that they should refer women to a colleague who will approve the abortion. However, no-one can be forced to co-operate in the performance of a criminal offence." There could be a judicial review of the document. [SPUC, 23 March]

The English high court last week ruled that a hospital could remove a nine-month-old child from a ventilator, despite his parents' wishes. The judge said the unidentified baby did not "have the right to be kept alive in all circumstances." [Telegraph, 20 March] The child died on Saturday and the family, reportedly Muslims from Afghanistan, may complain to the medical regulator and/or sue the hospital. Archbishop Smith (mentioned above) said people did not have to be kept alive by extraordinary means. [Telegraph, 23 March] 80 firms of lawyers declined to help the couple before they found one which would represent them. [Mail on Sunday, 22 March]

IVF babies have a higher risk than those conceived conventionally of having bowel problems, cleft lips, digestive tract disorders and heart abnormalities. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia, surveyed some 20,000 births. Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is to change the advice it gives couples. The British Fertility Association acknowledged that IVF increased risk but said the risk was small. [Independent on Sunday, 22 March]

Some mentally ill patients have died of neglect in the British state health service, according to news of a forthcoming report by the parliamentary and health service ombudsman. The report is in response to Death by Indifference, published by the Mencap charity, which said six such people had died in this way. One man died of starvation because he was not given a feeding tube at the right time. The government says it is taking action. [Sunday Times, 22 March]

Scientists hope to make blood from embryonic stem cells. The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service will run a three-year research project using embryos created for IVF. [Telegraph, 23 March]

Some British state hospitals do not allow parents to reserve their babies' umbilical cord blood for their own therapies, and will only let them donate it for public use. Such tissue has been used to treat infant leukaemia. [Sunday Times, 22 March]

The British prime minister's wife is supporting an effort to reduce the number of deaths in childbirth in poor countries. Mrs Sarah Brown yesterday backed the Million Mums campaign which seeks to raise awareness of the problem. [Sunday Express, 22 March]

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