Friday, 18 January 2008

Embryo scientist challenged successfully in life radio debate



Last night Anthony Ozimic, SPUC political secretary (pictured), debated against Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, head of developmental genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research and one of the leading scientist-promoters of destructive embryo research, on BBC Radio 5 Live. The catalyst for the debate was the granting of licences to two sets of researchers to create human-animal hybrid embryos. Anthony argued that “deliberately blurring the line between humans and animals is simply not an ethical way to approach the cure or treatment of disease”. Dr Lovell-Badge responded: “People didn’t want to have to blur the lines between animal and human...”. So there we have it: scientists are knowingly and intentionally striking at what makes us human.

Dr Lovell-Badge claimed that an early embryo is just a collection of cells and not a human being, because in the first few days after conception it is not possible know which cells will form which particular part of the child’s body, or even form the placenta. Anthony countered that Dr Lovell-Badge was confusing “the physical development of the embryo with the genetic properties of the embryo....What makes us human is our genes, not which cells go to which parts of the body later in development.”

Dr Lovell-Badge tried to stump Anthony by claiming that there was very little or no difference between the early embryo and the genetically-modified skin cells created recently in Japan, cells which might have flexibility equal to that of embryonic stem cells. However, Anthony corrected Dr Lovell-Badge by pointing out that “those cells [induced pluripotent cells] are embryonic-like –they’re not embryo cells. They haven’t come from an embryo. We’re not talking about embryos: we’re talking about embryonic-like cells; or cells which have similar properties to embryos; or which have similar potential for pluripotency as embryonic stem cells. So we’re talking about two completely different things.”

Here are some more things Anthony said in the debate:

“Embryonic stem cell research is highly speculative and extremely primitive in terms of its development. There’s no reason to believe that cures or treatments for conditions such as motor neurone disease will come from embryonic stem cell research, whether the stem cells lines used are taken from hybrid embryos or from purely human embryos. No one can fail to be moved by the stories of persons with motor neurone disease; and yes, we have a moral duty to try to cure and treat disease. We must, however, never do wrong that good may come of it. We believe that, where embryos are human, to create them, exploit them by taking their stem cells and in the process kill them, is contrary to the basic right to life. We would instead encourage advances in adult stem cell research, which is already providing benefits for patients in over 70 different conditions. We would say that if any cures or treatments are to come for, say, motor neurone disease, they are more likely to come from ethical alternatives such as adult stem cell research, rather than this highly speculative, primitive and ethically dubious area [embryo research].

“Human life begins at conception. At conception we have a full genetic complement of a human being. Today I am no different genetically from what I was when I was created at the first point of conception. Embryos, therefore, have an equal right to life and an equal place as members of the human family. Where we are talking about hybrids – depending on the genetic mix and the different types of hybrids that can be created – they may or may not be human. We don’t know. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why we shouldn’t create them: because we have no way of knowing how they should be treated if we don’t know if they’re human, animal, neither or both. So it’s fundamentally contrary to at least human dignity, and may well be contrary to human life, to the right to life, because it involves the exploitation and through that the killing of human embryos.”

“The early human embryo may be a bunch of cells, but it’s the most amazing bunch of cells! The reason why it is the most amazing bunch of cells is because it’s a self-directing, self-developing organism. It directs its own development; it doesn’t rely upon other people to direct its development; it just needs its natural environment, which is the womb, to grow. When the embryo is in the womb, in fact it tells its mother: “I’m present! I’m a human being! I’m your flesh and blood! Don’t miscarry me!” It is a being, and we would say that it is a person, because it is a member of the human family and therefore it is a human person. Simply because it’s small and not recognisably human in shape, doesn’t mean that it’s not human.

“The small percentage of animal input into cytoplasmic hybrid embryos or cybrids may be extremely important, and may change its functionality. If , for example, such an embryo was implanted and brought to birth, would be a rational being?”

Thursday, 17 January 2008

doctors’ college to give platform to pro-abortion lobby

The distortion of good medicine by the pro-abortion lobby continues apace. The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is holding a one-day course on tackling obesity and teenage pregnancy on 8th March. Three of the five listed speakers are from the pro-abortion lobby: the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Brook Advisory Service and the Margaret Pyke Centre. Their presence at this course is entirely inappropriate. The claim that they work to reduce the rates of teenage pregnancies and provide contraception as a means of reducing recourse to abortion is simply false - their own words attest to this. Dr Judy Bury, a former director of the Edinburgh Brook Advisory Centre, explained this clearly:

"Twenty years ago women were more resigned to unwanted pregnancy, but as they have become more conscious of preventing conception so they have come to request terminations when contraception fails. There is overwhelming evidence that, contrary to what you might expect, the provision of contraception leads to an increase in the abortion rate."

As long ago as 1973, David Malcolm Potts, one of Brook's senior medical advisors predicted:

"As people turn to contraception there will be a rise, not a fall in the abortion rate."

He acknowledged this again in 1979 saying:

"No society has controlled its fertility…without recourse to a significant number of abortions. In fact abortion is often the starting place in the control of fertility."

And BPAS's Ann Furedi, for example, told a reporter at last year's Marie Stopes International Global Safe Abortion conference:

"Abortion is normal....Abortion is always necessary as a backup to contraception....For many women abortion is the solution to the problem of unintended pregnancy."

In 2000, Mrs Furedi had also told a conference on abortion law that policymakers should "stop using the abortion rate as the indicator of a problem" but "accept it as an essential method of family planning". She observed: "Sex is an accepted part of an adult relationship for which we do not expect to suffer unwanted consequences." [Daily Mail, 16 October 2000]

As Professor David Paton of Nottingham University has ably demonstrated, greater access to birth control drugs and devices does nothing to decrease the rates of teenage pregnancy or teenage abortions. The makers of birth control pills admit that it can stop young embryos from implanting in the womb (the technical term for this implanting is ‘nidation’ – e.g. see the summary of product characteristics for Norgeston, a common type of birth control pill using the same ingredient, levonorgestrel, as the morning-after pill)

The RCGP should not be giving a platform to the pro-abortion lobby and its flawed, extreme ideology. It's important that concerned doctors contact the RCGP about this. If you know doctors likely to be concerned, ask them to write the President of the RCGP, Professor David Haslam, by email at president@rcgp.org.uk or by post to 14 Princes Gate, London, SW7 1PU.

MEPs vote for sexual rights for children

Members of the European Parliament yesterday approved a report which is likely to have serious implications for family life right across the EU. Towards an EU strategy on the rights of the child sets out what EU states must do to uphold and promote children's rights.

The report covers issues such as the protection of children from exploitation, abuse and violence. It acknowledges that the family protects children and calls on member states to make “every effort to support families by means of appropriate public policies.” Unfortunately some parts of the report threaten to do just the opposite.

Six articles in the report refer to sexual and reproductive rights under the headings of health and education. In Article 144, the report: "Calls on the Commission and Member States to facilitate access for young girls to information and education about reproductive health and reproductive health services;".

Articles 162 to 165 go on to stress the need to promote sexual and reproductive health services for children and Article 168: "Calls for Member States to ensure that all children and adolescents in and out of school are provided with tailored and comprehensive scientific information on sexual and reproductive health in order to make informed choices on issues related to their personal well-being, including the prevention of STIs and HIV/AIDS;"

The terms reproductive rights and reproductive health services is UN code for abortion. This means the EU strategy on the rights of the child will almost certainly be used to force governments throughout Europe to introduce the same policies which in Britain supply birth control to school girls and provides secret abortions when the contraception fails.

Kathy Sinnott, the pro-life MEP for Ireland south, said: “We can only assume that this repeated inclusion will lead to the assertion that abortion should be common practice for adolescent children…”

In two votes, the articles recognising sexual and reproductive rights for children were passed with 460 and 500 votes in favour and 180 and 150 votes against. With such a substantial majority of MEPs backing this report, it is highly likely that it will be crucial to the way the European Court of Justice interprets the children’s rights in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

On 19 October last year EU heads of state and government meeting in Lisbon decided to give legally binding value to the Charter in the new Lisbon Treaty. If and when the Charter comes into force, no parent in the EU will be able to protect their children from the influence of the birth control lobby and secret abortions.

Patrick Buckley of European Life Network said: "This is yet another step in the attempt by anti life politicians and powerful international NGOs to impose their will on all European nations. The report is a cyanide cocktail. It has many palatable aspects but it is laced with all the trappings of the culture of death which has plagued Europe for some years. There is not and never can be a right to abortion. In addition the sooner our children are protected from the anti-life propaganda that passes as sexual and reproductive health education the better. EU Parliamentary decisions of this nature bring the EU project into disrepute and highlight very worrying aspects of the Lisbon treaty.”

report on transplants rings alarm bells

A new report on organ donation says that a patient becomes a potential donor "when a decision has been taken – in the best interests of the patient – that further active treatment is no longer appropriate and should be withdrawn". That phrase from Organs for transplants – a report from the Organ Donation Taskforce may seem innocuous or even reasonable. However, the words which ring alarm bells are "treatment" and "best interests". In recent years, those words' legal meanings have been radically changed for the worse.

In 1992, the House of Lords dealt with the case of Mr Tony Bland, who had been severely brain-damaged in the Hillsborough football stadium disaster. Mr Bland was said to be in a persistent vegetative state (PVS), which is better described as a persistent non-responsive state. The judges let doctors stop giving him food and fluids by tube and thus allowed intentional killing by neglect for the first time.

The Lords had turned English law on its head by ruling that tube-feeding was medical treatment. Because this so-called treatment offered no hope of curing Mr Bland, it was futile and, on that basis, could be withdrawn. The Law Lords said that keeping someone alive who was severely handicapped was not necessarily in his best interests and, on that basis too, treatment (i.e. feeding) could be withdrawn. They also ruled that, if Tony Bland's feeding tube was withdrawn, the cause of his death would be deemed as his underlying disease, not the lack of sustenance. The tube was removed and Mr Bland died from dehydration (not PVS) after nine days.

Since then, the English courts have made a number of similar decisions. Worse, the 2005 Mental Capacity Act (MCA) enshrined the Bland judgment in statute law and extended it. The way that the government bulldozed the MCA through parliament is very like the way they're currently pushing through the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, as I blogged yesterday.

The MCA defines treatment even more broadly than the judges in Bland. This means that other kinds of basic care (maybe even spoon-feeding) could be withheld from patients. The MCA also creates a test for establishing patients' best interests. This includes many woolly and subjective factors but it makes no reference to the patient’s life or health, which used to be the criteria in case law. A doctor can thus disregard life and health when considering a patient's best interests.

This situation applies to any mentally-incapacitated patient, not just to people with a living will or power of attorney. Patients with a wide range of disabilities can thus be denied necessary treatment or care under the MCA. These include patients who, like my late father, suffer a stroke which worsens their dementia, and Alzheimer's sufferers.

The MCA also gives third parties (such as people with lasting powers of attorney) dangerous powers to insist upon life or death decisions. It also enables government-approved "independent mental capacity advocates" and court-appointed deputies to influence such decisions.

While the law has been changing, so has medical practice in many UK hospitals. Our family discovered this during the last few weeks of my father’s life on which I wrote a diary at the time.

Organs for transplants – a report from the Organ Donation Taskforce was published yesterday by the Department of Heath (which covers England) with the Northern Ireland DHSSPS, the Scottish government, and the Welsh Assembly Government. It's targeted at national health service administrators. Ms Elisabeth Buggins, chair of the task force, writes: “The UK has one of the worst records for organ donation in western Europe. The Taskforce was, however, greatly encouraged by the evidence it considered from across the world and believes that a 50% increase in organ donation is possible and achievable in the UK within five years. We are convinced that this goal will only be realised if our recommendations are considered and acted on as a whole.” We at SPUC will be studying the report to identify any sanctity-of-life issues in its 66 pages of recommendations and rationale.

hybrid embryos approved

The regulator has approved the creation of embryos that are part-animal and part-human for medical research. This is a disaster for human dignity, as I've been saying to the media.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Government commands Labour Peers to vote for human-animal hybrid embryos

Yesterday the Government told its members of the House of Lords to oppose an amendment seeking to ban the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos. They did this during the first day of the Report stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (or HFE) bill. The process is called "whipping", a quaint Parliamentary idiom which means "secures attendance for voting in a particular direction". An amendment to the bill was defeated by 268 votes to 96, a majority of almost three to one.

The Government is blatantly determined to push its legislation through Parliament. In this situation the major thrust of the pro-life campaign, the efforts of the churches, and the efforts of pro-life politicians, must be to expose the massive attack on the sanctity of human life and on the dignity of the human person which this Bill represents. Parliamentarians must decide: Are they on the side of right or wrong? Of good or of evil? Future generations will look back at how Parliamentarians voted and what they said during the debates - in the same way we look back now at the debates and voting on the Abortion Act 1967.

It's now all the more important that pro-lifers contact Peers to urge them to vote against the Bill at third reading which could be as early as the 28th of this month.

Lord Tebbit described the nature of the issues at stake as follows: "These are matters that are more of ethics than of technology. Because something is scientifically possible does not mean that it should be done. Because it might bring great benefits to particular people does not mean it should be done. If we accept arguments of that kind we are effectively saying that the end justifies the means."

Another notable part of the debate was an oft-repeated misrepresentation of Christian teaching on early human life. Lord Walton of Detchant claimed:

"Many centuries ago in the Roman Catholic Church, St Thomas Aquinas, that great theologian, averred that life did not begin until the foetus was capable of independent existence outside the womb, but a pope in the middle of the 19th century laid down the edict that life began the moment the sperm entered the egg. In consequence, people of the Roman Catholic faith, ever since that time, have believed firmly that they should oppose all aspects of embryonic research."

Lord Walton’s claim is easily rebutted. The Catholic church and its leading authorities (including St Thomas Aquinas), from the earliest times to today, have always forbidden the destruction of the fruits of conception. Differences of opinion among theologians before the mid-19th century related not to embryo destruction (always forbidden), but at which stage of development the embryo possessed a soul and whether lighter or harsher penalties should be applied for embryo destruction before and after the soul’s presence. St Thomas could only use the science available to him at the time, derived from Aristotle, which suggested that the embryo was not sufficiently developed enough to possess a soul until some weeks after conception. It was only in the mid-19th century and advances in embryology that scientists could be sure about the physical evidence of how human life begins (at fertilisation). The Catholic church therefore changed, not its teaching on the wrongness of embryo destruction, but its penalties for embryo destruction, to be equal from fertilisation onwards.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

embryo bill, Report stage, House of Lords

The House of Lords will today debate again the government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology or HFE bill, now at Report stage. Detailed information about the bill can be found on SPUC’s website at http://www.spuc.org.uk/lobbying/hfe The Government seem determined to ram this bill through the House of Lords quickly, and have only allocated two days for Report. No date has yet been announced for Third Reading.

The Government have tabled a series of amendments aimed at making the bill sound better and at the same time trying to reduce any opposition to its main provisions. Anti-life Peers have also tabled some amendments to extend even further the scope of destructive embryo experimentation. In addition, some Peers have tabled amendments seeking to remove or ameliorate some aspects. Unfortunately, the bill is so fundamentally flawed, no amendments can make it ethical.

The whole purpose of this bill is to consolidate and to extend the killing and abuse of early human life. Whatever amendments may be agreed, pro-life supporters should lobby parliamentarians to urge them to oppose the bill in principle and as a whole, in particular by voting against the bill at the crucial stages of Third Reading in the House of Lords and at Second and Third Readings in the House of Commons. Pro-lifers can email Peers via http://www.spuc.org.uk/lobbying/email You can also email your MP via http://www.spuc.org.uk/mps

Monday, 14 January 2008

he just blew in from the windy city

 
Fr James Heyd is a full-time staffer for Priests for Life in Chicago. He passed through SPUC's new HQ in Kennington, London, today on his way back home from a fortnight's work in Uganda.

Apart from successfully raising funds for the building of a school in Uganda, Fr Heyd has two main priorities for pro-life work in that country. With the co-operation of bishops he met there, he hopes that a Ugandan section of Priests for Life will be established. Secondly, he wants to encourage pro-life work amongst Muslims in Uganda. Like SPUC, he finds that Muslims, as a community, are naturally pro-life. He was interested to hear about the work of Muslims in SPUC in the UK.


Fr Heyd looks at SPUC's website with Paul Danon, its webmaster.

the dangers of changing the law on organ donation

 
Mr Gordon Brown, the UK prime minister, wants to change the current system of organ donation so that people's consent is assumed unless they actively opt out. While most people probably regard organ donation as a valuable life-saving practice, presuming consent touches on a number of real problems.

Many arguments for an opt-out system are utilitarian, where the goal is just to obtain a better outcome i.e. a greater number of organs donated. The worst situation would be where people's deaths could actually be hastened because their organs were needed for someone else. There is already pressure for this. The International Forum on Transplant Ethics proposed that lethal injections be given to people who are long-term unconscious, in so-called persistent, or permanent, vegetative state, and for whom life has been deemed unworthy of living. It is argued that such injections could produce better-quality organs than if the person died naturally. While the donor would be dead when the organs were taken, the death would nevertheless have been caused to enable their removal. Even if the patient had given consent, medics would be involved in hastening his or her demise.

Donation of anything is customarily based on consent. They are, after all, my organs. However, in an opt-out system, where most people's wishes are unknown, consent is absent and you can't really speak of organ donation any more.

An opt-out system also represents a high level of interference by the state in personal life. The dead person's body effectively becomes government property.

The evidence even seems equivocal about whether such a change would increase the number of organs available. Some countries with opt-out systems do worse than the UK but some do better, suggesting that other factors may be more important.

Opt-out systems come in soft and hard versions, depending upon whether next of kin are consulted. With a soft opt-out system, as in Spain, grieving relatives are presented with a choice that many find very difficult. With a hard opt-out system, relatives can find their exclusion from the decision process very painful.

An opt-out system also requires high public awareness so that everyone who objects to organ donation actually does opt out. It's argued that opting in cannot produce high donation rates because many people who want to donate simply don’t register but, with an opt-out system, many people's genuine wishes would be over-ridden.

An opt-out system could further alienate those who already distrust the authorities. Indeed, some people who are registered to donate say they would opt out in protest at state interference if consent were presumed.

Consent might also come to be presumed in other medical contexts. It could be argued that presumed consent should extend to the use in research of tissues and organs obtained at autopsies, despite the strongly negative public reaction to revelations of such practices at UK hospitals in recent years.

While opt-out systems tend to refer to organs from deceased persons, they could also be made to apply to tissues. If they did, there could be implications for consent regarding the use of tissue from miscarried or aborted foetuses.

By contrast with opting out, opt-in systems are aligned with the ethical view that people should actively give their consent.

Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail today raises another extremely serious concern. She says: "There is, however, a yet more fundamental objection to the opt out proposal. This is the serious doubt whether people whose organs are harvested are dead." This is a matter to which I shall return.

doctors and SPUC's patient information service

Dr Michael Culloty, a retired general practitioner, approached me today after I presented the White Flower appeal in St Theresa's church, Hatch End, north London. He was interested to hear about the number of doctors making use of SPUC's patient information service.

Hundreds of doctors will be ordering leaflets in the next few weeks in response to the Society's patient information service campaign to give to patients who ask for an abortion. The leaflets provide factual information about the development of unborn children and about what abortion and its aftermath really involve. Just as importantly the leaflets explain who the can contact for support and help in a crisis pregnancy.

Dr Culloty told me that more doctors should oppose abortion by conscientious objection and he hoped they would do so as a result of SPUC's initiative. His parting shot was unanswerable: "I notice that everyone who supports abortion makes sure they've been been born themselves first!"

Dr Culloty is pictured here at St Theresa's after the White Flower appeal with Alma, his wife.



Also, I met Fr Chacko Panathara (pictured) on Sunday at St Raphaels, Yeading. Fr Chacko is a Vincentian priest who ministers to the Indian community in west London. He wants Indian Catholics to get fully engaged in campaigning work to defend unborn children.