Archive 

Life Issues update


Westminster
From Christian Concern for our Nation




20th April 2007

Summary

As always, there are a number of live issues at the moment to do with the beginning and end of life. We wanted to take this opportunity to update you on the developments that are taking place in these areas so that we can be prayerful about them as the church, and be prepared for action as these issues develop over the coming months.

 

Below you will find details of the following issues, cases and stories:

 

1. Beginning of Life – Abortion

2. Alive and kicking Campaign

3. Abortion ‘crisis’ as doctors refuse to perform terminations

4. Babies born alive after abortions

5. US Supreme Court upholds ban on ‘partial-birth’ abortion procedure

 

6. Beginning of Life – Baby Adoption


7. Beginning of Life – Bioethics

8. Human-animal hybrid embryos

9. ‘Hands off our Ovaries’

 

End of Life

10. Euthanasia

11. Palliative Care Bill

12. Mental Capacity Act

13. Kelly Taylor case

14. Voluntary Euthanasia Society Case

 

Please pray about these issue, that God's will be dong and that all human life will be valued in our laws and in society.

 
 

1. Beginning of Life - Abortion


This October sees the 40th Anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967, and increasingly over the past months abortion has become a current political issue.

It is important that we pray about this issue increasingly in the coming months, and that each of us is prepared for taking part in this nation wide debate.


2. Alive and Kicking Campaign

 

An alliance of organisations has formed which has now launched what will be the biggest campaign the country has ever seen in defence of the unborn child, the Alive and Kicking Campaign. Their near term objective is to see the number of yearly abortions halved. They are lobbying for certain changes in abortion law and practice which would help bring about this aim, such as a reduction in the upper age limit for abortion, and the provision of compassionate alternatives for abortion.

 

The next Alive and Kicking event is taking place on Tuesday 8th May when there will be a briefing in Parliament titled ‘Abortion and a Woman’s Right to Know’, which will include comparisons of different international legislation on informed consent, with a special focus on the medical and psychological risks of abortion.

 

In the run up to October the abortion debate will no doubt grow louder in the public sphere. Campaigns like the Alive and Kicking Campaign will be very important in educating society and lobbying Parliament about the need for a change in abortion practice and law.

 
Links
 

Alive and Kicking Campaign website (currently being updated) http://www.aliveandkickingcampaign.org/

 
 

3. Abortion ‘crisis’ as doctors refuse to perform terminations

 

On 16th April the first 3 pages of the Independent were dedicated to the story that so many doctors are now refusing to perform abortions that the NHS are facing an ‘abortion crisis’ as there are not enough doctors to meet the high demand for abortion procedures.

 
Links
 

·         Article in the Independent about a lack of doctors willing to do abortions http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/health_medical/article2452408.ece

 

·         Article in the Times - comment on Independent article http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/libby_purves/article1662848.ece

 
 

4. Babies born alive after abortions

 

The Daily Mail has reported that 1 in 30 babies aborted for medical reason are born alive. Most of these babies are born at between 20 – 24 weeks, but some were as early as 17 weeks, and some of them survived for over 6 hours.

 

Please visit the Daily Mail website, using the link below, and post your comments there.

 
Links

Daily Mail Article
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=449598&in_page_id=1770


5. US Supreme Court upholds ban on ‘partial-birth’ abortion procedure
 

For the first time the US Supreme Court has banned a specific method of abortion. ‘Intact Dilation and extraction’, or ‘partial- birth’ abortion entails doctors removing the legs and body of a fetus from the womb, initially with forceps, before using a catheter to extract the brain tissue which then allows the head to pass out through the vagina.

The court’s decision has sparked controversy between the pro-life and pro-choice lobbies in the US.

Links

·         US supreme court upholds ban on ‘partial-birth’ abortion procedure
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/6569007.stm

 
 

6. Beginning of Life – Baby Adoption

 

ASIST (Adoption Support In Society Today) was set up by a group of people who have adopted, as a support group who aim to give up to date information on adoption today. One of their aims is to reach women with unexpected pregnancies to inform them of adoption as an option and give them further information, assistance and support as necessary.

 

ASIST are about to embark upon a pilot scheme of distributing leaflets on Baby Adoption to GPs surgeries and pregnancy advice centres. The leaflets contain information on adoption and how to get further help.

 

There are currently less than 200 babies placed for adoption each year in this country, whilst over 600 babies are aborted every day. Most of the time adoption is not presented as a positive option for the mother or the child.

 

Please pray that the work of ASIST will help to change how people view adoption, so that GPs, councillors and people with unexpected pregnancies will see that, when handled well, adoption can be a positive choice for all involved.

 

For more information contact Hilary Howe on (01823) 253026 or email her at asist@btinternet.com

 


7. Beginning of Life – Bioethics

In May the Government are expected to publish a draft Bill reforming the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (the Draft Tissues and Embryo Authority (RATE) Bill). This Bill will update the law concerning embryonic research.
 

There has already been a White Paper consultation on the proposed Bill in which the Government made a number of proposals. There were many areas of concern in that White Paper, such as the proposal that the new Bill should remove the reference to the need for a father when considering the welfare of a child.


8. Human-animal hybrid embryos
 

One of the main areas of concern is that of the law regulating the creation of animal-human hybrid or chimera embryos, for research purposes. Such hybrids would be created by introducing the nucleus of a human cell into the ovum of an animal, thus creating an embryo which is part human, part animal.

 

The 1990 Act declines to mention the creation of such entities, but when hybrids were contemplated in 2000, the Government stated that they would prohibit the creation of hybrids once the Parliamentary timetable allowed, and urged research bodies not to support such research.

 

However, in recent months there has been increasing pressure on the Government to move from their position of staunch opposition. Unfortunately, the Government seem to be succumbing to this pressure. The White Paper proposed that while the Bill would not expressly allow the creation of hybrid and chimera embryos, it would ‘contain a power enabling regulations to set out circumstances in which the creation of hybrid and chimera embryos in vitro may in future be allowed’.

 

This would, in effect, mean that hybrids and chimeras could become legalised without the need for Parliament to make an express decision on the issue. The decision would most likely fall to the HFEA. Indeed, the HFEA have already received two license applications to carry out such research and are about to begin their own consultation into hybrid and chimera embryonic research. They have announced that after their consultation is completed in the Autumn they will consider the license applications they have received.

 

In January the scientists who applied for the licences complained to the media that they were unlikely to be granted licences for animal-human hybrids. Opposition to such research was generally dismissed as coming from a religious minority or from those against embryo research per se although an analysis of those who had responded to the various consultations shows otherwise.

 

The following day, the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that the Government was ‘not dead set against’ the creation of hybrids and furthermore, ‘I’m sure that research that’s really going to save lives and improve the quality of life will be able to go forward.’

 

This change of position seems to have taken place without any consideration being given to the serious ethical issues surrounding this topic. It also does not give sufficient weight to the fact that the vast majority of people are opposed to such a change in the law. Of the responses to the Government White Paper proposal mentioned above, 257 were in favour of prohibition, whilst only 54 supported greater flexibility.

 

In addition, this week the Science and Technology Committee have published a report urging the Government not to prohibit the creation of hybrid embryos in the draft Bill.

 

The draft Tissues and Embryo Authority (RATE) Bill is expected to be published in May. Irrespective of whether the draft Bill proposes a prohibition on hybrids and chimeras or proposes greater flexibility in the law it will no doubt be the subject of debate both in Parliament and in the media as the Bill goes forward.

 

Please pray that as the Bill is drafted, and later debated and amended, the way will not be opened for legalising the creation of hybrid embryos, but that the Government will revert to their original position that the creation of such entities should be explicitly prohibited.

 
Links
 

·         Media coverage from January, including the Prime Ministers response to the scientists’ complaints

 

·         The Science and Technology Committees report on Government Proposals for the creation of hybrid and chimera embryos

 
 

9. ‘Hands off our Ovaries’


‘Hands Off Our Ovaries’ is an international organisation set up by both pro-life and pro-choice activists who are concerned that women are being encouraged, induced and/or paid to donate their eggs for research, despite the fact that the procedure can be dangerous to that woman, and potentially fatal.

 

They are lobbying for a suspension of egg extraction until further research is done into issues such as the medical risks of egg harvesting and the likely usefulness of the intended research.

 

Please pray that this group will be an effective voice in protecting women worldwide from being exploited and/or misinformed about potentially harmful and unnecessary treatment for the sake of embryonic research.

 
Links

Hands Off Our Ovaries website

 
 

End of Life

 

10. Euthanasia

Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill was defeated at its 2nd reading in the House of Lords on 12 May 2006 by the significant margin of 148 to 100. This was the third of three assisted dying bills introduced by Lord Joffe in three years and was attempting to legalise assisted suicide in England and Wales. When the British Medical Association (BMA) reversed its neutral stance on euthanasia six weeks later on 29 June 2006 it was clear that Lord Joffe's plan to reintroduce his bill at the earliest opportunity would have very little chance of succeeding.

It has therefore been no surprise that we have seen no fresh attempt to legalise assisted suicide or euthanasia in Britain since, and are now unlikely to do so in this parliamentary session. However we do expect to see another bill, probably brought forward by someone other than Lord Joffe in the House of Lords, when the next parliamentary session starts this autumn.

The Government remains officially neutral on assisted dying, but a recent statement by Lord Warner, Health Minister in the Lords at the time of the May 2006 debate on Lord Joffe's Bill was rather concerning.

On 25 January 2007, in response to Baroness Gardner of Parkes debate on 'Health and Care in the Community', Lord Warner made the following statement: 'The public will insist that any future Government continue to pursue choice. It needs to be continually nurtured and promoted, against some professional resistance. We need to move into new areas, including end-of-life care and how we can leave this world with dignity, at a time and place of our choosing.' When asked to clarify his comments by Lord McColl, he said, 'I think in the coming months we will have plenty of time to expand on that particular subject.'

Links

·         The above information is taken from the ‘Care Not Killing’ website. Care Not Killing is an alliance of organisations that seeks to promote better palliative care and ensure the law on euthanasia and physician assisted suicide is not weakened or repealed. They also aim to influence the balance of public opinion.

 
 

11. Palliative Care Bill

Baroness Ilora Finlay's Palliative Care Bill, which seeks to make good quality palliative care more widely accessible in England and Wales, will go to report stage on 24th April 2007. After a Third Reading in the House of Lords it will proceed to the House of Commons. Unfortunately, once in the House of Commons it will need to be granted time by the Government. If this does not happen it will run out of Parliamentary time.

Links

·         Link to the text of the Palliative Care Bill

 
 

12. Mental Capacity Act

 

The Mental Capacity Act constitutes a statutory framework for people who lack the mental capacity to make their own decisions. Some of the Act came into affect in April 2007 and the rest commences in October 2007.

 

The most controversial part of the Act is provision for the creation of legally binding Advance Decisions (Ads), or ‘living wills’. When this part of the Act is implemented in October people will be able to stipulate in advance whether they would want treatment to be withheld or withdrawn after they cease to have mental capacity.

 

The problem with this is that patients could unwittingly be condemning themselves to unnecessary pain and death. People making ADs rarely know in advance the full implications of such a decision, and no-one can guess what illnesses they will suffer from in the future. Some ADs state that antibiotics should not be given ‘to control infection’ in certain medical conditions. However, both a patient with a stroke developing a pneumonia and an elderly patient with dementia developing a urinary tract infection may benefit from antibiotics. Withholding this treatment would cause the patient unnecessary suffering.

 

Doctors could even be put in the invidious position of having to withhold life saving treatment against their better judgment, because of a statement the patient made in the past. If a disease, for example disseminated cancer, is to trigger the AD, it may be that at the time of the drafting of the AD this disease was not curable. However, with the advance of medical science, it may be treatable when the AD becomes relevant. In such situations doctors may have to let patients die of treatable diseases.

 

In many cases the result of following an AD will be the death of the patient. However there are difficulties inherent in relying solely on the AD. It may be impossible for a doctor to know if the directive was made by a patient under duress by relatives with selfish motives, if the directive had been revoked or whether the patient had changed his or her mind without formally revoking the AD. Research evidence shows that people do change their minds regarding decisions to do with treatment or refusal of treatment.

 

Fundamentally, there are grave concerns that this Bill would allow in euthanasia ‘through the back door’. The Bill fails to differentiate between treatment and basic care. Therefore, nutrition and hydration, which many consider to be basic care rather than treatment, can be legally withdrawn with fatal consequences. This amounts to ‘passive’ euthanasia, i.e. the intentional termination of a patient’s life by omission. There is no qualitative difference between this form of passive euthanasia and other types of euthanasia – the intention and the outcome are the same, only the method is different.

 

In addition to allowing passive euthanasia, the Bill could also lead to active euthanasia. It creates a political and social climate where withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment (including withdrawal of fluids and nutrition) is being seen as beneficial to the patient. Not only will this change society’s view of the inviolability and worth of human life, but there will be increasing calls to legalise euthanasia, since it will be considered much more humane to kill patients quickly (for example through a lethal injection), rather than letting them die slowly of thirst or hunger.

The Kelly Taylor case (see below) is one example of how some might attempt to abuse the provisions of the Act by putting pressure on doctors to sedate and dehydrate people in accordance with suicidally motivated advance directives.

Links

·         Doctors vow not to obey provisions of Mental Capacity Act

 
 

13. Kelly Taylor Case

Kelly Taylor, the 30 year old woman who sought legal permission to be heavily sedated with morphine and then dehydrated until she dies, had withdrawn her case.

Mrs Taylor suffers from Eisenmenger's Syndrome, a congenital heart condition, and has been given less than a year to live. She claims that her palliative care has not been effective. In the past she has made attempts on her own life, most notably by trying to starve herself, but found this too distressing. She now wants doctors to increase her medication to induce a coma-like state, and then to allow her to die from dehydration. If her case had been successful it would create a legal loophole whereby doctors could sedate people until they were unconscious, and then dehydrate them to death. Mrs Taylor’s doctors were refusing to do this because it amounted to euthanasia.

Mrs Taylor has recently decided to try further treatment, such as physiotherapy, before continuing with her case. She asked for an adjournment of the case, but when this was refused she withdrew it instead.

Please pray, giving thanks to God that this case has been withdrawn. Pray for Kelly Taylor. Pray that good Palliative care will become more readily available in this country, so that people suffering from severe illnesses will not feel that euthanasia is their only option.

Links

·         Kelly Taylor withdraws her case

 

14. Voluntary Euthanasia Society Case

A legal challenge under the Trademarks Act 1998 is being brought against the Voluntary Euthanasia Society by a number of organisations. Christian Medical Fellowship, ALERT, and The British Council of Disabled People are bringing the action to object to VES changing its name and seeking to monopolise the phrase “Dignity in Dying.” The challenge is based upon the view that it is deceptive and immoral for an organisation that promotes patients choosing when to die by way of Euthanasia and the medical profession being involved in it to monopolise the term ‘dignity in dying’. The groups taking the case believe firmly promoting better palliative care and that true dignity in dying is achieved through the love and care of friends, family and healthcare professionals.


Please praythat this action will be successful and that Biblical teaching on Euthanasia will be heard in the public square.

 

Andrea Minichielllo Williams, 23/04/2007

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