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LIFE DIGEST: Deaths in Calif. prompt government to study safety of RU 486


WASHINGTON (BP)–The federal government will investigate the safety of the abortion drug RU 486 after it was discovered the four California women who died following its use suffered from an uncommon and lethal bacterial infection, The New York Times has reported.

Because all four deaths so far reported in the United States after RU 486 use took place in California, the Food and Drug Administration performed research to determine if pills dispensed in the state were contaminated, according to The Times. Tests showed they were not contaminated, however.

As a result, a meeting sponsored by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be held in early 2006 to discuss, among other things, whether RU 486 makes its users susceptible to the lethal bacteria, Clostridium sordelli, and, if it does, how it might be detected and prevented, The Times reported Nov. 23.

Wendy Wright, executive vice president of Concerned Women for America, told The Times she is “pleased the FDA is taking a serious look at this and hope[s] that they will no longer allow this drug to be available to cause the deaths of more women.”

The father of one of the California women who died repeated his call for the suspension of RU 486 sales. “I believe this drug should be taken off the market,” Monty Patterson told The Times.

Among the deaths, that of Patterson’s 18-year-old daughter, Holly, has been by far the most widely publicized. A resident of Livermore, she died Sept. 17, 2003, after obtaining RU 486 from a Planned Parenthood clinic in Hayward, Calif. A bill, known as Holly’s Law, has been introduced in Congress that would remove RU 486 from the market while a review is conducted of the FDA’s approval of the drug.

It was reported earlier this fall that a lawsuit had been filed against Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino counties, as well as Danco Laboratories and the Population Council, in the death of Vivian Tran, 22, of Costa Mesa, Calif. Tran died Dec. 29, 2003, six days after using RU 486. Danco Laboratories markets RU 486 in the United States, and the Population Council holds the patent to the drug.

The other two women who died, according to The Times, are Chanelle Bryant, 22, of Pasadena, who died Jan. 14, 2004, six days after taking RU 486, and Oriane Shevin, 34, of Los Angeles, who died May 24, five days after taking the drug.

The bacterial infection infected the women’s uteruses and entered their bloodstreams, according to The Times.

RU 486, or mifepristone, is used as the first part of a process normally occurring in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. That initial action causes the lining of the uterus to release the embryonic child. A second drug, known as misoprostol, is taken two days after mifepristone and causes the uterus to contract, expelling the baby.

SEOUL CONFESSION –- A world leader in embryonic cloning and stem cell research has confessed he lied about the source of donated eggs, and supporters of the destructive experimentation are worried about the impact on their efforts.

Woo Suk Hwang, the first researcher to clone a human embryo and extract its stem cells, apologized Nov. 24 in Seoul, South Korea, for having denied that some of the eggs in his experiments came from two female members of his research team, according to the Financial Times. Though the donation of eggs from aides did not, at the time, violate South Korean law or ethics guidelines, it is a breach of international standards because of the potential for coercion.

Though Hwang said he would continue to conduct research at Seoul National University, he resigned his other official positions, including the presidency of the World Stem Cell Hub.

“I am very sorry that I have to tell the public words that are too shameful and horrible,” Hwang said, the Financial Times reported. “I have learned a painful lesson. I will conduct research in a cautious manner to live up to global standards.”

American Journal of Bioethics editor-in-chief Glenn McGee wrote in a weblog that the Hwang incident “could firmly establish in the public mind the view that stem cell researchers as a group cannot be trusted, not only because they are in a hurry and miss things along the way, but because they may be willing to deceive their own peers and the public about their devotion to ethics,” CNS News reported.

Hwang’s resignation dealt another blow to the World Stem Cell Hub, a consortium already reeling from the departure of a leading American researcher and the withdrawal of at least one United States fertility clinic. University of Pittsburgh researcher Gerald Schatten left Hwang’s team in mid-November, and, three days later, Pacific Fertility Center, a San Francisco in vitro fertilization clinic, pulled out of the association, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Schatten, who had been a part of the South Korean effort for 20 months, said in a written statement he was ending his collaboration with Hwang after “a breach of trust about possible egg-donor recruitment irregularities,” the Chronicle reported. Hwang had denied such charges.

In addition to his pioneering, though destructive, work in human cloning, Hwang is the first researcher to clone a dog, which is named Snuppy and was recently named “invention of the year” by Time magazine.

The extraction of stem cells from embryos results in the demise of the tiny human beings.

CLINTON PRAISED, CHALLENGED -– Sen. Hillary Clinton, D.-N.Y., was praised for her recent criticism of China’s coercive population control agency but also urged by pro-lifers to rescind support for a United Nations agency linked to the program.

In a Nov. 10 speech at an American Bar Association symposium in Washington, Clinton, who supports abortion rights, said she had asked President Bush in a letter to be sent that day to raise the issue of human rights with China’s leaders on his visit to Beijing Nov. 19-21. She specified China’s family planning policy, which has been marked by forced abortion and sterilization. Clinton said she urged the president “to make clear the United States strongly opposes these abuses, supports non-coercive family planning programs and wants China to end any population policies that violate human rights.”

Steven Mosher, an expert on China’s population control program and president of the Population Research Institute, commended Clinton, saying, “Although Sen. Clinton generally takes the wrong side when it comes to the life issues, we are very pleased that she has not remained silent when it comes to this persecution of Chinese mothers, as so many feminist and so-called pro-choice leaders have.”

He said, however, “The problem is that Sen. Clinton still supports U.S. funding” for the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA). “She should bring her policy into line with her rhetoric,” Mosher said in a written statement.

The Bush administration announced in September it would withhold for the fourth consecutive year $34 million designated by Congress for the UNFPA. The State Department again determined that contributions to the U.N. agency would violate the 1985 Kemp-Kasten amendment, which prohibits family planning money from going to any entity that, as determined by the president, “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.”

Officials in many parts of China have practiced a forced population control program for more than 25 years in an attempt to curb the birth rate in the world’s most populous country. A law codifying the policy throughout China went into effect in 2002.

The policy limits couples in urban areas to one child and those in rural areas to two, if the first is a girl. Other exceptions have been made in some provinces, and the enforcement of the policy has varied among provinces. The program has been marked not only by coercive sterilization and abortion, but infanticide, especially of females, also has been reported.

Though Bush raised the issue of religious freedom with China’s leaders, it is uncertain if he also urged them to halt their coercive population control policy.

WAITING WINS IN INDIANA -– The Indiana Supreme Court upheld Nov. 23 a state law requiring counseling and a waiting period before a woman can have an abortion.

The court decided in a 4-1 vote that challengers to the law could not continue with their suit, according to the Associated Press. The challenge would not succeed because the law “does not impose a material burden on any right to privacy or abortion that may be provided or protected” under the Indiana constitution, AP reported.

The law requires women desiring an abortion receive counseling about alternatives and medical risks, then wait 18 hours before undergoing the procedure, according to the report. The law was enacted in 1995, but legal challenges prevented it from taking effect until 2003, AP reported.
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