News Articles

LIFE DIGEST: Doctors urge euthanasia of newborns; headlines absent for liver creation using non-embryonic stem cells

WASHINGTON (BP)–A British medical organization has called for the consideration of “active euthanasia” for severely disabled infants.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists urged the Nuffield Council on Bioethics to include newborn euthanasia in its consultation on care for “extremely premature and seriously ill babies.” The council is to release its report Nov. 16.

In its request, the college called on the council “to think more radically about non-resuscitation, withdrawal of treatment decisions, the best-interests test and active euthanasia.” The college said it has not formally endorsed euthanasia for newborns but wants it to be weighed by British society.

The Netherlands is the only country to have legalized euthanasia for infants. Euthanasia was not part of the Nuffield Council’s deliberations originally, because it is illegal in Great Britain, The Times of London reported. The council, however, agreed to include it in its consultation at the request of the Royal College.

The college said in its submissions to the council, according to The Times, “a very disabled child can mean a disabled family. If life-shortening and deliberate interventions to kill infants were available, they might have an impact on obstetric decision-making, even preventing some late abortions, as some parents would be more confident about continuing a pregnancy and taking a risk on outcome.”

Some ethicists and geneticists supported the college’s request.

“We can terminate for serious fetal abnormality up to term but cannot kill a newborn,” said John Harris, who is on the Human Genetics Commission and teaches bioethics at Manchester University, according to The Times. “What do people think has happened in the passage down the birth canal to make it OK to kill the fetus at one end of the birth canal but not at the other?”

Others, however, decried the suggestion.

“Intentional killing is not part of medical care,” said John Wyatt, consultant neonatologist at University College London Hospital, The Times reported. “The majority of doctors and health professionals believe that once you introduce the possibility of intentional killing into medical practice you change the fundamental nature of medicine. It immediately becomes a subjective decision as to whose life is worthwhile.”

Permitting doctors to determine whose life is worth living “changes medicine into a form of social engineering where the aim is to maximize the benefit for society and minimize those who are perceived as worthless,” Wyatt said.

NEWS BLACKOUT -– British researchers have used stem cells to produce artificial liver sections, or mini-livers, for the first time, but the promising advance has gone largely unreported by major American news media.

The reason? The stem cells did not come from human embryos and, therefore, did not require the destruction of the tiny human beings, a pro-life commentator said.

Nico Forraz and Colin McGuckin, scientists at Newcastle University, reported they had grown the pieces of liver using stem cells from umbilical cord blood, according to the BBC News. While the researchers believe it may be decades before a liver produced in this manner can be used in a human transplant, they said sections of livers could be grown to provide treatments in 10 to 15 years, the BBC reported.

Some specialists warned that the report’s helpfulness is uncertain because the research has yet to be peer reviewed, according to the BBC. Ian Gilmore, a liver specialist at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, told the BBC, however, the research was important “because they are able to do it from umbilical cord blood and not requiring embryos. That’s quite a big ethical leap forward. And they are producing such a significant amount of tissue.”

Newspapers such as The New York Times, USA Today and The Washington Post did not report on the development because it was “politically incorrect,” said Wesley Smith, a lawyer, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture.

“A story that doesn’t validate the stem cell mantra that embryonic stem cells offer the ‘best hope’ for future cures isn’t worth much attention,” Smith wrote in an Oct. 31 commentary for The Weekly Standard.

“Indeed, if this new breakthrough had been accomplished with embryonic stem cells instead of umbilical cord blood stem cells, the headlines would have been enormous,” Smith wrote. “The second paragraph of the stories would have accused President Bush of holding up potentially life-saving cures.

“Instead, we hear the sound of silence –- thanks to the news blockade that doesn’t care much about stem-cell breakthroughs unless they come from destroyed embryos,” he said.

Though embryonic stem cell research is legal in the United States, Bush has blocked federal funding of stem cell experiments that result in the destruction of human embryos.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into tissues and other cells, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions.

Not only does the extraction of stem cells from an embryo destroy the tiny human being, research with such cells has yet to produce a treatment for any human ailment or even to reach the stage of human trials. Animal experimentation using embryonic stem cells has been plagued by the development of tumors.

Unlike research using embryos, extracting stem cells from non-embryonic sources -– such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow -– does not harm the donor and has produced treatments for at least 72 ailments in human beings, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These include spinal cord injuries, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia.

DAKOTA DEFEAT -– The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a court order blocking enforcement of a South Dakota law requiring additional information for women before they have abortions.

Planned Parenthood had shown it likely would win its challenge of the law, an Eighth Circuit panel ruled Oct. 30 in a 2-1 decision.

The 2005 law added requirements to South Dakota’s informed consent law. Under the measure, the new information a doctor would have to provide a woman in writing at least two hours before an abortion includes: An abortion will end the “life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being”; the woman has a relationship with her unborn child that is protected by the U.S. Constitution and state laws; and an abortion will terminate that relationship.

The case is Planned Parenthood v. Rounds.

South Dakota enacted in March a law banning all abortions except those to save the life of the mother. Voters will decide the fate of that law in a referendum Nov. 7.

DOCTORS WARNING -– Some leading British doctors have called for women seeking abortions to be informed of the procedure’s long-term psychological risks.

The Times of London published a letter Oct. 27 from 15 psychiatrists and obstetricians-gynecologists encouraging the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Royal College of Psychiatrists to change their guidelines and “future abortion notifications clearly distinguish between physical and mental health grounds for abortion.”

The doctors cited a New Zealand study published in January in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry that showed “even women without past mental health problems are at risk of psychological ill effects after abortion. Women who had had abortions had twice the level of mental health problems and three times the risk of major depressive illness as those who had given birth or never been pregnant.”

As a result of that research, the American Psychological Association withdrew its official statement rejecting a link between abortion and psychological damage, the doctors said.