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LIFE DIGEST: German infanticide on the rise

WASHINGTON (BP)–An outbreak of infanticide this year has prompted German cities to urge mothers in crisis to leave their unwanted babies in hatches at hospitals in order to save the children’s lives.

The murders of at least 23 babies have been reported so far this year in Germany, but crime specialists believe the actual number is higher, according to the March 27 issue of The Times of London. Many of these infants have been “beaten to death or strangled by their mothers before being dumped on wasteland and in dustbins,” The Times reported.

The surge in infanticides has stunned the country and led city councils to initiate advertising to promote the use of what are known as Baby-Klappe hatches, according to the newspaper. The hatches permit mothers to leave their babies without being identified at the secluded drop-off points, which number more than 90 in Germany, The Times reported.

This “rise of infanticide is shocking, but hardly surprising,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on his March 28 weblog entry. “After all, in many societies these babies could be safely aborted almost up to the time of their delivery. The logic of infanticide is just the logic of abortion pushed beyond the moment of birth.

“The fact that Germans have responded with outrage over this spate of infanticides is comforting in one sense, but it also reveals the hypocrisy of the age,” Mohler wrote. “How can infanticide be wrong and abortion be a basic right? Both mean the killing of a baby, and both represent the Culture of Death at its most deadly.”

Police have yet to provide an explanation for the increase in infanticides, which have occurred throughout the country and have involved women of a variety of ages, according to The Times.

Some experts have said the desire to keep their partners has motivated some mothers to take lethal action against their offspring. “Some women have a greater fear of losing their partners than of losing their child,” criminologist Helmut Kury said, The Times reported. “They take desperate measures to save a relationship.”

When using a Baby-Klappe hatch, a mother places her child on a tray, which slides through a hole and slowly lowers the baby onto a heated cot, according to the newspaper. After the mother has had time to leave, an alarm informs a nurse a child has been deposited.

Pakistan and the Philippines also have baby drops, The Times reported.

Since the late 1990s, more than 45 states in the U.S. have passed laws establishing safe havens where newborns can be dropped off by mothers who do not want to keep them.

REVERSING RULES -– Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has called for the liberalization of rules on destructive embryonic stem cell research instituted by his predecessor, Mitt Romney.

Patrick, a Democrat, said March 30 he would urge the Public Health Council, which approved Romney’s rules, to reverse last year’s action, according to the Associated Press. Acting in August, the council endorsed Romney’s change, which expanded restrictions on the use of embryonic stem cells in experiments.

In an attempt to eliminate most barriers to embryonic stem cell experiments, the Democratic-controlled legislature passed in 2005 a pro-embryonic stem cell research bill, only to have it vetoed by Romney, a Republican. The legislature then overrode the veto.

Romney, who is running for the GOP nomination for president, subsequently revised the regulations, a move seen as increasing restrictions on such experiments.

Patrick said he is seeking to restore the goal of the legislature.

“That political debate happened during the debate about the legislation,” Patrick said, according to AP. “And then there was a vote, and the governor’s previous position did not prevail in that vote. And then he re-imposed it in the regulations. That’s a problem.”

Eric Fehmstrom, a Romney spokesman, defended the rules. “The stem cell regulations we drafted were aimed at preventing embryo farming, the large-scale cultivation of embryos for the sole purpose of research and experimentation,” Fehmstrom said, according to AP.

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

Extracting stem cells from an embryo requires the destruction of the days-old human being. Unlike research using embryos, procuring stem cells from non-embryonic sources -– such as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and bone marrow -– does not harm the donor and has nearly universal support.

Embryonic experiments have yet to produce any therapies in human beings, but non-embryonic research has produced treatments for at least 72 ailments, 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.

CELL PREDICTION -– Adults cells may be reprogrammed to have embryonic stem cell qualities before cloning a human being is accomplished, says Ian Wilmut.

Leader of the research team responsible for the cloning of the sheep Dolly in 1997, Wilmut said he would wager reprogramming would outpace cloning.

“In my view, it is difficult to predict which will come first, but I think we need to try both,” Wilmut said March 28, according to the Hartford (Conn.) Courant. “If I had to bet money, I would probably bet on reprogramming” instead of cloning.

Advances in cell reprogramming are moving quickly, and Wilmut and other scientists have more barriers to overcome in cloning research, he said.

If Wilmut’s prediction turns out to be true, President Bush should receive credit, said bioethics commentator Wesley Smith.

Bush’s restriction of federal funding of embryonic stem cell research “kept the moral value of nascent human life on the table,” Smith said in a March 29 bioethics.com Web log. “It caused scientists to search diligently for ‘alternative’ methods, such as reprogramming…. Had Bush gone along with the tide, I believe the federal government would be funding [cloning] by now and the importance of nascent human life would have long been swept away.”