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LIFE DIGEST: Vermont House rejects attempt to legalize assisted suicide; …

WASHINGTON (BP–The Vermont House of Representatives has turned back an attempt to make the New England state the second in the country to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

The House voted 82-63 against a bill patterned after a law in Oregon, according to the Times Argus, a central Vermont newspaper. Oregon is the only state that has legalized assisted suicide.

The bill would have permitted terminally ill people who are expected to live less than six months to obtain from a doctor a prescription for a lethal dose of drugs, the Times Argus reported. The patient would have to administer the drug.

Pro-life advocates applauded the March 21 House vote.

“Three cheers for those courageous Vermonters who have withstood the assisted suicide juggernaut,” said C. Ben Mitchell, director of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. “Thankfully, the majority of Vermont’s House members understand that assisted suicide is an assault on human dignity.

“Palliative care, hospice and effective pain management have made calls for assisted suicide and euthanasia obsolete,” said Mitchell, a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Another bioethics specialist, Wesley Smith, said the division over the issue within the Democratic Party helped bring about the bill’s downfall.

Though 55 Democrats voted for the bill, 36 members of that party opposed it. At the bioethics.com website, Smith commended the “no-voting Democrats who have not forgotten that the party is supposed to be about protecting the most vulnerable of society’s members.”

Oregon officially has had 292 people take their lives with the aid of doctors since its Death With Dignity Act took effect in 1997. The state reported March 8 that 46 people committed suicide under the law in 2006. That is the most reported in one year in the state.

UNDERMINING BUSH -– Even President Bush’s chief medical research appointee has turned on him when it comes to embryonic stem cell research (ESCR).

Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health, told a Senate subcommittee March 19 that the federal government should fund stem cell research that destroys embryos. It marked the first time Zerhouni had voiced such a position and put him at odds with Bush, who nominated him to the NIH post.

“The current lines will not be sufficient,” Zerhouni told an Appropriations subcommittee, according to The Los Angeles Times. “I think it is important for us not to fight with one hand tied behind our back here, and NIH is key to that.”

A White House spokesman said Zerhouni has the freedom to express his opinion, but Bush establishes policy. “The president has to balance the moral and scientific considerations of this nation,” Tony Fratto said, The Times reported.

The Senate is expected to take up soon, likely after the Easter recess, a bill that would provide federal funds for research on some embryos. The House of Representatives voted 253-174 for such a measure Jan. 11 but fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto.

Last year, Bush vetoed legislation that would have funded ESCR and has promised to do so again in this Congress.

The House-approved measure would provide funds for research using stem cells extracted from embryos stored at in vitro fertilization clinics. Bush’s rule allows funds for research only on embryonic stem cell lines already in existence when his policy was announced in August 2001.

On the state level, California’s stem cell oversight committee disbursed March 16 about $75 million in grants for research, according to the Associated Press. A month earlier, the committee had given out $45 million for experiments.

The University of California was the biggest benefactor of the latest grants, gaining more than $42 million at five campuses, AP reported.

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 -– has nearly universal support. Such research, which is funded by the federal government, does not harm the donor and 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.

Many scientists contend embryonic stem cells have more therapeutic potential than their non-embryonic counterparts, but embryonic research has yet to treat any diseases in human beings and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.

REOPEN FOR DEATH -– A New Jersey abortion clinic has reopened after being forced to close following the catastrophic health crisis of one of its patients and a state inspection that found unsanitary conditions.

Metropolitan Medical Associates (MMA) in Englewood, N.J., began receiving patients again March 23, one month after the Department of Health shut it down. A state investigation found violations that threatened patients, with infection control one of the concerns, according to The Bergen Record.

Inspectors found unclean forceps, rust-covered crochet hooks utilized for removal of intra-uterine devices and dark, red “dirt and debris” under an examination table, The Record reported.

The clinic, which performs more than 10,000 abortions a year, failed a follow-up inspection March 6.

Pro-life advocates decried the clinic’s reopening.

“If any other medical service besides abortion were provided here, it would not have reopened,” said Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, according to the newspaper. “It just shows that abortion is the greatest untouchable in law and politics in New Jersey.”

Severe medical complications experienced by a 20-year-old woman who had undergone an abortion at MMA prompted the state inspection. Rasheedah Dinkins, who has two children, suffered massive hemorrhaging after undergoing an abortion Jan. 27. She suffered a stroke and received a 20-unit blood transfusion at a hospital, which reported the incident to the Department of Health. Doctors also performed a hysterectomy on Dinkins. She was placed on a respirator but came out of her coma Feb. 23. Dinkins has filed a lawsuit against MMA and its doctors.

MMA’s more than 10,000 abortions a year ranks it ahead of 23 of the country’s 50 states in annual number of abortions, according to 2000 statistics collected by the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

BAN SIGNED -– Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, signed into law March 22 a “trigger” bill intended to prohibit the vast majority of abortions in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses its Roe v. Wade decision.

The law would take effect if the high court overturns its 1973 opinion that, in conjunction with a companion ruling, legalized abortion nationwide for effectively any reason throughout pregnancy. The measure permits exceptions if the mother’s life is threatened or in case of pregnancy by rape.

Two other sections of the law will go into effect July 1. They require a doctor to offer a pregnant woman an ultrasound of her unborn child before she has an abortion and would mandate underage women seeking abortions without parental consent to gain a judge’s permission.

The Senate approved the legislation March 8. The House of Representatives had voted 97-16 in favor of the bill Feb. 22.