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LIFE DIGEST: War against baby girls
going global, expert tells United Nations

WASHINGTON (BP)–The war against baby girls is not limited to certain localities but has developed into a global event, a specialist in demographics said recently at the United Nations.

Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute and a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, told U.N. delegates there is an increasing birth imbalance that favors males because of sex-selection abortions and prenatal technologies, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) reported Dec. 8. He described the development as a “Global War Against Baby Girls,” according to C-FAM.

The imbalance also is not based only on forced population control programs, Eberstadt said. His research shows the increase in “son preference” has several elements at its root: The expanding use of technologies that expedite sex selection in the womb; a decline in fertility, and a prevailing inclination toward boys.

The world is “moving to the realm of science fiction” as the gender imbalance has reached levels “beyond nature,” Eberstadt said. Natural birth rates are about 105 male births to every 100 female births, but some of the world’s regions have reached ratios from 115 to 100 up to 150 to 100.

Sex-selection abortions have permanently altered the demographic balance of China and are in the process of doing the same in India, he said. This tendency has reached Eastern Europe and Latin America, and it also is beginning to be indicated in Africa, Eberstadt said.

The Sept. 5 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported China and India are missing an estimated 80 million females largely because of sex-selection abortions. The imbalance could lead to increased possibilities for terrorism and organized crime from a population with so many men unable to marry, according to the study. It also could result in increased trafficking in women.

Eberstadt told the U.N. delegates the only probable solution is restricting all abortions, not just sex-selection ones. After South Korea outlawed sex-selection abortions, their incidence rose sharply, he said.

CLONES LEGAL DOWN UNDER –- Australia’s House of Representatives voted Dec. 6 to legalize the cloning of human embryos for research despite the opposition of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition party. Passage made it law.

The House voted 82-62 for the bill, which the Senate had approved 34-32 in early November.

The bill would not allow the implantation of a cloned embryo into a woman’s womb but would require all clones to be destroyed within their first 14 days.

Prime Minister John Howard said during the House debate he had wrestled with the tension between the potential medical benefits of research using clones and his moral doubts before deciding to oppose ending the four-year ban on such cloning.

“I think we live in an age where we have slid too far into relativism,” Howard, said, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. “There must be some absolutes in our society.”

The Morning Herald reported opposition leader Kevin Rudd said, “I find it very difficult to support a legal regime which allows creation of a form of human life with the single purpose of allowing the conduct of experimentation. I am concerned with the crossing of such an ethical threshold and where it may lead in the long term.”

There is no cloning ban in the United States. The U.S. House of Representatives most recently passed a comprehensive ban on cloning in 2003, but the Senate has yet to approve such a measure. Senators have been divided over competing bills, one that would ban both research and reproductive cloning and another that would prohibit only the research version.

Research cloning is intended to allow scientists to extract stem cells from embryos, a process that destroys the tiny human beings.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into tissues and other cells, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions. They are found not only in embryos but in such sources as umbilical cord blood, placentas, fat and adult bone marrow.

In addition to requiring the destruction of embryos, embryonic stem cell research has not only failed to reach clinical trials in human beings but has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.

Experiments using non-embryonic stem cells do not harm donors and have provided treatments for at least 72 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. Those include spinal cord injuries, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, sickle cell anemia and multiple sclerosis.

FDA HEAD FINALLY APPROVED –- Andrew von Eschenbach, President Bush’s nominee as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, gained confirmation from the Senate Dec. 6.

The vote came after senators who opposed the nominee’s confirmation either removed their “holds” on his nomination or had them defeated by the action of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R.-S.C., dropped a “hold” he established based on his opposition to the FDA’s approval of the abortion drug RU 486, and Sens. Charles Grassley, R.-Iowa, and David Vitter, R.-La., saw their “holds” for other reasons pushed aside when Frist forced procedural action that brought the nomination to the floor.

The Senate voted 80-11 to confirm von Eschenbach, who had served since September 2005 as the FDA’s acting commissioner. The procedural vote to place the nomination before the Senate was 89-6.

In addition to DeMint, Grassley and Vitter, the senators voting against confirmation were Max Baucus, D.-Mont.; Sam Brownback, R.-Kan.; Mike DeWine, R.-Ohio; James Inhofe, R.-Okla.; Rick Santorum, R.-Pa.; Olympia Snowe, R.-Maine; Jim Talent, R.-Mo., and George Voinovich, R.-Ohio.

Nine senators did not vote.

A “hold” is a procedural maneuver a senator can utilize to prevent a floor vote.

DeMint said he decided to drop his “hold” after meeting with von Eschenbach. He had blocked a confirmation vote unless the nominee acted to suspend the sale of RU 486. DeMint said von Eschenbach answered his questions about the controversial abortion drug but he would still vote against his confirmation.

“A qualified FDA nominee would publicly discourage the use of RU 486 and take immediate steps to suspend the drug until a full investigation can be complete,” DeMint said, according to LifeNews.com.

Eight women’s deaths in the United States have been associated with RU 486, as well as nine life-endangering situations, about 120 blood transfusions and more than 200 hospitalizations, DeMint had said in explaining his “hold” on the nominee.

RU 486, also known as mifepristone, is used as the first part in a two-step process in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Mifepristone causes the lining of the uterus to release the embryonic child, causing his death. A second drug, misoprostol, is taken two days after mifepristone and causes the uterus to contract, expelling the baby.

The FDA approved the sale of RU 486 in the U.S. in 2000, four months before President Clinton finished his second term.