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ss CMF news - winter 2007,  Ethics


2007 opened with every probability there will be even more controversial ethics debates than in 2006. We all suddenly became aware of the little American girl, Ashley, born with 'static encephalopathy', whose Seattle parents sought medical intervention to keep her size and weight down to facilitate their future care of her at home.

At the age of six, three years ago, she had radical surgery including hysterectomy, appendicectomy and breast bud removal, and highdose hormones are being used to prevent further growth. Internet criticism resulted in her father publishing an explanatory blog on New Year's Day. By 4 January the child 'frozen in time' was a lead story globally, and a CMF spokesperson on SKY and the BBC suggested that if the patient did not fit her environment, a more holistic option might have been to amend the environment to fit the patient, rather than drastically amending the patient to fit the environment. What are appropriate goals for high technology medicine?

Human-animal hybrids?

The very next day, the science community launched a pre-emptive strike in the media about the possibility that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) might refuse applications for licences to create human-animal hybrids. Because of a shortage of human ova from which to derive embryonic stem cells for research, several centres propose to insert human genetic material into the hollowed-out nucleus of cow or rabbit ova. However, about 0.5% of the total DNA in the resultant embryo would then be animal DNA in the cytoplasm.

Lively media debate followed, with extensive CMF input, and Parliament's Science and Technology Committee plans to hold an Enquiry. On 10 January written submissions were invited, with a deadline of 22 January! CMF made a submission, arguing that science must operate within ethical boundaries, that all the clinical benefit of stem cell therapies is currently coming from ethically non-controversial 'adult' stem cells, that we should not be creating embryos for destructive stem cell research whether they be 100 or just 99.5% human, and that God's creation of species 'according to their kinds' is significant.

Other controversies

CMF was very much involved, through the Care Not Killing Alliance, in the defeat of Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill last May and in helping to overturn the BMA's neutral stance on assisted suicide. These were huge victories and it now looks very unlikely that we will see another attempt to change the law this parliamentary session. In the meantime Baroness Ilora Finlay is introducing a Palliative Care Bill into the House of Lords shortly to improve funding of, and access to, good palliative care.

2007 will see the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act and we can expect further campaigns from both sides. The Mental Capacity Act comes into force in April, and forms the subject matter for the East Anglia CMF day conference in Cambridge on 3 March. The tragic murders of the Suffolk prostitutes have inevitably sparked calls for the decriminalisation of almost everything in the sex trade, and we never know where the next controversy may come from.

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