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ss nucleus - spring 1997,  News Review

News Review

Euthanasia Roundup

Kevorkian acquitted again

Dr Jack Kevorkian of Michigan in the US was acquitted for the sixth time in May on charges of assisting suicide. It is unlikely he will be charged again. Even during his last prosecution, he aided the carbon monoxide suicide of a Canadian multiple sclerosis sufferer. A BMJ editorial was entitled 'Jack Kevorkian: a medical hero'. (BMJ 1996;312:1434)

Moves to legalise physician assited suiced in US

On 25th June the American Medical Association reaffirmed its opposition to physician-assisted suicide. However, two US federal courts of appeal have decided that state laws in Washington and New York prohibiting physician-assisted suicide, are unconstitutional. They held that citizens had a liberty interest in receiving help to choose the time of their death. Both states have now appealed to the Supreme Court.(Bull Med Ethics May 1996) Christians believe God is the sovereign author of life and death (Job 1:21).

Northern Territory Euthanasia bill comes into force

The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act in Australia's Northern Territory came into force on 1st July 1996. Three doctors are required to examine a patient who has requested help in dying. Its legality has been challenged in the territory's Supreme Court. (Bull Med Ethics May 1996)

Euthanasia further decriminalised in Netherlands

The Royal Dutch Medical Association has argued that individual doctors performing euthanasia should no longer face criminal investigation, if they have kept to agreed guidelines. This may remove one of the last safeguards protecting patients. (Lancet 1996, 347,188) At the same time, according to the Dutch Voluntary Euthanasia Society, patients are still complaining of poor access to euthanasia.

Tube feeding withdrawn in Scottish right-to-die case

In the first Scottish right-to-die case, tube feeding was withdrawn after the court ruled it was no longer in Janet Johnston's interests to keep her alive. She had been in persistent vegetative state (PVS) for four years. (BMJ 1996;312:1115)

Scottish court shows leniency in euthanasia case

In October, a man who admitted killing his terminally-ill brother, was shown leniency by a Scottish court. It was Scotland's first criminal case involving euthanasia. Mr Paul Brady smothered his brother James, suffering from Huntington's disease, after administering a drug overdose. The murder charge was reduced to culpable homicide. This may be seen as condoning the act; and goes against the principle 'thou shalt not kill' (Dt 5:17).

Over a third of British doctors would practice euthanasia

A recent BMA News Review (Sept 1996) survey of 750 hospital doctors and GP's found that 46% would support a change in the law, allowing doctors to comply with terminally ill patients requests for euthanasia. 44% support the status quo. One in five doctors have at some stage been asked to intervene actively to end the life of a patient; while over a third would practise euthanasia if it was legalised. The British House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics unanimously ruled in February 1994 that there should be no change in the law to allow euthanasia. CMF along with the Department of Health, the Home Office, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing had all argued against any change.

Abortion

Partial birth abortions cleared

A succession of stories about abortion have refocussed attention on the issue here. In July an early day motion was set down in the House of Commons by Elizabeth Peacock MP, decrying the use of partial abortions. This technique (recently sanctioned by President Clinton) involves incompletely delivering the live baby in breech position and then aspirating the cranial contents while the head is still in the birth canal.

Married professional has twin baby selectively aborted

In August Professor Philip Bennett of Queen Charlotte's Hospital London admitted selectively killing a second trimester twin fetus in utero. The mother, a married professional, apparently only wanted one baby. Following this, Mandy Allwood, an unmarried mother carrying eight fetuses after treatment with fertility drugs was offered £1,000,000 for her story by a tabloid newspaper provided all babies survived. None did.

Report on fetal sentience published

On October 21 the Commission of Inquiry into Fetal Sentience published a review of more than 70 scientific papers and reports on fetal pain perception. Assessments for the gestation when a fetus is first conscious of noxious stimuli ranged from six to 26 weeks . This report followed that of the all-party Parliamentary Pro-Life group and another from Queen Charlotte's Hospital both giving ten weeks as the threshold. The findings have fuelled calls for fetal analgesia during prenatal surgery and abortion. (Bull Med Ethics July/August 1996; Independent 22/10/96)

Abortion figures worldwide

Abortions world-wide currently exceed 50 million per year (Clin Obs Gyn 1996;13:1-17; IPPF Medical Bulletin,October 1996;30:5); a number equivalent to the total annual deaths from all other causes combined. 'Unsafe' abortions (ie. for the mother) still cause about 80,000 maternal deaths each year worldwide; making the procedure the only widely accepted intervention with a greater than 100% mortality. (WHO Press Release 7,5/2/96) In developed countries maternal mortality fell to present levels long before abortion became legal due to antibiotics and improved hospital care.

Guernsey legalises abortion

Abortion remains illegal now in only 65 of the world's countries. Meanwhile the island of Guernsey has become the last area of Britain to legalise the practice. Its government voted 34 to 20 to allow terminations up to the 12th week of pregnancy, provided two doctors give consent (BMJ 1996;313:1164). The ruling follows that of Jersey two years before.

South African abortion bill

October also saw the South African Parliament pass an abortion bill without a conscientious objection clause. This means that doctors who refuse to do abortions or who refuse to refer could face jail sentences. In the face of similar pressure to conform, the apostles chose to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)

3,300 frozen embryos destroyed

Time ran out on 1st August for 3,300 spare frozen embryos, created as by-products of IVF treatment (Daily Telegraph, Aug 1 1996; Time, Aug 12 1996) .The embryos, stored at 32 British fertility clinics, were compulsorily destroyed under a five-year storage limit, enforced in 1991 by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Pro-lifers appealed in vain for a stay of execution; 130 couples approached the anti-abortion group Life, offering to adopt an embryo. In all, 9,000 frozen embryos were produced between 1985 and 1991. About half a dozen ova are usually fertilised in IVF attempts, in case the first implantation (of three embryos) fails. Under regulations issued in May, the maximum storage time was extended to 10 years if both parents provided written consent. However, 900 couples could not be traced or contacted. Christians must uphold protection for innocent life, believing that all human life is made in God's image (Gn 9:6). We should have grave misgivings about programmes involving creation of spare latent human lives for storage and disposal.

Diane Blood loses high court battle

A widow, Mrs Diane Blood, recently lost her High Court battle to have her dead husband's child by artificial insemination. The sperm was extracted at her request, as her husband lay comatose after contracting bacterial meningitis. He had not given written consent. British law only permits medical procedures in the patient's best interests. However, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority ( HFEA) may permit export of the sperm for use abroad.

Furore over homosexuality

The wife of a London vicar has aroused the wrath of the Gay and Lesbian Christian Movement with a broadcast on the Radio 4 'Thought for The Day' programme. Anne Atkins criticised the Southwark Cathedral's November 16 Celebration of Gay and Lesbian relationships; labelling homosexual acts sinful.

While there is still no clear medical consensus on what causes a homosexual orientation to develop, the weight of opinion favours environment over heredity. The evidence for hormonal mechanisms, brain structure abnormalities or genetic influence as aetiological factors is less than convincing. The biblical position on homosexual acts is unambiguous (Lv 18:22, 20:13; Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:9-11).

Richard Lovelace sees the growing acceptance of homosexual practice within the church as due to a 'false religion' opposed to biblical revelation and the authority of Scripture, an 'antinomian ethic' that undercuts the balance between law and gospel, a 'cheap grace' that ignores repentance and a 'powerless grace' that denies the possibility of change. We concur.

Christianity and politics mix

Christianity is back in British politics, amid growing debate (Sunday Telegraph, Oct 20 1996) .The Prime Minister spoke for the first time of his simple Christian faith, following Tony Blair's identification earlier this year of New Labour with Christianity. The spotlight was shone on Tony Blair's abortion voting record. Labour is the only party supporting abortion as a matter of policy - although the vote is free. Others have called for voters not to confuse faith and politics, citing the American experience where God is appropriated for political ends. Tony Benn, Labour MP, doesn't believe 'your personal faith can be a factor in the way you vote'. Yet, all policies are based on values and ideals, which in turn are underpinned by moral presuppositions. Christian thinking should pervade every aspect of our own lives (Rom 12:2); while we are urged to pray for all those in authority (1 Tim 2:2)

Catholic bishops speak out

The Catholic bishops have published an analysis of the Christian morality of party politics, entitled 'The Common Good'. Tackling policies on Europe, abortion, medical ethics, labour markets, the environment and ownership of wealth and property, it is designed as a pre-Election study guide. (Daily Telegraph, Oct 19 1996)

Good citizenship crusade unveiled

The wife of Philip Lawrence, the murdered headmaster, unveiled her crusade; for good citizenship teaching in schools to 'heal our fractured society and banish violence'. (Times, Oct 21 1996) Old Testament law functioned to protect society as well as to convict and instruct - but we must beware mere symptomatic solutions (Rom 1:18-32).

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