Update on Life Issues – February 2012 




Selective reduction

Behind every nasty human enterprise there usually lurks something even nastier.  Recent events in journalism, banking and politics spring to mind.  But behind the 200,000 or so UK annual ‘mainstream’ (nasty) abortions, there are some other, more ‘irregular’ (nastier) terminations going on.


These are the abortions performed to reduce multiple pregnancies, and their numbers are on the rise.  In the UK during 2010, just over 100 unborn children were aborted by women carrying twins, triplets or even quintuplets.  The reason for these abortions?  Their mothers simply wanted to give birth, not to none, but to fewer children.


This procedural horror is known as ‘selective reduction’.  And, to prove that bioethics is riddled with such euphemisms, some also call it a ‘two-minus-one’ pregnancy.  It is driven by the rise in multiple pregnancies caused by IVF treatment.  IVF clinics are keen to transfer at least two or even three embryos, not only to improve a couple’s chance of having a baby, but also to bolster their ‘success’ rates and thus climb up the IVF national league table.  Herein lies another bioethical paradox – women can beg IVF to give them children, but then curse it when it succeeds.


The Department of Health has defended the practice because, ‘… over three-quarters of the selective terminations were performed under ground E – ‘that there is substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.’  Any mention of ground E should always flag up the fact that the phrase ‘substantial risk’ is not the same as ‘proven risk’.  Because of the ‘false positives’ produced by prenatal screening and other procedural and bureaucratic errors, some of these babies would have been born without any handicap.  Indeed, the Department of Health admits that some 25% or so of these ‘selective reductions’ killed healthy babies.  And anyway, why are we so keen to kill the Down’s and the spina bifida children of this world?  All abortions, eugenic or otherwise, are unethical.


This brings us to the recent Australian nightmarish story.  It occurred in November 2011.  The woman in question was happily pregnant with twins – she had already named them.  Then at 32 weeks, doctors at her Melbourne hospital detected heart abnormalities in one of the twins and advised that he should be aborted.


The doctor prepared the lethal injection and, horror of horrors, stuck it in the wrong child.  The staff suddenly realised their error.  Now what do you think they did next?  They compounded their first blunder and ‘selectively reduced’ the second baby too!  The mother was reported to be ‘very distressed’.  No wonder – she went into hospital with two babies, but left with none.


Think about this case.  The killing of the disabled child is generally regarded as acceptable – certainly not newsworthy – whereas the killing of the ‘normal’ child is regarded as a tragedy.  But why is it a tragedy?  Thousands of such ‘normal’ children are aborted every day without making the news.


Gender-based abortions

If selective-reduction abortions are sordid, so are these.  On 22 February, The Daily Telegraph described how it had sent undercover reporters to accompany pregnant women to nine abortion clinics throughout the UK.  The plan was to investigate the extent of gender-based abortion, or gendercide – abortions performed simply because the unborn child is of the ‘wrong’ sex.  They are strictly illegal in the UK.  Any abortion performed outside the provisions of the Abortion Act 1967 remains a criminal offence under the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861.


In three instances, doctors were filmed offering to arrange such unlawful terminations by falsifying the required paperwork.  One such consultant, employed by Pall Mall Medical and the North Manchester General Hospital, told a pregnant woman who wanted to abort her female unborn child, ‘I don’t ask questions.  If you want a termination, you want a termination.’  Another consultant at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital was prepared to arrange the abortion of a boy because the mother and her husband already had a son – a practice known as ‘family balancing’.  The doctor willingly referred the case to a colleague.  ‘… he’s OK to do it on Tuesday’, she told the pregnant woman.  At the Calthorpe Clinic in Birmingham, an initially-reluctant doctor rhetorically asked, ‘It's like female infanticide isn't it?’  Then the pregnant woman suggested he thought of a different reason for the termination.  ‘That's right, yeah, because it's not a good reason anytime,’ he replied.  ‘I'll put “too young” for pregnancy, yeah?’


Last year, the Council of Europe recommended that member states, including Britain, should stop disclosing the gender of unborn children because of fears that such information was leading to sex-selection abortions for cultural and social reasons.  The Government is now under renewed pressure to examine the adherence of abortion providers to the provisions of the Abortion Act 1967.  The issue of decoupling the counselling of pregnant women, who are seeking abortions, from the providers of abortion is already on the desk of Anne Milton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health.  Of the recent revelations, Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, said, ‘I’m extremely concerned to hear about these allegations.  Sex selection is illegal and is morally wrong.  I’ve asked my officials to investigate this as a matter of urgency.’  The very next day, the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally C Davies, sent a letter to abortion clinics, NHS hospitals and Primary Care Trusts, ‘… to remind all those involved in providing and commissioning treatment for termination of pregnancy of the need to fully comply with all the requirements of the Abortion Act 1967.’  She further emphasised that, ‘Sex selection is not one of the lawful grounds for termination.  It is illegal for a practitioner to carry out an abortion for that reason alone …’  The newspaper’s allegations have now been sent to the police.


Nobody is particularly keen on newspaper stings, but now and again they seem necessary to expose illegal practices.  The task of overseeing the abortion clinics is the work of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the NHS watchdog.  It is currently under fire.  On the day of The Daily Telegraph’s revelations, the Department of Health published a scathing report citing the CQC’s abject failure in its many duties.  Its chief executive, Cynthia Bowers, promptly resigned.


A little gentle probing, by even the most half-hearted investigating group, would undoubtedly reveal that a coach and horse is being driven though the Act.  For example, the Act permits an abortion, ‘If two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith …’, though it is common knowledge that this is generally little more than a rubber-stamping exercise.  Do you think that two doctors ever see, let alone interview, the pregnant woman?  The abortion industry is now big business and there is growing concern, both inside and outside Westminster, about its commercialization and its cavalier attitude to regulation.


Writing about the current allegations, Alison Pearson, a pro-abortion commentator noted, ‘There is a moral coarsening here that should concern us all.  How desensitised have we become when an act of life or death – literally – is used as a tool to satisfy a curious desire to have one that you can dress in blue, as well as pink?’


Abortion advertising

From 30 April 2012, private abortion clinics will be allowed to advertise on UK television and radio.  The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) has decided that there is no justification to bar such clinics from offering post-conception advice services (PCAS) – another fine euphemism!


The advertising of products is about to become as trifling as ABC – abortions, beers or cars.  It is one more step in the trivialisation of human life.  Finding someone who will fix that unwanted pregnancy will now be beamed right into your sitting room, without your permission, or request, but at your expense.  Government figures show that the cost of abortions to the UK taxpayer in 2010 was £118m, of which a huge £75m went to these private clinics.


A spokesman for the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) said, ‘It is about being responsible, and commercial pro-life pregnancy services will now be able to advertise too.’  Can anyone tell me about a ‘commercial pro-life pregnancy service’?  They do not exist.  Pro-life charities can hardly afford to advertise in Yellow Pages, let alone on TV.


Another abortion poll

Every opinion poll is a dish best served with a heaped spoonful of salt.  Nevertheless, they can reflect broad trends.  The latest poll on UK abortion was conducted by YouGov and published on 24 January 2012.


Overall, 37% of those questioned favoured a reduction in the current 24-week upper-time limit.  Perhaps surprisingly, half (49%) of all women supported such a change in the law.  And more than a third (37%) of women thought the limit should be 20 weeks or even less.  A third (30%) said leave the law as it is.  Men were quite different – only a quarter (24%) supported any reduction from 24 weeks, only 20% favoured 20 weeks or less, and 39% said leave it 'as is'.  Mind you, 23% of men were in the ‘don’t know’ category compared with only 12% of women.


As well as this gender divide there was also an age divide.  Among the youngest group (18 to 24 year olds) polled, 43% wanted to reduce the upper limit compared with just 35% of the over 60s.  Perhaps the most outstanding figure in the whole study was that over half (54%) of young women objected to current abortion practices – 49% of them wanted some time reduction while another 5% wanted a ban.


So the ambivalent take-home message is this: young women, though the major users of abortion, most want the law tightened up.



Assisted Reproductive Technologies


IVF statistics

The latest IVF figures were released by the HFEA in November 2011.  In 2010, 45,264 women underwent a total of 57,652 IVF treatment cycles.  These resulted in 13,117 ‘live birth events’ and 16,045 ‘take home babies’.  The latter two figures mean that there was a 22.4% rate of multiple births, as opposed to a natural rate of 1.5% in the non-IVF world.  All in all, the IVF success rate was 24.1% (or, a failure rate of 75.9%).


Also recently published were the numbers of embryos created, used and destroyed by IVF.  These data relate to 2009.  During that year the IVF clinics of the UK created 234,701 embryos.  Another 31,103 embryos were moved from previous frozen storage and thawed.  That means there was a total of 265,804 embryos ‘in use’.


What happened to them?  49,364 (18.6%) were frozen and stored.  Just 84,721 (31.9%) were transferred to women.  Only 57 (< 0.1%) were donated to other women.  4,372 (1.6%) were donated to research.  And the vast majority, accounting for 127,944 (48.1%), were what is euphemistically termed ‘discarded’.


Because all the embryos used in research must be destroyed before 14 days of development, the sum of the latter two figures represents the total destruction during 2009, that is, 132,316 embryos, or 49.7% of the total ‘in use’. Note, this is the minimum figure because many additional embryos will already have died in frozen storage.


In other words, IVF destroys (at least) half of the embryos it creates.  So, consider this bioethical question – abortion in the UK destroys about 200,000 lives each year and IVF destroys substantially more than 100,000.  So, is abortion twice as bad as IVF, or is IVF only half as bad as abortion?  Good question.


‘Three-parent IVF’

Currently, the use of genetically-altered embryos is banned for treatment purposes by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008.  This includes the novel and controversial technique known as ‘three-parent IVF’, which might enable parents-to-be with serious inherited disorders, known as mitochondrial diseases, to avoid passing them on to their would-be children.


The HFEA published a review of the topic in April 2011 and declared that, ‘Although potentially useful clinical techniques, further safety experiments need to be done before introducing them into clinical practice.’  That review was passed to the Department of Health for appraisal.  Now the ball is back with the HFEA – in January 2012, the Department of Health asked the fertility regulator, ‘to seek public views on emerging IVF techniques designed to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial disease.’


So, ‘The HFEA … will begin the public dialogue later this year, guided by a group of experts which will oversee the process.’  Meanwhile, the Wellcome Trust has shrewdly, and timely, awarded £5.8m to the technique’s pioneering research team at Newcastle University to look into aspects of the putative treatment’s safety.  According to the journal Nature, the issue is already largely resolved, ‘Britain has set out a road map towards the first clinical tests of reproductive techniques that combine parents’ genes with DNA from a third party.’ and apparently there is excitement among the scientific community because the world’s ‘… first clinical trials of nucleus-swapping procedures will almost certainly occur in the United Kingdom.’  Is anyone seriously prepared to contemplate, even the slightest possibility, that the HFEA’s final recommendation will anywhere contain the word ‘No’?  The whole consultation exercise will be a charade.  When the request to change the law finally arrives in Parliament, ‘false compassion’ will again surely triumph over ‘robust ethics’.



Stem-cell technologies


The world’s second embryonic trial

Last November’s announcement that Geron had prematurely abandoned the world’s first embryonic stem-cell trial shocked biologists and financial investors alike.  Yet Geron’s abrupt departure may bring a greater sense of reality to the world of stem-cell research.  For over a decade, despite the unremitting hype and huge investments, embryonic stem-cell technologies have still produced therapeutically nothing.  Meanwhile, adult stem-cell therapies quietly march on, but capture few media headlines.


In January 2012, came news of the world’s second clinical trial using human embryonic stem cells.  It is being conducted by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), the biotechnology company based in Santa Monica.  Already two US patients have each been injected in the back of one of their diseased eyes with retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells derived from human embryos.  One of the patients, a woman in her fifties, suffers from Stargardt's disease and the other, a woman in her seventies, has age-related macular degeneration.  The vision of both is so poor that they are registered blind.


Four months after their initial treatment, according to a report in The Lancet, neither patient has suffered adverse effects, ‘… no signs of hyperproliferation, tumorigenicity, ectopic tissue formation, or apparent rejection.’  This is crucial because the primary purpose of this phase 1 trial is to test procedural safety.  Moreover, there has been an apparent slight improvement in the vision of the two women.  But as the researchers say, ‘We are uncertain at this point whether any of the visual gains we have recorded were due to the transplanted cells, the use of immunosuppressive drugs, or a placebo effect.’


On 20 January 2012, the European leg of this trial began when a team, led by Professor James Bainbridge of the Moorfields Eye Hospital, injected RPE cells into an eye of a patient with Stargardt's.  As they say in newspaper reports of criminal cases, ‘The trial continues.’


Ova-producing stem cells

Stem cells have a habit of rewriting biology.  As if their relatively-recent discovery were not sufficiently startling, their ubiquity has surprised all biological scientists, and the production of induced pluripotent stem cells has made us rethink that ancient dogma that developmental biology went only one way – from embryo to adult.  Now the doctrine that women are born with a preset number of ova is up for revision.


In 2003, Jonathan Tilly and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston showed that the ovaries of mice contained ova-producing stem cells.  Then it was considered contentious.  Now Tilly has reported, in Nature Medicine online (26 February 2012), the harvesting of such stem cells from the ovaries of six women aged between 22 and 33.  According to Tilly, ‘There’s no confirmation that we have baby-making eggs yet, but every other indication is that these cells are the real deal bona fide oocyte precursor cells.’


If such stem cells oogonial stem cells could be coaxed to produce new ova, the medical and ethical implications are enormous.  It would mean an unlimited supply of human ova.  It could transform the face of IVF.  It could help women cancer patients rendered infertile by chemotherapy, women who have undergone premature menopause, or women who have aged prematurely or even normally.


But there are more sinister implications too.  It is the global shortage of human ova that is generally cited as the cause for the lack of progress in human embryo experimentation and in particular, human cloning of the CNR (cell nuclear replacement) variety.  Ova leftover from IVF treatments are few a limitless supply would encourage more cloning.  Such cloning would be marketed as essential, not just for enhanced infertility treatments, but also for the production of embryos so that human embryonic stem cells could be harvested.  In other words, such cloning would be promoted primarily as therapeutically necessary.  But reproductive cloning is only ever a step away and there are scientists who would exploit endless supplies of human ova to perfect that.  The Brave New World has perhaps come just a little closer.


Adult stem-cell developments

You will struggle to keep up with the numbers and diversity of these.  Little trials with mice here, the transformation of umbilical cord stem cells there, the discovery of yet another tissue containing adult stem cells, and so on.  Such developments are fast and furious.  Of course, the real target is translational medicine – the therapeutic use of these stem cells, out of the laboratory to the bedside.  That is a much slower process, but exciting, peer-reviewed reports keep coming.


All this success chimes with the assessment in the 18 November 2011 issue of New Scientist, ‘So at the moment, adult cells are leading the way clinically?  Absolutely.  For instance, there are almost 200 trials under way globally using mesenchymal stem cells extracted from bone marrow.  In terms of sheer numbers and commercial potential, they are way in front.’


And it is the biological simplicity of using adult stem cells, plus their ease of extraction and the relative cheapness of their preparation that make such treatments seem almost like science fiction.  Here is yet another recent example to keep the appetite whet.


Every heart attack results in the death of cardiac cells and it was once thought these could never be replaced.  Now we know that the heart, like other human organs, contains adult stem cells.  These continually repair minor cellular damage, but they cannot cope with the enormous injuries inflicted by a cardiac arrest.  Or could they?  The 26 November 2011 edition of The Lancet contained a report by Roberto Bolli and colleagues from the University of Louisville.  A cohort of patients had suffered heart failure and, as a consequence, had had heart bypass surgery.  During their operations, small samples of tissue were taken from the patients’ right atrial appendages.  From these, cardiac stem cells were isolated and cultured in the laboratory for each patient.  About 100 days after surgery, 16 of these patients were infused with approximately 1 million of their own cardiac stem cells.  Four months later, the left ventricular ejection fraction (LVEF) – a measure of the heart’s pumping ability – was determined in 14 of these patients.  An LVEF of 55% is considered normal, less than 40% is dangerous.  These patients’ average LVEFs had improved from 30.3% to 38.5%.  Seven of the patients were monitored for 12 months and their average LVEFs had risen to 42.5%.  A control group, consisting of 7 patients, who had the surgery but not the stem cell treatment, showed no such improvements.  This was a preliminary, phase 1 clinical trial to test the safety of the procedures, but it undoubtedly warrants further studies.  Of course, evangelical Christians will see this as a quite different sort of heart regeneration!


Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide


The Falconer Commission Report

After a couple of false starts to its publication date, the Report of The Commission on Assisted Dying was finally released on 5 January 2012.  Its 400 pages contained no surprises and its conclusions were, given the predominant pro-assisted-suicide ideology among its dozen or so members as well as its financial backers, entirely predictable.  The whole project was fatally flawed from its beginning.


In its own words, ‘The Commission finds that the choice of assisted dying could safely be offered to people who are suffering at the end of life and likely to die within twelve months, provided that they satisfy the eligibility criteria.  People who might not have the mental capacity to make such a choice, who might be clinically depressed or experiencing pressure from friends or relatives, would be protected by a comprehensive set of safeguards.’


The Report also contained two cunning statements.  First, it stressed, ‘… that the provision of high quality end of life care must be a priority for Government.’  This is an attempt to get all advocates of palliative care onside, as if we are all chums together collaborating in a single enterprise.  Second, it stressed, ‘The Commission does not propose that any form of euthanasia might be allowed if the law were to be changed.’  This is an attempt to isolate those inseparable twins of assisted suicide and euthanasia, as if the inevitable slippery slope from one to the other, and the ultimate aim of legalising full-blown euthanasia among many of Lord Falconer’s fellow campaigners, is a silly figment of the minds of a few.


I admit I have not read the entire Report – not many will.  There is no need to dissect its content – it contains nothing worthwhile.  Indeed, it attracted surprisingly little media interest on its launch day, or ever since, and it is now mostly gathering dust on library shelves.


But to illustrate the Report’s unoriginality and daft idealism, consider three of its recommendations.  First, its eligibility criteria – aged 18+, terminally ill, voluntary choice, mental capacity, and so on.  None of these, apart from age, can be determined with genuine confidence – all are subject to error and misinterpretation.  Second, its proposed safeguards – it makes a valiant effort and produces eight.  One of them, ‘… each request for an assisted death would have to be approved by at least two independent doctors’ is shudderingly reminiscent of current abortion law – and look how ineffective that supposedly restrictive hurdle has become.  Everyone knows safeguards can never be sufficiently watertight to protect the vulnerable.  Legislatures around the world have tried and failed to draft such stipulations.  Third, it states that assisted dying could be offered to those, ‘… likely to die within twelve months’.  This produced disbelief among medical professionals – prediction of a patient’s death usually involves considerable speculation.  Doctors admit that they frequently get it wrong days, especially months, let alone a whole year, in advance.


Three other legal challenges

On 26 January 2012, Margo McDonald MSP, a Parkinson's sufferer, formally announced her second attempt to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland.  This is despite the overwhelming rejection (86 vs. 16) of her previous bill in November 2010.  She has unveiled a new consultation on the issue, but the details of her proposals remain confused and confusing.

The second suit is that of Tony Nicklinson, a paralysed man suffering from locked-in syndrome, who wants a doctor to be allowed to kill him, though he is not terminally ill.  He is seeking a declaration from the courts that the common law defence of necessity is available to a charge of murder in a case of voluntary euthanasia.  In January, the Ministry of Justice asked the High Court to ‘strike out the action’ because, ‘There are compelling reasons why the court should not intervene’, namely, it is not for the courts to take this sort of radical step on a case-by-case basis, and because only Parliament has the power to alter the law.  In effect Mr Nicklinson is not requesting assisted suicide, but euthanasia, therefore he is challenging not the Suicide Act 1961, but the Murder Act 1965.  [On 12 March 2012, a High Court judge, Mr Justice Charles, ruled that Mr Nicklinson's 'right-to-die' case can proceed.  Mr Nicklinson's wife, Jane, stated during a radio interview, 'We are asking for it to be legal for someone to end his life.  The only way to relieve Tony's suffering is to kill him.  There's nothing else that can be done for him.'  Baroness Finlay, professor of palliative care at Cardiff University School of Medicine, commented that the law, as it stands, is 'proportionate and clear' in granting patients the right to refuse treatment so that they might die.  But she warned that if doctors were given the right to kill, other patients would be left vulnerable.  She continued, 'The difficulty is you set a precedent.  If you change the law because one person wants something, who do you remove that protection from and put at risk?  We have laws to protect the whole of the population.'  She further added, 'I would dispute that the only way to relieve someone's suffering is to kill them.'  The case returns to the High Court later this year.] 

And the third case is that of the 47-year-old man, who for legal reasons is known only as Martin.  He has recently won the first step in his right-to-die battle.  Because he is virtually paralysed, as a result of a stroke in 2008, he cannot commit suicide without help.  He wants to go to Dignitas in Switzerland to die.  His wife refuses to assist him.  If legal and medical professionals take up his case they too might be prosecuted under the Suicide Act 1961 for ‘assisting’, an even more likely event because they would fall within the DPP’s 2010 guidelines of ‘professional’ and outside the definition of ‘motivated by compassion’.  Martin believes these guidelines discriminate against him and he therefore wishes to challenge them.  On 22 January 2012, two High Court judges granted permission for lawyers and doctors to discuss assisted dying with him, but only to prepare his future legal case.


Martin’s case is of sufficient moment that in February it prompted the General Medical Council (GMC), the regulatory authority for doctors, to produce its own set of draft guidelines, which are subject to a three-month public consultation period.  The guidelines bluntly state, ‘Where patients raise the issue of assisted suicide, or ask for information that might “encourage or assist” them in ending their lives, doctors should explain that they cannot do so because providing this information would mean breaking the criminal law.’  As the GMC's chief executive, Niall Dickson has said, ‘The main message is that assisting suicide is illegal and doctors should have no part of it.’  That is a strong, unambiguous declaration – the fact that it was ever issued demonstrates the persistence and artfulness of some vocal pro-euthanasia advocates.


None of these three circumstances is straightforward – all three of the people directly involved are suffering.  They all deserve, and get, our sympathy.  But we dare not tinker with protective laws, such as the Suicide Act 1961, on the basis of hard cases.  We all know the dictum: ‘hard cases make bad law.’


Sometimes Europe speaks sense

Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) passed Resolution 1859, Protecting human rights and dignity by taking into account previously expressed wishes of patients.  Though not dealing directly with the issue, Section 5 of the Resolution stated, ‘Euthanasia, in the sense of the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit, must always be prohibited.’  And Section 7.8 declared, ‘… decisions that rely on general value judgements present in society should not be admissible and, in case of doubt, the decision must always be pro-life and the prolongation of life.’


Bold stuff indeed.  PACE is an advisory body, based in Strasbourg, consisting of more than 300 delegates whose primary concern is the question of human rights.  Their pronouncements can be influential within the European Union, but sadly, this Resolution is not binding on member states.  But it is still a good shot across their bows, including the United Kingdom’s.



News from the USA


Sherley and Deisher try again and again

This case has a long, long tail.  In March 2009, President Obama issued an executive order that removed a previous restriction, known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which had prevented the US government from funding any ‘research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed.’  In other words, federal money could not be spent on embryonic stem-cell research.  On 19 August 2009, two adult stem-cell researchers, Drs James Sherley and Theresa Deisher, went to court to challenge Obama’s action and sue the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the primary medical research funding agency in the US.  The case was initially dismissed on 27 October 2009 when Judge Royce C Lamberth ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing – meaning, that because they were not actually harmed by the government’s funding of embryonic stem-cell research, they did not have the right to sue.


On June 25, 2010, the Appeals Court partially reversed Lamberth’s dismissal.  It ruled that Sherley and Deisher did indeed have standing.  Then, because of a clerical error, notice of this Appeals Court decision did not appear on the District Court’s schedule until 19 August 2010.  As a consequence, on 23 August 2010, Judge Lamberth backtracked and issued a preliminary injunction banning all such government funding.  The world of embryo stem-cell researchers was stunned.  But the ban lasted just seventeen days.  On 31 August, the NIH requested a suspension of the order.  Judge Lamberth denied it on 7 September.  The very next day the NIH took its request to the Appeals Court and a temporary ‘administrative’ stay was granted on 9 September, and so embryo research was resumed.  On 28 September, the Appeals Court ruled that the ‘administrative’ stay could become a normal stay while the NIH’s appeal was fully considered.


On April 29, 2011, the Appeals Court finally ruled – it dismissed the original preliminary injunction against the NIH by a 2-1 vote.  It pronounced that the word ‘research’ in the Dickey-Wicker amendment was ambiguous and that the NIH could interpret current embryonic stem-cell research to be not the same ‘research’ in which the embryos were destroyed, that is, ‘embryonic stem cells are not themselves human embryos.’  The case then went back to Judge Lamberth in the District Court.  Despite what he called the ‘linguistic jujitsu’ surrounding the lawsuit, on 27 July 2011, he grudgingly ruled in favour of the NIH, primarily because his hand had been forced by the higher Court’s decision.


There is now some expectation that this dispute could go all the way to the US Supreme Court.  Indeed, that journey came a step closer when on 13 January 2012, lawyers for Sherley and Deisher filed a brief to the Court of Appeals.  Though this Court has already heard the case, a different panel of three judges will hear their oral arguments on 23 April.


The US Presidential election

This quadrennial event does not take place until Tuesday 6 November 2012, but already the Republican Party is trying to find a candidate to face President Obama.  It is such a strange circus of caucuses and electoral colleges and gubernatorial races, in which high finance plays a (too) huge role.  So for the next few months, it is hearts on their sleeves, tears in their eyes, balloons and placards everywhere, peps rallies and TV debates – it’s the American Way.


Republican caucuses have taken place in several states and as a result a few candidates have dropped out of the race.  The big political issues are the economy and – totally unlike anything in Britain – life issues, particularly abortion.  Where do the current remaining candidates, Romney, Gingrich, Santorum and Paul, stand on the latter?


According to the National Right to Life Committee any of these candidates would serve the pro-life movement well against the strongly pro-abortion Obama.  For example, all of them say they support the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, the legislation which gave US women a constitutional right to abortion.


Mitt Romney, the super-rich, French-speaking Mormon – ‘I support the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, because it is bad law and bad medicine.  Roe was a misguided ruling that was a result of a small group of activist federal judges legislating from the bench.’

Newt Gingrich, the twice-divorced, former speaker of the House of Representatives – ‘The revolutionary idea contained in the Declaration of Independence is that certain fundamental human rights, including the right to life, are gifts from God and cannot be given nor taken away by the government.’

Rick Santorum, the staunch Roman Catholic and former senator for Pennsylvania – ‘I believe we need to overturn Roe vs. Wade.  I think it was a poorly and horribly decided decision.’

Ron Paul, the libertarian Congressman and former obstetrician and gynaecologist – ‘I think the Roe vs. Wade situation was a big mistake and the states ought to have the right to decide on the issue, so I would deny jurisdiction to the federal courts on abortion issues.’


While these statements are commendable, each of the candidates carries other unhelpful baggage such as, religious affiliation, previous declarations, skeletons in their personal lives, and so on.  I know who I would vote for – we share an alma mater!


So, it is onto Super Tuesday, with 10 states voting, on 6 March, then onto Texas in April, and ….  It’s the American Way.  Finally, in August at the nominating convention in Tampa, one of these men will be endorsed as the official Republican candidate.  Or could another, entirely different candidate, emerge?  Oh, the razzmatazz, the political manoeuvring, the flag waving, the artificiality and the cost of it all.  It’s the American Way!  Please preserve us from it.


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