Update on Life Issues - February 2023

Abortion still the leading killer
The year may have inexorably moved on, but the sordid world of abortion remains the same.  Again, a retrospective glance shows that abortion is still the leading cause of death globally.  The total number performed worldwide during 2022 has been reported to be 44 million.

This figure has been compiled by Worldometers, an independent site that collects data from governments and other organisations along with estimates and projections.  If you like data, check out their site at https://www.worldometers.info/  Abortion numbers outstrip every other cause of death including cancer, smoking, HIV/AIDS, accidents, suicides and various diseases.  What about deaths from Covid-19?  Just 3.1 million.  If global deaths from all causes are reckoned to be 111 million with 67.1 million dying from causes other than abortion, it means that abortions accounted for almost 40% of all global deaths last year.

Of course, the 44 million is an estimate.  Maybe it is an underestimate.  After all, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, ‘Around 73 million induced abortions take place worldwide each year.’  What is not disputed is that millions and millions of unborn children are savagely destroyed each year by abortion.  Or do you regard abortion as an absolutely essential part of women’s reproductive healthcare?  Or could you moderate your stance a little and say that 44 million is too many?  Or what about way too many?

Maria Caulfield
At the end of October 2022, Maria Colette Caulfield (Conservative MP for Lewes) was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Women).  Moreover, she was given responsibility for abortion services.  However, the Roman Catholic Mrs Caulfield is adamantly pro-life.  Talk about a sticky wicket.  She is known in political circles for opposing the legalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.  Her pro-life credentials also include past membership of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group (APPPLG) and in 2018 she called for a debate to reduce the 24-week upper limit for most abortions.  Furthermore, she opposed the establishment of buffer zones around abortion clinics and she voted against legislation that made the temporary availability of abortion pills at home, for so-called DIY abortions, a permanent measure.

Small wonder that her Parliamentary appointment has angered some pro-choice campaigners.  For instance, Clare Murphy, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said, ‘Unlike any other area of healthcare, decisions regarding the licensing of abortion clinics sit with the relevant government minister.  Maria Caulfield now has the ability to block the establishment of new abortion services.’  Murphy continued that it was ‘quite simply appalling’ that Caulfield was being given the portfolio for abortion care, adding, ‘This is an absolute slap in the face to the women of this country and suggests a complete disregard for their needs.’  Finally, Murphy stated, ‘We urge the prime minister to revoke this appointment before Maria Caulfield has the chance to jeopardise women’s access to safe, legal, NHS-funded abortion care.’

Similarly, Louise McCudden of MSI Reproductive Choices, the organisation formerly known as Marie Stopes International, said, ‘Maria Caulfield’s voting record and comments about abortion are very worrying.  If she is given responsibility for abortion, we will be paying close attention to what she does in the job.’  And Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, declared that the appointment ‘sounds suspiciously like the government may have an agenda to restrict access to abortion.’  The sisterhood is apparently reprising The Sound of Music, ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria’?

Poor Maria Caulfield.  Hang in there, Maria.  There are untold thousands behind you, supporting you.

Buffer zones
In October 2022, MPs voted in favour of an amendment to the Public Order Bill to introduce 'buffer zones' around abortion clinics nationwide.  Officially known as Public Space Protection Orders, they would legally ban activities, such as prayer and the singing of hymns.  MPs voted 297 to 110 in favour.

Some pro-life activists argue that their work outside abortion clinics has helped women seeking practical support.  Some pro-choice activists say the move will stop women being ‘harassed’.  Is this new law really censoring and silencing help for women in delicate situations with vulnerable mindsets?  Maybe.  Christians can pray silently and undemonstratively elsewhere.  Is there some unhelpful self-satisfaction about being present where the action is?  This is a minority issue.  Where are the thousands of Christians rather than the dedicated few who stand in the rain?  What does that say about our understanding of abortion and this sort of public protest activity?  Are we complicit or cowardly?

Whatever the arguments for and against standing outside abortion clinics, the approval of buffer zones has more sinister connotations.  First, it regards trespass where no intent to trespass exists.  The non-demonstrating public may freely ‘trespass’ within buffer zones.  Only those who seem to be praying, or leafleting, or engaging with likely abortion clinic clients will be barred.  Second, it infringes public engagement, stopping, for example, any opportunities for conversation.  Are we no longer allowed to chat freely with fellow citizens?  Third, it militates against free speech.  If conversation is banned, what about silent prayer?  What about freedom of religion?  What about a person’s private thoughts?  Where next, what next?  Street preaching is already under attack.  Is the poor Christian, who prays as he walks to the supermarket, or as he digs his garden, likely to be muzzled?  Of course not, you say.  Really?  Why are you so sure?

This amendment to the Public Order Bill still has a few stages to clear before becoming law, though a slightly revised version passed scrutiny at the Report Stage in the House of Lords on 30 January.  If it passes through the House of Commons as it stands, people guilty of breaching the 150-metre buffer zones could face a level 5 fine, which are unlimited.  What?!!

Heidi Crowter

Heidi Crowter (aka Heidi Carter, her 2020 married name) is the 27-year-old redoubtable Down’s syndrome campaigner from Coventry.  From early 2020, she has been challenging the UK government over the disability clause in the 1967 Abortion Act (as amended by the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act).  On 9 October 2020, Mr Justice Morris granted her permission to bring this claim for judicial review.

During 6 and 7 July 2021, the High Court of Justice heard the case brought by Heidi Crowter and Máire Lea-Wilson, whose son Aidan has Down’s syndrome.  Crowter and Lea-Wilson, with the support of the disability rights campaign group, ‘Don’t Screen Us Out’, took legal action against the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care for a judicial review of the 1967 Abortion Act.  Specifically, they claimed that section 1(1)(d), which makes termination of pregnancy lawful for ‘severe’ foetal indications detected after 24 weeks' gestation, is incompatible with section 4 of the 1998 Human Rights Act (HRA) and Articles 2, 3, 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  In other words, they claimed that the UK government was permitting abortion up to birth for non-fatal anomalies, such as Down’s syndrome, whereas the upper time limit of the 1967 Act was generally 24 weeks.  As Heidi has argued the current legislation, ‘Doesn’t respect [her] life’ and that ‘people should not be treated differently because of their disability – it is discrimination, pure and simple.’

But on 23 September 2021, Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Lieven, sitting at the High Court, dismissed that claim.  They stated that, ‘The issues which have given rise to this claim are highly sensitive and sometimes controversial.  They generate strong feelings, on all sides of the debate, including sincere differences of view about ethical and religious matters.  This court cannot enter into those controversies; it must decide the case only in accordance with the law.’  However, they rejected the case ruling that the legislation was not unlawful and aimed to strike ‘a balance between the rights of pregnant women and the interests of the foetus.’  And they maintained, ‘that there was no precedent from the European Court of Human Rights that a foetus has rights under the ECHR.’

In March 2022, Heidi Crowter and her fellow claimants were given permission to appeal.  This was the latest stage in Heidi’s campaign to change the reasons, or ‘statutory grounds’ of the 1967 Abortion Act.  It allows most abortions up to 24 weeks.  However, it has an additional eligibility category, the so-called Ground E, for those unborn children suspected (not necessarily proven) of having a foetal anomaly, such as Down’s syndrome, spina bifida or other disabilities.  The precise wording of Ground E permits abortion if, ‘there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.’  In other words, the legal challenge was based on an ‘instance of inequality’.

On 13 July 2022, three senior judges, Lord Justice Underhill, Lady Justice Thirlwall and Lord Justice Peter Jackson, heard the appeal.  On 25 November 2022, they unanimously dismissed it in a 37-page judgement.  A summary of their decision included, ‘The Court recognises that many people with Down’s syndrome and other disabilities will be upset and offended by the fact that a diagnosis of serious disability during pregnancy is treated by the law as a justification for termination, and that they may regard it as implying that their own lives are of lesser value.  But it holds that a perception that that is what the law implies is not by itself enough to give rise to an interference with Article 8 rights (to private and family life, enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights).’  The Court concluded, ‘But it is a question which it is for Parliament, and not the Courts, to decide.’

Commenting on the Court’s decision, Heidi said, ‘I am very upset that babies with Down’s syndrome can be aborted up to birth.  This tells me that I am not valued and of much less value than a person without Down’s syndrome.  I am angry that the judges say that my feelings don’t matter.  That makes me feel that I am not as valuable as a person without Down’s syndrome.’  She also vowed to take her case to the Supreme Court, saying, ‘I am very upset not to win again, but I will keep on fighting because we have already informed and changed hearts and minds and changed people’s opinions about the law.’

This case is an example of ableism – the notion that the life of a person with a disability is of less value than the life of a person without that disability.  Ableism insists that disabled people are defined by their disabilities, and therefore are inferior to the non-disabled and so can be treated differently, less rightfully, more discriminatingly.

Meanwhile, it remains legal in the UK for unborn children with Down’s syndrome to be aborted up to birth, that is, up to 40 weeks of a pregnancy.  The fight for justice, dignity and compassion goes on.


Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act update

In December 2022, at a conference entitled, 'Making Fertility Treatment Fair: Equality in Access, Equality in Outcome?', Julia Chain, chairwoman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), confirmed that changes to the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act were still intended.  Moreover, she explained that the promised public consultation on the issues was still expected though it had been delayed until 2023 because of ‘wider political turmoil’.  Chain said that she is 'determined to get proposals before Parliament at the earliest opportunity possible.’

What will the HFEA be proposing?  Will the changes be minor and bureaucratic, such as widening access to fertility treatment and reducing inequalities in outcomes, or will they be fundamental, such as revising the 14-day rule for embryo experimentation?  Details are awaited with a sense of trepidation.

Downsides of infertility treatment
Fertility Network UK is a charity that provides support to those affected by infertility.  It conducted a survey between April and July 2022, with the results published on 31 October 2022 under the title, ‘The impact of fertility challenges and treatment.’  The aim of the study was to discover something of the impact of fertility treatment on mental health, finances, career and relationships.

A total of 1,279 fertility patients completed the survey.  The results exposed something of the trauma of infertility and its treatment.  For example, 40% of patients reported they had experienced suicidal feelings at some point.  A further 63% had paid for their own treatment, at an average cost of £13,750.  And 36% felt that their career had been damaged as a result with 59% reporting some detrimental impact on their relationship with their partner.  In addition, 75% of patients felt that their GP did not provide enough information about fertility problems and treatment.  Only 51% of respondents received counselling, which the majority of patients had to pay for themselves.  Some 78% said they would have liked to have had counselling if it was free.

Gwenda Burns, chief executive of Fertility Network UK, commented on these results, 'Fertility patients encounter a perfect storm: not being able to have the child you long for is emotionally devastating, but then many fertility patients face a series of other hurdles, including potentially paying financially crippling amounts of money for their necessary medical treatment, having their career damaged, not getting information from their GP, experiencing their relationships deteriorate, and being unable to access the mental support they need.'

Julia Chain, chairwoman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), said in response to the report, 'Providing fertility care is not just about achieving a pregnancy.  A patient's mental health should be a priority too.  We are particularly concerned to see that 40% of respondents reported suicidal feelings and around half felt depressed.  This emphasises the importance of access to counselling which UK licensed clinics are legally required to offer and make available to any patient who wants that support.'

More ways to fail at IVF
IVF is dogged by failure.  According to the latest data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), successes with IVF, measured as the live birth rate per embryo transferred (PET), averaged only 23% across all ages – that is equivalent to a 77% failure rate.  Birth rates for patients under 35 were 32% compared with less than 5% for patients aged over 43.

And there are a multitude of circumstances, environments, activities and lifestyles that prevent or inhibit fertility.  They range from serious medical problems, such as blocked Fallopian tubes to relatively minor issues, such as poor nutrition and stress.

There has long been a debate about the effects of the consumption of alcohol and caffeine – results have been both unclear and contradictory.  However, a recent meta-analysis brings together data from fourteen studies on alcohol consumption and twelve on caffeine, comprising 26,922 women and their partners, providing insights into the effects of these common drinks on fertility treatments, specifically IVF (in vitro fertilisation) and ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection).

This research was published as ‘The association between caffeine and alcohol consumption and IVF/ICSI outcomes: A systematic review and dose–response meta-analysis’ by Wentao Rao et al., in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica (2022, 101: 1351-1363).

Overall, the analysis suggested that moderate consumption of alcohol, by both men and women undergoing fertility treatment, can negatively affect outcomes.  Caffeine had no significant impact.

The researchers concluded that ‘There was no association between caffeine consumption and pregnancy or live birth rate of IVF/ICSI.  Women's alcohol consumption was associated with decreased pregnancy rate [7%] after IVF/ICSI treatment when weekly consumption was greater than 84 g [approximately 8 to 10 units].  Men's alcohol consumption was associated with decreased live birth rate [9%] after IVF/ICSI treatment when weekly consumption was greater than 84 g.’

In other words, simple, modifiable lifestyle factors, such as drinking alcohol, can affect fertility treatment outcomes.  While it is known that alcohol intake can negatively impact foetal development, it is unclear how it affects fertility.  Low and moderate alcohol intake probably have little impact on fertility.  However, heavy alcohol consumption, greater than 84 g alcohol per week, is associated with decreased fertility in both men and women.  The biological pathway, for example in men who drink excessively, may be a reflection of their low testosterone levels, erectile dysfunction and low sperm counts.

The take home message appears to be, if you want to achieve a pregnancy, lay off the booze and drink coffee and Pepsi instead – in moderation, of course.

30 years as frozen embryos

Here is a little puzzle.  The twins, Lydia and Timothy Ridgeway, were conceived in April 1992, but were not born until October 2022.  How come?  Sure enough, they were conceived by IVF and then frozen and stored as embryos in a fertility lab on the West Coast of the US.  30 years later they were transferred to Mrs Ridgeway’s uterus, gestated and eventually born.  They hold the record as the world’s longest frozen embryos to be subsequently born.  When the twins were conceived at an IVF clinic for an anonymous married couple, their ‘adoptive’ parents, Philip and Rachel Ridgeway, were just children.  Five of that unnamed couple’s embryos were deemed to be ‘surplus’ and were kept frozen.  In 2007, they donated them to a Christian group, the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, which sponsors ‘embryo adoption’.  In turn they were ‘adopted’ by the Ridgeways.

The Ridgeways, from Portland, Oregon, already had 4 children but were open to more.  Philip said, ‘We’ve never had in our minds a set number of children we’d like to have.  We’ve always thought we’ll have as many as God wants to give us, and … when we heard about embryo adoption, we thought that’s something we would like to do.  We weren’t looking to get the embryos that have been frozen the longest in the world.  We just wanted the ones that had been waiting the longest.'

Such frozen embryos are a vast problematic outcome of IVF.  It is estimated that there are currently a million such frozen embryos sitting in fertility clinics across America.  The Center in Knoxville says that it has organised the adoption and birth of just 1,260 of them.

The pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute of Arlington, Virginia rightly notes on its website, ‘By commodifying embryos, the medical community and our legal system have opened a Pandora’s box of problematic solutions that fails to offer adequate protections.  While IVF has been lauded by many as the answer to infertility, the thousands of other lives it has created continue to hang in the balance.’  And the numbers keep growing and growing.  The pro-life response is the same as always – stay away from IVF.

26 years as donated sperm
And now consider the UK record for frozen sperm used to conceive and produce a baby.  In June 1996, at the age of 21, Peter Hickles had a sample of his sperm frozen because he was going to be treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the chemotherapy would probably make him permanently infertile.  The sample was stored in a freezer at University College Hospital in London.  However, he was not able to use his sperm because UK legislation banned the use of gametes after 10 years of storage.  Recently, that window has been extended to 55 years.

And so, last year, Peter, 47 and his 32-year-old fiancé, Aurelija Aperaviciute, spent £30,000 on IVF using Peter’s stored sperm and her ova.  After three failures, in October, they welcomed baby boy Kai, delivered by Caesarean section and weighing 8lb 10oz.  Peter Hickles has said, ‘I’ve had a miracle baby boy from a sperm sample I gave in 1996 as I battled cancer – I’m in disbelief.’  Some of his sperm sample is still left and Peter and Aurelija want a brother or sister for Kai, maybe.

Alan Pacey, a reproductive medicine expert, suggests that there should be no storage time limit.  He has said, ‘The legal 55-year limit has nothing to do with the shelf life of sperm, or for any other scientific reasons.  It’s more to do with what Parliamentarians felt was right for society.  But since frozen sperm are effectively in suspended animation, once they are frozen, I don’t see why they couldn’t be kept for hundreds of years if the law allowed it.’  And what, Dr Pacey, would that do for future parenthood and family life?

The case of Peter Hickles is a UK, but not a world, record.  The longest ‘generational gap’ due to sperm freezing belongs to Robert Stone and Lauren Gonzales from New York.  In November 2015, their identical twin sons were born after IVF used his sperm that had been frozen for 27 years and 195 days.

Surrogacy moves to Mexico
Ukraine has for many years been the global hub for surrogacy.  The current war with Russia has put a stop to that.  This dishonourable title claim has now shifted to Mexico, where a growing number of poor women are signing up to become surrogates for rich Americans and Europeans who want babies.  It is now reckoned that about 30 surrogacy agencies are operating in that country.

But as with most surrogate stories, all is not well.  One of the typical surrogates is Leti Montalvo, a married woman already with four children, living in squalid conditions.  She decided that the way to a better life was to become a surrogate.  An agency offered her US$12,500 or ‘three times as much money as my husband normally earns in a year.’ 
She has said, ‘I want a better future for my kids.  I don’t want them stuck where I am.’  The intended parent was a single man from Spain.  But after two embryo transfers, she did not become pregnant.  She says she will try again.

Surrogacy always exploits.  Does surrogacy dehumanize women?  Does it misuse vulnerable women?  Is it womb-renting and baby-selling?  Does it demean children as trade items, objects to buy and sell?  Yes, yes, yes and yes.  In addition, there are well-founded reports of coercion by husbands, as well as of corruption and exploitation by unscrupulous middlemen.  The best advice has always been, stay well away from surrogacy.

Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

This a dreadful section to write and to read.  The fact that there are men and women out there who are willing to do the dirty deed and kill people prematurely is alarming.  And moreover, they are pressing to make the deed lawful.  And these proponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia are everywhere around the world – indeed some form of the deed has already been legalised in at least 27 jurisdictions worldwide.  And now they are seemingly making some headway even in England and Wales.

Lexical engineering
But first, undergirding all the arguments in favour of legalisation lies a linguistic lie.  Campaigners have concentrated their efforts on promoting assisted dying.  It sounds more compassionate than euthanasia, but it also masks reality – assisted suicide is the deed to describe a process by which someone helps to procure another person’s death.  Dying happens to us all.  Euthanasia, where a healthcare professional administers the fatal dose, and assisting someone to die, are euphemisms for killing them or helping them commit suicide.  But of course, the words ‘suicide’ and ‘killing’ are repellent so the current conversation is all about assisted dying.  Campaigners conveniently blur the line between dying and killing.

The 1961 Suicide Act, the legal barrier against euthanasia and assisted suicide, is there for a purpose.  Crossing that Rubicon would not bring about a culture of compassion, it would instead establish a culture of death – all of society would be dehumanized.

In England and Wales
On 5 December 2022, the House of Common’s Health and Social Care Select Committee announced that it was undertaking an inquiry into so-called ‘assisted dying/assisted suicide’.  The Committee will look at the role of medical staff in assisting patients who wish to die, as well as access to palliative care.  It will also consider how to prevent coercion as well as the criteria for eligibility for access to assisted dying services.

As part of this inquiry, it opened a consultation to take into account public opinion on this issue.  Eventually, the Committee will produce a report making recommendations to the Government.  The closing date of this public Consultation was set at Friday 20 January 2023.

Steve Brine, the Committee’s chairman, said MPs would approach the issue ‘with compassion and an open mind’.  He reiterated that, ‘It became legal in Canada in 2015; the Netherlands in 2001; Oregon in the US in 1994.’  Then with a non sequitur, Brine considered, ‘So it is time to review the actual impact of changes in the law in other countries in order to inform the debate in our own.  Our inquiry will examine that evidence, hearing from all sides of the debate.’

In Scotland
The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood has already set its foot upon the slippery slope of legalising assisted suicide.  The latest effort, after a long string of failed attempts, has been promoted by the Orkney's Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP, Liam McArthur.  In October, it was confirmed that Mr McArthur had secured the right to introduce a Members’ Bill to legalise assisted dying for terminally-ill people.  His proposal received the backing of 36 MSPs.  In 2015, similar legislation was convincingly defeated when MSPs voted 82-36 against the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill.

The Scottish Government could adopt the McArthur Bill, but because assisted suicide has traditionally been an issue with a free, conscience vote, that is unlikely to happen.  However, if the Bill were to be passed by MSPs, it would mean Scotland becoming the first part of the UK to open this dangerous Pandora's box of horrible practices.

The former MP and MSP, Dennis Canavan, urged Scottish Parliamentarians to oppose assisted suicide.  He said, ‘I have probably had more than my fair share of deaths in my family, having suffered the loss of three of my dear sons and my only beloved daughter.  Three of them died as the result of terminal illness.  I had the experience of watching two of them die and I would not wish that on any parent.  However, I must say that, in general, I found the standard of NHS care to be excellent and the standard of palliative care in our local Strathcarron Hospice was first class.  My children undoubtedly underwent some pain, but it was minimised by caring health professionals who did everything possible to make their final days as comfortable as possible.  As a result, my children died in dignity and I beg to differ from those who assert that the option of assisted suicide is necessary to ensure dignity in death.’

What next?  If the Bill is introduced into the Scottish Parliament, it will be considered by a committee which will produce a report and vote on the proposals.  If it passes those hurdles, it then moves to a Stage 1 debate by all MSPs on the general principles of the Bill.  This may happen early in 2023.

In Jersey
During November 2021, Jersey’s States Assembly approved ‘in principle’ the legalisation of assisted dying and the provision of an assisted dying service.  The voting was 36 in favour, 10 opposed, with 3 abstentions.  During March and April 2022, the first phase of public engagement was held in which Islanders were invited to discuss the details of the proposed processes and safeguards.

The second phase of public engagement consisted of a public consultation over the 12 weeks between 17 October 2022 and 14 January 2023.  Responses to the consultation will be used to inform the final proposals for debate by the States Assembly in early 2023.  If those proposals are approved, then, in 2023, work on a draft law will commence.  It is anticipated that this process will take a minimum of 12 months.  In 2024, the States Assembly will debate the draft law.  A period of healthcare training and bureaucratic implementation will follow until the end of 2025 when the assisted dying legislation will come into effect.

Though the tiny Island has a population of just 108,000, a vote to allow assisted suicide would have significance far beyond its dimensions.  For instance, it would set an appalling example beyond its shores to the UK mainland and elsewhere.  In addition, it would risk Jersey becoming a destination for suicide tourism.

In Canada
The laws and practices of the Netherlands and Belgium used to be placarded as the worst examples of euthanasia and assisted suicide.  Now that shameful accolade can arguably be claimed by Canada with its Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) scheme.

In 2016, Canada legalised euthanasia with what were declared to be strict limits.  It applied only to adults who are terminally ill and in exceptional physical pain.  As if!  Within just six years those limits have been extended to include people with chronic illnesses or disabilities.  Meanwhile, Canadian pro-euthanasia activists continue to lobby for an ever-wider access to the ‘right to die’.

On 17 March 2023, Canadian law was set to change to make people, whose sole underlying medical condition is long-standing mental illness, eligible for MAID.  But in mid-December 2022, the Federal Government admitted that it needed more time to consider allowing this controversial expansion of MAID following its criticism by psychiatrists and physicians across the country.  There was no commitment to a new deadline.

This would have been the second serious widening of eligibility.  The first was in March 2021, when Canada declared a new category of patients eligible for MAID.  Before then, only those whose natural death was ‘reasonably foreseeable’, referred to as Track One, were eligible.  Then Track Two was introduced for those with a ‘serious or incurable condition’ but whose natural death was NOT ‘reasonably foreseeable’.  Therefore, patients qualified for MAID if they suffered from a condition or disability which ‘cannot be relieved under conditions that they consider acceptable.’  True, additional safeguards apply to Track Two patients, such as the requirement to undergo a 90-day assessment period, but premature death is still the most likely outcome.

It is no surprise that the figures are increasing.  Statistics for 2021, showed that euthanasia accounted for 10,064 MAID deaths, 3.3% of all Canadian deaths, a third more than in 2020.  Social, rather than medical, reasons for requesting MAID are already prominent and will undoubtedly expand as the criteria for eligibility expand.  In 2021, for instance, 17.3% of people cited ‘isolation or loneliness’ as a reason for wanting MAID.  In 35.7% of cases, patients believed that they were a ‘burden on family, friends or caregivers.’

Where next?  Medical, mental and social criteria can be endlessly stretched.  Already, it has been suggested that MAID could be ‘offered’ to children born with severe disabilities up to the age of one, as well as to those elderly people who are ‘tired of being alive’.  What about euthanasia on the grounds of economics?  In 2020, an official Canadian government document claimed that existing MAID legislation was probably saving $66.5 million in taxpayer-funded healthcare costs, while expanding it could save a further $62million.  Now there is an argument everyone can understand!

Is the Canadian MAID policy one in which those who are weak, ill, feckless and miserable are gradually being removed from the general population?  Indeed, are there Canadian individuals who have ‘a life not worthy to be lived’?  And if you are unsure who used that dictum in the past, Google it.  When a country treats death as the solution to its citizens’ life problems, civilisation is doomed.

In Belgium
According to the official figures from the Belgian national euthanasia commission, 2,699 people were euthanised during 2021.  That is an increase of 10% over the previous year.  However, this is an underestimate.  It is well recognised that a large proportion, perhaps up to 35%, of cases are never reported to the authorities.  Such normalised euthanasia now accounts for at least 2% of the country’s deaths.

The Belgian criteria are already gaping wide.  For example, in 2014, ‘a law was enacted amending the 2002 Act on euthanasia in order to extend it to minors.’  Belgium thus became the first country to authorise euthanasia of youngsters.  When voluntary euthanasia has been extended to children of any age, there are seemingly few categories left to legalise.

In the Netherlands
Often regarded as the ‘home of euthanasia’, assisted suicide campaigners are seeking to widen legislation even more to allow any citizen to be involved in helping people to die.  Currently, only medical healthcare professionals are allowed to assist another person to take their life by giving them drugs.  A radical Dutch right-to-die group, Coöperatie Laatste Wil (Cooperative Last Will) is arguing that this aspect of Dutch law violates their human rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  They say, anyone, not just doctors, should be able to participate.  Lawyers for the Dutch state are opposed to such a change saying that the state has a duty to protect citizens – a rather ironic statement in the circumstances.  Accordingly, on 14 December 2022, Dutch judges rejected this bid by Coöperatie Laatste Wil to widen euthanasia laws.

There is also a wider debate throughout the Netherlands about changing the legislation to allow euthanasia for all over-75s who feel they are ‘done with life’, even if they are not suffering from a medical condition.  In 2020, one of the ruling coalition parties submitted draft legislation to make this possible, but it has not yet been debated and voted on by Parliament.  Perhaps the Netherlands really deserves the title ‘home of euthanasia’.

Genetic Technologies
Human mini-brains implanted into rats
Sometimes genetic engineering looks wonderful, sometimes gruesome.  Here is an example of the latter.  Scientists at Stanford University have recently reported experiments transplanting miniature human-brain-like structures into rats.  These rat-human hybrid brains are said to offer advances in studying human neurological disorders.  They also raise profound bioethical questions.

The researchers grew the organoid structures from human induced pluripotent stem (hiPS) cells [bioethically acceptable] and then injected them into the somatosensory cerebral cortex of newborn rats.  After six months, the organoids had become fully integrated into the rat brains – they could send signals and respond to environmental cues picked up by, for example, tweaking the rats’ whiskers.  Here are two big questions.  Is this approach acceptable because it could lead to ways of testing therapies for human brain disorders?  Or is it unacceptable because of the ethical concerns about creating rodent–human hybrids that could harm the animals or produce animals with human-like brains?  So, another question – technically possible, bioethically sensible?

The work was reported as, ‘Maturation and circuit integration of transplanted human cortical organoids’ by Omer Revah et al., and published in Nature (2022, 610: 319-326).

Unsurprisingly, there are many more questions.  Such neural chimeras allow the study of neural networks in the brains of live animals.  Already these novel techniques have shown how neurons develop and behave differently in Down’s syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease.  But there is a bioethical grey area primarily because of the potential to blur the line between human and other animals.  Should human-like perception and cognition in an animal be permissible?  Are no other suitable models available, or is this just inquisitive scientists pushing the bioethical boundaries?  And what is the moral status of these current rat-human neural chimeras and what about more advanced constructions?  What makes us essentially human – our minds, memories and so on – and when is that essence reached?  Is the idea (and reality) of a human mind trapped in an animal’s body alarming?  Or will a cure for, say, dementia or Huntington’s disease halt all bioethical opposition?  Currently these organoids can mimic human brains only so far.  They do not develop blood vessels and so cannot receive nutrients, so they do not thrive for long.  But if the required physiological enhancements come along with time – then what?

Base editing treatment
In 2021, 13-year-old Alyssa from Leicester was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia – it is known as an incurable disease and all her previous treatments, including chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant, had failed.  That is, until a new revolutionary type of medicine was tried for the first time.  Now, six months later, she is completely clear of the cancer, though she is being regularly monitored.

T-cells are part of the body’s immune system that search and destroy foreign threats, but in Alyssa’s case they were growing dangerously out of control.  Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital decided to try ‘base editing’ to biologically engineer a new ‘living drug’ for her.  Without this experimental medicine, the only option left would have been merely to make Alyssa as comfortable as possible with palliative care.  ‘Eventually I would have passed away’, confirmed Alyssa.  Her mother, Kiona, said, ‘This time last year she had been dreading Christmas, thinking this is our last with her.’

Base editing was invented only six years ago by Dr David Liu and his colleagues at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Bases are the building blocks of our genetic code.  The four types of bases, namely, adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T) spell out the billions of ‘letters’ in the DNA sequence of our genetic code.  Base editing allows scientists to precisely alter just one base, converting it into another and thereby changing the genetic instructions.

The Great Ormond Street Hospital team used this technique to engineer a new type of T-cell, called genetically modified chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, or CAR-T-cells that were capable of finding and killing Alyssa’s cancerous T-cells.  Initially, T-cells were obtained from a healthy donor.  The first base editing disabled the T-cells targeting mechanism so they would not assault Alyssa's body.  The second edit removed a chemical marking, called CD7, which is on all T-cells.  The third edit was an invisibility ‘cloak’ that prevented the cells being killed by a chemotherapy drug.  The final stage of genetic modification instructed the T-cells to search for anything with the CD7 marking on it so that it would destroy every T-cell in her body – including her cancerous ones.

The treatment was started in May 2022.  After a month, Alyssa was in remission and was given a second bone-marrow transplant to regrow her immune system.  So far, so good.  It is reckoned that around 10 children a year could benefit from this base editing therapy.  But the curative scope of CAR T-cells is much larger and already trials of base editing are under way focussing on sickle-cell disease, familial hypercholesterolemia and beta-thalassemia.

Mitochondrial augmentation therapy (MAT)
Mitochondria are the power houses of nearly every cell in the human body.  When they go wrong the consequences are often calamitous.  The resulting single large-scale mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) deletion syndromes, known as SLSMDs, are usually manifest as Pearson syndrome in early childhood, or as Kearns-Sayre syndrome later in life.  Currently, no cures exist.

Israeli scientists have developed a novel method to enrich hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) with exogenous mitochondria and they have treated six SLSMD patients, aged 6 to 12 months.  All the patients had substantial multisystemic disease involvement at baseline, including neurologic, endocrine, or renal impairment.

Autologous CD34+ HSPCs were collected from the patients and augmented with healthy mitochondria donated by the patients’ mothers – a technology called mitochondrial augmentation therapy (MAT).  The enriched HSPCs were re-infused into the patients.  There they can reach every organ system in the body – a key factor when addressing multisystemic diseases.

MAT proved to be safe and showed small but significant signs of improvement in symptoms.  For example, after MAT, heteroplasmy decreased in the peripheral blood in four of the six patients.  An increase in mtDNA content of peripheral blood cells was measured in all six patients.  Some clinical improvement in aerobic function, measured in two patients by sit-to-stand, or 6-minute walk, testing, and an increase in the body weight of five of the six patients.  Quality-of-life measurements, obtained from caregiver assessments and physical examination, showed improvement in some parameters.  The authors concluded, ‘Together, this work lays the ground for clinical trials of MAT for the treatment of patients with mtDNA disorders.’

The report of this work, carried out at the Sackler School of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, was entitled ‘Mitochondrial augmentation of hematopoietic stem cells in children with single large-scale mitochondrial DNA deletion syndromes’ by Elad Jacoby et al., and published in Science Translational Medicine (2022, 14: 676).

Stem-cell Technologies

Allogeneic stem cells – life savers
Professor Massimo Caputo from the Bristol Heart Institute recently used pioneering stem-cell injections to correct a baby’s heart defect.  It probably saved young Finley’s life.  Finley was born with the main arteries in his heart the wrong way round and at just four days after his birth he had his first session of open-heart surgery at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children.

But the surgery did not solve Finley’s problem and his heart function deteriorated significantly, with the left side of the heart suffering from a severe lack of blood flow.  No conventional treatment was successful, and he had to depend on drugs to keep his heart performing.  Then a novel procedure was proposed.  Professor Caputo injected stem cells, derived from an umbilical cord blood bank [bioethically acceptable], directly into Finley's heart with the hope was that they would help the damaged blood vessels grow.  And they did.  It was a triumph.

The stem cells, grown by scientists at the Royal Free Hospital in London, were allogeneic, that is, they were derived from people other than the patient – as opposed to autologous stem cells, which are derived from the patient.  Millions of these allogeneic stem cells were injected into Finley's heart muscle where they grew into tissue that was not rejected and where they regenerated damaged heart muscle.  Professor Caputo commented, ‘We weaned him from all the drugs he was on, we weaned him from ventilation.  He was discharged from ITU and is now a happy, growing little boy.’

Conventional heart operations in children use materials that are artificial and so do not grow with the young patients and therefore repeated operations are required.  The use of allogeneic stem cells has the huge benefit that they grow with the child.

Operating with allogeneic stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood – another example of a treatment using a bioethically-sound source of stem cells.  This restorative therapy used on Finley was the first of its kind.  Hooray!

Stem-cell treatment for spina bifida
Here is another example of stem cells obtained from placental tissue being used to successfully treat a serious condition – it was the world’s first stem-cell treatment for spina bifida undertaken during foetal surgery.  Incredible!

Spina bifida occurs when spinal tissue fails to fuse properly during the early stages of pregnancy.  Untreated, it can lead to a range of lifelong issues, including problems with mobility, such as leg paralysis, because of nerve damage.  Post-birth surgery can be quite effective, but pre-birth treatment is preferable because the condition can worsen during pregnancy.

In this trial, mesenchymal stem cells [bioethically acceptable] were grown to produce a patch held in place with a biomaterial scaffold.  This was used to surgically cover the exposed spinal cord of the foetus at 25 weeks and 5 days.  At 36 weeks, a healthy girl, named Robbie, was delivered by Caesarean section.  The patch of stem cells will grow as Robbie does.

This pioneering work is being conducted at the University of California, Davis under the leadership of Professor Diana Farmer.  So far, three babies have been born after receiving this novel treatment while the aim of the trial is to treat a total of 35 patients.  They will be closely monitored for at least the next six years.

Red blood cells from stem cells
Human blood for transfusions has frequently been in short supply.  There have hardly ever been enough donors, especially for the treatment of patients with rare blood types and debilitating blood diseases.  So, could biotechnology make the red stuff?  In November 2022, the answer given was apparently yes.  Lab-grown red blood cells, derived from stem cells, have been used in a blood transfusion in a world-first clinical trial.

The NHS announced its blood-making plans in 2015, now in 2022, the first successful results have been reported.  It has been a joint venture between the NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) and the University of Bristol.  To date, two people have been transfused with the cells, with no adverse side effects reported.  This is part of the ongoing RESTORE clinical trial in which transfusions are performed on volunteers.  The study design is a controlled phase 1 cross-over trial with healthy volunteers to compare the recovery and survival of red blood cells manufactured from CD34+ cells, namely, human hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) [bioethically acceptable], with standard donated red blood cells.  The process of creating these cells takes around three weeks.  First, these stem cells are extracted from a normal donation of blood.  They are then guided into growing and becoming red blood cells.  And because the stem cells are isolated from the blood of unrelated adults, these are called allogeneic blood transfusions.

If the trial proves safe and effective, lab-grown blood cells could in time revolutionise treatments for people with blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease, thalassemia and rare blood types.  It could overcome the difficulties of finding enough well-matched donated blood for some people with these disorders.  Such manufactured blood also has the advantage that all the cells are simultaneously fresh compared with the cells of donated blood of varying ages.  In addition, if lab-grown blood lasts longer in the body, as is expected, recipients will require less transfusions.  That should reduce their iron overload, a feature of repeated transfusions, which can lead to serious complications.  If successful, these lab-grown cells would initially be used only for a very small number of patients with very complex transfusion needs.  Of course, further trials will be needed before regular clinical usage, but this current research marks a significant step in the use of lab-grown red blood cells.  Nevertheless, donors will continue to be required to provide the vast majority of blood for transfusions.

Forever young
It was in November 2006 that a group of scientists, headed by Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University, made a most remarkable discovery.  When they added just four transcriptional factors to adult skin cells from mice, some of the cells underwent an astounding transformation – they became young again, almost identical to the embryonic stem cells that composed the original mouse embryos.  Yamanaka called them induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells).  Their existence is like turning back the biological clock.  It is like the F Scott Fitzgerald saga of the fictional Benjamin Button, maybe!  Any use of iPS cells should be applauded because their creation does not involve the inevitable destruction on embryos.  Bioethically acceptable – tick.

Now, 15 years later, after much experimenting and tweaking, iPS cells have seemingly begun to yield positive results in so-called ‘rejuvenating programming’, a potential subsidiary of regenerative medicine.  Age reversal in humans could be the next big thing in medicine, at least, several biotech companies and research labs are hoping so.

However, the whole field, so far, is inchoate – there is virtually nothing relevant that has been published in peer-reviewed research journals.  Nevertheless, this unpublished buzz is maintained largely by charismatic, evangelical showmen.  One such key player is Richard Klausner.  He is a devotee of ‘rejuvenating programming’.  And he is the chief scientist at Altos Labs, a research company launched in January 2022 and backed by $3 billion from Silicon Valley and Persian oil monies.  Already dozens of top scientists have been recruited on salaries of $1 million and more.

‘Rejuvenating programming’ apparently works by resetting the epigenome, that is the controller for switching particular genes off and on.  Aging leaves some genes in the wrong position, but ‘rejuvenating programming’ can apparently correct them.  However, it can also have adverse effects, such as triggering cancers.  Even so, Klausner claims that treatment with limited doses of the Yamanaka factors has, for instance, resulted in fat mice recovering from diabetes, while others have survived lethal doses of painkillers.

Of course, there is intense scepticism about the whole enterprise.  As yet, we do not even know what causes aging, or when it starts – conception, birth or puberty?  Nevertheless, if ‘rejuvenating programming’ could be shown to work, first in animals and then in humans, it would reinvent much of medicine and revolutionise the treatment of old age diseases.  Such age reversal may indeed be possible, but do not bother to ask your GP soon.


World population reaches eight billion
According to the United Nations the world’s population reached eight billion on 15 November 2022.  There was even a symbolic child who was born at 08.00 in Tondo, Manilla on this so-called Day of Eight Billion.  Her name was Vinice Mabansag.  However, this was disputed, and others have claimed it was Damian from the Dominican Republic.  Such nationalistic wrangling is OK because approximately 385,000 babies are born each day around the world.

The fear of global overpopulation has long been a divisive conversation starter.  One of its earliest proponents was the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus FRS.  In 1798, he published his famous 125-page blockbuster, Essay on the Principle of Population.  He forecast that unchecked population growth would outstrip the world’s food supply.  Then, in 1968, came the alarmist book The Population Bomb written by Paul Ehrlich and his wife, Anne.  They predicted that the early years of the twenty-first century would be faced with mass global famine.  In another context, Ehrlich stated that, ‘By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will simply be a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people.’

Neo-Malthusians have often invoked widespread sterilization and abortion as solutions to their perceived problem – prevent or slaughter the hungry-mouthed before they can start to eat.  But their predictions and crass proposals have now been invalidated by a curious demographic twist – in fact, a genuine U-turn.  In more and more countries of the developed world, including the UK, Italy, Japan, Canada, Russia and Singapore among many others, the problem has become quite the reverse of overpopulation.  They are experiencing zero or below replacement growth rates.  Tumbling fertility rates mean they are simply not producing enough babies to maintain a stable population – numerically, they are declining.  They are facing a ‘birth dearth’.  In other words, it is now entirely safe to say that those population time bombs of Malthus and Ehrlich have at last been safely defused.

So, wither global population?  After all, it has taken only 12 years since 7 billion was the total and less than 100 years since it was a mere 2 billion.  According to the United Nations it will continue to increase to about 11 billion, but then it will decline to 10.4 billion by 2100 as the elderly die without being replaced by children.  Whatever the exact figures will be, a shrinking population is the agreed prediction of demographers.  The startling fact is that there will never again be as many children in the world as now.  Some declare we have already reached ‘peak child’.

However, a contracting population is not necessarily a good thing.  It will inevitably consist of a disproportionate number of older, vulnerable people.  Their care and welfare costs will increase with time.  And though rising taxation rates could mitigate such extra expenditure, there may be insufficient numbers of workers to pay the required tax burden.  As ever, the poor will suffer the most.

Nonuplets go home

This story has been fascinating since its earliest announcement of a world record-breaking pregnancy – the conception of nine, the birth of nine and the survival of nine.  They are the world’s only nonuplets.  And apparently, no fertility drugs were administered.

Ahead of the planned Caesarean section birth at 30 weeks into the pregnancy in May 2021, Halima Cissé, the 25-year-old Malian mother, was taken to a specialist clinic in Morocco.  There she was tended by a team of 10 doctors and 25 paramedics as they scrambled to stem a serious blood flow from her uterine artery, while 18 nurses put the nonuplets into incubators.

At birth, the babies weighed between 500g and 1kg (1.1lb to 2.2lbs) and were a surprise to the family and doctors – only seven babies had been spotted on prenatal scans.  All of them, five girls and four boys, would need at least 12 weeks in specialist care before they could breathe and suckle independently.  In addition, some of their livers and kidneys were undeveloped and all were immunodeficient.

Now the next chapter has arrived.  It was announced on 13 December 2022, that all nine babies, and their mother, had safely returned home to Mali after spending the first 19 months of their newborn lives in Morocco.  After arriving back in the Malian capital, Bamako, in the early hours of that Tuesday morning, the father, Abdelkader Arby, thanked the Malian government which he said had been helping the family financially.  He also admitted, somewhat ironically, ‘It’s a lot of work.’

Can God be proved?

That is a humdinger of a question.  And one that is well-worth asking, though your brain has probably already concluded, no way.  Recently, Manon Bischoff has asked a subsidiary question in an article entitled, 'Can God be proved mathematically?' and publishing in Scientific American (4 October 2022).  She is in good company because over the centuries several brainboxes have tried to mathematically prove the existence of a divine being.  For a start, there has been Blaise Pascal and René Descartes (in the 17th century), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (in the 18th century) and Kurt Gödel (in the 20th century).  Of course, the subsidiary question is, has mathematics disproved the claims of atheists?  The answer is probably another no way, but it is still an intriguing concept.

Take Gödel for example.  He was able to prove mathematically the existence of something, which he called divine, based on several assumptions.  But were his assumptions justified?  Maybe not.  Assumptions about objects in our environment can be scientifically investigated – assumptions about a divine being are more problematical.

Descartes, Leibniz and Gödel all relied on a metaphysical proof of God.  Blaise Pascal took a different route – he developed Pascal’s wager.  He proposed two options, first, God exists, and second, God does not exist.  Then he considered the consequences after death of believing or not believing these options.  If God exists and you believe, then you end up in heaven, otherwise you enter hell.  However, if there is no God, nothing happens at death whether you believe or not.  Therefore, Pascal promoted a sort of opportunism.  Have faith, believe – what is there to lose?

This is all fascinating, sophisticated stuff, but it is far from the simplicity of biblical Christianity.  The Bible simply assumes that the Truine God exists, and was there before the foundation of the universe, before time began.  God is transcendent and supernatural.  He cannot be measured or proved by the means of mere men and women.  He is a category change.  Yet Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, became a real man on Earth.  This is way beyond our comprehension.  And such propositions are not subject to the required repeatability of scientific proof.  They are one-offs.  Of course, we can, and should, ask baffling questions and many answers helpfully tumble out of the Bible.  We are, for example, confronted by robust statements from Jesus Christ, such as, ‘No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day’ (John 6:44) and ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life’ (John 6:47).  But there are numerous other more knotty questions that cannot be directly and satisfactorily answered.  And that is comforting because if your God is like a Rubik’s cube, complex but solvable, then he is man-made and really no God at all.

None of this settles the question of God’s existence.  Science and mathematics provide interesting and persuasive insights, but in the end, it is faith in, and experience of, God that demonstrate his being.  ‘Taste and see that the LORD is good’ (Psalm 34:8).

USA + Elsewhere

US abortions post-Dobbs

On 24 June 2022, the US Supreme Court’s momentous ruling in the case of Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organization effectively overturned Roe v Wade.  In the following months at least 14 states have passed pro-life laws banning or severely restricting access to abortion.  In 2023, another 10 states are expected to follow suit to protect their unborn from abortion.

The trend is clear.  In the first six months after the Supreme Court’s ruling at least 66 abortion clinics across the country have closed down and in 13 US states there are now no clinics operating to provide abortions.  Moreover, there has been well-documented evidence that the numbers of abortions performed across the USA have fallen significantly.  For example, abortions in Texas soon plummeted after the reversal of Roe v Wade.  According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, there were just 68 abortions performed during July 2022, the first full month of operation of the new law.  During the same time period in 2021, there were 4,879 abortions there.

Not all is jolly and bright.  While Texas and other states began enforcing pro-life state laws in the immediate aftermath of Roe, others are tied up in court.  For example, in January 2023, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the state’s ban on abortions after six-weeks is unconstitutional.  That decision means that, with exceptions for rape and incest, the ‘new’ law will be immediately and permanently struck down.  In other words, abortion will remain legal in South Carolina up until 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Nevertheless, the momentum is apparent – the prospect remains that across the entire USA, thousands and thousands and thousands of unborn American babies will now see the light of day and live.

Goodbye Nancy Pelosi
In mid-November 2022, Nancy Patricia Pelosi, née D'Alesandro, the 82-year-old radical abortion activist and Speaker of the US House of Representatives gave a farewell address from the floor of the House confirming that she will not run for any party leadership position in 2023.  Her decision comes after Republicans captured control of the House in the recent mid-term elections.

Nancy Pelosi said, ‘I will not seek re-election to Democratic leadership in the next Congress.  For me the hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect, and I’m grateful that so many are ready and willing to shoulder this awesome responsibility.’  Pelosi will remain in Congress representing the people of San Francisco but will relinquish the leadership post as the pro-life Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, becomes the next Speaker.

Nancy Pelosi has been the leader of the House Democrats for 20 years since 2003 and has been Speaker for 8 years, from 2007 to 2011 and again from 2019 to 2023.  During her time, Pelosi has presided over the passing of bills to legalise abortions on demand, force Americans to fund abortions with their tax dollars and she has denied a vote 80 times on a bill that would stop infanticide – in January 2023, the House voted 220-210 to pass this very legislation as the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.  Pelosi also opposed the 2022 overturning of Roe v Wade, calling it ‘cruel’, ‘outrageous’ and ‘heart-wrenching’.

She has been no friend of the pro-life community.  Goodbye Nancy!

Abortion in France
Abortion is a hot and unsettled issue in France.  In February 2022, the National Assembly voted to extend France’s legal limit for abortion from 12 to 14 weeks.  There had been anger that thousands of women were forced to travel abroad each year to terminate pregnancies in countries with higher upper limits, such as the Netherlands, Spain and the UK.

In November 2022, the French National Assembly voted 337 to 32 to start the process of becoming the first country in the world to enshrine the right to abortion in its Constitution.  The proposed bill needs to be approved by the Senate and then a national referendum must be undertaken before it can become fully enshrined.  This rushed political push has been largely prompted by the US Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade ruling, which
supposedly gave American women the constitutional right to abortion.

In November 2022, two proposals were scheduled to be put before the National Assembly.  However, in a heated debate, right-wing senators voted against the left’s first attempt at a proposal.  The right-wing senator Stéphane Ravier said the proposal was ‘an attack on life’, ‘a waste of time’, ‘dangerous’, ‘useless’, and a piece of ‘agitprop’.

Mélanie Vogel, the left-wing senator, who authored the proposal, said, ‘The need to protect abortion was not just a reaction to the threat to abortion rights in the US.  This is also about Europe – abortion rights have been pushed back in Poland and Hungary and could be at risk in Italy.  If France enshrines abortion as a constitutional right, that would send a very strong message to all the feminist movements across the world who are either fighting for this right or to stop it being pushed back.’

A recent opinion poll found that 81% of people from across the French political spectrum wanted abortion rights to be better protected under the Constitution.  The debate, bien entendu often heated, continues.

Safe havens for babies
Baby boxes, or baby hatches, are known as safe havens for newborn babies.  They allow troubled mothers to anonymously abandon their babies at designated sites shortly after giving birth, without fear of prosecution.  They have existed in Europe since medieval times attached to the sides of churches and hospitals.  Instead of abandonment, they allow adoption as the safe option.

Has the overturning of Roe v Wade resulted in an upturn of these alternatives to abortion?  These baby boxes already existed in every US state.  Indeed, the USA is the only nation to legislate to protect abandoned infants in this way.  Texas was the first state to pass such laws in 1999, then all the others followed.  Originally, they were introduced to prevent infanticide.  Infanticide numbers, always highest on the day of a birth, dropped by 67% after these laws were instituted.  Abandoning a baby is illegal in the US.  However, these safe haven laws decriminalise the deed, if the baby is passed into safe hands, typically only in the first couple of days of life.

Within the last two decades, baby boxes have undergone something of a revival and can be found in various countries, including Pakistan, Poland, Malaysia, Germany and Switzerland, though the numbers are still small.  In the US, these drop-off baby boxes are more complex than they first appear.  They are fitted with temperature regulators and sensors.  When a baby is placed inside, a silent alarm goes off, alerting the emergency services and allowing the child to be retrieved in a target time of less than five minutes.

Because the numbers of baby boxes are relatively few, so are the recorded numbers of babies saved few, though one estimate is that 4,100 infants have been safely delivered by this means throughout the USA since 1999. 
Whatever the numbers, who is to gainsay the goodness of the ones or twos, here and there, rescued?

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