Life Issues Update – October 2008

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill – Report and Third Reading
[To read the official record in Hansard click here]
And so it came to pass that the final stages of the HFE Bill reached the floor of the House of Commons on Wednesday 22 October 2008.  The process had already been halted on 10 July when the Government abruptly announced that this debate would be delayed for three months.  It was an ominous move, but nothing like the menacing tactics that were to come.

During the interregnum numerous amendments had been tabled – some were good, like insisting that no alternatives exist before human admixed embryos are created and women are properly counselled before abortions; and some were bad, like extending the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.  It was clear that not all these amendments could be debated, but few believed that debate would be curtailed after little more than 5 hours.

Thus it all started at 13.36 with Dawn Primarolo (the Minister of State, Department of Health) moving a programme timetabling motion.  There was disbelief, disagreement and even rage from all sides.  Why was there no time to discuss key features of the Bill, like saviour siblings, the need for a father in IVF and above all, abortion?  For example, Diane Abbott (Lab., Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) was hopping mad that her proposal to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland (despite the fact, as was pointed out later, that she had never set foot in the Province) would now not be debated.  From an entirely different political perspective, Ken Clarke (Con., Rushcliffe) called the curtailment a ‘particularly cynical’ move by a ‘control-freak Government who regard the House of Commons as an embarrassing nuisance to be silenced on all suitable occasions.’  He could see no reason for not having an extended debate, even over two days, because there was plenty of time in the Government’s timetable.

This wrangling continued for the best part of an hour until the Speaker brought the House back to Dawn Primarolo, who was in charge of getting the Bill through the House.  She claimed that there had already been an adequate 81 hours of debate, and she confirmed that the Government had no plans to introduce a subsequent bill on abortion, nor to set up any committee of enquiry into abortion.  The House divided on the Government’s proposed timetable, which was carried Ayes 322 versus Noes 157.

So, for the next 4 or so hours a number of amendments to the definition, production and use of admixed human embryos were raised and debated. John Pugh (Lib Dem., Southport) moved several amendments that would ban the introduction of human gametes into animals. ‘Scientists should not self-regulate’, he warned, ‘Parliament should set the boundaries.’  David Drew (Lab./Co-op., Stroud) spoke against the issue of allowing genetic modification of human beings, such as cloning.  He contended that, ‘This country is an outrider on this issue in the world, and certainly Europe.  Many European countries have ruled out the process.’  ‘Why’, he asked, ‘had the Government made illegal the ‘ends’, but not barred the ‘means’?’

David Burrowes (Con., Enfield, Southgate) took up the cudgels of his amendment by declaring that he was against the production of admixed embryos in principle and against their results in practice.  He continued, ‘The Government are marching us up to a false summit.  Many of us sought to oppose the move [to allow the creation of admixed embryos] because we felt that there were ready alternatives that are producing therapeutic treatments.’  However, he accepted that these entities would now be authorised, but he wanted to plug a hole in the Bill by defining them more tightly.  He asked what would qualify as human, and what as animal?  Was it, for example, human when it contained more than 50% of human genetic material, and how could this be measured (was it to be half of the genes or half of the total mass of DNA?), even though it could change as the embryo developed.  There followed a complex presentation of ‘tetraploid complementation’ embryos, which could be created and which would be outside the provisions of the Bill.  Dawn Primarolo maintained that the Bill already covered these ‘new’ forms of embryos.  David Burrowes doubted that was so, and retorted, ‘… which is why we need amendment No. 47 to plug the gap.’

The next up was Nadine Dorries (Con., Mid-Bedfordshire), who spoke to her amendment, which would ban the insemination of human sperm into an animal.  She contended that the Department of Health says that it will never lead to a viable fetus, but her question was this: ‘How can they know?’  As if to underline this air of uncertainty, John Gummer (Con., Suffolk Coastal) interjected at this point and stated that he suspected that, ‘Some in this Chamber want to include in this Bill something that is not explicit.’

Kevin Barron (Lab., Rother Valley and chairman of the influential Health Select Committee) spoke against several amendments using all the old arguments, like, blithely accepting the opinions of the scientific community, halting Britain’s premier place in world science, deficiencies of NHS infertility provision, support for the HFEA, and so on.

Edward Leigh (Con., Gainsborough) drew attention to ‘a significant drafting error’ in the Bill which would allow human reproductive cloning.  It pitted Subsections (2) to (4) of proposed new section 3ZA against Section 3ZA(5). Furthermore, clause 3(6) repeals the Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001, which established the United Kingdom’s complete ban on human reproductive cloning.  [Yes, I know it can be bewildering!]  However, he concluded, ‘There is something very dangerous in what we will undoubtedly do today.  We are making ourselves less than human, in a sense, by viewing one part of human creation as a thing, a spare part, which I believe is extraordinarily dangerous.’

It had to come – Evan Harris (Lib Dem., Oxford West and Abingdon) got to his feet with the unlikeliest of words, ‘I was not going to speak in this debate, but …’  He began by supporting a previous amendment, but concluded that the Government had done its best in defining the Bill and he at least was content to leave it to the HFEA (!!).  This frightening prospect was supported by Sally Keeble (Lab., Northampton North), who also believed that the Bill was based on ‘sound ethical principles’.  As a user of IVF she told the House that she had seen ‘… such groups of my own cells up on a screen, and I know that they will never come to anything and they are not at a stage where they are human.’  Furthermore, she argued that, ‘We must understand that the people engaged in this work will have the most profound respect for life …’

The Northern Ireland voice came from both Jeffery Donaldson (DUP, Lagan Valley) Mark Durkan (SDLP, Foyle), who pointed out that the Bill had obvious loopholes and that in practice these rarely get smaller.  They should be defined and tightened now, they agreed.

John Hayes (Con., South Holland and The Deepings) spoke profoundly, ‘We should not deliberately distort the lives, or expedite the deaths, of fellow humans, whether those fellow human beings are born or unborn.  There has been too little debate in this House about that definition of human life in relation to the Bill, too little clarity about the nature of human life.’  He insisted, ‘It is not self-consciousness, capacity for reason or autonomy that make us human, but something altogether more fundamental.  Of course science matters, and of course scientific research is important, but, frankly, morals matter more.’  He concluded that, ‘The Bill marks the malign abandonment of those values [of compassion, love and defiance of despair].  By confusing or avoiding the definition of what is, or what is not, human, and by blurring the fundamental and profound ethical divide between ourselves and animals, it does immense damage to our humanity.’

It was now 17.30 and Mark Simmonds (Con., Boston and Skegness and Shadow health minister) was called to make his winding-up speech.  He began with, ‘The programme order is a disgrace and a misuse of parliamentary procedure, given that many significant amendments that should have been considered have been completely negated.’  He then summarised the need to close the Bill’s potential loopholes, the need to ensure that primary legislation and regulation was effective rather than leaving it to secondary legislation, and that the, ‘special status of the embryo must be put above everything else.  That must not be lost in our debate.’

The droning Dawn Primarolo finally rose and spoke against most of the amendments which had sought to define or restrict research.  In her view, everything in the Bill is adequate, there are no loopholes.  In the end, she addressed the Chamber, ‘Every Member of the House has a free vote tonight.  I urge them to support the Bill and to reject the amendments, as the best way forward to ensure that science prevails in an ethical framework that is acceptable to the House.’  The House then voted on the amendments.  At one point Bill Cash (Con., Stone) intervened with, ‘A complete disgrace the way that we have been treated by the Government.’  All the ‘pro-life’ amendments were lost, and all the Government amendments were won.

At 18.50 the Third Reading was moved by Dawn Primarolo who still maintained that the Bill had been given ‘careful consideration’, though Bill Cash still denied this by several interventions.  Mark Simmonds speaking on behalf of the Opposition declared disappointment that the proceedings of the day had come to ‘this unfortunate end’ for the Bill.  He continued, ‘It is important to understand that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 - an extremely robust piece of legislation - retains much of its significance and value because it was thoroughly debated in this House and in the other place.  It was originally the Minister’s hope, and it is my hope, that this Bill will be similarly enduring. However, after today’s performance, I have to question whether it will be.’  Others opined that the Government had constrained and manipulated the debate, others were deeply saddened that issues, such as the need for a father, had not been debated.  Nevertheless, at 17.10 there was the Third Reading vote.  It was Ayes, 355 versus Noes, 129.

On the night of Wednesday 29 October, members of the House of Lords approved all the amendments to the Bill previously agreed by the House of Commons.  Several amendments were debated, for instance, Lord Alton of Liverpool sought to limit the use of human admixed embryos to research that  could not be carried out in any other way - this was rejected by 202 votes to 39.  The full report in Hansard can be read here.

The Bill will receive the Royal Assent, probably before the end of November, and become the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.   Its provisions will become effective as the law of the land in October 2009.

So that was that.  We are now one of the few countries to allow the production of human admixed embryos, plus an extension of the use of saviour siblings, and with no regard for fathers for IVF children.  On the other hand, abortion law is no further liberalised – it remains as savage as before.

Assisted Suicide, Debbie Purdy, Mary Warnock and Daniel James

Debbie Purdy thinks she wants to kill herself, but not just yet.  She is 45 years old, lives in Bradford and has multiple sclerosis (MS).  Her condition has deteriorated to the point where she can no longer walk.  This articulate, cheery woman wants to end her life, probably in the Dignitas euthanasia clinic in Switzerland.  She perceives her problem as this: does she travel to that clinic herself soon(ish), or does she wait until she requires the assistance of her husband, Omar?

If she delays and Omar ‘aids, abets, counsels or procures’ her suicide, he faces prosecution under the 1961 Suicide Act and the possibility of up to a 14-year prison sentence.  In June 2008, the Purdys won the right to a judicial review seeking a clarification of the law.  In early October, the Purdys had their two days in the High Court – they asked, what precise actions constitute ‘assisting’ a suicide, and under what circumstances would the Crown Prosecution Service charge someone with this offence?

On 29 October, two High Court judges ruled that the existing guidelines were adequate.  Lord Justice Baker Scott stated that, 'The offence of assisted suicide is very clearly drawn to cover all manner of different circumstances; only Parliament can change it.'  The High Court gave permission for the Purdys to appeal to the House of Lords.

The Purdys case is reminiscent of that of Mrs Diane Pretty, who had motor neurone disease and in 2001 sought prosecution immunity for her husband, Brian.  The Director of Public Prosecutions refused to give the Prettys such an undertaking, so did the High Court, so did the Law Lords, so did the European Court of Human Rights.  As it happened, within a few days of that final ruling, Mrs Pretty was admitted to a hospice near her home and on 11 May 2002, she died there.  According to Dr Ryszard Bietzk, head of medical services at the Pasque Hospice, Luton, her death was, ‘perfectly normal, natural and peaceful.’

About 85,000 people in the UK suffer from MS, but only a very few ever contemplate assisted suicide.  Their lives are not intolerable.  Why should Debbie Purdy be the exception?  We already know that hard cases make bad law.  Thus, Debbie Purdy has, sadly, become the latest pawn of the Dying in Dignity organisation (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society).  It has long been committed, particularly by supporting and funding previous legal challenges, to chipping away until Britain’s prohibition on assisted suicide is breached.  The law, Parliament, society, palliative care providers and Christians must resist all such assaults.  Once any form of euthanasia is legalised, more and more of us – including the disabled, sick, elderly and depressed – will become vulnerable, and then everyone of us will be drawn into serious bioethical turmoil.

It could not be long before that 84-year-old veteran of bioethical muddles, Baroness Mary Warnock, threw in her two-pennyworth.  Commenting on the Purdy case, she declared herself, perhaps curiously, to be against allowing people to travel abroad to commit assisted suicide.  Wait for it!  What she wants instead is the ban on assisted suicide within Britain to be lifted, otherwise she fears a two-tier death service that only the rich can afford.

In September, she gave an interview to the Church of Scotland's magazine Life and Work and proved to be even more outrageous – perhaps it’s her age.  She stated that, ‘If you are demented, you are wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you are wasting the resources of the National Health Service.’  Such people, she thinks, should be allowed to opt for euthanasia, even if they are not in pain.  She declared that there is ‘nothing wrong’ with being helped to die and she hopes that people will soon be ‘licensed to put others down’ if they are unable to look after themselves.

She has also recently written an article for a Norwegian medical journal entitled, A Duty to Die? But any such ‘duty’ takes us down the wrong road.  Its destination are the twin cities of Despair and Defeatism.  Of course dementia is horrible, but the answer is not to kill the patient, but rather to invest in the proper care and support that such people need and to fund the appropriate research and treatments.  In other words, tackle the issue head on, not capitulate.

Warnock has long believed that a person’s life is only worthwhile if it is valued by others, including the State.  She marshals the ‘worthless’ and labels them as both costly and non-productive.  These are exactly the same sentiments and arguments used throughout the ages by all eugenicists, Nazis and euthanasiasts.  They are altogether a wicked bunch of elitist men and women.

Then on 18 October came the tragic news of the assisted suicide of Daniel James. Daniel was 23 years old, a promising rugby player, who was paralysed from the chest down when a scrum collapsed during training with Nuneaton Rugby Club in March 2007.  Following the accident, Daniel had made several attempts at suicide.  In September, Daniel persuaded his parents to take him to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland where he ended his life.  Daniel’s parents were subsequently interviewed by the West Mercia police and the special unit of the Criminal Prosecution Service will examine the police file to decide whether to press any charges.

His is a quite atypical case of assisted suicide.  Daniel was neither terminally ill, nor was he approaching his life’s end.  Dr Peter Saunders, of the Care Not Killing Alliance, stated, ‘I think there has to be real question about whether Daniel – and I haven’t examined him as a doctor – but it raises real questions about whether he was clinically depressed.  There was a study published just last week in the BMJ showing that in Oregon one in four people who have assisted suicide there were clinically depressed and may well have made different decisions had they been properly supported through it.  I think it is a tragedy that he wasn’t managed properly.’

Dr David Jeffrey, a former chairman of the ethics committee of the Association for Palliative Medicine, speaking recently about the dangers of legalising assisted suicide maintained that any such a move would destroy patient trust and could put the vulnerable at risk.  He said, ‘My concern is with people who are frightened, possibly depressed and bit confused.  These are people who don’t know where to turn and who feel they are a burden.  The law has to protect them.’  Responding to this, Dr Saunders further stated, ‘I don’t think it’s possible to bring in a law allowing assisted suicide that couldn’t be exploited or abused.  I think that all safeguards put us eventually on a slippery slope where we see the same kind of transition we’re seeing in Switzerland with terminally ill people, then chronically ill people, and now young disabled people.’

Since it was founded in 1998 by Ludwig Minelli, a Swiss lawyer, the Dignitas clinic in Zurich has been a thorn in the side of wholesome bioethical and medical practice.  It is reckoned that over 100 people from Britain have died there – the rate is now £5,000.  This is troubling even the Swiss authorities who are thinking of tightening up their law to exclude assisted suicide tourists.  Nor is Dignitas popular with all its own nationals.  Last year, it was evicted from its flat in Zurich after neighbours complained about dead bodies in the communal lift and hearses parked outside.  It has now moved to a business park in the nearby village of Schwerzenbach, apparently next to the country’s largest brothel.

The Rise of IVF and the 23% Barriers

Assisted reproduction is becoming more popular.  The latest data on IVF in the UK (relating to 2006) show that for the first time more than 10,000 women had 'take home babies'.  The actual numbers were 10,242 birth events, resulting in 12,596 babies.

Nevertheless, the overall 'success rate', officially known as the 'live birth rate', remains dismally low.  It is just 23%. That is still a 77% 'failure rate' for the record 32,000 women who underwent IVF treatment in the UK.  Moreover, the number of dangerous multiple births also remains stubbornly high.  Despite continued efforts by the HFEA to lower this figure, because of the risks to mothers and babies, it decreased by just 1% to 23%.  Twins and IVF still go hand-in-hand.

And now, a not-unrelated digression.  Top of the IVF 'success rate' league is the controversial Mohamed Taranissi, who operates from the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre (ARGC) in London.  His 'success rate' for women under 35 and using their own fresh ova, has been a whacking 61%.  Even so, Mr Taranissi has been in serious trouble.  The BBC’s January 2007 Panorama programme accused him of pressurising women into unnecessary treatment.  He subsequently sued the BBC, which has since abandoned its claim of 'responsible journalism', although it now faces a £0.5 million bill for Mr Taranissi’s costs.  Also in January 2007, the HFEA raided his premises on suspicion of malpractice.  In June 2007, the High Court ruled that the HFEA had illegally obtained the search warrant and the HFEA was faced with a legal bill that could reach £1 million.  Then in July 2007, the HFEA banned him from operating because it alleged that he did not possess the proper licence. Mr Taranissi challenged this and in July 2008 the High Court granted him a judicial review.  But, rather than face another hefty legal bill, the HFEA climbed down and annulled its July 2007 ruling against him.  In the meantime, the HFEA has granted Mr Tananissi a short-term licence, which expires in May 2009, pending a decision by a new Licence Committee of the HFEA on whether he is suitable to act as a 'Person Responsible'.  Oh dear -yet another embarrassing set of blunders by the HFEA.

Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cells – The Basics

There seems to be no stopping the regenerative medicine train – it is currently one of the hottest ‘hot-button’ topics of science.  Its aim is to repair diseased or damaged tissues, such as, cardiac cells after a heart attack, or brain neurons in a patient with dementia, by the addition of healthy, functioning cells of the same type.

It was the discovery of stem cells within the embryo at the end of the last century that gave this discipline its impetus.  These stems cells were subsequently discovered in bone marrow, milk teeth, umbilical cord blood, plus a host of other physiological locations.  Then the bioethical controversy of the use of ‘adult’ versus embryonic stem cells erupted - and this battle is still being fought.

However, it is fair to say that a growing number of the general public as well as the scientific community now consider the use of embryonic stem cells to be both overhyped and even unnecessary.  For example, James Thompson, the man who first isolated human embryonic stem cells in 1998 and the first in the US to produce iPS cells from adult skin has stated, ‘Human ES [embryonic stem] cells created this remarkable controversy, and iPS cells, while it's not completely over, are sort of the beginning of the end for that controversy’ and ‘A decade from now, this [adult versus embryonic controversy] will be just a funny historical footnote.’  Ian Wilmut, who led the team which cloned Dolly, has said, ‘This [the use of iPS cells] is the future of stem cell research’ and ‘I have no doubt that in the long term, direct reprogramming will be more productive.’  John Gearhart, who first discovered human fetal embryonic stem cells, has added, ‘Like many of my colleagues, I will vigorously pursue the direct reprogramming of adult cells’ and ‘I think this [using iPS cells] is the future of stem cell research.  It's absolutely terrific.’  Nobel prize winner and pioneer of stem cell research, Sir Martin Evans of the Cardiff School of Biosciences, has agreed, ‘This [the use of iPS cells] will be the long-term solution.’

The whole astonishing process of biological development begins in the embryo with undifferentiated stem cells and proceeds to differentiated cells that eventually will form adult tissues or organs.  That is Biology 101.  It is basically how you and I were physically constructed.  Until recently, it was thought that this was an irreversible pathway, that is, the traffic went only one-way, from embryo to adult. We now know differently.

We now know that differentiated cells of one type can be converted to another type by a process called cellular reprogramming, or lineage reprogramming.  This phenomenon of reprogramming is fascinating because, if it could be harnessed, it could be applied to regenerative medicine.  It would mean that plentiful adult cells, which can be easily collected, could be converted to other medically-required cell types in order to repair diseased or damaged tissues and organs.

The work of Yamanaka and others has, in the last couple of years, demonstrated that cellular reprogramming in mammals can be accomplished by the introduction of just three or four specific transcription factors into the differentiated cell.  It therefore seems likely that a surprisingly limited number of these factors could be used to reprogramme any given adult cell to become an entirely different type of cell, such as a stem cell, or another mature cell type.  This is the basis for the excitement over the reprogramming of human skin cells to become induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.  Such a relatively simple technique raises the possibility of generating patient-specific human ‘embryonic-like’ stem cells that could then be used for treatments.  No patient rejection, no bioethical worries – truly, it would be a milestone in regenerative medicine.

However, we are not there yet.  Such therapies may still be several years away.  Work, such as, the translation from animal to human models, human clinical trials and safety tests, will have to be completed first.  And one of the key areas that is still far from understood is that of directed differentiation, namely, how do stem cells become, for example, only neurons or only cardiac muscle cells, and then, how do you direct this process efficiently and with precision?  Another crucial unknown is, how can these transformed cells be transplanted and integrated into the correct site within the body?  Until these pieces of the biological jigsaw are understood and controlled there will be no cures for human diseases.

These formidable hurdles have led some researchers to wonder if it would be possible to short-circuit this complex system and simply transform one type of adult cell directly into another type in vivo, that is, within the organism’s body.  Indeed, Qiao Zhou and his colleagues at Harvard University have recently reported an example of this in vivo reprogramming, using just three transcription factors, to achieve the transformation of adult pancreatic exocrine cells to β-cells in mice.  In other words, they were able to transform non-secreting pancreatic cells into those capable of secreting insulin, without the need for reversion to the undifferentiated pluripotent stem cell stage.  This novel process is called transdifferentiation – now that should be of interest to all diabetics.  It is true, the regenerative medicine train is getting up steam.

Spain – Nice Country, Pity About Its Bioethics

We spent time in Spain this summer, along with some of the other 16 million annual tourists from the UK.  Excellent climate, art galleries, transport system and food, but its stance on key bioethical issues is as dismal as ours.

For many years, the Spanish socialist government of José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has sought to destroy Judaeo-Christian values.  In 2003, it legalised human embryo experimentation, in 2005 it legislated for homosexual 'marriage'; in 2006 the terms 'father' and 'mother' were replaced on Spanish birth certificates by 'parent A' and 'parent B' in order to remove any association with traditional heterosexual family life.

And there may be worse to come.  In September of this year, the country’s health minister, Dr Bernat Soria, announced that end-of-life care in Spain was due for a major overhaul.  And he confirmed that Spain may soon legalise assisted suicide if proposed reforms of the law are implemented.  He declared that, ‘The change will ensure that the patient’s right to a dignified death becomes a real right.’

Furthermore, this predominately (apparently 76%) Roman Catholic country is becoming almost as dreadful as the UK when it comes to abortion.  Abortion was legalised there as recently as 1985 and is apparently restricted to urgent medical cases only – up to 12 weeks in the case of rape and 22 weeks in the case of suspected handicap.  However, there is no time limit if the mother’s physical or mental health is considered to be at risk.  So, many women obtain a psychiatrist’s letter confirming the latter.

In 2006, there were approximately 100,000 abortions performed in Spain.  OK, that total is only half of the UK’s 201,173 but its population is only 40 million compared with our 60 million.  Indeed, over the last ten years, the number of Spanish abortions has almost doubled.  Furthermore, abortions among teenage girls are rife – in 2006, the figure was 13,894. According to the Institute for Family Policy in Spain, ‘Every half hour in Spain a girl under the age of 20 receives an abortion, and each day there is at least one abortion performed on girls under the age of 15 (496 abortions in 2006).’  Similar to the UK, 50% of pregnancies among adolescent girls end in abortion.  And similarly there are those, including the Institute’s president, Eduardo Hertfelder, who are calling the Spanish government’s policy of the, ‘indiscriminate promotion of the morning-after pill among adolescents and of abortion as a solution, erroneous and out-dated.’  Abortion is now the single largest cause of death in Spain.

On 16 October 2008, the bad ship Aurora attempted to dock for a few days at the Spanish port of Valencia (home of that delicious dish, paella).  The Aurora is an ‘abortion ship’ run by a Dutch group known as Women on Waves.  It offers free abortions by picking up clients and then steaming out into international waters, thus evading any country’s laws on abortion.  This Valencian event was one of a series seeking to provoke a liberalisation of Spain’s abortion law – already a commission has been set up to study ways of achieving this.  The Spanish government is said to admire the UK’s legislation and favours our free supply of abortion up to 24 weeks.

IVF in Spain is commonplace too.  In the UK during 2005 there were 41,911 treatment cycles, whereas in Spain in the same year there were almost as many, 41,680 cycles to be precise.  Indeed, Spain has become a popular destination for 'IVF tourism', especially among British couples. It has high standards of medical care, better success rates than in the UK, treatments that are about half the price of those in the UK, and it is just over two hours away by budget airline.  And egg donation is widespread, something that has dwindled in the UK since our law changed in April 2005 giving children born as a result of ova or sperm donation the right to trace their biological parents.

Now, if you consider IVF to be abnormal, then you will still probably not believe this.  Last December, Elena Beloki was jailed for 13 years for being a spokeswoman for the international arm of the banned Basque group, ETA.  Six months later, in June 2008, she was released from prison, on conditional bail, so she can begin IVF treatment at a clinic in San Sebastian.  What! Yes, she is 47 years old.  Yes, the Spanish state is paying for her IVF treatment.  Yes, the victims of ETA terrorism are especially outraged.

And as if to prove that Spain is up there with the rest of the bioethically-substandard world, in early October 2008, Javier Marischal was born.  He is Spain’s first saviour sibling, selected and screened from a number of IVF embryos (the unused ones were, of course, destroyed) and born in the hope that his umbilical cord blood stem cells will be a match and a cure for his six-year old brother, Andrés, who suffers from a congenital form of anaemia known as beta-thalassaemia.  The Spanish media dubbed him a ‘miracle baby’.  Other Spaniards stated, ‘You cannot kill one human being to save another’ and ‘The method of this birth is degrading for human beings to have been selected like a prize.’

With all these attempts to obliterate Christian values, as well as human life, perhaps it should have come as little surprise that in June 2008, the Spanish parliament's environmental committee decided to extend human rights to four classes of great apes.  If we are merely smart monkeys, non-special and soulless, then such a move makes perfect sense.  España, estás en el camino equivocado.  [Spain, you are on the wrong road.]

An Alternative Infertility Treatment – A Landmark Study

One in seven evangelical young couples is infertile – in that respect we are no different from our neighbours.  But what are these couples to do?  A few will accept the condition, gladly, most others, sadly.  But alas, some of these couples will be ill-advised to try IVF, with all its bioethical, financial and psychological hazards.

An entirely better alternative is to try NaProTechnology, (NPT), Natural Procreative Technology (NPT).  This technique has been in the public domain for several years.  However, in September 2008, a landmark study was published, which showed that the method is both safe and highly effective for couples, even those who have failed with IVF.

This first, peer-reviewed paper, which assesses NPT, can be read in full at  Briefly, nearly 1100 couples who were struggling with infertility used the NPT method and 52.8%, who completed the treatment, had a successful live birth.

This is a remarkably high figure, because, when compared with the patients of most IVF studies, the patients in this study were typically older, had tried for longer to conceive, and a third of them had already attempted and failed with IVF.  Studies of IVF report average success rates of around 40% among young couples.  Furthermore, the NPT twin birth rate was just 4.6% compared with IVF’s typical 25%.

NPT aims to solve the problem of infertility or miscarriages by detecting and correcting the underlying problems overlooked by standard approaches to infertility.  In this current study, nearly half of NPT patients had previously been told that they had ‘unexplained infertility’.  However, it was found that two-thirds of the patients had an undiagnosed hormone abnormality and more than 25% were diagnosed with cervical mucus dysfunction, a critical factor for sperm survival and transport.  Once these and other problems were identified and treated, NPT enabled the couples to conceive via natural sexual intercourse.

NPT cannot treat all causes of infertility.  It is not an option for couples with azoospermia, ovarian failure, or bilateral fallopian tube occlusion.  In addition, couples choosing NPT need to understand clearly that, although 75% of the couples in this study, who had a live birth with NPT conceived within 12 months (93% within 18 months), it may take up to 24 months for a full treatment course.

However, on the plus side, NPT is conducted in a general practitioner environment by trained generalists and is therefore nothing like the intensive, invasive assisted reproductive techniques, such as IVF with its additional dilemmas of ‘spare’ embryos.  NPT is also strongly pro-woman, pro-child and pro-couple.  Furthermore, it is also cheaper than IVF.

NPT is available in the UK under the auspices of LIFE’s FertilityCare Programme, which has just celebrated the birth of its 86th baby.  So far NPT has been available only at the LIFE Health Clinic in Liverpool, but the plan is to extend this provision in the near future.  Couples, do not go down the IVF route.  Check out this NPT approach at  Pastors, bring this to the attention of your young infertile couples.

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