Row grows over ‘abortion pill’

BONN – The German government’s plans to allow the sale of the so-called abortion pill, RU-486, have prompted attacks from the Roman Catholic Church, which is calling use of the pill an illegal act of killing that violates the constitution and the law.

The new Social Democratic government licensed the drug for use beginning this month. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he welcomed giving women “an alternative” to surgical abortion.

But Bishop Karl Lehmann, head of the German Catholic bishops’ conference, said, “Playing down abortion by portraying this drug as a more gentle method is unacceptable. It remains an illegal killing.”

Human cloning reported, disputed

SEOUL – South Korean scientists say they have been able to clone a human cell from an infertile woman, creating a four-celled embryo that, theoretically, could have grown into a genetically identical replica of the woman. But other scientists question the claims.

The scientists, at a major hospital in Seoul, are believed to be the first to have revealed that they are taking steps to clone a human being. They halted their experiment before implanting the embryo in the woman, so it is unknown if he or she would have developed into a fetus.

The experiment nonetheless prompted denunciations from lawmakers and other groups. “This is not an advancement for medical technology,” said Jung Myoung-hee, director of the biological ethics group Green Korea United.

Homosexual marriages looming

THE HAGUE – The Netherlands, among the most liberal nations in Europe, last month moved to open the door to same-sex marriages in a civil ceremony, by granting homosexuals the same partnership rights as heterosexuals. The draft law still requires parliamentary approval, but this is expected to take place.

In France, the French Assembly last month passed a similar bill, called the Civil Pact of Solidarity. Sponsored by homosexual activists, the bill must yet be passed by the Senate before being adopted. Minister of Justice Elizabeth Guigou said she believed the bill would become law before the end of 1999.

Irish abortion guidelines released

DUBLIN – In its latest code of conduct for physicians, Ireland’s Medical Council reiterated its longstanding position by saying that the “deliberate and intentional destruction of the unborn child is professional misconduct.” The code also notes that fertilized ovum must be used for implantation and must not be deliberately destroyed.

The guidelines are updated every five years. The medical publication Lancet suggested that a clash may develop between Ireland’s legal and medical fields, since the country’s Supreme Court has ruled abortion is legal if the mother is in danger of suicide.

Court rulings have allowed young teenagers to travel to England for abortions in 1992 and earlier this year.

Day for the unborn marked in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES – Argentine President Carlos Menem proclaimed a presidential decree on Dec. 8, declaring that March 25 was to be marked as the Day of the Unborn Child. The decree noted that under both Argentina’s constitution and its civil legislation, “life begins at the moment of conception.”

Pope John Paul II, whom Menem met during a visit to Rome in November, praised the idea of recognizing a day for the unborn as “another valiant element in the fight to defend the family and human life.” Argentina’s Roman Catholics note that March 25 has a special meaning for them, since it is celebrated as the commemoration of the incarnation of Christ.

Chinese province bans ultrasounds

BEIJING – The eastern Chinese province of Shandong has banned the use of ultrasound tests to determine the sex of an unborn child because too many women have been having abortions if the child is determined to be female. In some parts of the province, people hold to a traditional view that a son is needed to help parents in their old age.

The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that the law provides for penalties between $60 and $240 (US), and stiffer penalties if a subsequent abortion leaves the mother dead or infirm. The abortion of female unborn children has led to an imbalance in favour of the birth of male children nationwide.

‘Disposable children’ still a problem

BUCHAREST – Common wisdom had it that with the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu in 1989, Romania’s problems with unwanted children would come to an end. A decade later, however, those problems are worse than ever.

Hundreds of children are abandoned daily at hospitals and the front doors of orphanages. An estimated 350,000 children are destitute, inhaling noxious substances, panhandling, and living under bridges or in dumps. The country is experiencing a shocking abortion rate of three for every live birth.

Some 100,000 abandoned children are in the state’s care. Missionary Gary Moore says the situation shows it never was Ceausescu’s birth-control policies that were to blame. “They’ve been at it for nine years,” he said. “Still blaming Ceausescu. It’s not Ceausescu any more, it’s something in the culture. Something deep.”

First euthanasia case for Israel

JERUSALEM – In what is being described as Israel’s first case of officially sanctioned euthanasia, a 49-year-old man has died after being disconnected from a life-support machine. Itai Arad suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease, and had waged a lengthy legal battle to be permitted to die “without suffering.”

A court in 1996 had ruled that Arad had the right to choose the time of his death, but no doctor was willing to disconnect him from life support. Recently, however, Dr. Avinoam Reches, a neurologist, agreed to do so.

The incident drew a rebuke from legislator Yitzhak Choen of the Shas Party, who submitted a bill making it illegal to disconnect a patient from life support. “Nobody has the right to take … life, neither by commission nor by omission,” he said.

Injunction against abortion sought

HONG KONG – A man is seeking a court injunction to stop his girlfriend from having an abortion – not necessarily to save the life of the child, but rather because he says his girlfiend has bronchitis and an operation could kill her.

Danieal Leung Kwok-fan went to court to stop Sherry Tam Shuet-ying from having the abortion. Although a father’s opinion is usually sought by doctors prior to an abortion – a mother needs the consent of two doctors prior to the operation – he has no legal rights.

The chair of the Hong Kong Medical Council said abortion is not a purely medical issue. “There are non-medical reasons involved,” said Dr. So Kai-ming.

Olympic gold medalist wins lawsuit

MOSCOW – A former Soviet Olympic gymnast has won a libel case in connection with allegations that Soviet athletes had been forced to become pregnant, then have abortions, in order to enhance their performance.

Olga Karasyova, who won a gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, filed suit after the Russian monthly magazine SPEED Info quoted her as saying that Goskomsport, the ruling body of Soviet sport, forced women athletes to have sex with their trainers to become pregnant. Karasyova was awarded $1,750 (US) in damages.

The gymnast told the Russian newspaper Kommersant that, in fact, she never heard of any involvement by Goskomsport in the sexual lives of athletes.

Birth-control pill approval expected

TOKYO – Japan is expected to approve the use of low-dose birth-control pills sometime this year, a Japanese newspaper reports. However, government officials are refusing to confirm the item.

A panel of the national health ministry unofficially decided to approve the pill after years of discussion, claimed the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper. Japan to this point remains the only industrialized country to ban the oral contraceptive.

The government has, in the past, cited concerns about sexual mores, side effects and AIDS in connection with use of the pill. In 1992, the health ministry reversed a decision to lift the ban on the pill.

Brave new medical world coming

LONDON – Nine of Britain’s leading doctors have made predictions on coming developments in the medical field during the next 50 years for the medical journal Clinical Futures.

Among them are the view that artificial wombs will be developed that will make giving birth unnecssary.

The doctors add that the embryos will only be implanted in artificial wombs after a battery of genetic tests to detect for actual or potential “defects.” A stigma will attach itself to anyone who chooses not to end the life of a handicapped unborn child.

On other fronts, womb transplants will allow many infertile women to bear children – at least those who forego artificial wombs – and Parkinson’s disease sufferers will be injected with “stem cells,” which are currently being cultivated from the bodies of aborted unborn children.