Is the 1967 Abortion Act about to get an overhaul?

In our GCSE Religious Studies classes we learn that in England and Wales women have to prove to a doctor that carrying on with the pregnancy is likely to cause harm to health or wellbeing to get permission for a termination. Without this permission, abortion is a criminal offence. There might be changes coming the way of the Abortion law because doctors at the British Medical Association’s annual conference have just voted to scrap that rule.

At the doctor’s annual conference in Bournemouth they decided to stick with the 24 week limit on abortion, but thought the law making abortion illegal should be changed: the majority of doctors were clear that abortion should be treated as a medical issue rather than a criminal one. It will be interesting in the coming years whether the doctors are able to influence the politicians into the same mindset. Resisting such thinking is Dr Peter Saunders, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, who said “This decision defies common sense and will dismay thousands of ordinary doctors and nurses with their unprecedented decision.”

Head Transplants one step closer in humans

The first human head transplant is planned for later this year and it looks one step closer as scientists report that they’ve successfully transplanted a smaller rat’s head onto another larger rat. The operation involved three rats in total: the donor, the recipient and a third used to maintain the blood supply to the transplanted head. After the operation, the rat whose head had been transplanted was able to see and feel pain, showing the brain was functioning despite having been detached from its original body.

Not all scientists are impressed with this path towards human head transplants: Hunt Batjer, the president elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons, has criticised the plans to transplant a human head. “I would not wish this on anyone,” he said. “I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death.”

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A heartwarming Transplant story

Organ donation is when a person allows to be removed, legally, either by consent while the donor is alive or after death with the assent of the next of kin their organs. Once the organs are donated they can be transplanted into someone who desperately needs a new healthy organ.

Ella Murtha’s mum Tish died unexpectedly aged 56 and Ella chose for her mum’s organs to be donated to help others.  Since then Ella has had contact with two women who benefitted and are hugely grateful for Ella’s mum’s organs. In total Tish’s heart, kidney, pancreas, liver, eye tissue and lungs were all donated, leading to successful transplants that doctors said saved the lives of four women and the eyesight of four men.

The NHS organ donation page has a really interesting run down of what different religions say about organ donation.

Scientists say it’s time for ‘three person babies’

Doctors are saying they want to start making ‘three person babies‘. How does it work?Three-person IVF replaces the defective power packs in the mother’s egg – called mitochondria – with healthy ones from a donor woman. A three-person baby has most of its genetic inheritance from its parents, but also a tiny amount from the donor woman.

Even though Parliament have already approved this development there are some scientists who are saying they want more checks to be done to decide if it is completely safe or not.

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Should we believe doctors who hold our happiness in their hands?

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A new study has shown that all the add-ons that fertility clinics sell to patients, some costing up to £3,500, have no evidence to support that they’ll increase the chances of pregnancy.  The treatments include genetic screening tests, additional drugs, blood tests to measure the immune system and special devices to house an embryo. They can cost from £100 up to £3,500 each on top of the costs of IVF. People often presume that if a doctor is telling you something it would be be backed up by some evidence. Unfortunately this report shows it is not necessarily the case

“Some of these treatments are of no benefit to you whatsoever and some of them are harmful.”

Only one treatment, called an endometrial scratch, was supported by moderate quality evidence it would help. It involves a procedure to scratch the womb lining to help an embryo successfully implant, although the evidence for this treatment was not itself beyond doubt.

Jessica Hepburn spent over £70,000 on eleven cycles of IVF and had many different “add-ons”. She never had a baby. “These are doctors. We believe what doctors tell us and this is a doctor that holds my happiness in his hands,” she said.

What is IVF?

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is one of several techniques available to help couples with fertility problems have a baby.

During IVF, an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory.

The fertilised egg, called an embryo, is then returned to the woman’s womb to grow and develop.

It can be carried out using a woman’s eggs and a man’s sperm, or eggs and/or sperm from donors.

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Abortion to be completely banned in Poland

In the Religious Studies GCSE students are able to study whether having an abortion should be a choice open to all women who have an unwanted pregnancy; only available to those whose lives would be at risk if the pregnancy continued; or not available to anyone as abortion is equated to killing a human life. This is a bit simplistic, there are plenty more variations on this theme, but it generally is an argument of allowing a lot of freedom, allowing abortion under very restricted circumstances and not allowing it at all.

In Poland abortion laws were already stricter than in Britain. In Poland abortions are only legally permitted when the life of the foetus is under threat, when there is a grave threat to the health of the mother (the Double Effect), and in the instance that the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. These reasons mostly tie in with Catholic opinions on abortion, though some Catholics say that all abortion is equivalent to murder and is against the Decalogue (10 Commandments).

Well now the law on abortion is about to get even stricter in Poland and some women are so annoyed about the loss of choice that they are saying they’ll go on strike to show their disagreement. Abortion is basically going to be completed banned with all terminations becoming a criminal act, with women punishable with up to five years in prison. Doctors found to have assisted with a termination would also be liable for prosecution and a prison term. There has obviously been some support for this in Poland too, parts of the Catholic church, a left wing political party and an organisation keen to stop all abortions.

According to a poll for Newsweek Polska, 74% of Poles support the retention of the existing legislation, while research by polling company Ipsos indicates 50% of Poles support the strike, with 15% saying they would like to take part. A further 15% expressed opposition.

“My mother is very Catholic, goes to church every Sunday, and is against abortion just because you might not want the child,” says Małgorzata Łodyga, a junior doctor who supports the strike. “But she is against this law, because if a woman is raped, she will be treated worse than the man who raped her.”

In England abortion is legal up to 24 weeks under the Abortion Act 1967. However, if there is a substantial risk to the woman’s life or foetal abnormalities, there is no time limit. There is also no age limit for treatment but it strongly advise that under 16s have counselling before they make any decision to go ahead with treatment.  It is required under law that when someone requests an abortion you will be asked  for your reasons. This is because before an abortion can proceed, two doctors must ensure that the requirements of the Abortion Act are fulfilled, and they must both sign the relevant certificate.