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NRL News
Page 6
October 2009
Volume 36
Issue 10

Pro-Life News in Brief
By Liz Townsend

Suicidal British Woman Allowed to Die

A woman with a history of suicide attempts died in a British hospital without treatment because doctors considered her note asking to die as a “living will.” Kerrie Wooltorton, 26, was rushed to the hospital in September 2007 after drinking anti-freeze, clutching in her hand a letter stating, “To whom it may concern, if I come into hospital regarding taking an overdose or any attempt on my life, I would like for NO lifesaving treatment to be given,” the Daily Mail reported.

Although she had often been in residential treatment for a mental disability, officials at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital determined that Wooltorton had the ability to make a rational judgment to die and therefore they were obligated not to treat her, according to the Daily Mail.

I am ashamed to be English with the way the law stands,” her father, Colin Wooltorton, told the Daily Mail. “It is plain daft. Hospitals should not be allowed to let people die like this.”

Pro-life groups agreed with her family. “If Kerrie Wooltorton’s doctors decided not to treat her because her intention was suicide, they assisted her suicide,” said Anthony Ozimic of SPUC Pro-Life. “Assisting suicide is still a crime, and a prosecution should be considered in this case to highlight the perverse state of the law.”

Wooltorton had previously been diagnosed as being clinically depressed, and needed hospital treatment about once or twice every year after trying to commit suicide, the Daily Mail reported. Months before her death she was forcibly treated after drinking anti-freeze because doctors determined that she did not have the “mental capacity” to make a rational decision. However, when she tried again to kill herself in September, the doctors changed their minds and found that she was able to decide. Wooltorton was dead within two days.

A coroner ruled in early October that the doctors were not liable for her death, saying that Wooltorton “had ‘full knowledge’ of what she was doing” and “it would have been ‘unlawful’ for the doctor overseeing her care to intervene,” according to the Daily Telegraph.

Colin Wooltorton told the Telegraph that the family is consulting an attorney and intends to file a civil suit against the hospital.

Arizona Pro-Life Provisions Enjoined by State Judge

Although a federal court declined to block Arizona pro-life laws passed earlier this year, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Donald Daughton enjoined the laws September 29 and refused to allow them to go into effect the next day.

These laws were thoroughly vetted for constitutionality over several years by attorneys at Alliance Defense Fund, Bioethics Defense Fund, Center for Arizona Policy, and here at Arizona Right to Life,” said Arizona Right to Life President Jinny Perron, “so why was this high-profile case assigned to a retired judge tasked with interpreting the Arizona Constitution and issuing a ruling the day before the law was supposed to take effect?”

Daughton ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood Arizona, claiming “there is a possibility of ‘irreparable injury’ if the laws were allowed to take effect,” the Arizona Capitol Times reported.

Daughton blocked several provisions of S1175 and H2564, which were signed by the governor in July. These provisions provide that only licensed physicians may perform abortions; that women must be given information about abortion “orally and in person” by the abortionist or by a referring physician, not an abortion clinic staff member; and that health care workers have the right to refuse to refuse to participate in abortions for conscience reasons, according to the Capitol Times.

On the same day, U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell denied a federal challenge to the laws filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights. “In Casey, the Supreme Court held that a 24-hour waiting period substantially identical to the Arizona provision did not impose an undue burden on the right to obtain an abortion,” Campbell wrote.

He added, “Casey held that States may require that women be fully informed of the nature and consequences of their abortions, and may even advocate for childbirth over abortion.”

Pro-lifers told the Capitol Times that Daughton’s ruling “is merely the first round of what is sure to be a drawn-out court fight.”

Euthanasia Activist Arrested for Assisting in Suicide

British police officers arrested Libby Wilson, a Scottish euthanasia activist and founder of the group Friends at the End (FATE), September 28 on charges of helping a multiple sclerosis patient kill herself with helium and a plastic bag, according to the Sunday Times.

Wilson, 83, and her organization give advice to people seeking to kill themselves and even assist in their travel to Switzerland as suicide "tourists," The Scotsman reported. The current case involves Cari Loder, 48, who died at her home in Surrey in June after inhaling a lethal dose of gas.

Although after her arrest she told reporters that was not involved in Loder’s death, according to The Scotsman, Wilson admitted in June that “I spoke to Cari many times. She just wanted to make sure she had everything in order and to ask whether I had any final tips that might help. It’s not my business to persuade people to not commit suicide.”

The tips included advice that Loder “do a couple of dummy runs with the gas switched off to ensure she didn’t botch the job,” the Sunday Times reported.

The arrest comes despite new guidelines issued by Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions, that clarified when people who assist in suicides should or should not be charged. Factors that would allow a person to avoid prosecution included that the “victim had a terminal illness, or incurable disease” or that the suspect was “the spouse, partner, close relative or close personal friend ... within the context of a long-term and supportive friendship,” according to the Telegraph.

However, Wilson’s actions seem to fall under factors that Starmer said should lead to charges: that the “suspect was not related to victim or a close personal friend”; the “victim did not know the suspect, and provided help with how to do it”; and the “suspect was a member of a suicide clinic or similar organization.”

Wilson was released on bail until November 18, according to The Express.

Assisted Suicide Right Sought in Connecticut

A suit filed in Connecticut asks the courts to redefine the state’s laws against assisting suicide and allow physicians to help their patients kill themselves.

Physicians Gary Blick of Norwalk and Ronald Levine of Greenwich filed the lawsuit with the help of national pro-euthanasia group Compassion & Choices. They want to change the interpretation of Connecticut law, which defines as second-degree manslaughter when a person “intentionally causes or aids another person, other than force, duress or deception, to commit suicide,” according to the Hartford Courant.

They would like the word “suicide” to exclude deaths that occur after physicians prescribe an overdose of drugs to a patient. “Obviously, the crux of this case is what is suicide and what is aid in dying,” said Kathryn Tucker, legal director for Compassion & Choices and attorney for Blick and Levine, according to the Courant.

Euthanasia advocates have previously tried to pass assisted suicide bills in the legislature, but they have never made it out of committee, the Courant reported.

Pro-lifers condemned the attempt to circumvent state law and possibly have the courts impose assisted suicide in Connecticut without consulting the people or the legislature. “The church’s position is very clear that we regard life as sacred and it should be protected from conception until natural death,” said Michael Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, according to the Stamford Advocate. “Whether it’s euthanasia, death-with-dignity or doctor-assisted suicide, I think you’re playing with semantics.”

“‘Aid in dying’ is just a gobbledygook euphemistic advocacy term that pretends terminally ill people can’t commit suicide,” bioethicist Wesley J. Smith said in his blog. “This should be a slam-dunk. Alas, with judges today, you never know what will happen. Sometimes I wonder why we even bother with legislatures when we have judicial overseers who can transform advocacy lexicon into legal rights.”

Spanish Parliament to Vote on Abortion Law

The Spanish Parliament will soon consider a law, approved by the Socialist government cabinet September 26, that would legalize abortion on demand, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Currently, Spanish law allows abortions up to 12 weeks in cases of rape, up to 22 weeks for “fetal malformation,” and at any time if the pregnancy is harmful to a woman’s physical or mental health.

If Parliament approves the new law, babies up to 14 weeks old could be aborted for any reason, up to 22 weeks for “health” reasons or for “fetal malformation,” and at any time if the unborn baby has a “serious or incurable illness,” AFP reported. The law would apply to women over age 16, and parental consent would not be required.

Polls have shown that support for the abortion on demand law has been declining. In September 2008, 57% of Spaniards polled said they approved of the law, while 30% opposed it. In May 2009, support had decreased to 47%, while opposition climbed to 46%.

The latest poll, taken between September 28 and October 1, found the same rate of opposition—46%—but support continued to fall to 44%. The remaining people said they were undecided or declined to answer, according to AFP.

Pro-life groups are planning to gather in Madrid October 17 to demonstrate against the law. The protest is being organized by the Spanish Family Forum, a coalition of Catholic groups, AFP reported. “We are among millions of Spanish who are not willing to get used to abortion, or to legitimize its practice, because at stake is the right to life which is the substrate of all human rights,” said Benigno Blanco, president of the Spanish Family Forum, according to Barcelona Reporter.

New Bone Grown Using Adult Stem Cells

Adult stem cells are showing promise in yet another area of medicine: growing bones to replace those missing or damaged from birth defects, arthritis, or injury.

Doctors in Cincinnati used 15-year-old Brad Guilkey’s own stem cells to grow new cheekbones, ABC News reported. Guilkey has Treacher Collins syndrome, which means he was born without bones in his cheeks and around his eyes.

First implanting a cadaver bone to serve as “scaffolding,” the doctors then injected Guilkey’s stem cells into the bone. The operation, performed in May at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, was a success.

Lo and behold, the bone has come back to life,” Dr. Jesse Taylor of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center said on Good Morning America. “I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by the results of this.”

The new bone is already solid. “I’m very happy with it,” Brad’s mother Christine Guilkey told Good Morning America. “It looks good and he’s happy with it.”

In addition to improvements in the shape of his face and the vital protection that the new bone provides to his eyes, the teenager is in no danger of dangerous infections that can come when the body rejects transplanted tissue. Since the stem cells came from his own body, the new bone is expected to grow with no danger to Guilkey’s health.

In a related area of research, Columbia University scientists have created a complex jaw joint using stem cells taken from bone marrow, according to BBC News. Reporting in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers said they injected the cells into a tissue scaffold that was created into a specific shape using digital images from a patient.

The stem cells grew in the shape of the scaffold, forming a new structure. “The availability of personalised bone grafts engineered from the patient’s own stem cells would revolutionise the way we currently treat these defects,” lead researcher Dr Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic told BBC News.

Illinois Won’t Get “Choose Life” License Plate

The U.S. Supreme Court declined October 5 to hear a case concerning a proposed “Choose Life” license plate in Illinois. A group called Choose Life Illinois had sued the state on free-speech grounds for declining to issue the specialty tags, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The group gathered over 25,000 signatures expressing interest in the license plates, which would have benefited organizations that encourage and assist adoptions. However, Illinois officials said that “the state wanted to take no position on the abortion issue” and rejected the license plate, the Tribune reported.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in November 2008 that reversed a lower court decision backing the plates. The appeals court ruled that “such specialty license plates are not a public forum and the State’s alleged policy of banning any messages on such plates relating to the entire subject of ‘reproductive rights’ was ‘reasonable’ given the ‘controversial’ character of those messages,” according to Choose Life Illinois’s web site.

The group appealed to the Supreme Court, alleging in court documents that the appeals court decision violated “the First Amendment rights of individuals who would like to express their views in support of adoption and against abortion by displaying the plates on their vehicles.” However, the Supreme Court let the ruling stand.

Another Pro-Life Oklahoma Law Challenged

One month after an Oklahoma judge struck down an omnibus pro-life law on the grounds that it dealt with more than one subject, pro-abortionists filed a suit against another law for the same reasons.

House Bill 1595, enacted May 21, requires the reporting of abortions and abortion complications and prohibits sex-selection abortions. It is scheduled to go into effect November 1, according to Tulsa World.

The pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights filed the lawsuit September 29 on behalf of former state Rep. Wanda Stapleton and Shawnee resident Lora Joyce Davis, the Associated Press (AP) reported. The suit claims that the bill deals with four separate issues, a similar argument that was successfully used in a case decided August 18 by Oklahoma County District Judge Vicki Robertson, who said that Oklahoma law requires all bills deal with one subject.

The House author of the bill rejected this argument. “They’re all part and parcel of the same event,” Rep. Dan Sullivan (R-Tulsa) told the AP. “When it comes to protecting life, that seems to be a unifying subject in that bill.”

Tony Lauinger, state chairman of Oklahomans for Life, told NRL News, "Abortion supporters often describe abortion as being 'safe, legal, and rare.' This law, by requiring the reporting of abortion complications, seeks to measure the accuracy of that claim. The law will also provide insight into the reasons women seek abortions, making it possible to address the underlying problems that lead to abortions. " He added, "We believe the law is constitutional."

The state has vowed to appeal Robertson’s ruling, and officials said they would look closely at this latest challenge. “We will be reviewing the lawsuit over the coming days,” Charlie Price, spokesman for Attorney General Drew Edmondson, told Tulsa World, “and will respond to the claims appropriately.”