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Patients' Vision Improved by Adult Stem Cells

Three corneal disease patients in Australia gained significant vision improvements after treatment with their own stem cells, according to a report in the journal Transplantation.

"This is an important step forward in treating patients with corneal types of blindness, using adult stem cells," David Prentice, founding member of Do No Harm, the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, told NRL News. "This improved technique grows the cells on an approved contact lens that can be easily placed into the eyes of the patients, and from which the adult stem cells can move onto the eye and repair corneal damage."

Researchers at the University of New South Wales reported that the patients had diseases of the cornea, which is the transparent outermost part of the eye. Adult stem cells taken from each patient's good eye grew on a special contact lens that was inserted into the affected eye, the London Daily Mail reported.

The contact lenses remained in the eyes for three weeks. During this time, the healthy stem cells moved to the corneas and healed the damaged cells, the researchers reported. "We've gone from patients that have only been able to count fingers, you know, at a close distance in front of their eye so to speak, to being able to read letters on a standard visual chart," medical scientist Dr. Nick Di Girolamo told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

The benefits of the treatment are many. The stem cells are harvested from the patients themselves, without harming them and without the need for anti-rejection drugs. The technique is also non-invasive and inexpensive. The researchers plan to continue refining the treatment, and may even expand to treat other parts of the eye.

"We're focusing on corneal disease because of the accessibility of the cornea," Di Girolamo told ABC, "but it's quite possible that using a similar material to the contact lens material, you know in the future that sort of material could be used as a carrier of different stem cells such as retinal stem cells to the back of the eye."

Proposed Abortion Law Opposed by Most Spaniards

According to two different polls released June 1, a proposed abortion law in Spain that would allow 16-year-old girls to abort their babies without their parents' knowledge is opposed by a majority of the people, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

The bill is strongly supported by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. However, even members of his Socialist Party told pollsters they are against the minors' abortion provision, according to the AP.

The Zapatero government's proposed law, which will be considered by Parliament later in 2009, would allow abortion on demand up to 14 weeks and with an doctor's approval until 22 weeks.

A poll published in the El Pais newspaper showed that 64% of the general public and 56% of Socialists oppose the portion of the law that would allow girls as young as 16 to have abortions without parental notification. According to a poll in La Vanguardia, 71% of Spaniards said they oppose the provision, while 60% of Socialist voters are also against it.

Pro-life groups in Spain have said they will vocally oppose the proposed law. The Spanish Family Forum, a coalition of Catholic associations, will hold a demonstration in Madrid October 17, which is when Parliament will debate the law, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). "Abortion should never be legalised because it is an attack against the right to life," the coalition's president Benigno Blanco told a news conference, AFP reported.

South Dakota Warns Planned Parenthood to Follow Law

South Dakota officials have warned Planned Parenthood that it may face sanctions unless it begins to follow a 2005 informed consent law, according to the Argus Leader.

The state created specific disclosure forms that abortionists are supposed to present to women before an abortion. The forms include language intended to give women complete information, including phrases such as, "That the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being," the Argus Leader reported.

In an e-mail dated March 31, state officials notified Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and the Dakotas, which runs an abortion clinic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that it was in violation of the law because it was not using the state-approved forms, according to the Argus Leader.

"Any abortion facility violating any of the provisions of [state law] places its abortion facility license at risk for suspension or revocation," wrote Anthony Nelson, administrator of the state Office of Data, Statistics, and Vital Records, in the e-mail.

Planned Parenthood staff have said that the language is too "ideological" and that they should be "free to choose the specific text of the disclosures they provide" as long as they include certain biological facts, the Argus Leader reported.

In response to the state's e-mail, Planned Parenthood filed a federal court injunction, its latest in a series of court challenges to the law. After being passed in 2005, the law only began to be enforced last year when the Eighth Circuit court overruled an earlier ruling that enjoined the law, according to the Argus Leader.

The case is still moving through the courts, but the law is now in effect.

Baby Saved by Fetal Heart Surgery

For the first time in Canada, a baby survived fetal surgery to correct a narrowed heart valve and is now thriving. Oceane McKenzie, born at six pounds, one ounce one month after the surgery, is expected to return home to Gatineau, Quebec, soon, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

"I think it opens up all sorts of opportunities for the future ... it's something we can offer to other babies," Dr. Greg Ryan, chief of the fetal medicine unit at Mount Sinai Hospital, told Canadian Press (CP). "I think the important thing is getting the message out to the referring physicians that this is something that's now available in Canada."

Oceane's parents, Vicki and Ian McKenzie, discovered that their unborn baby girl had critical aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the left ventricle's main outlet valve, at 30 weeks into the pregnancy, the Ottawa Citizen reported. If not treated, the baby could have died of heart failure or the condition would have developed into hypoplastic left heart syndrome, with a 10-year survival rate of only 65%, according to CP.

Although the procedure had not yet been successful in Canada, doctors at the Hospital for Sick Children and Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto believed that the McKenzies' baby was a good candidate for the surgery. "It can only be offered to a few babies in utero who are detected at the correct stage and when their aorta hasn't yet narrowed too much," Dr. Edgar Jaeggi, head of the fetal cardiac program at the Hospital for Sick Children, told CP. "This baby came to us at just the right time."

The operation took place just three days after the diagnosis, on March 19. The doctors inserted a needle into Vicki McKenzie's womb and then into the baby's heart. A tiny balloon catheter was placed into the aorta, where it would widen the valve, according to the Toronto Star.

Oceane survived the surgery and was born one month later on April 15. She has since undergone two more operations to further widen the valve, and may need an aorta transplant when she is older, the Ottawa Citizen reported. But her parents, along with two older brothers, are thrilled she is doing well and can come home.

"Finally after two months, we can say we're a lot more relaxed and confident that she is going to be home and live a normal life," Vicki McKenzie told CP. "Modern science, modern medicine is amazing. And we're so happy it was able to give us a chance to be a family of five."

Wisconsin Hospital Sued for Non-Treatment of Disabled

The advocacy group Disability Rights Wisconsin filed a lawsuit May 14 against University of Wisconsin (UW) Hospital for failing to treat pneumonia in two developmentally disabled patients, according to Wisconsin State Journal. The group is seeking a change in the hospital's practices to conform to state law, which Disability Rights contends requires treatment unless the patient is in a "persistent vegetative state."

One of the patients died, while one survived after the family intervened. Although UW Hospital claimed it was acting in the patients' best interests, Disability Rights attorney Mitch Hagopian "worried some UW Hospital doctors may be too quick to suggest withdrawing treatment from a developmentally disabled person they perceive to have a low quality of life," the State Journal reported.

"Wisconsin Right to Life commends Disability Rights Wisconsin for raising this important issue on behalf of patients who cannot speak for themselves," said Barbara Lyons, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life. "The statement by UW Hospital that they were acting in the 'best interests of the patients' is hollow, given that one of the patients died, and the other reported being subjected to undue pressure to withdraw treatment."

The lawsuit concerns two unidentified patients, a 72-year-old referred to as "J.L." and a 13-year-old called "M.E." Both had developmental disabilities. J.L. came to the hospital with pneumonia May 1, 2008, and in discussion with Dr. Julia Wright about his quality of life, the family agreed not to treat him, according to the State Journal.

When J.L. woke the next morning and asked for food, family members changed their minds and wanted to resume treatment. They allege in the lawsuit that Wright was reluctant to agree to their wishes, the State Journal reported. Eventually, however, Wright restarted treatment and J.L. returned to his nursing home and recovered.

In the other case, the developmentally disabled teenager's mother had agreed with UW Hospital doctors to limit his treatment because of "poor prognosis and poor quality of life," according to the State Journal. When his long-term care facility Bethesda Lutheran Homes wanted to give antibiotics for his pneumonia in November 2006, hospital doctors declined to give the order. The home gave the medicine anyway, but his parents transferred him to UW Hospital where the antibiotics, food, and fluids were withdrawn and the child died, according to the newspaper.

"Learning that UW Hospital has been sued for denying care to patients with developmental disabilities who are not dying puts that entity squarely on the slippery slope to devalue the lives of those considered to have no meaning," Lyons said. "Not only did officials at the hospital approve a plan to perform late-term, elective, dismemberment abortions at one of its facilities, it is now on record as applying the same lack of respect for the lives of those with disabilities."

Euthanasia Bill Proposed in Australian State

The state Parliament in Tasmania, Australia, will consider a euthanasia bill in August, according to The Age. If passed, it would be the only state in Australia to allow terminally ill people to legally kill themselves.

The Northern Territory had previously passed a euthanasia law in 1995, and four people died under its provisions before the federal Parliament overturned it two years later, The Age reported.

The Tasmanian bill would legalize euthanasia with the requirements that the patient be terminally ill, "be assessed by a psychiatrist, have second medical opinions on their condition and also be a resident of Tasmania for at least 12 months," according to The Examiner.

Pro-life and religious groups condemned the attempt to bring euthanasia to the state. "Going down the pathway of euthanasia is literally a way to death, not to life for our societyand it will bring great harm to Tasmania," said Anglican Bishop John Harrower, according to The Examiner.
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Publication:National Right to Life News
Date:Jun 1, 2009
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