News Roundup

Leading scientists call for halt to use of gene editing in making children

Leading scientists have called for a global moratorium on the use of powerful DNA editing tools to make genetically modified children.

The appeal was made in the journal Nature by a group of 18 scientists from seven countries (Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the U.S.), including some leaders in the development of CRISPR technologies, the most precise tool available for modifying DNA. The signatories have called for a voluntary moratorium on all studies involving gene editing of human eggs, sperm or embryos — so-called germline cells. Scientists proposed a similar moratorium in 2015, but in this newer version, the scientists go further, asking not just individual researchers to agree to stop work on gene editing human germline cells, but calling on nations to create explicit laws or regulations to prevent such studies for now, and to develop a framework for allowing the studies when they deem they are safe and acceptable.

The call for a moratorium received strong backing from the US National Institute of Health. “We have to make the clearest possible statement that this is a path we are not ready to go down, not now, and potentially not ever,” the NIH director, Francis Collins, told the Guardian.

The call comes four months after a team of scientists in China used CRISPR to modify the DNA of healthy twin human embryos in a bid to genetically “vaccinate” them against HIV infection.

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Bishop Kevin Doran appointed as Chairman of Bishops’ Council for Life

The Catholic Bishops have appointed Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin to be the first chairman of their recently established www.councilforlife.ie.

The Council had been announced at the Summer 2018 meeting of the Bishops and was tasked with advising and advocating for the Church on a consistent ethic of life and care for those most at risk in the post-repeal political landscape.

Concerning the objective of the Council for Life, Bishop Doran said “The council will give priority to exploring how best, in the current socio-cultural context, the Catholic community can offer practical support to women in crisis pregnancy, giving their unborn babies the best chance at life.  It will also give priority to promoting an understanding of life questions among young people and to engaging them in the challenge of defending life.”

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Cork County Council rejects exclusion zone motion

A motion to create exclusion zones outside clinics and hospitals facilitating abortions in Cork has been rejected.

Social Democrats Councillor June Murphy proposed bye-laws that would have banned, among other things, the distribution of materials such as leaflets from “unregulated” organisations. Cllr. Murphy argued that the Council needed to take action in the absence of national legislation on exclusion zones. However, Chief Executive Tim Lucey Lucey said that such a decision was beyond the scope of a local council and should be left to the Oireachtas to make, dismissing any further discussion on the matter.

A similar motion was ruled out of order in Dublin two weeks ago as, according to a Council spokesperson, it was found to be ‘not an operational matter for Dublin City Council.’  This meant it was not the kind of work the Council engages in – such as housing, planning, litter, or rubbish collections.

Another such motion was passed by Louth County Council in February but was quickly put on the back burner by the Chief Executive Joan Martin. She said she would seek a legal opinion on the motion before proceeding any further with it, saying, ‘I don’t want to have useless by-laws that we can’t enforce.’

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European Commission President praises social teaching of the Church

European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, took time out of grappling with the Brexit crisis yesterday to praise the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

In a meeting with Bishops of various EU countries, President Juncker stated: “I am a fervent advocate of the social doctrine of the Church. It is one of the most noble teachings of our Church. All of this is part of a doctrine that Europe does not apply often enough. I would like us to rediscover the values and guiding principles of the social teaching of the Church”.

The meeting between the EU Bishops and President Juncker is part of the institutional dialogue between the EU and churches, religious and non-confessional bodies mandated by Article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU).

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Figures show Irish women continue to travel to England for abortions

At least 85 women from the Republic had abortions in UK clinics in January and February, compared to 157 for the same two months in 2018.

That’s according to figures from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the largest provider of abortions in the UK. The figures do not include the numbers of Irish women attending other UK abortion clinics.

Around one-third of the women were under nine weeks’ pregnant, which means they would have been eligible for an abortion drug through a GP’s certification, rather than a surgical abortion in a hospital. According to the Irish Independent, some women have said the steps that need to be taken in Ireland to secure a medical abortion—two visits to a GP spaced three days apart—are “too cumbersome” and they preferred the “easier option” of going to the UK.

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Family law system putting children second, Oireachtas committee hears

Children are being used as pawns or are being overlooked entirely in Ireland’s family law system, the Oireachtas Justice Committee heard on Wednesday.

David Walsh of Men’s Voices Ireland said that the rights of children are being lost in the tussle between competing parental rights and being “used as pawns in custody battles”.

“Current practice puts the adult at centre stage whereas the child’s welfare should be paramount and his/her fundamental right to know and spend time with both parents.”

He added that joint custody in a real 50:50 sense occurs in only about 1% of cases.

The Committee also heard from Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Dr Geoffrey Shannon who said that the common law adversarial system is “highly unsuited” for these types of case as “parents are focused on winning”.

This can be psychologically damaging for both the parents and their children, he added.

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Establish family courts before voting on divorce, says former Justice Minister

The Government should establish family law courts to properly protect the best interests of children before instituting a more liberal divorce regime, according to Alan Shatter the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence.

Commenting on the proposed divorce referendum in a letter in the Irish Times yesterday, he said it was crucial that a specialist independent family court structure be first put in place. He said it was needed “to ensure the best interests of children and the welfare of dependent spouses are properly protected”.

He was responding to a report that childcare cases are being heard in overcrowded courts alongside criminal cases, in sometimes dilapidated courthouses, without basic facilities or privacy for families.

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Concern as Islamic authorities welcome Court of Human Rights’ blasphemy ruling

The welcome given by Islamic authorities to a recent European Court of Human Rights’ judgement on blasphemy underscores the need for the ruling to be appealed. That’s according to Grégor Puppinck, PhD, of the European Centre for Law and Justice, an international, Non-Governmental Organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights in Europe and worldwide.

In E. S. v. Austria, the Strasbourg Court validated the conviction of an Austrian lecturer for “defaming” Muhammad by comparing his marriage with 9-year-old Aisha to “paedophilia”. According to the European Court, these statements sought to demonstrate in a “malicious” way that Muhammad is not a “worthy subject of worship” and thus constituted a “malicious violation of the spirit of tolerance, which was one of the bases of a democratic society”. The ruling was handed down as Ireland removed the reference to blasphemy from its Constitution.

The prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the highest authority of Sunni Islam, and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan welcomed the decision.

However, Mr Puppinck said the decision allows Islamic authorities “to justify their own repression of freedom of expression in religious matters.”

An application for appeal of the ruling has been lodged and on March 19, the Court must decide whether it agrees to refer the case to the Grand Chamber of the Court for a new judgment.

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Pro-life vigils continue outside GP clinics facilitating abortion

Pro-life vigils took place in a number of counties at the weekend outside GP clinics that facilitate abortions.

Details of the pro-life presence was documented on social media of groups in Galway City, Balbriggan, Navan, Graiguenamanagh, and Dingle. Placards carried slogans such as: ‘At 9 weeks, I have milk teeth buds and tiny toes’, ‘Doctors should harm not heal, let me live’, ‘Adoption is the option’, ‘Doctors save lives not end them’, ‘Human rights begin in the womb’, ‘One life taken: many hearts broken’, ‘Women’s rights begin at conception’, and ‘Say No to abortion in Graiguenamanagh’.

The only images used was of an embryo in the womb at an early stage of development.

Nonetheless, a report appeared in the Irish Examiner that the pro-life activity outside a GP clinic in Graiguenamanagh, which is located beside a library, caused a lot of “upset” to children using the library.

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Second UK local council in UK institutes ‘exclusion zone’

A council in London has approved an exclusion zone around an abortion clinic, making it only the second local authority in the U.K. to take such action to prevent pro-life activities.

Richmond Council, which covers an area of southwest London along the River Thames, approved a decision to make it a crime to attempt any form of interaction with staff or visitors to a center run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service in the Twickenham section of London.

The policy comes less than a year after Ealing Council, also a London local authority, used a Public Spaces Protection Order to prevent pro-life activists from approaching people or praying within 200 meters of a Marie Stopes clinic.

The activists reject allegations of harassment and say they gather to offer advice and support and pray peacefully.

The Ealing policy is due to be challenged legally in the Court of Appeal, and it has been criticized by the Catholic bishops of England and Wales.

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