Skip to main content

Notebook Medicine


Deadly substitute

Abortionists use lethal injections as an end run on partial-birth abortion ban

In the wake of the new nationwide ban on partial-birth abortion, abortionists are using lethal injections as an alternative to sucking out the brains of half-born babies. The Supreme Court criminalized the latter when they upheld the ban last April. The law, passed by Congress in 2003, prohibits an abortion in which any part of the baby above the navel is delivered before it is killed and called the procedure "gruesome and inhumane."

To stay within the ban's limits, abortionists are reportedly using in utero lethal injections to kill babies before delivery. Most notably, three hospitals affiliated with the Harvard Medical School-Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women's, and Beth Israel Deaconess-have made the shots standard procedure for abortions around the 20th week, according to the Boston Globe. Doctors at those hospitals administer doses of one of two drugs to the fetus to stop its heart. The first, digoxin, is routinely given to adults to slow down or control irregular heart rates. The second, potassium chloride, can replenish potassium in the body, but some states use it in death-penalty executions because high doses of it are lethal.

Lethal-injection abortions increase the risk of harm to the mother and promote "off-label" uses of prescription medicine. But the most frustrating aspect of the new abortion practice is the loophole it has exposed in the partial-birth abortion ban.

Some pro-life organizations, including the American Life League and Human Life International, warned of the loophole and published ads attacking the ban after the Supreme Court decision. Those ads called the ban a "partial-birth abortion manual." Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion on the decision: "If the intact D&E procedure is truly necessary in some circumstances, it appears likely an injection that kills the fetus is an alternative under the Act that allows the doctor to perform the procedure." If that is where late-term abortions are heading, then the ban's effect could be to eliminate one gruesome and inhumane procedure and replace it with another.

Making the Rounds

DIET: Why do some people struggle to shed pounds while others stay thin just by blinking? The answer might be in their DNA. Scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have found evidence of a skinny gene in animals from worms to mammals.

The gene, called adipose, blocks fat formation in the body. Lead investigator Jonathan Graff said the gene is like a volume knob with varying levels of strength in different animals. The discovery, he said, "suggests an entirely new direction for developing medical treatments that address the current epidemic of diabetes and obesity."

MENTAL ILLNESS: The number of youth diagnosed with bipolar disorder is skyrocketing. Outpatient psychiatrists diagnosed 40 times more youth ages 19 and younger with bipolar disorder in 2002-2003 than in 1994-1995, according to a report in the September Archives of General Psychology. They noticed that 32 percent of youth diagnosed as bipolar also were diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, another illness whose prevalence ballooned in the 1990s. Researchers called for studies to verify that the results did not stem from over-diagnosis.

STEM CELLS: Research on non-embryonic stem cells has yielded yet another promising discovery for children with muscular dystrophy. Stem cells that helped regrow muscle tissue in laboratory mice also exist in the human body, according to scientists at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. The myoendothelial cells could be used to regenerate muscle damaged by muscular dystrophy, heart attack, and other diseases or injuries.