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Archive for Wednesday, October 30, 2002

News briefs

October 30, 2002

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Washington, D.C.: 'Human' status backed for laboratory embryos

The Bush administration has revamped the charter of the federal advisory committee that addresses the safety of research volunteers, stating for the first time that embryos in experiments are "human subjects" whose welfare should be considered along with that of fetuses, children and adults.

The addition of human embryos to the committee's charge completed at the beginning of October but not yet posted on the federal Web site that lists such committees marks the latest effort by the administration to bring the unborn under the umbrella of federal health protections. In September the administration enacted a new policy that extends certain health benefits to fetuses.

The new move does not mandate that embryos used in research be given the same protections as fetuses, children or adults. The committee can only offer recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services, which would then have to initiate rulemaking or encourage legislation if it wanted to put new protections in place.

Washington: Ruling may overturn murder convictions

A Seattle bar fight that left one man dead has become the centerpiece of a legal debate that some prosecutors fear could result in hundreds of convicted murderers being freed from Washington state prisons.

In a 5-4 decision last week, the state Supreme Court in Olympia held that assault can't be used as the basis for felony murder charges. Washington law allows prosecutors to seek tough prison terms by slapping murder charges on defendants whose crimes such as assault, rape, arson or burglary caused a death, even as an unintended consequence.

"This decision gives every defendant convicted of felony murder based on assault since 1975 a basis to walk into court and say, 'I'm in jail based on a crime that hasn't existed for 26 years,"' said Jim Whisman, senior deputy King County prosecutor.

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