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Issue: "House hunting," May 11, 2002

Hijacking Harry & Louise
Hollywood's cloning lobby has enlisted two old pitchmen in its campaign to reach Middle America: Harry and Louise. The fictional couple that in 1994 confounded the Clinton plan to nationalize health care is now on the side of the liberals: Their creators are using them to pitch the virtues of embryo research. In one Orwellian ad, Louise claims that cloning isn't really cloning, but simply an adult skin cell inserted into an unfertilized egg. In another, the character describes an early-stage lab technique as a "cure" for her diabetes. The propaganda campaign premiered on local Washington TV during an episode of The West Wing. The ads are sponsored by CuresNow, a pressure group founded by movie producer Janet Zucker and Lucy Fisher, a former vice chairman of Sony Entertainment. It backs cloning for research (but not reproductive) purposes, claiming this could generate cures for diabetes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. CuresNow wants to stop a bill offered by Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), which would ban all human cloning. The activists claim lawmakers want to criminalize science. Ms. Zucker and Ms. Fisher each have daughters suffering from juvenile diabetes. Said Ms. Fisher: "How can we explain to our children that our government is now the greatest obstacle to a cure for their disease?" A lengthy CuresNow press release quotes Ms. Zucker saying "lives are at stake" over this issue but makes no reference to whether embryos are human life. An insurance industry group commissioned the original "Harry and Louise" ads. The Health Insurance Association of America, which never trademarked the characters, disavows any connection to the cloning spots. It issued a statement saying it has "no involvement in the current advertising campaign"?and does not endorse it. (The same ad firm, Goddard-Claussen, created both campaigns.) Pro-lifers called the new ads misleading. The National Right to Life Committee's Douglas Johnson said they are a "brazen deception" and referred to the backers as "Hollywood manipulators." Euthanasia case dies in EU
A European Union human-rights court declined late last month to overrule a member-nation's law against assisted suicide. The surprise decision is a major setback for euthanasia activists in Europe who were counting on the far more liberal EU panel to substitute its judgment for that of courts in Britain. The case involves 43-year-old Diane Pretty, who suffers from a motor neuron disease that has left her a quadriplegic. Mrs. Pretty wants her husband Brian to help her kill herself, but he first sought immunity from prosecution. Suicide isn't a crime in Britain, but Brian Pretty would face up to 14 years in prison if found guilty of assisting his wife's death. British courts ruled twice last fall against granting immunity. So the Prettys took their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, claiming ironically that the British law violated the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteeing the right to life. Even though the Strasbourg court rejected that argument, the judges expressed sympathy for Mrs. Pretty's desire to avoid "a distressing death." Now her attorneys have three months to appeal and take the case to a 17-judge grand jury. This case is being closely watched because euthanasia is a hot issue across Europe. The Netherlands fully legalized euthanasia last month; other countries, including Switzerland, France, Germany, and Sweden, tolerate assisted suicides. Some European pro-lifers hope this decision will launch the reversal of a dangerous trend-and even lead to the reversal of the landmark Dutch law. "This judgment ... emphatically rejects any right to die," said Bruno Quinatavalle of Britain's Pro Life Alliance. The power of the nurse
A good nurse is hard to find. Hospitals across the country face double-digit vacancy rates as nurses complain they are underpaid and overworked. Experts say the predicament could last decades as the medical profession scrambles to recruit new talent. The hardest positions to fill are those in hospitals, nursing homes, and other places that deal directly with gravely ill people. Right now, some hospitals are using on-site daycare, inexpensive housing, and other perks to fill slots; others must look in Canada for available nurses. A major physicians group warned last month that "targeted steps" must be taken to find a new generation of nurses and retain those already working in the field. The American College of Physicians/ American Society of Internal Medicine called for stepped-up recruitment programs, tuition reimbursement, and loan repayment programs for nursing students. Currently, an estimated 126,000 full-time nursing positions are unfilled at hospitals across the country. The average U.S. vacancy rate is about 11 percent today, according to the American Hospital Association. Many medical officials are at a loss about how to fix the problem, which is expected to get much, much worse. By 2020, America will need 1.75 million registered nurses, but only 635,000 will be available, according to Health and Human Services estimates. The shortage may affect America's national defense. A recent report found that the war against terrorism has increased demand, draining America's supply of available military nurses. A Brigham Young study (published in The Journal of Nursing Administration) found that civilian staffs feel additional strain because medical reservists are being called up to active duty.

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