A baby girl born prematurely at a UK hospital barely escaped death after doctors discovered that she weighed just enough to be considered “viable” according to their standards of infant care.
What doctors did not realize was that it was a pair of scissors left accidentally on the scale that bumped up the baby’s weight to their acceptable standard.
Maddalena Douse was born at 23 weeks. UK ethical guidelines suggest that “extremely preterm infants” weighing less than 400 grams be left to die while receiving “compassionate care only.”
A media investigation last month revealed that the UK’s Liverpool Care Pathway — what has been called a “death pathway” — is being used by doctors to end the lives of sickly babies. One doctor admitted to starving and dehydrating 10 babies to death in a neonatal unit in a London hospital.
Doctors at the Royal Sussex Hospital thought that little Maddalena—along with her twin sister Isabella who unfortunately passed away—was too small to survive.
Doctors put Maddalena on the scale and were surprised to discover that she weighed 453 grams, well above the acceptable standard. They decided to fight for her life.
It was only after Maddalena was receiving treatment in the Neonatial Intensive Care Unit that doctors discovered their mistake of leaving a pair of scissors on the scale that had artificially bumped up the little girl’s weight.
Maddalena was later found to weigh only 382g.
This happened six months ago. The little girl has since been discharged from the hospital with a clean bill of health.
“We never thought we’d ever bring Maddalena home,” said Maddalena’s mother Kate, 31, to The Sun, who calls her little girl a “miracle.”
“She now weighs five-and-a-half pounds and is getting stronger by the day,” she said. “She’s our little miracle and we’re so glad to have her home in time for Christmas.”
Pro-lifers around the world love Maddalena’s story, since it shows what modern medicine is capable of achieving when it smiles upon life.
Cross posted from LifeSiteNews.
On the eve of the Paralympics, BBC Newsnight ran a segment called ‘Eugenics, Helping or Eradicating Disability?’ The show began with the question “is it a noble aim to rid the world of mental and physical disability”? As if for the sake of completeness, the piece then described how “the most heinous crimes of the 20th century, the holocaust, the mass murder of the disabled, the enforced sterilisation of anyone considered inferior, all took place in the name of eugenics”. It continued: “Many of the Paralympians we’ll be celebrating in London have the same disabilities as those whose rights have been violated. But does this mean we should write off eugenics in its totality?…Should the prospect of designer babies be ignored just because of its associations with Nazism?”
The insensitivity of this pitch is mind-boggling. But could such a question be asked here?
Of course it could. Implicitly it already has been. For many years pregnant mothers have been routinely offered tests to detect conditions such as Down syndrome and spina bifida with a view to abortion. Two years ago this screening programme was beefed up with the object of eliminating more disabled children. Saving Downs, an organised group of parents of children with Down’s Syndrome, has lodged a complaint with the International Criminal Court on the basis that such programs are eugenic and an affront to the Down’s Syndrome community. The fanatics are already suggesting that not only are there the means to do away with the disabled but a duty to do so – a duty to design.
Both here and in the UK this trend is being driven not by latter-day Hitlers but by sober professors. The BBC programme in question put bioethicist John Harris up against two non-academics who had personal interests in disability issues. As it happens, Harris’ case for eugenics was fatally undermined when one of his opponents, Ian Birrell (a columnist and foreign correspondent in the UK with a disabled daughter), pointed out that the professor also supports infanticide.
What was striking about the programme was the evident bias of the BBC. Music, images, rhetoric, the prior briefing of Dr Harris — all were designed to make the audience see “the promise of eugenics”. And this was not an isolated case: a few weeks earlier the BBC showed a short segment called “Nature vs. Nurture” which looked at the dominance of black athletes at the Olympics. The piece implied that genetic cleansing is positive and that the Nazis merely distorted it. When referring to the victims of the Nazis’ eugenics policies, the extermination of hundreds of thousands of disabled people was completely ignored.
What of the broadcaster’s ethical duties in this case? Surely it has a responsibility to engage in balanced reporting and not manipulate its audience to accept one view only. Impartiality is all the more important when the issue concerns such basic questions as the right to life and the equal dignity of all human beings.
To reflect on the horrors of Nazi eugenics policies and to then advocate, under the pretext of scientific reporting, “a new eugenics, enlightened by empathy, leavened by liberty” with an identical aim of ridding the world of disabled people, is not only highly offensive to disabled people everywhere but is frankly quite frightening. Has it been so long since the Holocaust that we have already forgotten its lessons?
Disabilities are obviously not something we hope for and it may well be a “noble aim” to eradicate disability. But there is nothing noble about trying to eradicate disabled people whether before birth, after birth or by sending them to the fringes of society by failing to afford them the same rights and dignity as those who are not disabled.
As Ian Birrell quite rightly pointed out, the presumption behind this “new eugenics” as with that propagated by the Nazis, is that disabled people are inferior and that we should do all we can to eliminate them. This is not only a grotesque view but it encourages negative attitudes towards disabled people in society.
The New Zealand media too should examine themselves on their attitude to disabled persons. If the lack of coverage of the Paralympics is disappointing, the lack of investigative and balanced reporting on practices such as prenatal screening, pre- implantation diagnosis and the moves towards designer babies in trendsetting countries is ominous. Are we going to blindly follow them back to the fascism of the 1930s? As the saying goes, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
Cross-posted from Medhi Hasan, political director of The Huffington Post UK.
Listening to fellow pundits on the left react with rage and disbelief to the support by the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, for halving the abortion time limit to 12 weeks, I was reminded of the late Christopher Hitchens. “[A]nyone who has ever seen a sonogram or has spent even an hour with a textbook on embryology knows that emotions are not the deciding factor [in abortions],” wrote the Hitch in his column for the Nation magazine in April 1989. “In order to terminate a pregnancy, you have to still a heartbeat, switch off a developing brain . . . break some bones and rupture some organs.”
It is often assumed that the great contrarian’s break with the liberal left came over Iraq in 2003. His self-professed pro-life position, however, had provoked howls of anguish in progressive circles 14 years earlier. It has long been taken as axiomatic that in order to be left-wing you must be pro-choice. Yet Hitchens’s reasoning was not just solid but solidly left-wing. It was a pity, he noted, that the “majority of feminists and their allies have stuck to the dead ground of ‘Me Decade’ possessive individualism, an ideology that has more in common than it admits with the prehistoric right, which it claims to oppose but has in fact encouraged”.
Blob of protoplasm
Abortion is one of those rare political issues on which left and right seem to have swapped ideologies: right-wingers talk of equality, human rights and “defending the innocent”, while left-wingers fetishise “choice”, selfishness and unbridled individualism.
“My body, my life, my choice.” Such rhetoric has always left me perplexed. Isn’t socialism about protecting the weak and vulnerable, giving a voice to the voiceless? Who is weaker or more vulnerable than the unborn child? Which member of our society needs a voice more than the mute baby in the womb?
Yes, a woman has a right to choose what to do with her body – but a baby isn’t part of her body. The 24-week-old foetus can’t be compared with an appendix, a kidney or a set of tonsils; it makes no sense to dismiss it as a “clump of cells” or a “blob of protoplasm”. However, my motive for writing this column is not merely to revisit ancient arguments, or kick off a philosophical debate on the distinctions between socialism (with its emphasis on equality, solidarity and community) and liberalism (with its focus on individual freedom, autonomy and choice), but to make three points to my friends on the pro-choice left.
First, you do realise that the UK is the exception, not the rule? Jeremy Hunt’s position is the norm across western Europe: 12 weeks is the limit in France, Germany, Italy and Belgium. Then there’s how 91 per cent of British abortions are carried out in the first 13 weeks. You may disagree with a 12-week cut-off but to pretend it is somehow arbitrary, or extreme, or even unique is a little disingenuous.
Second, you can’t keep smearing those of us who happen to be pro-life as “anti-women” or “sexist”. For a start, 49 per cent of women, compared to 24 per cent of men, support a reduction in the abortion limit, according to a YouGov poll conducted this year. “Polls consistently show . . . that women are more likely than men to support a reduction,” says You – Gov’s Anthony Wells.
Then there is the history you gloss over: some of the earliest advocates of women’s rights, such Mary Wollstonecraft, were anti-abortion, as were pioneers of US feminism such as Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; the latter referred to abortion as “infanticide”. In recent years, some feminists have recognised the sheer injustice of asking a woman to abort her child in order to participate fully in society; in the words of the New Zealand feminist author Daphne de Jong: “If women must submit to abortion to preserve their lifestyle or career, their economic or social status, they are pandering to a system devised and run by men for male convenience.”
Third, please don’t throw faith in my face. Hitchens, remember, was one of the world’s best-known atheists. You might assume that my own anti-abortion views are a product of my Muslim beliefs. They aren’t. (And the reality is that different schools of Islamic law have differing opinions on abortion time limits. The Iranian ayatollah Yousef Saanei, for instance, has issued a fatwa permitting termination of a pregnancy in the first trimester.)
To be honest, I would be opposed to abortion even if I were to lose my faith. I sat and watched in quiet awe as my two daughters stretched and slept in their mother’s womb during the 20-week ultrasound scans. I don’t need God or a holy book to tell me what is or isn’t a “person”. (Nor, for that matter, do I take kindly to some feminists questioning my right to have an opinion on this issue on account of my Y-chromosome.)
Nevertheless, I’m not calling for a ban on abortion; mine is a minority position in this country. I’m not expecting most readers of the Huffington Post to agree with me, either. What I would like is for my fellow lefties and liberals to try to understand and respect the views of those of us who are pro-life, rather than demonise us as right-wing reactionaries or medieval misogynists.
One of the biggest problems with the abortion debate is that it’s asymmetric: the two sides are talking at cross-purposes. The pro-lifers speak about the right to life of the unborn baby; the pro-choicers speak about a woman’s right to choose. The moral arguments, as the Scottish philosopher Alasdair Macintyre has said, are “incommensurable”.
Another problem is that the debate forces people to choose sides: right against left, religious against secular. Some of us, however, refuse to be sliced and diced in such a simplistic and divisive manner. I consider abortion to be wrong because of, not in spite of, my progressive principles. That I am pro-life does not make me any less of a lefty.
There are few issues that unite Jeremy Hunt, Christopher Hitchens and me. I’m not ashamed to say that abortion is one of them.
Maria Miller, the new minister for women and equalities, would like to see the upper abortion limit come down.
Having voted in 2008 to reduce the legal limit for abortions from 24 weeks to 20 weeks, she has just confirmed in an interview for the Daily Telegraph that she would vote that way again ‘absolutely’.
Miller, who describes herself as ‘a very modern feminist’ argues that ‘you have got to look at these matters in a very common sense way’ and says that she is ‘driven by that very practical impact that late term abortion has on women…What we are trying to do here is not to put obstacles in people’s way but to reflect the way medical science has moved on.’
She is not alone in this conviction.
Nearly two thirds of the public and more than three-quarters of women support a reduction in the 24-week upper age limit. 76% of the public think that aborting a baby at six months is cruel. Furthermore a 2007 poll by Marie Stopes International found that two thirds of GPs wanted a reduction from 24 weeks.
Why has public opinion changed on late abortion? There are five main reasons: 4D ultrasound, babies surviving below 24 weeks, stories of babies born alive after abortion, fetal sentience, and European precedent.
We have all seen Professor Stuart Campbell’s high resolution 4D ultrasound images of babies ‘walking’, swallowing, coughing, hiccupping from 12 weeks gestation and experienced how mothers bond emotionally to their babies as a result of these scans. We have also seen photographs of babies alive in the womb at 20 weeks (left).
The public also know about individual high profile cases like Manchester’s Millie McDonagh, born after a 22-week pregnancy and the world’s most premature baby, Amillia Taylor, who was born a week younger in the US. Experts may argue about survival figures and about comparisons between population-based studies like EPICure and those from top neonatal units but the fact remains that some babies do actually survive below 24 weeks.
Stories of babies born alive after failed abortions are also not uncommon. In a 2007 West Midlands study of 3,189 cases of termination for fetal anomaly, 102 (3.2%) babies were born alive. This included 65.7% of those between 20 and 24 weeks. Accounts such as these understandably upset people.
And then there is the question of whether fetuses feel pain. The general public intuitively concludes that they do when they hear that from 16 weeks babies will recoil from a noxious stimulus in the womb and that premature babies born earlier than 24 weeks, if stabbed in the heel with a needle, will withdraw and cry. The RCOG wheels out its experts to tell us that babies below 24 weeks do not have the neurological apparatus to sense pain but fail to tell us that this is a controversial view not shared by other experts who regard it as being based on an outdated understanding of physiology.
Which of us, honestly, can imagine telling the mother who feels her baby kick at 20 weeks that it is not a sentient being?
Finally, Britain is out of touch with most of Europe in this matter. Most countries in the EU, 16 out of 27, have a gestational limit of 12 weeks or less. These include Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium and Austria plus most countries in Eastern and Central Europe who once had far more liberal laws. At 24 weeks Britain is up there with former Soviet States Lithuania and Latvia.
In 2010 there were 792 disabled babies and 1,936 able-bodied babies aborted in Britain between 20 and 24 weeks. Every single one of the latter group was aborted under ground C of the Abortion Act, which in 98% of cases means protecting the mental health of the mother.
Lowering the abortion limit to 20 weeks for able-bodied babies (as Miller and many other MPs would support) would give more legal protection to about 2,000 babies a year; just 1% of the total. It would put clear blue water between the upper abortion limit and the lower threshold of viability and it also would show that parliament is beginning to listen.
Of course it would also raise the question of whether we should be doing the same for disabled babies, who can currently be aborted up until the moment of birth, but that is a subject for another blog.
Cross-posted from Life News.
“the logical consequence of doing so is to draw the conclusion that, to put it bluntly, choice is choice. I know from my experience of making this point that some people – those who are pro-life and some of those with disabilities – get very upset about it. But it is hard to see how this issue can be avoided if we are to have an approach to abortion that is fair, coherent and moral.”
This piece is cross posted from The Independent in the UK with additional reporting from ProLife NZ.
Down Syndrome (DS) is back in the news again with a discussion which was broadcast on ITV’s This Morning last week.
I think there are some big issues here which I will return to in a moment – however I need a moment’s indulgence to address a couple of errors of fact in the piece, which are unfortunately trotted out on every discussion about Down Syndrome.
Firstly that there are degrees of severity of the condition – there aren’t , you either have it or you don’t, it’s an extra copy of chromosome 21, differences in people who have Down Syndrome are the same as the differences in all of us, ones inherited from our parents.
Many talk of the ‘fact’ more parents of children with Down Syndrome separate – quoting a staggering figure of ‘50-70%’, in fact the opposite is true, Urbano and Hodapp (2006 & 2007)showed that parents of children with Down Syndrome actually had slightly lower incidence of divorce than parents of children without a disability.
The crux of the debate on This Morning was whether it was ‘right’ to terminate a pregnancy after IVF when the woman received a positive (or high chance) of Down Syndrome. At this point we wander into a maelstrom of issues and judgements; concern about abortion, views on older women accessing IVF, opinions on whether older parents can look after a child (and often people with DS are wrongly seen as ‘eternal children’), healthcare provision…I could go on.
Since the New Labour White Paper in 2003 ‘Our Inheritance, Our Future – realising the potential of genetics in the NHS’ changed policy so that all women (previously it was only those over 35) were offered screening for Down Syndrome, the message around screening has changed to one whereby it is a condition deemed so serious that it needs a national screening programme to deal with it. Given there is no treatment for Down Syndrome then this is, by definition, a programme to screen out. As a country we don’t screen for other conditions – Cystic Fibrosis for example could reduce life expectancy by 50 years but isn’t screened for, neither are Patau or Edwards syndrome.
Over the last few years life expectancy for people with DS has increased from 25 in 1983 to 60 today (National Down Syndrome Society USA). Medical advances have meant that early intervention, especially over heart defects, has made significant improvements. With positive change in educational inclusion and the end of institutionalisation, quality of life has improved significantly. I would in no way suggest these advances are perfect, however a national screening programme for Down Syndrome is a disproportionate response to the human race’s most common syndrome.
Often women who are presented with a high ‘risk’ of Down Syndrome, (it is often called a ‘risk’ not a ‘chance’) are on track to an almost inevitable termination. Society’s stereotypes of people with DS and its antipathy towards inclusion of those with learning difficulties in the workplace or socially (nine out of ten people have never invited a person with disabilities into their home for a social occasion) just pile on anxiety. 91% of positive diagnoses lead to terminations.
A society already struggling with a lack of faith in the human ability to change things, to successfully manage relationships and everyday life, is also likely to find it hard to cope with the perceived ‘risks’ of having a child with Down Syndrome. It’s likely to conjure up a cascade of resultant personal risks too; the risk of splitting up over the child, of being trapped, of failing to provide for the child properly, of not coping.
We’re now on the cusp of new, early, and more accurate blood tests in pregnancy for Down Syndrome. These tests, currently being rolled out in the US have even prompted some doctors, such as Brian Skotko (Massachusetts General Hospital) to ask if babies being born with Down Syndrome will disappear entirely. These tests will also have potential for many other chromosomal and genetic disorders – there needs to be an open public debate about what these disorders really mean for those who have them.
Public health screening with the express intent to remove people with Down syndrome from the population is divisive and a disproportionate response to potential quality of life. It also serves to exaggerate health problems and risks.
The history of the twentieth century is filled with examples of how people have been dehumanised and excluded; from pseudo-scientific IQ testing to extermination and institutionalisation. Today we have the chance to build something better. The challenge for society is to appreciate that differences are not deficits – a society that appreciates the talents and differences of everyone, is a society that can be truly both enlightened and progressive, focussing on what each and every one of us has the potential to achieve.
Dozens of test tube babies have been aborted because they had Down’s syndrome.Over five years, a total of 123 foetuses conceived through IVF-type treatments were terminated after the mother was told they suffered from the genetic abnormality.
Often the women will have spent years trying to become pregnant and may have spent thousands on private fertility clinics in the hope of conceiving.
Last night, anti-abortion campaigners said the statistics on IVF terminations showed that some women treat babies like ‘designer goods’ – paying a fortune to conceive but then aborting them when they turn out not to be perfect.
Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra chromosome in each cell. The children grow up shorter than usual and often have learning or behavioural difficulties. There are believed to be around 60,000 people in the United Kingdom with the condition.
Statistics show that in 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available, a total of 127 abortions were carried out on babies conceived through IVF-type assistance.
The data held by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority shows that Down’s syndrome was the most commonly given reason for an abortion, cited in 31 of the cases – three times as many as in 1999. Foetal abnormality was the next biggest reason for abortion, accounting for 19 cases, while 15 babies with Edward’s syndrome – another condition caused by the presence of an extra chromosome – were also terminated.
As it is not mandatory for reasons for terminations to be recorded, the number could be higher. No reason was given in 22 cases. Between 2005 and 2009, some 123 foetuses with Down’s were terminated.
Andrea Williams, of Christian Concern, said:
‘We have to question the values of a society which focuses so greatly on adult “wants”.
‘That a woman pursues a baby through fertility treatment and then aborts it because it is not perfect is selfish and harsh.’
Josephine Quintavalle, of campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said:
‘It is generally accepted that there is a significant under-reporting of abortions of babies with Down’s syndrome, but I think we are especially saddened when we read of such abortions in association with IVF, where the women involved were clearly originally desperate to have a child.’
The number of abortions carried out because of Down’s among those who conceived naturally is more than 1,000 a year – or three a day. Around nine in ten women who are told they are going to have a baby with the condition opt for a termination.
The number of terminations among potential IVF mothers could be influenced by the fact women often turn to fertility treatment later in life, when the risks of conceiving a Down’s syndrome child increase markedly.
Women over the age of 40 are 16 times more likely to have a Down’s pregnancy than a woman under the age of 25.
“I will do all government paperwork conscientiously” is not a clause in the Hippocratic Oath. Yet it is a significant aspect of an ethical doctor’s day-to-day work. Government red tape is an exasperating burden, but doctors have no special privileges before the law.
Politicians lose their jobs for falsifying their expenses. Accountants can be jailed for fudging audits. Scientists are stripped of their funding when they falsify data. Shouldn’t doctors feel obliged to follow the letter of the law, too – especially when lives are at stake?
Last week the London Telegraph revealed that doctors at many British abortion clinics were routinely falsifying their paperwork. The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, was outraged and vowed to crack down on clinics which were operating outside the law.
“I was appalled. Because if it happens, it is pretty much people engaging in a culture of both ignoring the law and trying to give themselves the right to say that although Parliament may have said this, we believe in abortion on demand.”
In the wake of revelations in February, also in the Telegraph, that some doctors were routinely approving illegal sex-selective abortions, the government regulator, the Care Quality Commission, raided every clinic offering abortions. Of about 250 clinics, both government-run and private, 50 were found to have falsified paperwork. Although abortion is a common procedure in Britain, it still requires the approval of two doctors. The main offense uncovered by the raid was that doctors were pre-signing the consent forms in bulk.
Mr Lansley was also disturbed that patients were not receiving adequate counselling. He pointed out that this was not just a matter of pettifogging paperwork:
“There is the risk that women don’t get the appropriate level of pre-abortion support and counselling because, if your attitude is that, ‘You’ve arrived for an abortion and you should have one,’ well actually many women don’t get the degree of support they should…
“I completely understand the law doesn’t require the doctor to have met the woman concerned, but to pre-sign certificates when you don’t even know which woman it relates to and there hasn’t been an assessment, is completely contrary to the spirit and letter of the law.”
This seems like common sense, but the CEO of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the largest private abortion provider in the UK, Ann Furedi, was angered by the raids. She said that it was “absolutely wrong” for the CQC to abandon all of the important work on its agenda to persecute abortion clinics.
In fact, the sloppy paperwork seems to have been an open secret. In September 2007 a former medical director of the BPAS told a Parliamentary Committee that the paperwork was being done so badly, even illegally, that the two-doctor requirement should be abolished. Dr Vincent Argent wrote:
“The author has observed the following practices—some of these may be illegal and they need clarification: Signing batches of forms before patients are even seen for consultation; signing the forms with no knowledge of the particular patient and without reading the notes; signing forms without seeing or examining the patients; signing forms after the abortion has been performed; faxing the forms to other locations for signature; use of signature stamps without any consultation with the doctor.
“The HSA1 form is often considered to be just an administrative process where doctors make no attempt to form an opinion, in good faith, that the patient fulfils the grounds of section 1.”
Clearly these irregularities have been going on for years, ignored by practitioners and regulators alike. The outrage of the Health Secretary smacks of the mock indignation of Captain Renault in Casablanca – “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”
It was only a few weeks ago that a Telegraph sting uncovered another abortion scandal: that some doctors were aborting children on the basis of their sex. The Health Secretary thundered then that abortion clinics would be investigated.
You would have thought that the clinics would have tightened up their procedures in preparation for a raid. Obviously they didn’t. Were they so smug that they thought that abortion would always be exempt from public scrutiny?
Perhaps so. Abortion in the UK, and elsewhere, is protected by post-modern chivalry founded on the principle that women who support abortion are channelling Florence Nightingale. A columnist for the Guardian, Zoe Williams, defended the BPAS over the paperwork scandal and described it as “a not-for-profit organisation staffed by women (I hope they won’t be offended) for whom the term “do-gooder” was intended”.
This culture of deferential complacency has a familiar ring. It echoes observations made by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury which investigated the stomach-churning Gosnell abortion mill last year. It concluded that there had been “a complete regulatory collapse”. It said:
“Pennsylvania’s Department of Health has deliberately chosen not to enforce laws that should afford patients at abortion clinics the same safeguards and assurances of quality health care as patients of other medical service providers. Even nail salons in Pennsylvania are monitored more closely for client safety.”
Has there been a complete regulatory collapse in Britain, as well? It appears that doctors have ignored the law for years and regulators have deliberately chosen to ignore their arrogance. If the paperwork is not being done, what assurance do the government and the public have that far worse scandals – even by the standards of the law in England and Wales – are not happening? None at all.
More importantly, the doctors and the abortion clinics are throwing sands in the wheels of democracy. The abortion law was passed with promises by politicians that women who wanted an abortion would be protected by strict safeguards. Now it is clear that those safeguards are being treated as a joke.
The rule of law is vital in a democracy. Non-enforcement of the law by politicians and public servants out of loyalty to the higher ideology of abortion rights is profoundly anti-democratic.
Cross posted from Michael Cook at MercatorNet.
Latest news from the UK cross posted from The Daily Telegraph.
Up to one in five abortion clinics is suspected of breaking the law and faces a police inquiry following an official investigation ordered by the Health Secretary, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
The regulator conducted a series of unannounced raids on every clinic offering abortions this week and found that a “shocking” number may be breaking the law.
The Daily Telegraph understands that more than 250 private and NHS clinics were visited and more than 50 were “not in compliance” with the law or regulations. Doctors were regularly falsifying consent forms and patients were not receiving acceptable levels of advice and counselling in many clinics, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) discovered.
Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, said he was “shocked” by the findings of the CQC’s audit and was preparing to report doctors and organisations to the police. Many clinics may be stripped of the licences that allow them to offer abortions.
Mr Lansley is understood to be preparing an urgent statement to Parliament on the scandal today.
He ordered the investigation into the clinics after this newspaper disclosed that several were offering illegal sex-selection terminations and falsifying paperwork.
He said yesterday that the regulator had found that a number of clinics may be acting beyond the “spirit and letter of the law”.
“I was appalled,” he said. “Because if it happens, it is pretty much people engaging in a culture of both ignoring the law and trying to give themselves the right to say that although Parliament may have said this, we believe in abortion on demand.”
He said it was not just a matter of enforcing the law. “There is the risk that women don’t get the appropriate level of pre-abortion support and counselling because, if your attitude is that, ‘You’ve arrived for an abortion and you should have one,’ well actually many women don’t get the degree of support they should,” said Mr Lansley.
The main problem identified by the CQC was that doctors were “pre-signing” consent forms.
The law requires the signatures of both the supervising consultant and a second professional who has either seen the patient or read the medical notes and the summary of a consultation.
During this week’s inspections, regulators are understood to have found piles of “pre-signed forms”.
The Health Secretary said: “I was rather shocked by the pre-signing of certificates. We’re talking about doctors who have professional responsibilities and it seems to me that you can’t satisfy your professional and ethical responsibilities [by pre-signing].
“I completely understand the law doesn’t require the doctor to have met the woman concerned, but to pre-sign certificates when you don’t even know which woman it relates to and there hasn’t been an assessment, is completely contrary to the spirit and letter of the law.”
He added that action would be taken within days. “We’re dealing with all this quickly,” Mr Lansley said. “If there is evidence of an offence we will give it directly to the police.”
The Health Secretary said pre-signing forms “constitutes a criminal offence” and could also lead to doctors being struck off by the General Medical Council.
Mr Lansley warned that so-called abortion on demand was not acceptable. “It’s not what Parliament intended and it’s not what the law provides for,” he said. “My job is to enforce the law.”
Last month, The Daily Telegraph disclosed how abortion clinics throughout Britain were illegally offering abortions on the basis of the sex of a foetus.
Over three weeks, four pregnant women, accompanied by undercover raids by the Care Quality Commission this week are seen as the first sign of the regulator’s new “tough” approach after sustained criticism.
The rigour of the commission, responsible for regulating abortion clinics, hospitals and care homes, has been repeatedly called into question since it was established in 2009.
Last month, the commission’s chief executive resigned after a Department of Health report criticised the quango.
Cynthia Bower stepped down from her £195,000-a-year post on the first day of The Daily Telegraph investigation into abortion clinics, which found that some doctors were offering terminations on the basis of gender and raised major concerns over the regulator.
The commission was established with the merger of three health care regulators.
The department’s report noted that the first three years “have been difficult” and staff morale was “relatively low”.
The commission has faced criticism virtually from the start. Seven months into its existence, Baroness Young, its chairman, resigned after Basildon Hospital in Essex was exposed for having filthy wards and a high death rate despite being rated as “good” by the regulator a month previously.
The watchdog also admitted that it had made an “unforgivable error of judgment” after failing to act on a whistle-blower’s “grave” concerns about the behaviour of staff at Winterbourne View, which was later exposed in secretly recorded footage shown on the BBC programme Panorama. In its report, the Department of Health said the commission faced “strategic difficulties” with delays having “seriously challenged public confidence in its role”.
The review had been scheduled for later this Parliament, but was brought forward following ministerial concerns.
A Whitehall source said ministers were assured that the commission’s house was in order, “but every time they opened a door, skeletons fell out”.
The level of potential abuse uncovered at abortion clinics this week is expected to lead to further searching questions over regulation in the past.
Cross posted from the Culture Vulture.
Earlier this week the UK Daily Mail ran an article by Jenny Stocks, a journalist who went undercover posing as a terrified pregnant women seeking counseling about her situation from three abortion providers and three pro-life pregnancy centres.
Her report exposes some serious issues in regards to the counseling being offered to women by abortion providers, where the counseling she experienced pushes women towards choosing abortion with statements that sow seeds of doubt and uncertainty, or which gloss over important information.
Just listen to what Stocks has to say about her experiences at one abortion provider…
“Nevertheless, the message seemed very much to be that abortion was the best option. ‘It goes against our very nature to have an abortion,’ she said. ‘But we do things every day that go against our very nature.’
This was followed by: ‘You want what you want . . . is it worth having a child because you don’t want to deal with a bit of guilt?’”
And at another abortion provider (a Marie Stopes centre)…
“On the phone, the operator repeatedly tried to book me in for a medical assessment, the first step to getting an abortion — despite me stressing that I hadn’t yet made up my mind.
I felt bulldozed into starting the termination process and had to insist on having counselling. In real life, a worried woman might have gone along with whatever she was told.”
These aren’t small and insignificant things, instead they place incredible pressure on vulnerable women in desperate situations and they have a profound impact on unduly influencing a person’s final decision in such matters.
The article also highlights the case of Catherine Stone, a 31 year old PR account manager in the UK.
Stone regrets her abortion, which she says happened because she received inferior counseling prior to making her decision to abort.
“I was in a stable relationship with my boyfriend, who’s still my partner, but we didn’t own our own house… I panicked about my career and the effect a baby would have on my life. It was, frankly, a knee-jerk reaction and one I bitterly regret” says Stone, who received counseling at Marie Stopes, but had such a bad experience there that she went on to have her abortion somewhere else.
She says that “the assumption by the counsellor was: “Of course you are having an abortion — this is your choice as a woman.” No one, at any point, said to me: ‘Are you sure about this?’ I wasn’t given the chance to think about what I was doing — it was quick, clinical, and I felt women were being herded towards the abortion table like cattle… I blanked out the possibility of keeping the baby — if I’d had the support of a counsellor I’m fairly sure that today I’d have a child.”
Tragically Catherine Stone was then left to deal with the experience of severe depression after having her abortion.
So, as far as abortion providers go, Jenny Stocks undercover investigations have revealed that the experience o Catherine Stone is not an isolated aberration, instead it clearly seems to a very worrying norm that is part and parcel of the type of pressure that women face in counseling sessions offered by abortion providers.
But what about the pro-life pregnancy centres, how did they measure up in this undercover investigation?
Well, it’s a mixed bag really, because on the one hand Jenny Stocks says that, out of all the counseling facilities she visited, the best counseling she received was from the Christian affiliated centre known as ‘Choices’.
Although, it’s a little hard to know what to make of this statement about the counseling she received from Choices: “Her only advice was that I made a decision soon, as I was already quite late on in the pregnancy.”
It’s hard to know whether the counselor did indeed phrase the statement in this way, because if she did then it would seem to be problematic, because the counselor would have been placing pressure on her to rush into a major life altering decision.
So on the one hand, Stocks says that her experience of the counseling offered at Choices was one which she considered to be balanced and which “had I really been pregnant, I would have considered keeping the baby, without feeling pressured to do so”, but unfortunately she says that her experiences at another two pro-life centres she visited were not as good.
At those other two visits Stocks says that she experienced the following…
a. arriving at one centre to discover it was a Christian organization, something which was not stated on its website anywhere
b. a counselor suggesting to her that having a baby would be a matter of keeping all that she’s already got while simply adding a ‘little one’ to all those other things in her life (which is obviously a very misleading oversimplification of what’s actually involved in having a child).
c. invasive counseling techniques which saw personal information gleamed about her family situation then used to try and emotively influence her decision making processes.
d. a counselor who didn’t seem to know important aspects of UK abortion law (either that or she mislead Stocks because she didn’t want to tell her what the gestational limit for abortion was).
e. being told that she needed to tell her boyfriend ‘tonight’ that she was pregnant
Now to be fair to these two pro-life pregnancy centres, I do think that Stocks has probably made more out of one or two things than is fair – for example, she lists ‘being warned about all the relationships that break up because of abortion’ as a negative act, but surely (as long as the presentation of this information is factually correct and not emotionally manipulative) such information isn’t out of place in a counseling session intended to explore all of the issues associated with abortion?
I also do think that Stocks is coming at this issue from the a priori assumption that the ethical nature of the act of abortion issue isn’t actually relevant here, but I’m not sure that this is a valid assumption (she certainly hasn’t shown in any logical way why the ethical issue is irrelevant, and only personal choice matters) – but that’s a cultural conditioning thing, and to respond to that requires a much bigger discussion than what we have space for here.
The one point that Stocks makes that I do think is fair is her point about one of these pro-life centres advertising itself as being ‘non-directive’, yet aspects of what she experienced there clearly weren’t non-directive at all.
The important challenge here for pro-life crisis pregnancy centres is to ensure that they are honest in their representations of themselves, and that in their haste to see an ethical outcome achieved, they don’t fall pray to the error of Consequentialism – the notion that the end justifies the means, in this case: ‘anything goes for the pro-life cause’.
Important virtues such as honesty and empathy mustn’t give way to manipulation and misrepresentation in order to secure a good outcome, for to do this is ultimately a failure to adhere to that which lies at the heart of our pro-life cause – love.
Ultimately we are not morally accountable for the free moral decisions of other people, only for the moral decisions that we make ourselves.
So if someone freely chooses abortion, that isn’t on us, and we must never fall prey to the trap of violating important moral principles, or to manipulating people into making their choices, because such acts are no longer acts of love, but of deception, and even if they do manage to secure a good outcome, the means we have used to get there in such an instance are not ethically good, and they are not acts of authentic love.
Ultimately, though, while Stocks’ investigation certainly raises some important challenges for pro-life pregnancy centres, there is little doubting that it has uncovered some very serious flaws in the currently accepted practice of having counseling carried out by abortion providers.
Pro-life pregnancy centers can fix the issues raised for them in this article by simple adjustments to their practice behaviors, however I’m not sure that this is good enough for abortion providers, because it would seem that the current practice lacks transparency, and leaves women vulnerable to pressures that are driven by the financial benefits gained by these abortion providers every time they convince a woman to choose abortion.