Wednesday, November 07, 2007

UK Abortion Debate

I'm not sure where to start, but I'd like to blog a little on the topic of Abortion. Forty years on from the introduction of the Abortion Act, abortion is as controversial as ever. According to the BBC, "terminations in Britain are running at 450 a day." Although this is an outrage for some groups, for others its not even enough.

I actually believe that there aren't enough abortions
-- John Parsons, a consultant gynaecologist

Recently the UK's House of Commons select committee on science and technology concluded (amongst other findings) that there is no reason to lower the current 24-week limit for abortions. Now it appears that this cross-party committee was relying on the findings of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), which has recently been accused of ignoring data supporting a lowering of the limit. So what evidence is this then? Apparently Professor Stuart Campbell and Dr KJ Anand have both been pioneering research into pre-natal life.

Campbell has produced new 4D imaging which "has produced vivid pictures of a 12 week-old foetus 'walking' in the womb." However it appears many Gynaecologists have dismissed these images, saying that although more detailed than what was available previously, they haven't brought anything new to the table. ("The RCN’s view is that 3D and 4D imaging only serves to reveal what is already known, but with greater clarity.")

Dr Anand, it appears, has established (through an as unyet unpublished paper?) that a foetus can experience physiological stress similar to and consistent with what we understand to be pain from around 20 weeks gestation.

My first comment on this complex issue is this: what is the big deal about feeling pain? If an regular adult was anesthetized so that she could not feel pain, would it be ethical to terminate them? As important as pain is, surely the debate needs to move beyond this to looking at defining sentience and human life.

BTW, for sources for unsubstantiated quotes, check out Ministry of Truth (*), which appears to be a pro-choice blog (can anyone correct me?). BTW for the avoidance of doubt, I cannot endorse the opinions and views presented on the Ministry of Truth blog.

Update: Ruth Gledhill (Times religion blogger) has a good summary on recent events concerning this.

Update 2: Channel 4 has covered this issue recently with their Dispatches programme.


Adam A said...

There was a very good documentary on Channel 4 about this a couple of weeks ago - Dispatches, I think. I watched it on 4onDemand but not sure if it's still available free, now that a week has passed; worth a go though. The investigator talks to Anand and the "photographer" chap as well as people on the other side of the debate. A compelling exposé of the denial which the RCOG is in with regard to the subject, symptomatic of the enormous conspiracy of denial which surrounds this issue in the medical community at large. It also includes very harrowing footage, so be warned.

I absolutely agree with you about the pain issue being morally peripheral. However, from the point of view of someone who's managed to convince themselves that a 20 week old fetus is not a human being it may be relevant for them in rethinking the fetus's "humanity".

Alastair said...

Yes I actually saw parts of that documentary. What I found curious is how awkward the "pro-abortion" Doctors actually appeared on camera. They seemed to me to be very reluctant to talk about their views and to even justify them. I found that very curious. If the "pro-abortion" Doctors are visibly disturbed even talking about it, that does seem to confirm your sugestion of the denial that surrounds this issue.

Alastair said...

BTW the reason I only watched the doc in part is because I found the footage too horrifying to watch.

Laura Anne said...

One of my friends sent me a link to this post. I think because it's a topic I'm fairly familiar with, and did a spot of blogging on leading up to the 40th anniversary.

My issue with the RCOG is that they say only 3% of women suffer emotional distress or mental health issue after an abortion.

I'd like to be introduced to a woman who has had an abortion that is not effected by it at any point in her life?

50 people in the Edinburgh and Lothians are having an abortion every WEEK. 11 of those 50 are teenagers. In Aberdeen, an average of one teenager every day is having an abortion.

The Dispatches documentary was really well done I thought, and I think the doctors have to be careful not to go against the what the RCOG are saying publicly.

What I find interesting is that by the definition of embryology, life begins at conception. The question seems to be whether that life is 'viable', and at what point does it become 'a person'?

Laura Anne said...

Oh, and you guys might be interested in checking out this website...

Alastair said...

Thanks for the your comments and the link, Laura. Do you want to post a link to where you blogged about this?

Thanks also for the Edinburgh stats. Do you have a source for them?

If there is a consensus regarding human life, what exactly is the debate about? Surely it cannot just be about pain? Are people saying that before X weeks a fetus is not considered human life, or sentient life?

laura anne said...

Hi Alastair. The stats are ones I worked out from the official ISD Scotland stats for Lothian region (not sure if the URL is correct...) but it's the national health statistics for Scotland. They keep a record of all the abortions according to area, age and which category it has been done under. Lothian has the second highest abortion rate in Scotland (Tayside is highest).

The debate is very complicated, because it seems to be different things for different people.

1) Is the issue that premature babies have been born at 20/21 weeks and survived (although this is rare). And that about 50 babies were still alive after being aborted (I figure this means that they were still alive after being removed from the womb). Do they leave the baby to die? Do they give the baby medical treatment? These are the dilemnas facing medical staff...

2) Is that now studies are showing that fetus can feel pain, is sensitive to touch earlier in the pregnancy than was previously thought. Therefore, people are beginning to question whether this is humane.

3) Some people think that abortion should an easier option to get access to - the earlier it is done the less risk to the mother both medically, and mentally I guess too - the less 'human' it is, the more people feel at peace with the decision made. The other side of that some men and women are now using abortion as 'emergency contraception'. That was not what the law was brought in for in 1967.

Does that help in anyway??

As for link...

Alastair said...

Thanks Laura! God has been stirring my heart recently on this issue, so thanks for filling me in. I'm fairly new to this particular "debate".

AnnaV said...

A baby's heart starts beating at 5 weeks... Slightly off topic, but thought everyone should know. I also remember reading somewhere that even when an abortion is done early in the gestation by injecting a chemical into the amniotic sack, the fetus is seen trying to move away from the chemical. We are talking about a 10 week fetus... so when DO they start feeling pain? The partial birth abortions are absolutely inhumane and NOTHING short of murder... I read an awful story of a nurse assistant to an abortionist telling her story of what she saw... The lady said that when the doctor injected the scissors into the back of the baby's head, the baby's arms flung out much like a newborn does when they are startled. This personally hit me very hard as I looked over at my newborn baby girl lying next to me sleeping... as I put my hand on her chest, she made that same startled jump... it brought tears to my eyes... and I still have not been able to get that awful image out of my head to this day...

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