Saturday, 28 March 2009

IVF: bad ethics, bad healthcare

The Independent newspaper has reported that a new study suggests that babies born following IVF have a 30 percent higher of certain genetic defects than babies conceived naturally. The report lists heart abnormalities, cleft lips, bowel problems and digestive tract disorders among the problems. The Independent quotes a father of IVF triplets, who explains that couples going through IVF are too desperate for a child to care much about risks.

SPUC and colleagues in other pro-life groups have been warning about the health risks of IVF to both babies and mothers for a long time. We have also been warning about the pressures that IVF imposes upon a couple's relationship. The risks of IVF are far more extensive that those highlighed in the Independent's report.

The double standards and inconsistency are hard to stomach. Doctors anguish over the increased risk of a baby with a heart defect or intestinal obstruction, and discuss the figures intently with desperate would-be parents. But what thought do they give to the dominant risk: that most IVF embryos die in the laboratory or are frozen and will never get to be born? Does that matter to the doctors?

The important truth behind all this is that if a so-called medical treatment (IVF doesn't actually treat infertility problems, it merely gets around them) has serious side-effects, the risks may make it unethical to use; and that if a procedure is unethical, the ethical judgement of those who practise it may be impaired. Even those who don't see inherent moral problems with IVF ought to recognise this problem.

NaProTech (Natural Procreative Technology) is an ethical, healthy and far more successful alternative to IVF. Unlike IVF, in NaProTech no embryonic children are killed or exposed to harm in the laboratory, and couples' relationships are strengthened. Spread the good news!

Friday, 27 March 2009

David Paton on government's teenage pregnancy strategy

David Paton (pictured), chair of industrial economics at Nottingham University Business School, has written an article for the latest edition of the Nursing Times. I suggest reading it in full, though below are a few key quotations. Professor Paton's article, published before the proposal to allow advertising abortion and contraception on television hit the headlines, certainly helps reinforce the widespread feeling that advertising abortion on TV will do nothing to reduce the numbers.

Prof. Paton (among other things) says:
  • "[T]he latest data shows that pregnancy and abortion rates for under-16s are higher now than when the [government's teenage pregnancy] strategy was published [in 1999]."
  • "Many contraceptive methods offer no protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Research published in Sex Education suggests that increased access to emergency contraception may be associated with higher teenage STI rates."
  • "On the positive side, the academic evidence is clear that involving parents in decision-making is crucial."
  • "[A]ll health professionals – and, indeed, taxpayers – should question the wisdom of PCTs spending scarce resources on measures such as school-based provision of emergency contraception that, at best, are ineffective and, at worst, may actually be contributing to poor sexual health among teenagers."

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Broadcast advertising of abortion a "hammer blow" says bishop

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is considering lifting its ban on abortion agencies advertising through the broadcast media.

It's good to see Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue's timely comments on this latest development. He calls it "another hammer blow to the sanctity of life in this country" which comes "from the heart of the abortion industry" and he calls on society to offer "practical and compassionate support to women facing crisis pregnancies".

The ASA's proposal threatens to further commercialise the killing of unborn children. It would completely disregard the adverse effect of abortion on women's health. Agencies with a financial interest in abortion will be in a position to buy expensive broadcast advertising, whereas groups which provide objective information about abortion and its impact on women's health will be unlikely to afford to advertise.

Abortion agencies mislead women, by telling them that their unborn babies are just products of conception, and that abortion is not killing but simply ending a pregnancy.

The ASA has said that its move has been made in repsonse to government requests. That's because the government's sexual health strategy is failing and the government is now desperate.

I note the proposed requirement that any group advertising counselling services for pregnant women must make clear if the group does not refer women for abortion. SPUC will be scrutinising the ASA's proposals closely for any similar signs of potential discrimination against pro-life groups. The ASA already demonstrated a bias against pro-life groups when it attempted to ban advertisements which stated correctly that morning-after pills may cause early abortions.

SPUC's also concerned about the proposal to allow advertisements on television for condoms before the 9pm watershed. Such a move would only serve to sexualise young people, and the resulting promiscuity would lead to more abortions, more teenage pregnancies and more sexually transmitted infections.

What sort of culture are we handing on the next generation, where condoms and killing babies are offered alongside cornflakes and washing powder? We should try to be a culture of life and responsibility, not a culture of death and promiscuity. The ASA's reported move is going in totally the wrong direction: a "hammer blow" as the good bishop of Lancaster says.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Battle joined over life-issues at the UN

A great battle was joined at the UN early this month. Pro-life and pro-family non-governmental organisations were concerned that the US Obama administration would be well prepared to promote an anti-life agenda at the Commission on the Status of Women. The US delegation was actually ill-prepared and achieved little. SPUC's Peter Smith was there and his report is on the SPUC website. Our picture shows Ms Jeanne Head, the experienced pro-life lobbyist representing the US's National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), with SPUC's Patrick Buckley at the meeting.

Medics in Britain regularly hasten the deaths of long-term sick patients

Although time ran out on Monday for the House of Commons to debate Ms Hewitt's measure on assisting suicide, the issue could re-emerge in parliament. Furthermore, a study has found that medics in Britain regularly hasten the deaths of the long-term ill. The Guardian tries to minimise the fact that some hospitals are places where doctors kill patients by saying that it is very rare, yet the practice reportedly accounts for 2,500 deaths annually.

Responding to the Queen Mary University study on euthanasia, Dignity in Dying, the former Voluntary Euthanasia Society, says it wants assisted suicide and euthanasia, but with safeguards.

My colleague, Paul Tully, SPUC's general secretary, says: "In fact, the evidence from the Netherlands shows that, even with safeguards, around 900 patients a year are being killed by doctors without request or consent, besides those who volunteer for death. In order to truly safeguard patients what is needed in the UK is wider understanding of the pain control available, and the rewriting of recent pro-euthanasia legislation and protocols to make clear that intentional killing is not acceptable.

"The 2005 Mental Capacity Act made it legal for doctors to kill incapacitated patients deliberately, and medical guidance on withholding treatment says that patients can be killed by starvation and dehydration. It is no wonder that cases like the deaths of six disabled people highlighted by Mencap have been blamed on discrimination. That is what the BMA guidance and recent legislation - for all their safeguards - encourage."

SPUC's Patients First Network (whose symbol is on the right) helps people let doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers know how they expect to be treated in hospital if they are mentally incapacitated. It also fights against euthanasia. It has a confidential phone service which you can call if you have any concerns in this area, whether you are a patient, relative or healthcare worker.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Flawed abortion guidance for Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) has issued guidance on the circumstances in which abortion can be performed, and it is fundamentally flawed. My colleagues in the province warn that the policy could face a judicial review if it is not amended to reflect the true state of affairs.

Mrs Betty Gibson, chairwoman of SPUC Northern Ireland, said: "Abortion is a criminal offence in Northern Ireland not a medical procedure. A medical intervention to save the life of a pregnant woman is lawful, even if it risks the death of her unborn child. However, it is never lawful to perform any operation solely aimed at taking the life of a child. This remains the law and the guidance published by the department of health cannot change that.

"The guidelines are incorrect in relation to a medical professional's refusal to facilitate an abortion. The DHSSPS guidance cites advice from the General Medical Council in an attempt to convince objecting doctors that they should refer women to a colleague who will approve the abortion. However, no-one can be forced to co-operate in the performance of a criminal offence.

"Doctors should remember that GMC advice also states: 'Patients must be able to trust doctors with their lives and health. To justify that trust you must show respect for human life and you must: Make the care of your patient your first concern.'

"Medical professionals have a duty to have respect for life and an ethical and legal duty of care owed to an unborn child as a patient. It is unacceptable for the health department guidelines to require anyone to put in place arrangements to facilitate the intentional killing of a child through abortion. On the contrary, a doctor has a moral and legal duty not to be involved in the deliberate killing of one of his or her patients.

"We believe the department of health has not listened to the concerns expressed by the Northern Ireland Health Committee. As a result these guidelines are fundamentally flawed. At present we are considering all of the options available to us to ensure that the law is fully reflected in the guidelines. If the department wishes to avoid a judicial review of this document then it must introduce serious changes right away."

Sunday, 22 March 2009

IPPF attacks Pope to protect "big business"

It's little wonder that International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) has led the attacks on Pope Benedict's for declaring that condoms are not the solution for AIDS. It's bad for big business.

As long ago as 1973, IPPF highlighted "family planning" as "big business" at their Planning for the Future International Conference held at Brighton, England, October 22-27, 1973. The report of a key paper at the conference states: "It is noted that family planning is big business … the role of the IPPF is to persuade people throughout the world to accept the need of family planning."

“Family planning” for IPPF, of course, includes “contraception”. And what could be worse for the promotion of condoms than a supremely authoritative figure as the Pope suggesting that condoms may make the AIDS problem worse?

How ironic that the very IPPF press statement attacking the Pope refers to the World Health Organization statement that "consistent and correct" condom use reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90 per cent, a point made in an excellent letter in The Times from Liz Todd.

Supposing research was to indicate that children reduced the risk of injury or death by 90% when playing with fire if they have a good water supply readily available. How would society view parents who allowed their children to play with matches on such a basis? Most reasonable people might conclude that sooner or later the children would have a serious accident, with or without a readily available water supply, whereas not playing with matches would eliminate the risk completely.

As Liz Todd points out: "If one’s partner has Aids or is HIV-positive, abstinence will eliminate the risk of contagion or death completely; condom use, however, will mitigate these risks by 90 per cent at best. Even the WHO report and statistics on condom use in Aids and HIV cases acknowledge this fact." And as Cardinal Murphy O'Connor points out on the same day in The Times: "It is certainly true that the widespread distribution of condoms can run the risk of greater promiscuity and that the best way to combat the Aids epidemic is by healthcare, education and fidelity in married life."

The Cardinal's observation regarding “the risk of greater promiscuity” leads us to another reason why IPPF attacks the Pope in order to protect big business. IPPF, as the world's largest non-governmental organization working to promote and provide "reproductive health services", promotes abortions worldwide. ("Reproductive health" is a term defined by IPPF as including access to abortion on demand: See IPPF's definition of "reproductive health" which includes the right to "their choice for regulation of fertility which are not against the law"; and see IPPF's definition of "fertility regulation" which includes "interrupting unwanted pregnancies".

Greater promiscuity can lead to more pregnancies which, in its turn, leads to more abortions.

In a different social context, for example, Professor David Paton, who holds a chair in Economics at Nottingham University, has shown in a paper entitled The economics of family planning and underage conceptions" (this paper is not available free online, but if you would like a copy please contact me) that family planning, and increased access to it, increases the likelihood that teenagers will engage in sexual activity. Prof. Paton says: "I find no evidence that greater access to family planning has reduced underage conceptions or abortions. Indeed, there is some evidence that greater access is associated with an increase in underage conceptions..."

Elsewhere, Professor Paton discusses a principle which in the insurance industry is called “moral hazard”. The principle is that the greater the level of coverage afforded by any insurance scheme the more likely the insurance holder will be to take chances. Applying this principle to the current debate, Prof. Paton explains: "For those youngsters who are not opposed in principle to abortion, it provides a way in which, if pregnancy occurs, birth can be avoided, i.e. if pregnancy occurs either through failed or non-use of contraception, there is a possible let out clause."

Yesterday in Angola, Pope Benedict called on his listeners to be aware of the "adverse conditions to which many women have been -- and continue to be -- subjected, paying particular attention to ways in which the behavior and attitudes of men, who at times show a lack of sensitivity and responsibility, may be to blame … This forms no part of God's plan."

It’s Pope Benedict, not IPPF, who is defending the dignity of women – by opposing condoms which he rightly says can lead to the spread of AIDS and an increase in abortions. But then, unlike IPPF, Pope Benedict does not have a “big business” to protect.