27 March 2014, The Tablet

Shock at practice of burning foetuses as ‘waste’ in hospitals

CHURCH LEADERS and ­parliamentarians have expressed outrage at the revelation that more than 15,000 aborted and mis­carried foetuses have been burned as “clinical waste” in hospitals, in some cases to provide heating and power.

An investigation by the Channel 4 programme Dispatches this week revealed that the practice of incinerating the remains of unborn babies was carried out by 27 NHS trusts. Two others said they were incinerated in “waste-to-energy” furnaces to generate energy for heating and power in hospitals.

According to the documentary, Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge incinerated 797 babies below 13 weeks’ gestation at a “waste to energy” plant, after telling mothers they would be “cremated”. At Ipswich Hospital, a privately run “waste-to-energy” facility incinerated 1,101 foetuses between 2011 and 2013, the report said.

The Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales’ spokesman on life issues, pointed out that human remains should be treated with dignity, as they are in natural disasters and war.

“I was very distressed to learn that the remains of unborn children have been incinerated as clinical waste in NHS trusts in some parts of the country and call for an immediate end to this ­unacceptable practice,” Archbishop Smith told The Tablet.

Meanwhile, Bishop Alan Hopes, whose East Anglia Diocese covers Addenbrooke’s and Ipswich Hospitals, said the practice of burning foetal remains as waste was “repugnant” and a sign that society treats human life as a disposable commodity. He added: “We should not be surprised at what has been reported as happening in some of our hospitals with regard to human remains. Much of society does not share our belief in the sanctity and dignity of human life at all its stages and regards human life as another disposable commodity.” He described the almost 200,000 abortions carried out each year in England and Wales as “astronomical”. The bishop added that it would “be ­fitting and proper to return the mortal remains of what is a human person to the earth with the funeral rites or at least some form of prayer”.

The Department of Health said it was moving to ban the practice immediately while the medical director of the NHS, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, has written to all hospital trusts saying that foetal remains should be cremated or buried rather than incinerated.

The chief inspector of hospitals, Sir Mike Richards, said: “I am disappointed trusts may not be informing or consulting women and their families.”

But the Catholic peer Lord Alton of Liverpool was critical of Sir Mike’s response. “That NHS officials in the UK would countenance the burning of the remains of miscarried and aborted unborn babies to heat hospitals graphically illustrates our complete indifference to the intrinsic value and worth of every life … In a masterpiece of understatement, the chief ­inspector of hospitals says he is ‘disappointed’ by the revelations,” he told The Tablet. Lord Alton has also tabled a question in the House of Lords about the matter.

Jim Dobbin MP, co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, expressed his shock and called for a “thorough re-examination” of how the remains of foetuses are treated.

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