Saturday, 12 January 2013

SPUC welcomes appeal hearings in Glasgow midwives abortion case

SPUC has welcomed the appeal hearings, held this week in the Court of Session in Edinburgh, in the case of two midwifery sisters who are seeking to uphold the right of conscientious objection to abortion.

The case hinges on the extent to which the law protects the right of conscientious objection to abortions performed on labour wards. The hospital accepts that midwives may opt-out of hands-on involvement in the procedures, but holds that midwifery sisters cannot opt-out of their role of “delegation, supervision and support” of midwives carrying out the abortion procedures.

SPUC supports the right of the midwives to opt-out, and is underwriting their legal costs in the case.

The hospital was successful in arguing for this legal position when the case first went to court last year. The case in the appeal court was concerned with the scope of the conscience clause in the Abortion Act 1967.

Brian Napier QC, for Greater Glasgow & Clyde Health Board, told three judges of the Inner House of the Court of Session that the Board expected midwives to act in accordance with guidance from the Royal College of Midwives.

The Royal College of Midwives is a trade union for midwives. (Not all midwives are members of the union.) The RCM guidance says:
"The RCM believes that the interpretation of the conscientious objection clause should only include direct involvement in the procedure of terminating pregnancy. Thus all midwives should be prepared to care for women before, during and after a termination in a maternity unit under obstetric care."
Counsel for the midwives, Gerry Moynihan QC, argued that the right of conscientious objection encompassed all those who would be part of the team with responsibility for treatment under the Abortion Act.

Judgment is expected in the spring.

People wishing to make donations towards the midwives' legal costs should telephone SPUC on +44 (0)20 7091 7091 or donate online.

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Britain is blessed by some of the finest Catholic priests in the world

I believe that Britain is blessed with some of the finest Catholic priests in the world.

That belief is confirmed by today's story and letter in The Daily Telegraph under the headlines: Gay marriage could signal return to ‘centuries of persecution’, - say 1,000 Catholic priests ... More than 1,000 priests have signed a letter voicing alarm that same-sex marriage could threaten religious freedom in a way last seen during “centuries of persecution” of Roman Catholics in England.

"One of the biggest letters of its type ever written" is also signed by 13 bishops.

I have often mentioned the excellence of Catholic priests in Britain to pro-life colleagues in other parts of the world - and when I describe the support received by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children from Catholic priests for our work, and the support that many priests give to the pro-life and to the pro-family cause generally, my overseas pro-life colleagues acknowledge the force of what I'm saying.

We will also see that support played out through the generous support for SPUC's White Flower appeal in hundreds of churches throughout England and Wales this weekend.

On behalf of all the vulnerable people you seek to protect, Fathers, in all your witness, encouragement, formation and prayers, thank you.

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Friday, 11 January 2013

Hope grows for mentally disabled mother threatened with forced abortion

Last Monday, the Telegraph carried a report that doctors from the south of England were applying for a court order to allow them to carry out an abortion on a mentally disabled woman without her consent.

The woman concerned reportedly suffers from sickle cell disease and doctors were "concerned that allowing her pregnancy to continue any further could endanger her life".

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) immediately contacted its lawyers asking to have access to court documents to enable us to consider whether we might apply to be made party to the proceedings referred to in the Telegraph report. SPUC added that the information available to us was limited to what was contained in the Telegraph article.

We made the point that there's a substantial body of medical opinion challenging the contention that abortion is ever necessary to save the life or health of the mother. We argued that "since a mentally competent mother would have the right to take account of such evidence, SPUC considers that such alternative medical opinion should be brought before the court in this case".

The news reports on the case today are varied, but here are some of the key stories:
" ... Mr Justice Hedley, sitting in the Court of Protection at London’s High Court, said it was 'in her best interests' if the woman, who [comes] from the south of England, was 'to continue with the pregnancy ... My instincts are that (her limited mental function) has nothing to do with the issue of whether a pregnancy should continue simply because once the child is born, if the mother doesn't have the ability to care for a child, society has perfectly adequate processes to deal with that." (The Mail)
And the BBC reports:
"Mr Justice Hedley said: 'It is right to observe that both expert and professional and family evidence in the case is it would be in her best interests to continue with the pregnancy, but that is outwith the jurisiction of this court'".
Upon our lawyer's further enquiries, court staff have stated that the judgment has not yet been handed down but that as the hearing was in open court, the judgment is expected to be available through the media in due course.

A leading medical consultant has told SPUC's advisers:
"First of all, the sickle cell disease is very treatable and she is going to have sickle cell disease whether she is pregnant or not pregnant. It does require, however, an obstetrician who is dedicated to seeing to it that it gets adequately treated.

"With regard to her mental disability ... there is literature that suggests that women who have psychological difficulties going into abortion are actually at higher risk to have psychological difficulties or problems after the abortion. Thus, mental disability should not be considered a reason for abortion on the basis that the mother will be helped by the abortion. In fact, the risk is higher for women like this to have problems or difficulties psychologically as a result of the abortion.

"Thus, an abortion in this woman’s circumstance is not necessary to save her life and will not improve her health. Good medical care, however, will improve her health and her life generally is not in jeopardy."
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Wednesday, 9 January 2013

There are fundamental problems with the Liverpool Care Pathway

Yesterday afternoon MPs debated (full text) the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) in Westminster Hall, which serves as a parallel debating chamber of the House of Commons. The debate was moved by Glyn Davies MP, who described himself as a supporter of the LCP. Mr Davies and many of the other speakers in the debate were anxious to save the reputation of the LCP following much recent negative media reportage. Most MPs in the debate repeatedly reassured each other that the LCP itself was not the problem, but rather bad practice of the LCP and/or 'sensationalist' and 'alarmist' stories in the national press. There was little recognition that experts who have spoken out about the LCP have said that the problems with the LCP are fundamental. It is those fundamental problems, not bad practice of the LCP, which are to blame for the scandals which the media has brought to light.

Here are some of the fundamental problems and systemic issues with the LCP which experts have highlighted:
  • The central requirement for starting the LCP is that the patient is in the last hours or days of life, yet doctors' predictions that someone is going to die imminently are almost certainly frequently wrong. The pathway leads to a suspension of evidence-based practice and the normal doctor-patient relationship.
  • The LCP has a machine-like efficiency in producing death. As the LCP entails progressively increasing doses of a sedative and a narcotic, improvement in the underlying illness may be impossible to detect.
  • Any chance of recovery may be jeopardized by high doses of narcotics recommended by the LCP, which may also be lethal.
  • The moral obligation to supply fluid to the dying who may experience thirst - part of basic care - is being flouted under the LCP.
  • Doctors are being pressurized to participate in the LCP even when they feel very uncomfortable about it, being told that the LCP is national policy. Some doctors are losing control of the clinical care of their own patients.
  • The practice of terminal sedation, involving continuous sedation and cessation of fluids, cannot be justified under the principle of double effect. The prognosis of imminent death may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The LCP's combination of narcotics and dehydration is ultimately lethal. In many cases it appears that there is a deliberate intention of hastening death
  • The LCP is usually applied without the knowledge or consent of the patient. The lack of assessment of mental capacity of patients and the lawful obtaining of informed consent are serious concerns.
  • There is little point in reassessing at four hourly intervals if the patient is in a state of drug-induced unconsciousness. No one should be deprived of consciousness except for the gravest reasons.
Today a parliamentary answer on the LCP from Earl Howe, a health minister, was published. Among other things he said:
"The LCP is not a treatment but a framework for managing treatments. Consent is therefore not required for the LCP itself, but normal consent rules apply to treatments while someone is on the LCP."
However, as is clear from the evidence coming to light - the testimony of over 400 people and rising - patients and/or their loved ones are frequently not informed that the patient's treatments are being managed under the LCP. It is the LCP's modus operandi regarding prognosis, medication and hydration which is causing the widely-reported high number of premature deaths. It is misleading to claim that the LCP is not a treatment and just a framework when in fact it is a treatment protocol.

Also today, The Telegraph reports that Dr Bee Wee, president of the Association for Palliative Medicine and a supporter of the LCP, as saying that the cases which have come to light suggested that “packaging up” principles used in hospices for hospitals had caused difficulties.

The Telegraph also quotes Professor Irene Higginson, of Kings College London:
"What we don’t know really is whether it is the way that the LCP is being used and the environment that is in or whether it is something within the LCP which has confused people or made them use it in a way which doesn’t work so well.”
These are tacit admissions that there may be fundamental problems with the LCP. I am grateful to Bishop Philip Egan, the Catholic bishop of Portsmouth, who issued a pastoral teaching message about the LCP early last month, in which he wrote that there are good
"reasons for a careful re-evaluation of the LCP and its application in practice."
Should not then the use of the LCP be halted?

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Action Alert: make a submission now to halt presumed consent in Wales

The Welsh Assembly Health and Social Care Committee consultation on presumed consent for organ donation closes on Friday 18th January. It is very urgent that you make a written submission to this committee, setting out why you are opposed to presumed consent for organ donation. Please encourage others to do the same. We are not trying to oppose voluntary organ donation, provided the ethical demands surrounding the definition of death are fulfilled. The draft Bill and supporting documents can be seen here. Presumed consent:

• Abolishes organ donation as a free gift
• Makes the body the property of the state
• Does not necessarily lead to more organs available for donation
• Presumed consent could be extended into other areas of medicine
• Ignores serious concerns about current definitions and practises concerning death i.e. brain death, beating heart donors
• Families will have no or a very reduced say in what happens to their loved one

The current consultation is open to all people. This means you can make a consultation submission even if you do not live in Wales or the UK. Individuals and organisations are encouraged to make a submission. If presumed consent is introduced it could negatively affect organ donation practise in other parts of the UK. Just before Christmas the press reported that Scottish MSP Drew Smith plans to introduce a bill for presumed consent in Scotland modelled on Welsh proposals.

I have previously reported on SPUC South Wales region campaign to stop presumed consent for organ donation in Wales being introduced. During an initial consultation the vast majority of submissions to the Welsh government's consultation (2,601 out of 2,891) were in response to SPUC South Wales' call for action opposing the Bill.

We issued an action alert just before Christmas, calling on our supporters to contact the committee requesting that the consultation period be extended. We still want supporters to do this, but we need to make submissions as well as there is no guarantee that an extension will be granted.

To help you with your submission we have prepared a concise briefing containing lots of information you can include. Put things in your own words.

Your submission should be made in writing and emailed to or posted to Sarah Sargent, Deputy Clerk Health and Social Committee National Assembly for Wales Cardiff Bay, CF99 1NA.

If possible, please send an email copy of your submission to our South Wales Development Officer, Janet Thomas: Phone 02920 512397 for help and guidance.

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Monday, 7 January 2013

Appeal hearing in midwives’ legal battle

Mary Doogan and Connie Wood, midwifery sisters from Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital, will go to the Inner House of the Court of Session in Edinburgh tomorrow (Tuesday 8 January) to appeal against a decision that they must supervise staff midwives performing abortions, despite their conscientious objection to abortion. The Abortion Act 1967 states that no-one with a conscientious objection can be obliged to participate in abortion procedures.

Last February, Lady Smith, sitting in the Outer House of the Court of Session, ruled that the midwifery sisters did not have the protection of the Act’s conscience clause, and so must accept the hospital management’s instruction to supervise staff midwives in performing abortion procedures. They are not required, the judge ruled, to provide direct “hands on” assistance, but could be expected to allocate staff midwives to carry out abortions, and give those midwives support and advice throughout the procedure. The abortion procedure in question usually involves the administration of several drugs and typically takes a day to complete.

The appellants’ legal costs are being underwritten by SPUC. People wishing to make donations towards the midwives' legal costs should telephone SPUC on +44 (0)20 7091 7091 or donate online.

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