Disposal of aborted foetuses

The news services have picked up a story to be aired in Channel 4 based on the claims of a mother who lost her pregnancy between 6 and 13 weeks.

Regrettable as that is – and we cannot fail to recognise the distress to the lady involved and others in her situation – there will be a disposal issue that must be addressed.

What to do with a blob of tissue? A formal burial with religious service or secular equivalent? Take it home and bury it in the garden? A simple woodland burial perhaps? And what about a memorial? Costly in a cemetery, and all too often decorated in the various momentous, so may say ‘tat’ that often decorated the graves of the newborn, or a DIY equivalent in a garden or parkland? And what about rules and regulations, that might restrict or forbid such approaches, causing further upset when rules are applied?

The reality is that, for late pregnancy losses, staff are trained to discuss, sympathetically, the options for disposal. Where possible, parents can be given a little time to consider their options and choice, but storage is an issue and storage facilities are costly so a hospital may push for an early decision or expect that a foetus is transferred to an undertaker.

For early pregnancy losses, those blobs of tissue that require disposal, there is still the same need for sympathy and compassion. However, it becomes more a matter of disposal and, within the relevant legal framework, disposal as clinical waste is the generally appropriate option. This necessitates disposal by incineration.

But one mum has complained, though she is not the first to do so. Aghast at the reality that an alleged 15,000 aborted foetuses are incinerated as clinical wastes the press has picked up the story, and a ‘celebrity mum’ has jumped on the bandwagon.

There are rules, and those rules are complex and convoluted. However, they refer really to the disposal of a rather more mature foetus and not the blob of tissue arising from loss of a pregnancy at just 6 weeks. However, the Human Tissue Act complicates matters and their is often no discretion.

The costs to NHS service providers will escalate dramatically if formal cremation if demanded for all aborted foetuses. Cremator capacity will be stretched and inevitably multiple foetuses will be cremated together. That too will then generate complain, indignancy and uproar.

This is, potentially, a no-win situation. Further discussion and debate will become heated, and is so doing will increase the distress of many would-be parents. Compassion is essential, but perhaps that might best be directed at a more pragmatic, less emotional, approach to management of these tissue remnants. Midwives and hospital/community Trusts will bear the brunt, emotionally and in cost. In the meantime, the disposal contractors will be painted as villain of the piece in a truly no-win situation.

Perhaps inevitably, the Addenbrooke’s incinerator is in the headlines, and has immediately take on that role as villain. “Aborted babies used to heat hospitals” scream the headlines., prompting the Department of Health to act and prohibit the practice. The problem now moves to local authorities, who will want neither the responsibility nor the cost, or to the parents most of whom will want to mourn in the own way but otherwise move on, without the cost of an undertaker.

What a mess.



1 Comment

  1. Predictably, a story such as this which is a headline writer’s delight has spread rapidly across the globe. Already, dozens of UK media sources have carried the story, some with increasing shock and horror, others less so.

    And with the story repeated globally, it will certainly not settle for some time yet.
    See, for example the New York Daily News report “Thousands of aborted, miscarried babies in U.K. incinerated as ‘clinical waste’ and heating fuel: report” at http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/unbabies-u-incinerated-clinical-waste-heating-fuel-report-article-1.1732264


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