Abortion and Assisted Dying: Birth and Death on the NHS

Back in 1967, the Abortion Act was passed following a passionate and heated debate in the Commons. Baroness Knight’s speech against the motion was greeted with uproar and derision, when she stated that this bill, if passed, which was framed around compassion and cited difficult cases, would lead to wholesale abortion on demand. Her statement,

“once we accept that it is lawful to kill a human being because it causes inconvenience, where do we end?”

was mocked as being over-emotive and full of exaggeration. The Abortion Act had built-in safeguards, required the signature of two doctors to stop coercion or forced abortion and was only to be applied in limited cases to help desperate women who really had no other choice.

The parallels with the rhetoric surrounding Lord Falconer’s assisted suicide bill are striking. Forty-five years later, the architect of the bill has said that he never envisaged it would lead to abortion on demand, almost 200,000 abortions take place every year and repeat abortions are on the rise with some women having as many as 9 in their lifetime.

The two doctor safeguards have been thrown out of the window, undercover investigations have discovered doctors are not even examining their patients and have pre-signed stacks of abortion forms up to four years in advance and the Department of Health have outsourced the business of aborting babies to private companies, who claim to be charities and yet who receive millions of pounds from taxpayers for the medically awkward and messy task of terminating the lives of babies whose existence would cause an inconvenience to their parents.

The past forty-five years have seen doctors abuse procedures and break the law with impunity and enjoying immunity from prosecution or professional sanctions. In all likelihood thousands of babies have been aborted because they were female, others were aborted because their disability meant that their life was deemed to be of less value or worth, and some have been terminated, way beyond the point of viability. As one report last week pointed out, babies can be and are killed up to the point of birth for easily treatable conditions.

Medical prognoses have often been proven to be incorrect too. Babies predicted to have disabilities have been born perfectly healthy, in some cases a condition has proved easily manageable and no barrier to a good quality of life and some babies with absolutely nothing wrong have been aborted due to a mistaken diagnoses. The problem with any prognosis is that it is always phrased in fairly stark medical terminology with probabilities and scary official-sounding words like co-morbidity, the language often requiring a medical dictionary or interpreter. The language is devoid of joy, happiness or personal fulfilment but replete with potential difficulty and obstacles. There is only ever probability, never certainty and never any existential or metaphysical dimension to any sort of medical or clinical discussion.

Like the abortion laws, the assisted dying bill is backed by a host of rich, powerful and wealthy celebrities. With abortion a host of well-paid self-identifying ‘feminists’ both male and female come out in favour, with the same tropes – rights, compassion, autonomy.

But it isn’t the rich well-paid people who by and large are having abortions. Statistics worldwide demonstrate that is the poorest and most disadvantaged sections of society, especially certain ethnic minorities or immigrants who are resorting to abortion, because they find that they have no other choice.

Thinking about the UK for a moment, Tamara Beckwith, the millionaire trustafarian IT-girl of the 90’s, one of the Tara Palmer-Tomkinson stable, had a baby aged 19. For her, money was no object and she choose life, because she did not have a financial barrier. Equally we have former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, soap star Clare Sweeney and various other Daily Mail celebrities having babies and enthusiastically embracing and promoting single-motherhood because they can. They have the resources and the lifestyle to accommodate children and the perennial approval of an all-adoring public.

People such as these can argue for a position of choice, because they had the rare luxury of being able to enjoy it. Having a baby would not have been a game-changer for them in terms of money, resources or career.

But this situation is rare for us lesser mortals. We have to limit our family size or resort to abortion because it feels like there really is no other choice and we do not have a celebrity career or have to face the disapproval of friends and family for choosing to wreak havoc upon ourselves for having a baby.

Let me demonstrate how abortion, sold to Parliament as a compassionate choice to be used in limited circumstances with the signature of two doctors has been incorporated into the health care system. I’ve been pregnant once or twice now. The first thing you have to do (in my area anyway) is make an appointment with the GP to ‘confirm your pregnancy’. This entails telling the doctor that you have taken a positive pregnancy test and in my case asking to be referred to the midwife (and thinking that the whole business of saying hey doc I’m up the duff is a waste of everyone’s time and NHS resources).

See that. You cannot just book in directly with the midwife at my practice. No, you have to ‘discuss’ it first with a GP. Why? So that abortion can be discussed with you and offered if necessary or if you are undecided. In some cases, including mine, it has been suggested as a solution, to severe morning sickness and anxiety. This has happened to me with my third and fourth children. I’ve requested to be booked in with the midwife to get the whole ante-natal plan working and been asked whether or not I’m sure and reminded that there is plenty of time.

You offer someone abortion, or assisted death and there it is, straight away, on the table, like the big fat elephant in the room. When a doctor suggests it or even hints at it, it has added gravitas and instantaneously the pressure mounts, no matter how firm you might be feeling in your own mind. The impression is given that somehow you are being demanding, burdensome, irresponsible and reckless.

Since the legalisation of abortion every single pregnant woman now feels keenly aware of her ‘choice’. It’s a decision that hangs heavily in the air, every single day of an unplanned pregnancy, and even sometimes when one is planned, if there is a sudden change in circumstances. When employers become terse and uncooperative, if family or friends are unsupportive, the unspoken question, circles your head “am I doing the right thing”. When someone indicates to you that you are not, the pressure of social affirmation or expectation can prove almost irresistible.

Those diagnosed with a life-limiting condition or who suffer from a number of illness, if this bill is passed will every day have to confront this choice. “Should I just end things here and now? Am I selfish for wanting to stay alive? Am I a burden on family and resources?”. Could a bad day now lead to their premature demise thanks to a bout of depression or despair. I know, I’ve been there in pregnancy, wanting to do anything just to make the sickness end. Composer and peer Andrew Lloyd Weber has said that last year he was on the verge of joining Dignitas thanks to excruciating pain following 14 leg and back operations, but having come through the experience appreciates that to have killed himself would have been reckless and irresponsible.

Just as we see certain sections of the media and press demonise those with larger families on benefits or single mothers, because they didn’t take the option of abortion and now receive state benefits, will we now see the same said about those with multiple disabilities?

It certainly seems likely, when you have writers such as Polly Toynbee cheering on those who might feel that they would be a burden, ‘yes you will’ she says , it’s no bad thing if the terminally ill or medically dependent feel pressurised and Baroness Warnock barking that people with dementia have ‘a duty to die’.

Like abortion, the advocates for assisted dying are rich, famous and well-paid celebrities like Cilla Black, Richard and Judy and even now Lulu, seeping into the nation’s consciousness, introducing and reinforcing misplaced fears about death, dying and burdens.

They won’t have to face a cash-strapped NHS which will offer them euthanasia as a cost-saving and compassionate measure as an alternative to treatment which would prolong life. Like celebrity single mothers they really can choose between life and death without having to face censure or opprobrium for choosing the former. Meanwhile the rest of us are made to feel guilty for wishing to continue our existence.

It’s staggering when you look at the statistics surrounding birth, people are having babies later and later, partly due to financial pressures and partly because they perceive that they need to be a in a perfect chocolate box situation. Hand-in-hand with that, the idea of bodily autonomy (which is specious, no-one truly has this, you can’t force a doctor to chop off your leg) means that now we are all tuned in to the unrealistic idea of the perfect or ideal birth.

The same concept will inevitably creep in to the dying. Death will have to be further clinicalised, managed, perfect and ‘dignified’, and sold as being something which we deserve. Perceived quality of life will determine respect and value given to other people and where do you draw that line?

We are fundamentally treating our existence as passive consumers of an experience in which we are control freaks determining that everything has to be perfect according to our personal dictats and tastes, from relationships, careers, sex, pregnancy, birth, family circumstances and death. It’s hardly surprising that as society has become more prosperous and wealthy, people have become proportionally more selfish and fearful of becoming dependent on others or having others dependent on them.

Life is not perfect, it is fundamentally messy and we have to accept that everything has its season. We are on an unavoidable journey of dependence, independence and dependence once more. The fear and refusal to accept inter-dependence between parent and child now manifests right at the start of life, with parents desperate to put children in child-care and to rush their independence in order that they can be free of the burden of 24/7 child-rearing and resume their previous lives, with the child treated little more than a pet which needs training and in whom the state needs to have a stake. Is it any surprise then, when children similarly treat their parents as the state’s responsibility when they get older or that parents have a fear of intimate dependence?

There is never a perfect time to fall in love, never a perfect time to have a baby and never a perfect time to die. We must not licence doctors to build killing into our heath care system as part of a palliative care approach, but rather enable patients, just as we should pregnant women, to accept and reconcile themselves with what is going to happen, all the while offering comfort and support, rather than a violent way out.

I often muse that a woman is pregnant for 9 months as that period is a time of acceptance, anticipation and growth. The same should be applied to the dying, who deserve more than a validation of their fear, inner turmoil and despair.

Abortion was never intended to be an integral part of a woman’s healthcare needs, promoted in schools and offered as a routine and morally neutral choice. Neither was it believed by parliamentarians that society would promote abortions as desirable amongst certain classes of people, like single mothers , ‘chavs’ or those with chaotic personal lives and/or addictions. What makes Lord Falconer and his chums fool themselves into believing that assisted dying will not be applied to the poor and vulnerable in the same way?

30 thoughts on “Abortion and Assisted Dying: Birth and Death on the NHS

  1. Excellent piece, Caroline. I sometimes wonder if those who talk about ‘freedom of choice’ have ever used the NHS. (And, as you point out, since many of the people in favour of it are rich, the answer is they probably haven’t.) In most situations, there is an expectation (in the institutional structures and in the attitude of the staff) what the ‘normal’ process will be. Thus, in birth, there is an expectation that you will have the tests and you will abort if there is a ‘problem’. If doctors and nurses are trained to view death as a treatment option, I’ve no doubt this will become the norm in some situations. And God help you if you don’t have a particularly strong personality, combative friends, or a doctor who (unusually in my experience) is open minded enough to see things from a perspective which is not his own.

  2. “What makes Lord Falconer and his chums fool themselves into believing that assisted dying will not be applied to the poor and vulnerable in the same way?”

    What makes you think they are fooling themselves?

    Tony Nicklinson would not have qualified for “assisted dying” under the terms of the current Bill. The use of his tragic case to promote the ‘dignity in dying’ agenda exposes its proponents as fundamentally base, manipulative, cynical and ultimately dishonest.

  3. I think you are over-reacting. Abortion is a safe procedure for women who are pregnant to become un-pregnant. The reason’s forva woman seeking an abortion are myriad so the law needs to sufficiently flexible so as to accommodate their individual circumstances. The same goes for assisted dying: every terminally I’ll patient will Haveva range of needs. Some individuals will want to end their lives befor the last weeks of pain, suffering and indignity start, others will want to be relieved of pain very near the end. A humane legal system can accommodate all these variations. A religiously-based one cannot because religions have their absolutist ground rules which do not accommodate individual needs and are thus not humane.

    1. She is not overreacting. she is describing the debate at the time pretty accurately, along with all the assurances that were made, all the ‘solemn and binding’ undertakings and the repeated emphasis of the safeguards that were in place, including the opinions of two doctors, etc, etc. All accurate. I know – I was alive back then and followed the debate closely.

      I’m not sure why you are following a Catholic blogger, tbh. You clearly do not agree with the Church’s position on abortion, which is obviously from the range of well-worn and empty justifications you roll out – as if we had not heard them all before, and as if it made so much as one of the 200,000 a year unimportant.

      As for the justifications for ‘assisted dying’ – i.e., state-condoned execution of the terminally inconvenient – they are fundamentally dishonest, as well as being base, manipulative and cynical.

      1. What I was trying to get at is the issue that a rigid, un hanging, theological argument is not the same as a political decision, a scientific analysis, or a testimony from someone who has been through the difficult issues under discussion (abortion and assisted dying). The problem for the theological view of abortion in our present day society is that the theological has virtually no resonance. Thus, the fundamental Catholic view of abortive does come across as an overreaction. Millions of abortions have taken place , legally, since the 1967 Act with, as far as the general population can see, hardly a murmur – except from those who object to abortion on religious grounds. And because the religious grounds no longer make sense nobody is listening. As for assisted dying, again, the ‘street view’ is that religious people are ‘banging on’ again but the majority of the population don’t want to face the pain, agony and loss of dignity that a slow, lingering death can often entail. Whether people will use the facility or not, they justvwNt to know that if the time comes there is a legal remedy to end their agony.

      2. She gives a rational, valid response and all you can offer up is “sophistry”? Weak! Oh, and BTW, since when are we only allowed to follow people we agree with?

      3. Ruari McCallion, you keep claiming sophistry, which just means faulty reasoning. And you dismissed me as a “troll,” which I don’t appreciate. I’m not a troll, I’m trying to get you to defend your position.

        Specifically, what is it about assisted suicide for terminally ill patients that constitutes faulty reasoning? Where specifically is the faulty reasoning in abortion for critically ill, deformed, or otherwise afflicted babies?

        If you want non-religious people to take you seriously, then present a rational argument. Otherwise, I say YOU’RE the troll, not me.

      4. In brief, because I am busy:

        Sophistry. noun, plural soph·ist·ries.
        a subtle, tricky, superficially plausible, but generally fallacious method of reasoning.
        a false argument; sophism.

      5. Thank you, Ruari McCallion, but I already know the definition of sophistry. That wasn’t my question. What I want is for you to describe the subtle, tricky, but superficially plausible fallacies of reasoning in supporting abortion and assisted suicide. If you can actually point out the sophistries in my position, I’ll listen and take you seriously.

        I can certainly make a strong case that letting sick people needlessly suffer because of irrational superstition is sophistry of the worst sort.

      6. No, you cannot make a strong case, Greg.

        What you do is to use hypothetical and hyperbolic examples to make fallacious arguments. But be comforted: you are not alone. Those who use Tony Nicklinson as the ‘poster boy’ for their case are doing even worse, because the tragic Mr Nicklinson would not qualify for death under the criteria proposed by Falconer. They are fundamentally – and, usually, knowingly – dishonest. “We have to start somewhere”, I was advised when I pressed the point firmly. A response that pretty much made Caroline’s case and which tends to undermine the “exceptional, compassionate” arguments. It would become a bureaucratic box-ticking procedure very quickly.

        Those who know that are dishonest to pretend otherwise. Those who do not are gullible fools – useful idiots, as Lenin called them.

        You want to see dignity in dying? Go to a hospice, where the ethos is respect for life while enabling dignified and, as far as possible, pain-free death.

        You could also do with talking to your elders, who are likely to have experience of how things have been done up till now. The law as it stands is compassionate and flexible. Only the unimaginative and/or dictatorial would want to introduce a rigid, bureaucratic regime, overseen by – God help us – gimlet-eyed officials from the Department of whatever.

        (Btw, if you could remind me of where and when I calked you a troll – a quote would be helpful – I would appreciate it. It would save me some time.)

    2. The way you speak about sacred life is horrific. We may not kill a person because he or she is sick, or has some severe disability, or is often unhappy. There is no moral justification for killing an innocent person – it is the most evil thing imaginable. That includes killing oneself. Your callous reference to killing in certain (arbitrary) circumstances is the result of the loss of morality, through the habitual compromise with grievous sin. Blessed Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle . . .

      1. Does this mean you would prefer that a terminally ill person suffer…and suffer…and suffer? Or that a baby who’d be born horribly deformed and who’d grow up being spat upon and hated for their disability not be aborted because there’s “no moral justification”? Where is the moral justification in allowing human beings to needlessly suffer?

      2. Until recently Jewish people were spat upon and hated. Gay people too. Death by gas is fairly humane and quick compared to a long drawn out life of humiliation and rejection. It started with the disabled, but when you think about it, is it really kind to allow anybody to live who is genetically inferior in some way? Surely it is more compassionate to put these people out of the misery of knowing that they can never live a full life, taking their bad genes out of the pool and creating a better, healthier, happier society in the process?

      3. More sophistry. And red herrings. And false comparisons.

        I expect there are other headings and categories that boil down to “nonsense!” But it’s Friday evening and I have other priorities than dealing with silly trolls.

      4. It wasn’t addressed to you! But where’s the red herring? I’m questioning the idea that somebody is better off dead than being spat upon or hated. Is that not a valid line of investigation considering what Greg Weber wrote?

      5. oh, Ruari, were you replying to me or to Greg? The lack of reply button makes these threads a bit difficult to follow sometimes! Anyway, whoever was replying, sorry if I was kind of rude.

      6. I was replying to Greg, Corin. The confusion has led me to reply somewhat caustically to you, I fear, so I take your point!

        When the reply beginning ‘nope’ appears – if it does, coz it would be nice if Caroline deleted it! – please excuse it on the grounds of confusion!

        I think we are actually on the same side…

      7. Ruari, yes, I think we are basically on the same side. Only I was prepared to believe that those in favour of assisted dying and abortion were genuinely interested in making sick people’s lives more comfortable. The ‘being hated a spat at’ line let the cat of the bag for me. What this is really about is getting rid of people that make *us* feel uncomfortable – quite a different thing.

      8. Apart from the fact that ‘Blessed Michael the Archangel’ is a mythological figure (a fantasy), life is not sacred. It is a finite state of some combinations of minerals, chemicals and other matter in nature. Life just is. As social creatures, we humans have attempted to understand life since before we had language, and have created mystical stories to try and explain what life is. Now we have scientific research methods that explain life in a very rational way so we don’t need the myths any longer. We have developed legal systems that manage our national morality; we no longer believe the myths in ancient incomprehensible texts. A foetus is not a person. It is something which exists in nature but which is incapable of independent life. As such, allowing a foetus to grow or permitting it to be removed is a legally neutral action and in any case 250, 000 women a year in Britain avail themselves of the choice that is open to them. Clearly, the law is fulfilling a societal need and the availability of a termination is a right every woman expects in a humane society.

      9. if you were to move in next door and marry my daughter, I would have to frame you for some unspeakable and unforgiveable crime, coustouge11220.

        I would normally use rational argument but that would clearly have no effect.

    3. @coustouge11220

      On the assumption that you are some sort of medical practitioner (“I’ll patient…”), this sort of hubristic comment will only reinforce worries about euthanasia.

      To start off with, you write off Caroline’s argument as ‘theological’ and therefore instantly dismissible. And yet none of the arguments she offers mentions either God or Catholic dogma. That means that any of your patients who faces your care at the end of life is dealing with someone who has deep set prejudices that a refusal to countenance euthanasia is per se irrational.

      You mention ‘absolutist ground rules’. Do you not have an absolute duty to care for your patients? Would lying to them be absolutely wrong? Would you (absolutely) not break the law by killing them or would that be ignoring individual needs?

      It is precisely this set of attitudes that will turn assisted dying into a nightmare. God help anyone who falls into the hands of a medical practitioner who regards her/his patients as fools and rejects any moral absolutes that might get in the way of doing what s/he wants.

  4. Excellent article Caroline. Listening to Lord Falconer and his chums I am astonished at their complete naivety. They are either total innocents devoid of common sense or they are manipulative and cunning.

    1. I don’t think they are stupid or ignorant, James, so I am drawn to the latter alternative – to which I would add ‘wicked’.

  5. Exceptionally good piece. The truth of every line resonated in me. Interestingly enough although I’m not sure how accurate it is but I have come across views which say that Hitlers atrocity in the Holocaust (called the Jewish Holocaust as most of the victims were Jewish) started out as German doctors accepting Eugenic ideology that the physically and mentally challenged should be exterminated as their lives were not worth living.
    Chris Pembroke

  6. Having recently been in a position of having ‘Power of Attorney’ for my late mother-in-Law brings home the scope of this power for people with dementia. I am sure that (If not already the case) Attorneys would be very soon able to accept Assisted dying on the person’s behalf! – Very convenient for relatives who are short of a bit of cash!
    Thank you Caroline for yet another excellent article.

  7. I tend not to drop a lot of remarks, but i did some searching and wound up here
    Abortion and Assisted Dying: Birth and Death on the NHS | The Catechesis of Caroline.
    And I actually do have a couple of questions for you if you do not mind.
    Could it be only me or does it look like some of these comments come across
    like left by brain dead individuals? 😛 And, if you
    are writing at other online social sites, I would like to follow anything
    new you have to post. Would you make a list
    of the complete urls of all your social sites like your linkedin profile, Facebook
    page or twitter feed?

  8. Could you send me links of cited sources, specifically doctors not following legal protocols, outsourcing abortion to private companies that recieve tax dollars, and anything else that might be relevant to illegal and unscrupulous behavior. I am having a discussion and prolife sources are low in Google’s rankings it seems. Your article is wonderful and your explanation is very enlightening. Keep up the good fight. The pro-life movement is making headway here in my home state and I will pray it grows in the uk too. Thanks and God bless

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