By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
There is a disturbing and somewhat macabre report out of Great Britain where the bodies of thousands of aborted and miscarried fetuses were incinerated as clinical waste, with some even used to heat hospitals, an investigation has found.
Ten National Health Service (NHS) trusts have admitted burning fetal remains alongside other rubbish while two others used the bodies in ‘waste-to-energy’ plants which generate power for heat. Department of Health issued an instant ban on the practice which health minister Dr Dan Poulter branded ‘totally unacceptable.’
At least 15,500 fetal remains were incinerated by 27 NHS trusts over the last two years alone, according to British news agencies.
Investigations found that parents who lose children in early pregnancy were often treated without compassion and were not consulted about what they wanted to happen to the remains. One of the country’s leading hospitals, Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, incinerated 797 fetuses below 13 weeks gestation at their own ‘waste to energy’ plant. The mothers were told the remains had been ‘cremated.’
Another ‘waste to energy’ facility at Ipswich Hospital, operated by a private contractor, incinerated 1,101 fetal remains between 2011 and 2013. They were brought in from another hospital before being burned, generating energy for the hospital site. Ipswich Hospital itself disposes of remains by cremation.
“This practice is totally unacceptable,” said Dr Poulter. “While the vast majority of hospitals are acting in the appropriate way, that must be the case for all hospitals and the Human Tissue Authority has now been asked to ensure that it acts on this issue without delay.”
Sir Mike Richards, Chief Inspector of Hospitals, said: “I am disappointed trusts may not be informing or consulting women and their families. “This breaches our standard on respecting and involving people who use services and I’m keen for Dispatches to share their evidence with us. “We scrutinize information of concern and can inspect unannounced, if required.”
Ipswich Hospital Trust said it was concerned to discover that fetal remains from another hospital had been incinerated on its site. A spokeswoman said: “The Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust does not incinerate fetal remains.” She added that the trust “takes great care over fetal remains”
A spokesman for the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said that trained health professionals discuss the options with parents ‘both verbally and in writing.’ “The parents are given exactly the same choice on the disposal of fetal remains as for a stillborn child and their personal wishes are respected,” they added.
This certainly speaks volumes of the need for greater oversight of what constitutes medical waste and dignity for human remains and the row controversy is surely guaranteed to address the issue. What is important to recognize in the United States as to what constitutes patient wishes should be carried out, especially with regard to a miscarriage.
One issue that might come to bear is that status of fetuses aborted voluntarily by mothers for the purposes of family planning. What would constitute the responsibility on behalf of hospitals where mothers are wanting to separate themselves from the events of the surgery and do not wish to have any decision in the burial or cremation of the fetus? Should hospitals also be required to treat a fetus in this regard the same as would be the case with an unclaimed person who died in the hospital?
What do you think?
By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.