CARDINAL Hume, on behalf of the Standing Committee of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of England and Wales, has written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Services expressing doubts over Norman Fowler's recommendations to screen pregnant mothers for the AIDS virus.
The cardinal draws attention to two principal areas of doubt, namely the increase in abortions this policy is likely to encourage, and also the fear that consent to a blood test will not be "free" and "informed."
The cardinal voices fears that there will be no effective counselling programme surrounding the test and that there will be pressure for the infected mother to have an abortion should the test be positive, a factor which he says would be regrettable in the face of inconclusive medical findings about the transmission of the virus from mother to fetus.
Martin Pendergast, Team Leader of the Social Work Team at St Thomas' Hospital, London pointed to the DHSS guidelines on AIDS testing which outlawed testing without prior counselling. He denied also that in the areas where screening of pregnant mothers is already in operation blood tests are "done routinely or in an enforced fashion."
Mr Pendergast added that "there are concerns that in infected women pregnancy can make the virus worse, that is to say, turn somebody who is a latent AIDS carrier into a full blown AIDS sufferer. This may throw us back onto the question of what is the priority, the life of the mother or that of the child."
• A programme of education and practical pastoral action was agreed by those who attended a conference at the Van Zuyt Centre in London last Saturday presided over by Bishop Victor Guazzelli entitled "The Church and AIDS: A Need to Know and Care".
Addressing the conference Dr Paul Nunn of the Institute of Tropical Medicine asked: "How feasible is it to attempt to provide pastoral care for the homosexual infected with AIDS when at least a significant part of the homosexual community feels that the Church at best disapproves and at worst condemns their sexual orientation. How seriously will the Church's education on the subject be taken by those at whom it is aimed if the use of the condom is forbidden?"