Page 1, 3rd April 1998

3rd April 1998
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Page 1, 3rd April 1998 — Ante-natal tests used to bully women

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Ante-natal tests used to bully women

Exposed: The doctors who push women into abortion

BY Bass TWISTON DAVIES ANTE-NATAL tests to detect deformities are being used by NHS doctors to encourage prospective mothers to consider an abortion, as part of an unspoken public policy, the Catholic Herald can reveal.

Women undergoing routine ante-natal screening are automatically tested for abnormalities in the foetus, without their knowledge or consent.

Writing in the latest British Medical Journal, Josephine Venn-Treloar, a General Practitioner, said she only discovered after she had given birth that her own child had been examined for abnormalities during an ultrasound scan. At no point during the screening was her permisssion sought.

"I suddenly realised how close I had been to the receipt of non-specific and unconsented information," Dr Venn-Treloar writes. "Had the child had Down's, I could have been informed, and troubled for the rest of my pregnancy with this knowledge." She said on Monday: "They were looking for things I wasn't looking for. The tests are part of public policy to cut down on handicapped children. This is a human rights issue."

MPs and bio-ethical experts

rushed to back Dr VennTreloar this week and said that her experience, like that of thousands of pregnant women in British hospitals each year was unacceptable.

Anne Winterton MP said: "This is quite wrong, any procedure should be carried out with the full knowledge and consent of the mother. Such practices are underhand and unprofessional." David Amess MP described it as "an abuse against the spirit" of the medical code, He said he would be raising the matter with the Department of Health. John Gummer MP said: "Hospitals have to be reminded that it is the mother who is having the baby, rather than the hospital."

Luke Gormally, Director of the Linacre Centre, in London, said: "There is a quite explicit policy in certain hospitals that tests are a waste of time if the mother is not prepared to have an abortion should a defect show up on the scan." Nicholas Coote of the Bishops' Conference said mothers are frequently pressurised into unnecessary scans. "There is a tendency in our culture to say 'all mothers need screening'. Then if the embryo has some defects, before the mother knows

where they are, they are carried along a moving escalator to abortion."

Dr Kevin Harrington of Homerton Hospital blamed "misplaced enthusiasm" on the part of hospital staff for confusion over ultrascan results and called for the introduction of a uniform procedure for consent and more information for expectant mothers.

Dr Venn-Treloar believes scans induce "unnecessary anxiety" in the mother because they can reveal abnormalities in the foetus which have disappeared by the time the child is born. "It is very easy to frighten a pregnant mother," she said. "Mothers often feel rough during the first weeks of pregnancy and are overwhelmed by doctors who seem to know more than they do. I know mothers who have been labelled irresponsible for refusing to have the scan." Hospitals, she said, offered little support to mothers whose scans revealed defects in the foetus.

But Dominic Lawson, Editor of The Sunday Telegraph, who has a young daughter with Down's, said: "I don't see how this knowledge would harm the mother if she was not going to abort her child in any case."

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