UK and US Fetal Incineration Sparks Backlash Among Pro-Life Advocates and Health Officials

by Sofia Infante


The recent discovery that the fetal remains of unborn babies were disposed of by incineration as clinical waste in hospitals across the United Kingdom and the United States has prompted outrage from pro-life advocates who say it reflects total disregard for the dignity of human life. According to an investigation launched by the UK’s Channel 4, the bodies of around 15,500 babies were burned as medical waste and used to heat some of the facilities. The investigation also revealed that 27 National Health Services (NHS) trusts had incinerated fetal remains in the last two years. A report by The Telegraph revealed that Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, one of the UK’s leading hospitals, had incinerated 797 miscarried or aborted fetuses at its on site “waste-to energy facility.” In another facility at Ipswich Hospital 1,001 fetal remains were brought in from another location. The facilities had told the mothers that their child’s body would be cremated.

The recent discovery that an Oregon facility has been burning fetal tissue of aborted fetuses from British Columbia has prompted an Oregon County Commissioner to order that incinerators stop accepting boxed medical waste. According to CBS Portland affiliate KOIN-TV, it is unclear how long the facility had been disposing of fetal tissue because the medical waste is delivered in sealed boxes.


Kristy Anderson, a British Columbia Health Ministry spokeswoman, said that regional health authorities in British Columbia have contract with a company that sends biomedical waste that includes, “human tissue, such as surgically removed cancerous tissue, amputated limbs, and fetal tissue.” British Columbia Catholic, a Catholic newspaper, identified the company as Marion, owned and operated by Covanta in a partnership with Marion County. The plant is believed to be the only one in Oregon generating energy from waste.


The possibility that the plant is burning fetal tissue from other places has yet to be ruled out. When contacted by the AP, a Covanta Marion representative said he did not know whether the medical shipments included fetal tissue from Canada or elsewhere. Sam Brentano, chairman of the Marion County board of commissioners, apologized, stating, “We provide an important service to the people of this state and it would be a travesty if this program is jeopardized due to this finding…I'm sorry I didn't know that this included fetal tissue, but now that I do know, believe me, things will change.”


According to County spokeswoman Jolene Kelly, commissioners were unaware that fetal tissue might be included as part of the medical waste and noted that the practice is a “disrespectful way to dispose of remains”. The county has scheduled an emergency hearing for Thursday to possibly rewrite an ordinance to clarify what is accepted as medical waste.


Although the practice was largely restricted in the US, it is much more widespread in Britain where recent discoveries cornering the incineration of fetal tissue has been condemned by pro-life advocates like Carolyn Farrow, who stated, "We hope that this tragic and distressing story will cause the mask that exists to disguise the humanity of the unborn to slip, causing society to reflect more deeply on the value of human life and what it means to be human”. Farrow emphasized the importance of discussing the greater implications of expanding legal abortion, “We should not forget the almost 200,000 babies who are lost to abortion every year in the UK, almost all of whom will have had their remains treated in a similar fashion.”


Pally Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the hospital practice is directly connected with legal abortion, “We must stop killing babies like these by abortion and then we will know how to respect the dead.”


The practice has also been criticized by Health Officials who condemned the incineration of fetus and called for a suspension. UK Health Minister Dan Poulter condemned the practice as “totally unacceptable.” He noted, “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.”


NHS director Bruce Keogh said hospital should either cremate or bury the bodies of aborted or miscarried babies. Although the practice is not illegal in the UK, it is considered inappropriate. According to the BBC, Poulter has asked Keough to make sure hospitals stop incinerating fetal remains.


Farrow praised the quick response by health officials but argued that the ban does not go far enough because private abortion clinics still dispose of fetal remains as “clinical waste alongside soiled dressings, gloves and equipment." "We would like to see abortion clinics be subject to similar regulations in terms of not only informing the parents as what will happen to their unborn children but also offering them a choice of dignified options as to what to do with their baby's remains."


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