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SPUC warns BMA over abortion limit proposals

27 June 2005

SPUC warns BMA over abortion limit proposals 27 June 2005 The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has warned that proposals to lower the upper limit for abortion would lead to an increase in abortions rather than a decrease. In an open letter to delegates to the British Medical Association's annual representative meeting in Manchester this week, Paul Tully, SPUC General Secretary, writes: "Any such proposal will be subject to further amendments such as extending the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland (despite the opposition of people of all religious and political traditions there), and amendments creating a right to 'abortion on demand' up to 14 weeks, as previously urged by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt. A review of abortion law, given the balance of opinion amongst MPs, will lead to Parliament voting for more abortion, not less. SPUC is firmly opposed to current proposals for an upper limit legislative approach to changing the law on abortion, which fail properly to address the moral issue, and will lead in practice to more abortions, not fewer." The letter, which is headed "Assisted suicide, euthanasia and abortion", urges delegates to reject any motions which favour euthanasia, assisted suicide or abortion at the association's. The text of the letter follows: The members of the medical profession in Britain are the custodians of great public trust and heirs of a noble tradition. Doctors are regarded as having high ethical standards, while those in other profes­sions and spheres of public life are increasingly regarded with cynicism. In recent decades, the nature of medical practice has been redefined in several ways: by technology, by changing public attitudes and by political/financial changes. Legal judgments have affected medicine in areas such as neg­ligence claims, abortifacient drugs and reproductive technologies. The recently enacted (but yet-to-be-implemented) Mental Capacity Act will have major repercussions for the treatment of incapacitated adults in England and Wales, and defines for the first time in statute law how patients' "best interests" are to be determined (at least for the incapacitated). Issues related to the preservation or eradication of life are being debated and voted upon this week at the BMA's conference. Abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia all entail, in the context of current practice or proposals, the role of the medical profession in helping to end lives. The World Medical Association declared in 1987: "Euthanasia, that is the act of commission or omission with the deliberate intention of ending the life of a patient, even at the patient's own request or at the request of close relatives, is unethical." Assisting suicide is not only contrary to the Hippocratic spirit but also to the four principles of modern medical ethics: non-maleficence; beneficence; autonomy (the freedom of conscience of the patient and of the doctor); and justice. The legalisation of assisted suicide may lead to some patients being regarded as second-class citizens, such as the seriously or terminally-ill, the physically or mentally-handicapped and the elderly, especially in a health service that is increasingly short of resources. The legislative strategy of "lowering" the upper limit for abortion is likely to lead to an increase in abortions, not a decrease. Any such proposal will be subject to further amendments such as extending the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland (despite the opposition of people of all religious and political traditions there), and amendments creating a right to "abortion on demand" up to 14 weeks, as previously urged by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt (Hansard, 27:4:98, 1247). A review of abortion law, given the balance of opinion amongst MPs, will lead to Parliament voting for more abortion, not less. SPUC is firmly opposed to current proposals for an upper limit legislative approach to changing the law on abortion, which fail properly to address the moral issue, and will lead in practice to more abortions, not fewer. We call upon BMA members to uphold the spirit of the Hippocratic tradition by rejecting any motions which favour euthanasia, assisted suicide or abortion. [end of text of open letter]

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