Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Some questions for Lord Alton

Briefing: the third in our series on opponents of the hybrids bill. Opposition has been led by Lord Alton, who has dedicated his life to opposing abortion. But close examination of his parliamentary record throws up some surprises:

he didn't move to vote against the HFE bill at either 2nd or 3rd Readings in the House of Lords;

he is in favour of abortion and IVF in certain circumstances;

he has voted on occasion for pro-homosexual legislation;

he promotes religious indifferentism in his Universe columns;

he has defended the alleged reception of Tony Blair into the Church, regardless of Blair's refusal to repudiate his anti-life and anti-Catholic parliamentary record.

Are we being silly, at the moment the hybrids bill is passing in the House of Commons, to pick holes in our supporters? No: the uncritical endorsement by Catholic pro-lifers of these individuals and groups undermines our opposition to the bill because it makes it incoherent. If killing embryos is ok in 'some cirmcumstances', such as in IVF, late abortions cannot be wrong on the grounds that embryos deserve the respect due to human persons, as the Church teaches. Why are they wrong, then, according to Alton and his friends at Passion for Life? Because they are particularly gruesome to perform? Supporters of abortion are immediately going to see the idiocy of that argument.

Alton on record: IVF.

1. "If you could just create an embryo to implant, that would be fine." Sunday Times

2. Of course in practice IVF involves the destruction of numerous embryos (emphasis added: Lord Winston is involved in IVF):
"Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, but I do not think I am overstating it. The expert witness, who has been cited throughout our debates as the leading authority on this, said that there were no cases that she was aware of. If there are cases, before we get to Report we should know what they are so that we have a better idea. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, is one of the foremost experts in this area; he is quite right to remind us of that; and he has brought to countless infertile couples the opportunity to have children. I salute him for that. We have no difference on that issue. However, if there are examples of the kind to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has just referred, I accept that he is not a hostile witness; we need to know about those cases before we start to change the law on that basis."
Committee Stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, 10th December 2007, Hansard, House of Lords, page 45.

The web address for the relevant part of the House of Lords Official Report is http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldhansrd/text/80128-0013.htm

3. In December 2007 Alton supported an amendment by Baroness Finlay to make it obligatory for the NHS to provide IVF. The amendment read as follows:


Baroness Finlay of Llandaff moved Amendment No. 24: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause— "Infertility treatment Duty to commission in vitro fertilisation service After section 10 of the 1990 Act (licensing procedure) insert— "Infertility treatment 10A Duty to commission in vitro fertilisation service (1) Each specialist service commissioner must commission a service for in vitro fertilisation in respect of the population for which they commission services. (2) An annual report on the performance and outcomes of each in vitro fertilisation service must be made to the relevant strategic health authority by the commissioner. (3) The report made under subsection (2) must be published.""

Alton said at

4 Dec 2007 : Column 1619

"I, too, rise to support my noble friend Lady Finlay. I passionately believe that this area should be regulated inside the National Health Service. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Winston, made a very compelling case to us today and at Second Reading when he spoke about those who operate outside the NHS. He described some of their suspect practices and gave the impression that charlatans were operating, with some very bogus therapies being produced that were not helping patients who presented themselves. For those reasons, regulation within the National Health Service is a far better way for us to proceed than that which unravelled after the 1990 legislation."

Abortion of the disabled.
During the House of Lords debate on the HFE Bill on 28 Jan 2008, Baroness Masham tabled an amendment which would delete disability as a ground for abortion. Alton said (at Column 523): "The noble Lord, Lord Steel, gave examples I think of anencephaly and hydrocephaly, and of life-threatening disorders where often the child cannot be born alive anyway. There would probably be no disagreement between us on that. That was never meant to fall within the scope even of this amendment, which I think was first moved in 1990."

Alton was referring to the following part of Lord Steel's speech previously in the debate (28 Jan 2008 : Column 519)

"As to subsection (2) of her amendment, to which she spoke earlier, that was a change made in both Houses in 1990, as she rightly said. At that time, it was agreed, and I agreed with it, to reduce the age of assumption of viability, in the light of medical knowledge, from 28 weeks—which had existed, not from the Abortion Act 1967, but from the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929—to 24 weeks. That was agreed and it went through both Houses without demur. However, as a consequence, the section, to which the noble Baroness has drawn attention, was added, to say that, in the case of severely disabled foetuses, the 24 week limit would not apply. I must admit that I had some hesitation about that section. It meant that, as the noble Baroness said, an abortion could be carried out right up to the point of birth, which was contrary to the Infant Life Preservation Act, never mind the Abortion Act itself. However, my mind was settled on that issue by a conversation, which I will retell to the House, that I had with a distinguished professor of obstetrics at one of our leading universities. He told me about two cases referred to him, after the 24 week limit had passed, of mothers who were carrying foetuses which had no prospect of life. In the one case, after immense consultation and proper counselling, it was agreed that the pregnancy should be terminated and the mother helped to start a new and healthy pregnancy and that is what happened. In the other case, identical to the previous one, the mother, for reasons known to herself, which may have been religious or because of other conditions in the family—I do not know the circumstances—decided that they would rather have the baby born. The baby having been born dead, they took it in the family car from the hospital to their house to see the room that had been prepared for it, and then brought the dead baby back to the hospital. The professor made three points. First, tragically, the outcome was the same in both cases. He could do nothing about it. Secondly, both parents had been the subject of proper counselling—a subject which we come back to time and again when discussing abortion. Proper counselling is very important and in this case they had expert counselling. The third thing they had in common was that the parents were ultimately able to decide on their preference. That is terribly important. If the noble Baroness's amendment were carried, that choice would be taken away and we in Parliament would be denying people a free choice on what to do in these difficult and tragic circumstances."

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Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St Michael

Holy Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to Hell Satan, and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen