The revelation that British hospitals have been burning thousands of aborted and miscarried babies as clinical waste and in some cases to heat the hospitals has caused official consternation, but it is hardly surprising.
If medical professionals are permitted – no, expected – to dismember (amongst other things) the bodies of living babies when carrying out abortions, is it any wonder that they lack respect for those same babies’ dead bodies or for the bodies of miscarried babies at the same stage of development?
When the terms “clump of cells”, “product of conception” and “blob of tissue” are routinely used to describe and dehumanise the unborn child, what kind of dignified send-off can we really expect?
If as a society we accept the behaviour and attitude of medical professionals when it comes to abortion then why, as stated by the UK Minister of Health Dr Dan Poulter, is their offhand disposal of foetal remains “totally unacceptable”?
The gross lack of respect is nothing new. In the United States there are frequently stories about aborted babies being found in dumpsters outside abortion clinics, and last year the trial of the Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell revealed his clinic to be a real life “house of horrors” where foetal remains were found stored in bags and cat food containers, their severed feet preserved in glass jars, and the body of a 19 week foetus stored in a freezer.
But if it is ethically and legally acceptable for babies to be killed in the womb, why should anyone, let alone a government minister, be shocked when foetal remains are “cremated” with hospital waste? Yet, this contradictory attitude is prevalent in our society.
In 2011, 32-week-old twins were both aborted after staff at an Australian hospital initially killed the healthy twin by accident and, after realising their mistake, also aborted the sick twin who had a congenital heart defect. The hospital apologised for the “terrible tragedy”.
In 2012 a New Zealand judge sent a pregnant alcoholic on her eighth drink-driving conviction to prison to protect her unborn child.
Last year in the UK, Tony McLernon was jailed for 27 years for beating to death his ex-fiancée who was nine months pregnant with their child. He was convicted of murder and child destruction by a jury.
All over the world the media regularly report car crashes or other accidents in which unborn babies are “killed” or which “claimed the life of an unborn child”.
Life-saving treatments are used to save the lives of prematurely born babies, sometimes the same age and in the same hospital as those who are aborted.
So it seems we do care, but why?
We care because when the lives of unborn children are lost or their bodies disrespected outside the clinical procedure of abortion, they are not dehumanised to the level of a “clump of cells”, “product of conception” or “blob of tissue”. We see the unborn child for what it really is – a small and developing but living human being. Someone’s baby. Our reaction of shock and disgust when those little, most vulnerable human beings are harmed or disrespected, is therefore completely natural and justified.
However, when it comes to abortion, the humanity of the unborn child is still the elephant in the room. We need to start being intellectually honest with ourselves and carefully consider what it is that happens to the 40-50 million babies who are aborted worldwide each year. Maybe we should care about them too.
Rachael Wong is a Barrister and postgraduate student of Bioethics and Health Law at the University of Otago, New Zealand.