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21 / 05 / 2010 - Foetuses `burnt as clinical waste`
Scottish government launches review into the way human remains are treated
The Scottish government has launched a review of the way in which human remains are treated after it was claimed that a Glasgow hospital incinerated aborted foetuses alongside clinical waste.
Ministers intervened after a member of staff at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde claimed to have witnessed aborted foetuses being placed in disposal bags and sent for incineration along with used bandages, swabs, dressings and syringes.
The staff member, who spoke to the Sunday Times on condition of anonymity, said that on one occasion earlier this year six plastic bags, each containing a single foetus, were placed in a clinical waste bin to be incinerated.
Under government guidelines drawn up in 1992, all foetal remains under 24 weeks gestation arising from a miscarriage or medical termination to ensure the mother’s survival must be cremated or buried.
NHS Fife said all foetuses were cremated, regardless of how the pregnancy ended. NHS Highland said foetal remains under 13 weeks were incinerated, but off-site and separately from other clinical waste. It is now working with the council to ensure all foetal material goes to a crematorium.
Nicola Sturgeon, the health minister, said she took the concerns raised by the staff member “extremely seriously” and admitted the current guidance was “dated”. The issue will be considered as part of a wider review of cremation and burials in Scotland.
“We consider that the Scottish government guidance requires review and this will happen. It will look specifically at the ethics of different protocols for pregnancy loss and abortion and at the issue of patient consent in case of abortion.”
Professor Sheila McLean, a director of the Institute of Law and Ethics in Medicine at Glasgow university, said: “The parents should be informed what hospital disposal means. If you believe the foetus is a person from the moment of conception, then clearly it would be disrespectful to throw it away with clinical waste. There will undoubtedly be people who, because of their belief in the status of the embryo, would find this tremendously distressing.”
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said aborted foetuses were incinerated at the same site as clinical waste, but destroyed separately. It was unable to provide figures for how many foetuses were incinerated this way last year.
The spokeswoman said the practice was “in line with what happens elsewhere in Scotland”. But added: “If at the stage of consent, a patient requests for any foetal remains to be buried or cremated then this will either be arranged by the hospital or the woman and her family.”
Source: Mark Macaskill - Sunday Times