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Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
Burial call for aborted foetuses
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Nurses want all foetuses treated in a dignified way
Aborted and miscarried foetuses should be formally cremated or buried, say nurses.

At present, thousands of foetuses from abortions miscarriages and stillbirths are treated by hospitals as clinical waste - and incinerated en masse.

Unless women specifically request a formal burial or cremation, they are given little or no information and choice about what will happen to their baby's remains.

We have had women who had stillbirths 20 or 30 years ago coming back to ask what happened to their baby

Lesley Allen, Royal College of Nursing
The Royal College of Nursing has published guidelines calling for this practice to stop.

It calls for all foetal remains to be buried or cremated, and for no more than 16 sets of remains to be disposed of at any one time.

It also says that all women who have suffered a miscarriage should be told that they can have an individual cremation or burial, which should be funded by the hospital.

Many miscarriages

Up to 300,000 miscarriages occur in the UK every year, the majority of them before 12 weeks, while around 180,000 abortions are performed.

Lesley Allen, a member of the RCN working party which drew up the guidance said: "Since the Clean Air Act (in 1991) was introduced, many on-site hospital incinerators have closed down and all foetal tissue is taken off-site to general incinerators and incinerated with clinical waste.

"In the wake of Alder Hey (organ retention scandal) we need to recognise that fact that women want to know what has happened to their baby.

"Women have seen reports of foetal remains being found in rooms in hospitals and want to know what happened."

She added: "People are asking at earlier and earlier stages of miscarriage and a lot of women want a formal service.

"We have had women who had stillbirths 20 or 30 years ago coming back to ask what happened to their baby."

Individual disposal

Under the new guidance, which covers the period before 12 weeks gestation, nurses, GPs and doctors should tell women who miscarry that the foetus will be communally cremated or buried, and that they can opt for individual disposal.

Women undergoing abortions will be given access to the information but will not be specifically asked about the issue as experts fear it could add to their distress.

Lyn Pavey, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said: "If we began asking a woman who is about to have an abortion what she wants done with the foetal remains, we could be exposing her to a lot of questions that she may not have addressed in her own mind."

The working party also admitted that it had to address the issue of who consent should be obtained from for the disposal of foetuses, in a scenario where the father may want one option and the women another.

A Department of Health spokesperson said current guidance on the disposal of foetuses was due to be updated.

Under the current guidance hospitals must take account of the wishes of the parents.

But where no wish is expressed it states that aborted foetuses should be incinerated.

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