‘Aborted Babies Incinerated to Heat UK Hospitals,” was the dystopian science-fiction headline under which the London Telegraph reported revelations that some hospitals in Great Britain have been burning the bodies of aborted and miscarried babies alongside medical waste.
The remains of at least 15,500 babies have been incinerated over the last two years, according to an investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches. In some cases the bodies were burned at “waste to energy” facilities, providing fuel to power hospitals.
The findings stirred some British bureaucrats to condemn the practice in the strongest terms available to British bureaucrats. The chief inspector of hospitals from the Care of Quality Commission professed himself “disappointed” that National Health Service hospital trusts “may not be informing or consulting women and their families” before treating the remains of their children as trash.
Health minister Dan Poulter described the practice as “totally unacceptable.” He asked the NHS director Sir Bruce Keogh to let NHS trusts know “that it must stop now.” Keogh then issued a letter noting that while incineration is not illegal across the U.K., “existing professional guidance makes clear that the practice is inappropriate.” He shares the view that it is “inappropriate” and believes “other methods offer more dignity in these sensitive situations.”
They were not explicit about what made the practice “inappropriate” and “unacceptable.” Is it merely a question of the parents’ not being consulted? Or is there something inherently wrong with treating human bodies, in whatever stage of development, as refuse? Answering the second question affirmatively would, of course, raise some awkward questions for proponents of the legal right to dismember those bodies in the womb.
So far, NHS officials have declined to take what would be a logically consistent stance: that they see nothing wrong with treating the remains of aborted babies, at least, as medical waste. One of the hospitals currently charged with incinerating fetal body parts for fuel, Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, faced criticism in 2006 for a policy that did distinguish between fetal remains from abortion and those from miscarriages. The Daily Mail reported that while the hospital offered burial or cremation options to women who miscarried, it “was no longer able to afford the dignified disposal at a local crematorium of foetuses from unwanted pregnancies,” and so was incinerating them. (The local crematorium had started charging £18.50 a pop.)
This distinction would make sense from the pro-abortion perspective, which tends to regard the woman’s state of mind as the factor determining the moral worth and objective existence of a “baby.” The way we speak about miscarriage compared with the language we use to describe abortion underscores this: In a miscarriage there are parents who grieve over the loss of their baby; in an abortion there is a woman who has made a choice to terminate her pregnancy.
The uncomfortable fact, though, is that in both cases you are left with human remains.
Supporters of abortion don’t like to be reminded of this. In Michigan, when a bill was proposed in 2012 that would have required fetal remains be buried, cremated, or interred, the National Organization for Women decried it. What they objected to was language stipulating that the mother be consulted about how to dispose of the remains of her baby. “It was an attempt to shame women and cause them . . . to say this is a human being you are killing,” said Mary Pollock of the National Organization for Women.
If it’s not, then there’s nothing wrong with what NHS is doing.
— Katherine Connell is an associate editor at National Review.