The Fight Facing Us
Text of a Speech delivered by David Alton (Lord Alton of Liverpool) on Thursday July 7th, 2011, at the River Thames Right To Life Summer Event
It was Victor Frankl in “The Doctor and the Soul”, who said “sometimes, the unfinished are among the most beautiful of symphonies”. The unborn child and lives prematurely ended are the unfinished of our generation. We are here tonight because we believe every life is precious from conception to natural death, that every life once begun must be given the chance to be completed; to be finished.
Like the Romans divided Gaul in to three provinces, I’m dividing my speech in to three parts. And to stretch that rather desperate analogy, I want to speak to you about a fight.
But our fight isn’t about property, nationality, religion or any of the other common reasons for war; neither will it be waged with the traditional instruments of conflict. The fight facing us is about the very foundation of civilisation; the value without which organised society has no meaning and law no legitimacy: the protection of the dignity of human life.
The “three parts” I mentioned correspond to the major lines of attack to life we face today: embryology, abortion and euthanasia. I’m going to speak to you about the lie of the land in each of these areas, what contribution you can make to the abolition or prevention of these heinous practices, and I hope to encourage you with some recent success stories.
Before I do that, though, I want to dwell briefly on why we are here.
We are here because we believe killing to be wrong. For some of us that conviction finds its intellectual satisfaction in a religiously held belief; some may justify it with reference to philosophy. For all, though, it’s an absolute. There is no society that allows killing with impunity; such a society could not function.
However, history yields countless examples of exceptions that have been introduced to mitigate commitment of civilisations to this fundamental rule. The Spartans used weakness as a justification for killing; the Nazis used race or genetic inheritance; Rwandans used tribal allegiance.
But perhaps most grotesque of all these is to be found in the contemporary Western world: Choice. Choice is the umbrella under which any number of justifications can shelter.
It means that on the basis of the decision of someone else, for a whole plethora of reasons ranging from the baby being a possible threat to the mother’s psychological wellbeing to the likelihood of the child being disabled or even being a girl, that human being can be killed if another wills it.
Before the elevation of choice some claimed that a human being should only be protected from the time it can survive independently of the mother outside the womb. When science rendered this argument absurd, unsustainable and impracticable on the grounds that babies developing at different rates would therefore be worthy of protection at different stages (which is a very tenuous basis on which to lay the most fundamental of all human rights), and on the grounds that science itself would render this ‘right’ dynamic – dependent upon life support for premature babies, the argument shifted to when a foetus can feel pain.
When world’s experts started to say – and I quote Dr K. S. Anand – that “evidence for the subconscious incorporation of pain into neurological development and plasticity is incontrovertible”, advocates for abortion shifted the centre of gravity from anything to do with the child to what they would like to be the inviolable rights of the mother: that because pregnancy involves the woman’s body, personal health and future, she should be able to decide what happens to it; that the baby should have no rights independent of the mother at all until that child no longer depends on her person to live.
To the contrary, our position is and always has been that, from the moment of fertilisation there exists a new human life which should be treated as such; and through incremental political action we have always held that, step by step, we must work for – ultimately – the absolute sanctity and inviolability of every human life at every stage of their life. And that life begins at fertilisation.
There is no other point at which anyone can congruously claim that you began with any semblance of philosophical or scientific credibility.
There is no book on embryology that counters this claim and there is no book on embryology to support the claim that life begins at any other point besides fertilisation – or in common parlance, conception.
Let’s hear from four leading embryologists:
“Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)… The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.”
(Carlson, Bruce M. Patten’s Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996, p. 3)
“The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialised cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”
(Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3)
“When does an embryo exist, when does it occur. I think, as you know, that in development, life is a continuum…. But I think one of the useful definitions that has come out, especially from Germany, has been the stage at which these two nuclei [from sperm and egg] come together and the membranes between the two break down.”
(Jonathan Van Blerkom of University of Colorado, expert witness on human embryology before the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel — Panel Transcript, February 2, 1994, p. 63)
“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed…. The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity.”
(O’Rahilly, Ronan and Müller, Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29.)
These are not “religious nutters.” This is the almost ubiquitous consensus of embryological research and endeavour.
I’m labouring the point because we must never tire of emphasising that attempts to give the human being inviolable rights at any other point than fertilisation are, in the face of this alone, utterly arbitrary and make an utter nonsense of the whole rights project, reducing human dignity to the whim of scientific zeitgeist or the philosophical designations of the onlooker.
On to my first province of Gaul: Embryology.
Since the 1990 Act – with little regard for its “special status” – more than two million human embryos have been routinely manufactured, frozen, destroyed or experimented upon – with only 4% seeing the light of day.
As of February this year, our country had created 155 admixed embryos – an embryo with animal and human constituents – for used in scientific research since the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008. No other country in the world has enacted legislation to allow the manufacture of animal-human hybrids – entities whose destruction is then required after 14 days (which, incidentally, begs the question, 14 days after what?). This brings great shame to Britain.
As to the embryos they don’t use – our legislation doesn’t even require them to keep figures.
This is without the incalculable numbers of pregnancies brought to an end by the morning after pill.
And, for what?
Embryonic research, we were reassured in the debates prior to the passing of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, would yield magnificent cures for diseases.
Is anyone aware of a single cure rendered by the mass destruction of human embryos?
Yet as far back as 19 November 2001, we knew that there were ways of achieving the same objectives without any of the moral hazards that embryo experimentation implies. A team of scientists whom we brought to give oral evidence to the Select Committee on Stem Cell Research said that, “it is now abundantly clear that adult stem cell research shows more clinical promise than embryonic stem cell research”. That was prior to any of the momentum had developed which fuelled the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008.
But ironically, and rather tragically, the economic and ideological impetus won out and subsequently we have seen resources poured endlessly in to the blind alley and ethical wilderness of embryonic stem cells.
By contrast, one small glimmer of hope came, just a few years ago, when £0.6 million was offered to existing Medical Research Council grant-holders to support small projects with induced pluripotent stem cells—IPS cells. The MRC’s gamble paid off and Dr Keisuke Kaji at the University of Edinburgh and a colleague from Toronto have been among the first to get human skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells without needing to use viruses, and with the introduced genes successfully removed after reprogramming. As the MRC says on its website, research teams now state that, “their discovery could ultimately spell an end to the need for human embryos as a source of stem cells”. We said this from the beginning and throughout every stage of the Bills which were laid before Parliament ( see https://davidalton.net/2010/12/23/key-speeches-by-david-alton-during-the-passage-of-the-human-fertilisation-and-embryology-bill/ ).
Today it is estimated that there are over 80 treatments that have resulted from adult stem cell experimentation.
This is a breakthrough, no doubt. But I raise it to make a different point about the scale and nature of our challenge.
We are not dealing with an evidenced-based approach in our opponents; in fact, if you are looking for consistency in the arguments presented in favour of embryo experimentation, you will find none. In the face of compelling evidence that the moral boundary of embryo experimentation would never need to be breached, the authorities went ahead and did so anyway.
At the time, The New Scientist lamented “creating human clones for no good reason is wrong.” They added: “Like stuck records, ministers and policy makers continue to enthuse about therapeutic cloning even though the majority of bench scientists no longer think it’s possible or practicable to treat patients with cells derived from cloned embryos.”
So why did we go ahead with it, tantalizing people suffering from degenerative diseases with propaganda telling them that the only hope for curing their disease is to manufacture cloned human embryos when we knew all along that it wouldn’t?
Because the ideological fervour which for some reason has so gripped pro-experimentation campaigners is not about rationality. So much depends on fooling ourselves that life in the womb has no value that the HFE deliberations almost became about securing a restatement of that fact.
As Chesterton said “They cannot do a monstrous action and still see it is monstrous. Wherever they make a stride they make a rut. They cannot stop their own thoughts, though their thoughts are pouring into the pit.”
Chesterton was right; the science and the ethics are in the pit.
One strange reality of the human condition shown time and time again throughout history is how strangely self-perpetuating monstrous activity can be.
Once certain moral transgressions are made, it is so often easier to just carry on transgressing that to confront what it is that has been and is being done; to acknowledge that we have perpetuated evil on an industrial scale.
But it’s not all hopelessly bleak. Some ground has been made up. In Germany an alliance of Christian Democrats and Greens have forbidden the patenting of human embryos and here the General Medical Council have at last shifted more funds to adult stem cells, while report after report strengthens our arguments by highlighting some of the consequences of human embryonic cloning and experimentation.
On to abortion; my second province.
There have been around seven million abortions in this country since 1967. Last year there were 189,574 abortions. The figures revealed that 48,348 women had more than one abortion, Tragically, 383 women had five or more abortions; some as many as eight.
When I sent these statistics on to the author of the 1967 Abortion Act, David Steel, who remains a colleague in the House of Lords, I had an email back simply asking:
“abortion being used as contraception?”. A good question.
Last week the Pro Life Alliance did extremely well to secure the release of the statistics of late term abortions. Those figures show that 2,290 abortions on grounds of disability were performed last year; 147 of those after 24 weeks. Seven were undertaken on the grounds of a cleft palate, a condition which can be rectified by surgery, and 181 were attributed to muscouloskeletal problems such as club foot.
Elsewhere in the world, new reports from India and China reveal the extent of the killing that has been a direct result of the evangelisation of the ‘choice’ doctrine.
Over the past three decades in India alone, more than 12 million abortions were carried about because the baby was female. This phenomenon, dubbed ‘gendercide’ by many has claimed the lives of 160 million girls worldwide – at the very least.
I just want to ponder over those numbers for a second because they are so utterly overwhelming that reading them out like this can never do them justice. One hundred and sixty million girls aborted because their mothers would rather have had a boy –that was their ‘choice’.
This is an absolutely horrifying statistic and, if it were any other topic, we would be filling the streets. But to go back to Chesterton’s observation, doing so would mean facing up to what we have done, so we plod on with our fingers in our ears.
This is the lie of the land. We have permitted millions and millions of children to be killed under the specious pretext of choice – a concept that when it is applied to the context of life has more than the vestiges of an ideology. It is the language of the market place and consumerism: with apologies to Descartes – “I choose, therefore I am.”
These are some of the reasons for which the most defenceless of all people – children in the womb – have been exterminated in catastrophic numbers – and they expose the ‘choice’ doctrine as rotten to the core. When extended to its logical end, the premise that one person should be able to kill another defies regulation. As the last 40 years have shown incontrovertibly, the woman’s right to choose has aggregated to itself more and more power, permitting for itself abortion on ever more spurious grounds – even gender.
It is an addictive ideology, and its proponents become Cesar-like. As Nicholas Windsor said so powerfully recently, thumbs up or thumbs down – all depends on the ‘choice’ of the mother.
When it comes to life itself, choice cannot be a trump card: freedom for the strong is death for the weak; freedom to choose for the hunter is death for the hunted.
Allow me to return to China where the horror of abortion is not confined to gendercide.
The one child policy has led to gross human rights abuses; to forced abortion and sterilization. Never forget that through DFID and the United Nations Population Fund you and I have scandalously been providing technical and strategic help to China. China is a great nation and can boast an ancient civilization but it cannot be proud of the consequences of its one child policy.
Here are a few examples of the sorts of unspeakable things that go on there.
The South China Morning Post detailed the case of Jin Yani. She had sued the Chinese Government for both the loss of her child and her subsequent infertility.
One night, eight years earlier, Jin Yani was woken up by Family Planning Police. They battered down the door of her home. As she screamed with terror they pulled her onto the street in her nightclothes. Even though she was nine months pregnant, and this was her first child, she was manhandled to the family planning centre, where, despite her desperate pleas, five officials pinned her to her bed, stripped her, and injected saline solution through her womb into her unborn child. The loss of blood nearly killed Jin Yani and after chronic haemorrhaging she was hospitalised for 44 days. Now infertile, and having challenged the officials in court, she and her husband, Yang, are in hiding, in fear of their lives.
And those who refuse to comply, like Chen Guangcheng, a blind human rights lawyer who dared to express concern at China’s coercive abortion programmes have suffered abjectly for daring to challenge the inhuman practices of the Chinese authorities. He was four years in prison; and he and his wife remain under house arrest having been brutally beaten earlier this year.
But this is not just about far away places.
As each day passes, we learn more about the overwhelming after effects of abortion which the Royal Colleges of psychiatry and doctors simply cannot ignore.
The grief that so many women experience as a result of an abortion – post abortion trauma – at recognizing the humanity of the infant they had aborted.
• The possibility of damage to the cervix resulting in subsequent pregnancies ending in miscarriage and foetal mortality.
• We have seen evidence this week that women who have had an abortion are more likely to give birth to a premature baby – %73 percent more likely according to the latest research which examined a million pregnancies spanning 26 years.
Using data from 37 prior published studies, P.S. Shah reported that
• One induced abortion increases the risk for Pre-Term Birth in a subsequent pregnancy by 36%. Two or more induced abortions increases that risk by 93%.
One induced abortion increases the risk of Low Birth Weight by 35% and more than one induced abortion increases that risk to 72%.
It is even speculated that there is a statistically significant correlation between abortion and incidence of breast cancer.
And why have the Royal Colleges failed to change their guidelines when confronted by this overwhelming evidence?
It’s the Chesterton syndrome again. As the late Charles Francis QC revealed:
“Many British gynaecologists would have performed abortions or referred patients for abortions without any warning of this risk. In these circumstances, one can understand the reluctance of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) to publicly admit this risk.”
In short, it means facing up to what they have done.
It also means confronting the abortion industry which makes hundreds of millions through the selling of abortions in this country alone.
I am currently engaged in a battle to discover how much taxpayers’ money goes towards abortion.
Such is the unwillingness to admit this on the part of the Government that they have resorted to nonsense-language so obscure and jargonised that it even embarrassed the Health Minister, Earl Howe. Only today the same Minister told me that they don’t collect data on the cost of IVF cycles which are subsequently aborted, or on the reasons for the ending of such pregnancies. It seems, too, that we don’t collect records for 59% of all abortions paid for by you and me. For a Government which preaches so much about the prudent use of public money and austerity this is a disgrace.
You are probably getting a feel for just how much resistance there is to the truth.
But there have been recent signs of movement. I’m sure you will have all been following the amendment moved by MPs Nadine Dorries and Frank Field on informed consent and which seems to have opened a debate on pre and post abortion counselling that might secure some movement in the right direction. Currently the scandalous truth is that there is no statutory requirement to inform women of the risks posed by, or alternatives to, abortion; a standard medical requirement for the most minor operations, even an ear-syringing.
This is hardly surprising given that many abortion ‘counsellors’ have a financial interest in their procuring of abortion, as they also procure that ‘service’. No change in the law should allow Marie Stopes or BPAS to become an abortion counsellor.
The scale of what is done and the apparently impossible and certainly daunting odds could leave you in despair. But we can take some encouragement from the people who have changed their minds.
The recently deceased Dr.Bernard Nathanson was one of America’s leading abortionists. He estimated that he personally undertook 75,000 over the years. On seeing the ultrasound scan and the unborn child trying to escape his instruments he knew he could never undertake another abortion. A lasting legacy of his pro-life work is “The Silent Scream” which can be seen on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/verify_age?next_url=http%3A//www.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DcjNo_0cW-ek
Consider, too, Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe v Wade, whose eyes were opened to the tragedy of abortion, who we brought to Westminster, and who now campaigns tirelessly for the rights of the unborn child, even appearing in films like Doonby which we screened earlier this year in the House.
More recently, Abby Johnson a former Planned Parenthood director changed her mind.
We need many more people to have the courage to change their minds – not least because of the consequences if we do not.
It is also perhaps a little encouraging that we are making some headway in getting the Government to reveal what is really happening within the whole abortion machine. The Pro-Life Alliance’s victory last week helped lift the lid on the whole fetid practice of abortion. It provided a glimpse of what it concealed beneath the arguments about compassion for women and personal autonomy: eugenics, a rampant addiction to choice and another form of contraception.
As we consider the fight facing us let me turn now to the third and final province: euthanasia
Many of the same legislators who have shown such cavalier disregard for the unborn have – from Holland and Belgium to the State of Oregon – now legalised the killing of the sick, the disabled and the dying through euthanasia. In Holland there are 4,000 deaths each year through euthanasia, around 1,000 of those are involuntary, without the consent of the patient.
Recent reports suggest that 2700 of those have been for patients in early stage dementia.
In Switzerland commercial killing centres have been established by groups like Dignitas – with hundreds of terminally ill, paralysed or depressed patients, including around 100 Britons, going there to end their lives with a lethal cocktail of drugs. The clinic has been investigated over claims that Dignitas is making a profit from the fees it charges patients
Prosecutors have also investigated allegations that patients’ personal possessions have gone missing after their deaths.
Elsewhere, Courts have frequently permitted the withdrawal of food and fluid from patients who are not dying, but whom others have decided no longer have a quality of life worth sustaining. The new proclaimed “right” – the “right to die” will rapidly become “a duty to die.” I spelt out the arguments last year in a speech in Liverpool: https://davidalton.net/?s=euthanasia+debate+in+liverpool
Baroness (Mary) Warnock, one of Britain’s most influential philosophers gave us glimpses a few weeks ago of what kind of threats will in the future face the sick. In an article in The Times on 10 October, she said:
“If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives—your family’s lives—and you’re wasting the resources of the NHS”.
This is the beating heart of the push towards euthanasia and it the reason that it won’t go away any time soon. With demographic pressure increasing, the economic impetus to find some way of easing that pressure grows. It seems that the strategy that has been chosen here is to label those disabled or elderly people as living ‘undignified’ lives and then legislate to allow people to end such indignity.
Of late the Falconer Commission on Assisted Dying – comprising 11 people, 10 of whom are known to have campaigned for assisted suicide, rumbles ahead in its attempt to force the thin end of the euthanasia wedge onto the statute books.
Worse is that it has been able to do so despite consistent parliamentary rejection in vote after vote, all of which have been decided in recent years.
This has been due, in large part, to the campaign having the support of the BBC – the Biased Broadcasting Corporation – who have been reduced to mere cheerleaders for a change in the law on this issue, producing five programmes in favour in the past three years and failing consistently to present the other side of the argument. For example, last week’s decision of the British Medical Association to approve a motion condemning the bias of the Falconer Commission was not even reported. My colleague Jim Dobbin MP has an excellent Early Day Motion on the subject which I urge you all to support by lobbying your MPs to sign it.
However, there is some good news.
In recent years, the House of Lords has consistently and comprehensively rejected any attempt to change the law while the last Commons vote – some time ago – overwhelmingly rejected attempts to legalise assisted dying and recent attempts to introduce euthanasia in Scotland were trounced by their Parliament .
I am encouraged that, along with the BMA, who last week reaffirmed their opposition, none of Britain’s Royal Medical Colleges support euthanasia.
Thank God, too, that disability rights campaigners have joined the fight for life realising how much of threat assisted dying legislation poses to them.
I hope that they will also join us in combating the discriminatory laws on abortion on the grounds of disability. I can today announce that, in October, the All Party Parliamentary Group will be launching a full-scale inquiry in to this heinous practice.
Ultimately, there is a fundamental divide between those of us who measure life in terms of the right to life and the duty to protect life and those who measure life by its quality.
Those who believe in the dignity of life will work for the provision of hospices and palliative care. To die with dignity we do not need doctors to kill us.
My second son is as first year medical student. He would agree with Professor Tim Maughan, the Director of Wales Cancer Trials, who said of the killing of patients “this is not what we became doctors to do”.
Having visited those three provinces of Gaul, let me end by insisting that there is an absolute value to life. But it is not enough to simply say we are against abortion, embryo experimentation, cloning or euthanasia.
We must fearlessly oppose a culture of death but also use our resources and energy to actively promote a humane alternative: a culture of life.
We must provide practical help for women who feel they are left with “no choice”; we must make provision through hospices for the care of the sick and dying; we must seek ethical alternatives for the cure of debilitating diseases; and we must always challenge the wholesale destruction of life.
We could, for example, attempt to improve our adoption services. Last year, for every baby adopted, 2,702 children were aborted. Put another way, every working day we abort 600 babies. That’s every day. And in the whole of last year there were only 70 babies available for adoption.
We must also provide for organisations working for these objectives and values – like Right to Life, run by the indomitable Phyllis Bowman, and to whom we owe so much. Phyllis has combined the political acumen of an Emmeline Pankhurst with the dogged compassion and spiritual hard-headedness of many of the great women of history. All of us should follow her example.
We can take political action: urging legislators, Governments and States to uphold the pro-life ethic. And there are plenty of individual actions we can take ourselves. We can try this via international law, through film or media, by talking to schools, by standing up and being counted among our peers. The Jewish Rabbi was right when he said that “The person who saves a single life saves the world”
We can’t leave this battle to someone else while hundreds of millions of children are mercilessly crushed in the womb.
Dr Alveda King, the niece of Dr Martin Luther King – who herself had three abortions – speaking at Westminster just over a year ago said “that in our age the greatest human rights struggle, following in the footsteps of Wilberforce and my uncle’s civil rights movement is the battle today for the unborn – the pro-life movement”.
I would go further and say that the killing of children in the womb is the most unconscionable crime against humanity any civilization has ever faced. It is the defining issue of our age; it is the pre-eminent human rights question.
There can be no neutrals; no quiet life; no going back; and believe me there will be sacrifices. As William Wilberforce once said “you may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”