The Shinkwin Bill on equality, discrimination, disability and abortion law has been given a Second Reading
Lord (Kevin) Shinkwin and a supporter of his Bill at Westminster.
To watch the debate go to:
Also, to see this speech(below) on You Tube:
and Janet Fearns scorn-not-his-simplicity
11.52 am October 21st 2016
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
My Lords, I support the Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, and congratulate him on bringing this timely piece of legislation to your Lordships’ House and on the eloquent way in which he introduced it. It is hard to overstate my admiration for his courage, his compassion and his integrity.
I hope noble Lords will forgive me for saying so, but I cannot help thinking that if the noble Lord’s Bill had set out to facilitate the assisted suicide of disabled people, it would have been on every national news bulletin. But because it seeks to end the taking of the life of a viable disabled baby, it is being treated very differently. That unwillingness to treat ethical issues with equal respect and impartiality is a disturbing sign of the times—but not as disturbing as the issues of equality, discrimination and the very right to life itself raised by the noble Lord’s important Bill
As the noble Lord observed, our legislation currently affords unborn disabled babies significantly less protection than that which is afforded those who are able bodied. Paradoxically, we will campaign and raise our voices for wheelchair ramps to be placed on public buildings but fail to uphold the innate right to life itself of the disabled person who uses that wheelchair.
Although the able bodied may be aborted up to 24 weeks, those who are disabled may be aborted up to birth. This inevitably implies that these unborn disabled babies are, as the noble Lord said, significantly less valuable than those who are able bodied. What message does this convey about the human dignity and the value—or, rather, the lack of value—of disability in society generally? As the law stands, it is a legal arrangement that invites and encourages discrimination—which is why, in 1990, I spoke and voted against it in another place when this provision was made.
At the time, I was given significant support by a woman called Ellen Wilkie, who had Duchenne muscular dystrophy. In her short 31 years, Ellen gained an honours degree in classics from Bristol University and was a published poet, worker, author, actress, radio and television presenter, journalist and musician. Her parents had been encouraged to abort her but had refused. I particularly commend her autobiography, A Pocketful of Dynamite, to anyone who contests her assertion that, “No one can say what a disabled person will be capable of”.
The arguments that Ellen Wilkie put at that time were set aside by Members of another place, and that legislation was incorporated into statute. It has had a very negative effect on the attitudes that people have. It is a throwback to a time when society had remarkably different attitudes to the inclusion and contribution of people with disabilities. We have moved on as a society and it is time that the law moved on, too. The Disability Rights Commission—now the Equality and Human Rights Commission—has, rightly, argued that this provision,
“is offensive to many people; it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability and … is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally”.
As the We’re All Equal campaign has pointed out, statute insists that we must not discriminate against people with disabilities, but the 1990 provision runs contrary to both the spirit and the letter of the law.
The net effect of the noble Lord’s Bill would be that the 24-week time limit would apply to all babies, regardless of disability—it has no effect on other grounds detailed in the 1967 Abortion Act. It is hardly a secret that I oppose not just the time limits in our current legislation but the provisions that have led to 8 million nascent lives being prematurely ended in the United Kingdom. But this Bill is not about that; it is solely about a eugenic law that flies in the face of our usual protestations and tips the balance in favour of equality and against discrimination.
That the noble Lord’s Bill is desperately needed may be graphically seen in the abortion statistics provided by the department, which the noble Lord referred to. He specifically referred to the situation of people with Down’s syndrome. We live in a country where around 90% of all Down’s syndrome babies are routinely aborted. I know that I am not alone in having been deeply affected by Sally Phillips’s recent documentary, “A World Without Downs Syndrome?”, and the subsequent debate which the programme inspired. Rosa Monckton, mother of Domenica, born with Down’s, remarked that,
“Sally is entirely right about the relentless pressure to persuade mothers to ‘give up and start again’. I hate to think of what our family would have missed if we had gone down that path”.
What does it say about us and our society when amniocentesis and other tests are used as part of search and destroy mission with barely a murmur of dissent? Sally Phillips brilliantly highlighted the appalling pressure put upon mothers who receive a pre-natal diagnosis to abort their babies, but it also revealed from her own experience that living with Down’s is not a death sentence or incompatible with life. Paradoxically, in seeking to eradicate these wonderful individuals from the human race, it suggests that it is we who have the problem, not them. What does it say to the survivors—those who have been inconsiderate enough to avoid the perfection test and have somehow managed to slip through the net?
The noble Lord’s Bill challenges these negative stereotypes, but it also challenges casual attitudes to the law and to the requirement to keep scrupulous records. In 2014, a Department of Health review found evidence that there is significant underreporting of the number of abortions for some foetal disabilities. I hope that when the noble Baroness comes to reply to the debate, she will say what is going to be done to rectify this. I also have another question, arising from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin. Although we were warned about it in the debates in 1990, not least by Professor John Finnis, who was rubbished at the time and accused of scaremongering, very few people realised that the provision would lead to abortion on babies with, as the noble Lord said, rectifiable disabilities such as cleft palate and hare-lip. What does the Minister have to say about that?
The shocking discrimination that we are witnessing through both what our law says and what it facilitates has devastating practical implications. I will conclude my remarks by returning to the pressures exerted on parents. The United Kingdom’s initial report on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities said:
“Concerns were expressed around the approach to abortion in the UK, where disabled people have suggested a bias towards termination of pregnancies if a child is likely to be disabled”.
This view was backed up by evidence submitted to the 2013 independent parliamentary inquiry, which heard from a number of parents who said that, when it became apparent that their baby was disabled, their doctors expected them to abort. Among a number of contributions that I read, one parent said that her doctor became,
“short-tempered and abrupt with me because he clearly didn’t agree with my decision”.
Another said she felt pressured into an abortion and reported that her doctor,
“threatened that all medical help would be denied”.
The inquiry also heard from parents with disabled children. A representative of the British Academy of Childhood Disability said:
“Parents I have spoken to have said that Doctors treating their children with Down’s Syndrome for example (for heart and other conditions post natal) criticised them for not having abortions, saying their children will not have a good life”.
A parent, meanwhile, said:
“Parents who learn of their baby’s disability after birth are sometimes told that it’s too bad they didn’t find out earlier so they could have ‘taken care of it’”.
Another parent said:
“I have heard views expressed that suggest my child is seen as a drain on resources. A common view is that it was not fair on my other child to bring a disabled child into the world”.
When she comes to reply, I hope that the Minister will reflect for a little while on the department’s attitude to some of the alternatives to this that are available. I have read about and seen some of the extraordinary in utero operations that can take place now on disabilities such as spina bifida, and I have also read the work of Professor KJS Anand, one of the world’s leading experts on foetal pain, whose says that,
“it seems prudent to avoid pain during gestation”,
because of the danger that the unborn child will experience pain. Noble Lords should recall that babies have been born and lived from 23 weeks’ gestation, and this provision permits the ending of a life right up to and even during birth. What pain must it experience in this life-ending procedure?
All of this is very sad, so I am extraordinarily grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, for bringing forward his important equalities Bill. It is specific in its intention and specifically targeted at the issue of discrimination and inequality. I urge your Lordships’ House to give it your support at Second Reading today.
The Bill Received A Second Reading.
Doctors Operate In The Womb To save A Life….
“It was an easy decision. We wanted to give her life.”
A baby has been ‘born twice’ after doctors had to take her out of the womb to remove a tumour that was threatening her life.
Lynlee Boemer’s only chance of survival was a risky fetal surgery which involved cutting her out of her mother prematurely, and then putting her back in so that she could be carried full term.
LynLee’s mother Margaret said she was told at 16 weeks that her baby was suffering from a rare birth defect known as sacrococcygeal teratoma – a tumor that grows from a baby’s tailbone…..
When Mrs Boemer was 23 weeks and five days pregnant she was taken into the operating theatre.
Mrs Boemer told CNN: “LynLee didn’t have much of a chance. At 23 weeks, the tumour was shutting her heart down and causing her to go into cardiac failure, so it was a choice of allowing the tumour to take over her body or giving her a chance at life.
‘It was an easy decision for us. We wanted to give her life.”