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Life After Death

Life After Death

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Published by David Alton
A pro-life book by Lord Alton
A pro-life book by Lord Alton

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Published by: David Alton on Dec 13, 2010
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The Warnock Committee

Since the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act, there has been a continued erosion of
respect for human life. The passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology
Act, in 1990, reinforced anti-life attitudes and legislation. It was prefigured by the
Warnock Committee Report. It is instructive to study the way in which public
opinion was 'softened up', how a committee was loaded and Parliament
manipulated. The same trick will be attempted again with euthanasia. Those who
follow these issues should understand how the cynical have traduced the
democratic process and prevented informed debate.

To the detriment of both philosophers and politicians, the umbilical link which
existed between the philosopher and the statesman has long been severed. Today,
political thought is far more likely to be shaped by spin-doctors, public relations
experts and opinion polls than by the flow of ideas. Perhaps this is partly because
there are few statesmen any more, just party politicians; but some of it also has to
do with compliant philosophers. From time to time it may suit the purposes of a
politician or government to wheel out an eminent philosopher, a safe pair of hands,
to deliver a verdict with which they know in advance they will be in agreement. In
The Man Who Was Thursday, G. K. Chesterton had this to say about such
philosophers: "The dangerous criminal is the educated criminal. We say that the
most dangerous criminal now is the lawless modern philosopher. Compared to
him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; my heart goes out to them."
More dangerous still, to my mind, is the philosopher who swallows the politicians'
agenda and provides them with a veneer of respectability. The genesis of the
Warnock Committee and all that flowed from its creation is a case in point.

On 18 November 1993, BBC Radio Four broadcast the Analysis programme. The
presenter, The Observer columnist, Melanie Phillips laid bare the way in which
Parliament was manipulated into passing the 1990 Act. One example concerned
the way in which membership of the committee of inquiry was dertermined. On 23
July 1982, the Government had announced the terms of reference for an inquiry
into the ethical issues associated with human fertilisation and embryology. This
was largely to spike a Private Member's attempt, by the South Down MP, Enoch
Powell, to ban embryo experimentation. The élitist Oxford philosopher, Baroness
Warnock, was appointed to chair the committee, which reported on 18 July 1984.
During the course of her interview with Miss Phillips, Mary Warnock admitted that
she vetoed the appointment of a particular member of the committee on the
grounds of his religion and moral beliefs. Miss Phillips had referred to the
construction of the committee, saying: "The shape these committees takes is so
important in determining their eventual conclusions".

Baroness Warnock replied: "The potential Chairman is approached either by the
Minister or by the Permanent Secretary or both. But, of course, one doesn't know
how many other people have been approached. "I sometimes get the feeling really
that they sort of wade through dozens of names and then come up with someone
who's a sucker and says yes. But, at any rate, after that, the thing is shrouded in
mystery really. "There exists what is generally known as the Central List. And the
Central List is produced and combed for people who might have an interest in this
kind of thing. "I was then given a kind of draft list and asked whether there were
any other people I thought would be obvious choices. "Maybe people who were
not yet among the great and the good. And I was with some difficulty allowed a
power of veto. "There was one particular person who was supposed to be the
Catholic and I said I would not have him. "I just knew that I couldn't work with
him. We went right up to the day before publication with the civil servants saying,
'But there's nobody else in the world'. "So, in the end, the night before publication,
I said, 'Well, will you please tell the Minister that it's a very, very bad way to
embark on working on a committee when you know that there's somebody you're
not going to find easy to work with'. "The following morning two names were
suggested. So I did win on that but it was very, very hard and it took a lot of

When Your face Doesn't Fit

Subsequently I wrote to the then Prime Minister, John Major, to protest at the way
in which a Parliamentary Committee had been rigged, and to call for a better
balance on committees considering ethical questions between those who believe in
the sanctity of life and those who do not. My letter received a courteous enough
reply but no promise to take any action whatsoever. Britain's statutory
impediments on the civil liberties of Catholics - such as the much-cited ban on an
heir to the throne marrying a Catholic - are risible and irrelevant in comparison
with this form of discrimination. It was not only Catholics, however: Jews,
Orthodox Christians, Evangelicals and Muslims were also entirely excluded.
Baroness Warnock got her membership and her report. Difficult ethical questions
were ruled out of court from the beginning: in her own words, the Committee
deliberately excluded "questions of when life or personhood begins" (quoted Daily
Mail, 2 February, 1996). As that was one of the central issues in determining the
new law, it seemed an extraordinary omission.

Although it was not unanimous (having heard the arguments, a handful of
members dissented and brought in a minority report), the report was widely cited
in both houses of Parliament during the debate which led to the 1990 Act. The
Government, having established the Committee, then laid its proposals before
Parliament, and hid behind the august figure of Lady Warnock as if the Bill had
nothing whatsoever to do with them. In April 1998, she boasted that as a school
teacher she had recommended teenage girls to have abortions. She said that Downs
Syndrome babies would be better aborted - leading Dominic Lawson, Editor of

The Sunday Telegraph and father of a Downs child, to successfully have her
removed as a patron of the Downs Syndrome Society.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

The relative ease with which the Warnock Committee secured its objectives
became the model for the composition and operation of the HFEA. Apart from
loading its membership with people who share the Warnock view of ethics, the
HFEA finances itself from the very clinics it is supposed to police. Fees account
for 70% of the Authority's income. This leads to an utterly incestuous relationship.
You cannot afford to say 'no' too often (or, in the HFEA's case, ever). The HFEA
earns money from the creation of spare embryos because it is funded through the
licences it grants to the clinics who create the spares and who then undertake the
experiments. In terms of job security and future funding, it has a built-in incentive
to make the situation even worse in the future. This is no basis for good ethics.

A City the Size of Nottingham

On May 3rd 1998, The Sunday Tmes reported that, "Since the Human Fertilisation
and Embryology Act came into force in 1991, more than 500,000 human embryos
have been created. Fewer than half are used in treatment and by March 1996, only
about 20,000 babies had been born" from these embryos. They reported that only
one in seven attempts is successful and that parents pay £3,000-£5,000 per attempt.
Few parents realise that their surplus embryos are used for experiments. The
Sunday Times added that, "The research so far has contributed little to the overall
success of fertility treatment ... the embryonic equivalent of the population of a city
the size of Nottingham has been lost".

The Good Life

The membership of the HFEA was chosen so that there would be no
squeamishness about the practices it was established to regulate. It has been a
mixture of the politically and religiously correct. Liz Forgan, Managing Director of
BBC Network Radio (the former editor of The Guardian's women's pages and
Programme Director for Channel 4); the Bishop of Edinburgh, Rt. Rev Richard
Holloway ("We are all born with adulterous genes and genetic engineering may be
compared with corrective medicine, such as the fitting of a pair of glasses." He also
defended the Edinburgh scientist who wanted to use the eggs of aborted baby girls
for fertility treatments); and the actress Penelope Keith, neighbour of the former
Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley, and best-known for her starring role in The
Good Life - have all been among the membership. Half are drawn from the
medical profession.

No Freedom of Information

There is not, and never has been, a single member of the HFEA who upholds the
sanctity of human life from fertilisation: such old-fashioned religious belief is
thought of as quaint, at best, and dangerous bigotry at worst. The HFEA behaves in
an arrogant and unaccountable manner, assuming powers for itself - refusing, for
instance, to allow Members of Parliament sight of the study which it undertook
into the freezing of embryos. So much for freedom of information, public
disclosure and access. The HFEA has also been deceptive - being forced to retract
a published claim that French scientists had withdrawn their work demonstrating a
link between the freezing of human embryos and subsequent disabilities. A simple
telephone call to Paris proved this to be a lie. The Authority has been given
extraordinary power by Parliament. The Order allowing clinics to destroy up to
3,000 human embryos, whose parents had been "lost" by the clinics, and which
allows embryos frozen for five years to remain in deep freeze for a further five
years, was made without a single vote being cast (18 July, 1996). The Order was
debated in an obscure committee room on the upper corridor of the House of
Commons, with debate-time limited to half an hour.

HFEA: Robbing Graves

The HFEA has also been radically out of step with public opinion. When the
Edinburgh scientist, Roger Gosden sought permission to use the eggs of aborted
baby girls for fertility treatment, the HFEA did not demur. It embarked on a public
consultation. Parliamentarians were genuinely appalled and immediately approved
an amendment, proposed by Dame Jill Knight to the Criminal Justice Bill,
outlawing what I described as contemporary grave robbing. That a child should
have an aborted foetus as its mother and the aborted girl's mother as its
grandmother proved too much for even the most virulent and hardened abortionists
though not, apparently for the HFEA. Be clear about the subject on which the
HFEA was proposing to hold a public consultation. First a little unborn girl was to
be selected out. Then she would be aborted while still alive, in order to protect her
tissue and her eggs which the clinic wants to use. They would then rob her ovaries
of her eggs, and having plundered her womb, they would kill her. Her child - and
perhaps dozens or even hundreds of her brothers and sisters - would then be
fertilised and placed in another woman's womb. A woman is at her most fertile at
just twenty weeks gestation. At twenty weeks gestation she has 5 million eggs in
her womb, 4 million of which are naturally shed between 20 weeks gestation and
birth. She is a rich source of organs and tissue. We hear a lot about choice but she
has no choice. Her donations are entirely involuntary. The widespread anonymous
use of gametes can have other shocking consequences. In America there is already
a reported case of a man almost marrying a woman whom he discovered - just
before they wed - was his biological daughter. She had been conceived from sperm
which he had donated many years previously. In their consultation, the HFEA
raised no questions about these considerations. Nor did they raise the issue of
parenting. Is it wise for a society to allow the birth of children who, in the
fundamental biological sense, have no idea of who they are? What psychological

and identity crises are we sowing for the future? And what do we tell a young man
or woman asking the question, "Who am I?" Do you tell them that their mother
was a dead foetus and their father was an anonymous sperm donor paid to provide
his gametes?

"I'm glad I'm not a gamma".

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.

HFEA: Model for Others

If the HFEA were doing its job it would not only have addressed these ethical and
social questions, it would be much clearer in questioning the new proclaimed 'right'
to have a child. It would also save infertile couples much trauma and agony if,
instead of allowing clinics to tantalise them with photographs of successful births,
they made it clear that in the last twelve months, the clinics successfully treated
only 1,000 people using in vitro fertilisation. 85% of treatments were unsuccessful.
Perhaps it would also be performing its role better if it questioned the costs
involved to the NHS and private individuals of performing IVF, while 600 unborn
children are daily aborted; babies who would once have been adopted by infertile
couples and given loving homes. The HFEA has also helped nurture the false idea
that having children is yet another claimed 'right'.

The Adoption Alternative

Instead of promulgating the 'right' to have a child or to get rid of a child, we would
do better to consider our duties to the child,and make the welfare of children the
central issue. After speaking at a school in Dublin in the spring of 1998, a teenager
asked if I would have a word with him. He particularly made me stop and think
about the obstacles which we put in the way of couples who want to adopt a child.
His story made me wonder why organisations like the HFEA do not promote
adoption as an alternative to abortion and to unethical fertility treaments. This
teenager had been adopted. His friends often assumed that he felt bitter towards his
mother: "I don't feel any bitterness, only gratitude," he said. "It would have been
much easier for my mother to have got rid of me. She showed courage in letting
me be born and then in letting me be brought up by my adoptive parents. I have
received nothing but love." One teenager's story does not constitute an irrefutable
argument, but it is the antidote to the widespread anti-adoption prejudice of many
childcare professionals. Just consider the figures. In 1975 there were 21,000
adoptions. By 1995 this had fallen to under 6,000. The adoption of babies fell in
the same period from 4,500 to a negligible 322. In one year 322 babies are
adopted; in one day 600 babies are aborted - 5 million in the past 30 years.
Adoption is the loving alternative to abortion, and to the wholesale destruction of
human embryos.

Although there are examples of unhappy children in adoptive homes (and there are
examples of unhappy children in their natural homes too), all the evidence suggests
that the vast majority of adopted children thrive. The alternatives include leaving
children in the local authority care system where they will be far less stable and
happy, or denying them the chance to be born in the first place. Many childcare
professionals say they are in favour of adoption. In practice they seem to search for
any reason to disqualify many applicants. I have a friend who is of mixed race. The
political correctness to which he and his wife were subjected when they sought to
adopt a child was breathtaking. Other families may be told that while they are
having fertility treatments, local authorities will not consider them for adoption. By
the time they reach their late thirties and the fertility treatments have not worked,
some local authorities then impose an age barrier debarring them from adoption. It
is palpably absurd that a couple can start a natural family in their late thirties or
early forties but are told that they are too ancient to adopt. In practice, many
couples of that age have a stable and settled home and a wisdom which enables
them to be very good parents. Instead of adoption, children are shuttled back and
forth between council care, foster parents and the original parents (who might have
abused or neglected the child and continue to do so), and are often traumatised -
making a happy adoption far less likely. This is not making the child's needs the
central issue. It would be a good start if councils had to publicly state how many
children they have in care, the time they have been there, and the number free to be
adopted. And where there is no contested application, the adoption process should
be completed within three months. If adoption were removed from social service
departments and vested in voluntary bodies who are genuinely committed to
finding good adoptive homes for children in need of them, there might be more
happy teenagers like the one I met in Dublin. It might also reduce the need for
bodies like the HFEA. In the future, the HFEA will continue to have great
influence as the public debates the nature of human life and the respect which it
should be accorded. Its track-record does not commend it for this task. Its failure to
impose a moratorium on the freezing of human embryos; its opposition to the
adoption of "spare embryos"; its connivance in destructive experiments, and its
acquiescence as human life is traded on a commodity market, is a dismal record.
Despite this lamentable incompetence, the self-serving HFEA is now, like Lady
Warnock's Committee before it, to be a model for others.

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