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Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 'misled' Parliament in Abortion Review

Published: 24th October 2007

The UK's largest organisation of Christian doctors has expressed concern that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) failed to give full information to a House of Commons Select Committee over current scientific evidence for lowering the upper limit for abortion.

The Science and Technology Select Committee invited submissions from experts and interested parties as part of their work in compiling a report on the latest scientific research into whether babies can survive below the current 24 week gestation period, and whether fetuses can feel pain earlier than 24 weeks. The Committee's Report, expected to be published next week, will be referred to by MPs seeking to amend the law on abortion as part of the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill, which is due to be announced in the Queen's Speech on 6 November.

Pro-choice MPs have pledged to liberalize the law to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act. This agenda is being supported by Abortion Rights, a national coalition which plans to liberalize the current UK abortion law to bring in abortion on request in the first three months of pregnancy, nurse and home abortion and to resist any lowering of the upper limit. Abortion Rights work closely with the parliamentary All Party Pro-choice and Sexual Health group and the Voice for Choice coalition of the major abortion providers.

Dr Peter Saunders, General Secretary of Christian Medical Fellowship, which represents 4,500 British doctors, says that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) failed to mention credible scientific research in the area of fetal pain and selected those studies which supported the views of the pro-choice fraternity - that there was no scientific basis for reducing the 24 week limit. “If there is doubt amongst experts, as there most surely is, then the RCOG should acknowledge that fact and the fetus should be given the benefit of that doubt”, he said.

The RCOG have consistently denied that fetuses can feel pain earlier than 24 weeks but their evidence to the committee was challenged last week by Channel 4's Dispatches programme which highlighted opposing views, including those of a leading academic and clinician, KJ Anand, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Pharmacology & Neurobiology at the University of Arkansas. However, in a statement defending their evidence, the RCOG has said: “The RCOG keeps a watching brief on new scientific developments and advancements in fetal medicine, and continues to examine emerging evidence from the international scientific community about fetal awareness and fetal pain.

“We are unaware of the work of Dr Anand or any other work that contradicts the basic findings of the review. Perhaps Dr Anand could direct us to the work he is referring to.”

Dr Saunders said: “Anand is a world authority on neonatal pain and in fact Seminars in Perinatology published a major review paper by him on fetal pain just this month. His work is widely available in peer-reviewed journals and via on-line search engines such as 'PubMed', used by any serious researchers. In fact, if you type in 'anand fetal pain' his paper comes top of the list!”

“Anand has authored or jointly authored 18 papers published in peer-reviewed journals this year alone. We are concerned that the College seems unaware of his work and has not made more of an effort to find out about it before making its public statement.

“For the RCOG to report the studies of researchers who share their position, whilst ignoring research published by other leading researchers with contrary views, is at the very least misleading. I hope the President of the College will issue a full statement this week for the Science and Technology Committee clarifying the College's view. Both Parliament and the public look to the RCOG as an authority and Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo will be giving evidence to the Select Committee tomorrow quoting the RCOG guidance. It is therefore essential that the College urgently clarifies its position.”


For further information:

Dr Peter Saunders (CMF) 020 7234 9660
Dr Andrew Fergusson
(CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9675, 07970 383797
Paul Eddy (PR) 07932 019 430

For further information:

Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668

Media Enquiries:

Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225

About CMF:

Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 5,000 doctors, 900medical and nursing students and 300 nurses and midwives as members in all branches of medicine, nursing and midwifery. A registered charity, it is linked to over 100 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.

CMF exists to unite Christian healthcare professionals to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.

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Contact Phone020 7234 9660
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