Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 66(2) May 2016

Debating Conscience with The Pro Abortion Movement at University College London

Adrian Treloar

The CMA (UK) was asked to contribute to a debate at University College London on conscience in medicine. The motion for debate stated:

This house believes that conscientious objection undermines the practice of medicine.

In fact, pro abortion speakers including Anne Ferudi from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service all stated that doctors and nurses should be allowed to opt out of care if they have a conscientious objection to abortion etc.

The pro-abortion speakers did make some wild claims about a number of issues, including claims that women “sail through abortion and are untroubled by it” as well as repeated accusations that Savita died in Ireland because abortion was not available. Very sadly she died because of medical negligence missing an infection. Below is what I said at the debate.

Thankyou for inviting me tonight. And well done for arranging this debate.

I would like to just start with a little about my background. The very fact of my invitation here, means that some of it has already been shared with you. I am a Catholic. As well as that, I had a very disabled brother with Downs syndrome. Although he never spoke, he was perhaps one of the greatest gifts I ever had. His attitude, sense of fun and the reality of supporting him through hard times and good, left a permanent appreciation of his worth and value. His funeral was one of the best attended I have been too. People were genuinely sad at his parting.

As an SHO in Gynaecology I remember seeing a 10 week fetus who had died, and after I evacuated his remains, I found tiny limbs with hands and feet, forming toes and fingers.

On another day, I remember seeing a dead 28 week fetus who had been killed because it had Downs syndrome. I would have loved to be able to offer a home to a child like that.

I have to say, that seeing the humanity of those beautiful children before my eyes, I could not countenance doing an abortion. As a doctor, I could not intentionally kill a child; and yet we live in a country where 9 million have been intentionally killed.

Later on my wife was screened, without her consent, using Nuchal Translucency for Down’s syndrome. And later still we did indeed have a beautiful baby who died at the age of a week, after we held her in our arms having taken her off the ventilator.

In the midst of all that, I know that I cannot and will not perform abortions or sign the form for an abortion. As a GP I refused sensitively and compassionately (I hope). You might be surprised to hear that I found several women who came to see me post abortion for counselling, support and advice. Some said they had specially wanted to come and see me because they knew that I would not dismiss their concerns. They were all hurt and regretting their abortion.

So being a doctor who will not do an abortion has, in my experience been a positive and provided opportunities for some women.

I would just add that I, like many others, have been taken aside, told that I could not have a career in general practice, and found myself criticised for not doing, what tonight some of the previous speakers would seek to require of me if I am to work in medicine.

Let’s look at this from another direction. Out there, parents are really worried about the way they are treated especially after a difficult antenatal diagnosis. Listen to what Tom Bachofner said when he shared the story of his two-year-old little girl, Rosie, with Down's.

“She's the most wonderful, normal, happy little person you're ever likely to meet. The thought of abandoning her just doesn't bear thinking about” he said.

But he also expressed his grave concern about the way he and his wife were counselled once the diagnosis of Down’s had been made.

“What disturbed me was how the conversation with the consultant and nurse was angled towards termination. There wasn’t a single word about what the future might hold for a child with Down’s. I asked if they had any literature for us to take away and digest. They muttered nervously, before handing over a ripped piece of notepaper with a website address scribbled on. No leaflets, nothing.”

I know, from women who have told me, that sort of care is not infrequent. I also know of women who fear and delay ante natal care because they do not want to be pressured towards abortion etc. Women and families deserve better.

Ladies and gentlemen, if conscience is removed from medicine, medicine is bound to become weaker and worse. If conscience is removed from medicine, medicine is inevitably corrupted.

If the government says what we should do then patients may lose choice and opportunity at the expense of what is expedient or cheapest.

And remember that what is legal is not necessary right and ethical. Slavery was and is never right. The law does not make things right or wrong. Being legal does not change the ethics.

So ask yourselves a few questions

  • Would you have cooperated with the Soviet use of psychiatry as an agent of social and political control?
  • Would you perform medicals on people to certify that they are fit enough to be executed. The American Medical Association conscientiously objects to it. Would you delete that right of objection?
  • Would you have performed medical examination to improve the valuation of a slave?
  • Would YOU sign an abortion form on the grounds that the baby is female and the mother wants a male child? It IS LEGAL. (Note that with sex selective abortion, Ann Ferudi defended the law publicly on Radio 4 after the scandal about doctors authorising abortions on grounds of sex.)
  • And if conscience is disallowed
    What then?

So actually, medicine is a profession that is deeply imbued with ethics. Diversity legislation legally requires that the voice and views of those who defend and protect life giving unborn children the choice and beauty of a life must be able to be heard. And employers must make reasonable adjustments to enable them to join a work­force. And if you get your way, and delete conscientious objection, that is not pro choice, it is anti choice, paternalistic and seeks to control those who take a different view.

And if there are doctors and nurses who have objections to certain treatment then there are also patients who have similar objections. And THEY need proper support and guidance as they make their choices. If you exclude those who object to abortion etc, he you will deny proper access to support by patients who also object to some things. And I can assure you, that those patients are, at times, treated badly by insensitive pro-abortion and anti-conscience staff.

Ladies and gentlemen, without conscientious objection, medicine is utterly undermined. And one day, you may well have to object. I do hope that many of you too will see the humanity and beauty of the unborn child.

If you do object, you will likely face ire from your colleagues and people who, like tonight, would have you removed from medicine.


And if you do find that you suffer as a result, please feel accompanied on your journey. Others have been before and more will follow.


Please see the editorial on page 4 for a reflection on this debate and page 5 for what Pope Francis has just reiterated on conscientious objection.