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Britons should not be surprised by the incineration of unborn children, says bishop

Bishop Alan Hopes said that the incineration of human remains was repugnant (Mazur)

Britons should be not be surprised that hospitals incinerated the remains of unborn children alongside clinical waste, an English bishop has said.

Responding to revelations reported earlier this week, Bishop Alan Hopes of East Anglia said: “We should not be surprised at what has been reported as happening in some of our hospitals with regard to human remains. Much of society does not share our belief in the sanctity and dignity of human life at all its stages and regards human life as another disposable commodity.

“The astronomical number of abortions carried out each year in this country and the bill being prepared for parliament on allowing people to take their own lives whenever they decide to do so, are the results of this lack of belief.”

It emerged earlier this week in a Channel 4 documentary that 10 NHS trusts have admitted burning the remains of unborn babies along with other waste, and two more trusts admitted to adding the bodies of unborn children, lost through abortion or miscarriage, to “waste-to-energy” plants which generate power for heat.

Bishop Hopes said that it was fitting and proper to ensure that a child lost through miscarriage or abortion should receive some form of prayer or funeral rites. He said: “The treatment of human remains as waste or energy disposal must be repugnant to most people. All human remains deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and this is especially true for those of a still born child or a child who has died as the result of an abortion. How their disposal is dealt with must take into account the consent of those who are connected with that human life – and in this case the consent of the mother is paramount.

“Since the Church recognises that human life begins at the moment of conception, it is fitting and proper to return the mortal remains of what is a human person to the earth with the funeral rites or at least some form of prayer.”

Dispatches, the programme aired on Channel 4, said that at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, which falls within Bishop Hope’s diocese, the remains of 797 unborn babies below 13 weeks were incinerated at a “waste-to-energy” plant in two years.

The Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) NHS Foundation Trust emphasised that foetal remains were not incinerated at the same time as clinical waste.

Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark has also expressed his horror and said that he was “very distressed” by the claims.

Archbishop Smith said: “I was very distressed to learn that the remains of unborn children have been incinerated as clinical waste in NHS trusts in some parts of the country and call for an immediate end to this unacceptable practice. It is an established principle in public policy that human remains should be treated with dignity, as is the case with natural disasters and warfare, and that principle should be applied here.

“If proven, this terrible failure to show respect for the remains of children who have died should also serve to remind us how much more important it is to respect children while they are alive. All life has inestimable value and needs to be protected from its earliest beginnings to its natural end. At the very least a clear protocol should be developed to treat dead children with respect.”

In a statement, The Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Foetal tissue is never incinerated with clinical waste, or any other waste. Individual containers are carried by the hospital lead chaplain and the process is also witnessed by two members of staff who are specialists in bereavement care. Patients are treated with respect and sensitivity throughout this difficult time.

“The arrangements CUH has in place to dispose of foetal tissue comply with the recommendations of the Royal College of Nursing, the Human Tissue Authority, SANDS (Stillbirth and neonatal death charity) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

“We believe that communication with women and their next of kin in a compassionate, open and effective manner is very important. Trained health professionals discuss the options with the patients and families respectfully and sensitively, both verbally and in writing, and individual arrangements are organised without any difficulty. The parents are given exactly the same choice on the disposal of foetal remains as for a stillborn child and their personal wishes are respected.

“If patients or their families do have any concerns they are encouraged to contact the Patient Advice and Liaison team.”

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter described the incidents as “totally unacceptable”. He said he had asked NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh to write to all NHS hospital trusts, telling them to end the practice of incinerating the remains of the unborn alongside clinical waste.