Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

Month: January, 2015

Pro-Life Heroes and Heroines, No. 9: Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan

(A guest blog from Xavier Bisits, former President of Cambridge Students for Life)

When Concepta Wood and Mary Doogan signed up to their job at an NHS hospital in Glasgow, they expected that their job would match the description:

“The post holder is responsible for providing clinical leadership and operational management for delivery of the midwifery service within labour ward and obstetric theatre.”

No mention of abortion.  They were supporting the midwifery service – a service that is by its very nature life-giving and life-affirming.

Wood and Goodan were outraged when the NHS turned their role into one that made them cooperate with the hospital’s provision of abortion – and decided to take legal action.

Even though the Court of Session in Edinburgh had previously taken their side, last month the Supreme Court ruled against them.

What was the problem? The pair had been employed as labour ward co-ordinators at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow.

The NHS of Greater Glasgow and Clyde gave them notice of new duties that required them to supervise and delegate work to staff assisting in the procurement of abortions.  The argument of the NHS was that their work did not involve the actual work of providing an abortion.

Such an argument, however, as lawyers acting on their behalf explained, makes a mockery of freedom of conscience. The point of freedom of conscience – especially in medical situations – is to spare objectors from cooperating in an act that they believe to be a fundamental violation of the their beliefs.

To the nurses, overseeing a process of abortion is tantamount to direct participation.  History is littered with atrocities that were executed with chilling bureaucratic efficiency; sitting at a desk does not mask involvement.  On the contrary, it is part of the overall process – all of which is necessary. And anyone who believes in the unborn’s right to life could hardly take part in that process with a clear conscience.

Speaking after the decision, they said:

“We are both saddened and extremely disappointed with today’s verdict from the Supreme Court and can only imagine the subsequent detrimental consequences that will result from today’s decision on staff of conscience throughout the UK.

“Despite it having been recognised that the number of abortions on the labour ward at our hospital is in fact a tiny percentage of the workload, which in turn could allow the accommodation of conscientious objection with minimal effort, this judgment, with its constraints and narrow interpretation, has resulted in the provision of a conscience clause which now in practice is meaningless for senior midwives on a labour ward.”

These nurses deserve our support for their efforts.  They put their jobs and professional reputations on the line to secure justice and draw attention to the difficulties that so many medical professionals in the UK face when asked to provide “healthcare” that conflicts with their beliefs.

They may have lost the case but they are a testament to the need to be vigilant about the right to conscientious objection in the UK.

(Previously in this series: Alice Paul, Jack Scarisbrick, Gandhi, Hans and Sophie Scholl, Lila Rose, Ovid, Mildred Jefferson, Jerome Lejeune.)

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Pro-Life Heroes and Heroines, No. 8: Jerome Lejeune

A key figure in modern genetic science, Jerome Lejeune is best known for his discovery of the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome, and best loved for his work in caring for those with the condition.

Born in France in 1926, Lejeune studied medicine in Paris and became a researcher at the National Centre of Scientific Research in 1952. He published a seminal paper in 1959 with two colleagues, Raymond Turpin and Marthe Gautier, which showed that those with Down syndrome have 47 chromosomes, just two years after it had been proved that the standard amount is 46. For the discovery of ‘trisomy 21’ he won the Kennedy Prize in 1962 and was named the first chair of human genetics at the University of Paris in 1964. He went on to identify the cause of cri-du-chat syndrome, among other chromosomal disorders, and was given the William Allan Memorial Award from the American Society of Human Genetics in 1969, the highest distinction that can be granted to a geneticist.

One of the consequences of Lejeune’s discovery was the screening for Down syndrome that became available in the 1970s, which led to routine abortions on prenatal diagnosis. Lejeune was deeply troubled by this: “Hate the disease, love the patient: that is the practice of medicine,” he said. He spent much of his later life working to discover treatments for such conditions.

People say, “The price of genetic diseases is high. If these individuals could be eliminated early on, the savings would be enormous!” It cannot be denied that the price of these diseases is high—in suffering for the individual and in burdens for society. Not to mention what parents suffer! But we can assign a value to that price: It is precisely what a society must pay to remain fully human.

He was pro-life because he believed that every life, no matter how many chromosomes it relies on, is worth living and deserves protection. His pro-life stance was not just that though – it was dynamic; he’s a pro-life hero because his beliefs had consequences for his personal life and professional career. The Nobel committee had considered rewarding the discovery of the origins of Down syndrome, but when Lejeune spoke out against abortion at a conference of delegates to the United Nations, he had to write to his wife later that day: “Today, I lost my Nobel prize in medicine.” His funding for research was cut, he was marginalised by the academic community and his family were even routinely harassed.

He continued to defend the most vulnerable, though, even travelling to the United States in 1989 to be a witness at a court case which would decide whether frozen embryos were properly ‘property’ or not. You can read his statement about the origins of human life here. Alongside his research and this kind of advocacy of the right to life for all, Lejeune dedicated himself to caring for those with Down syndrome. He was the founder of the first specialised clinic for trisomy 21 patients at Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris. He paid personal attention to each of the 9000 children who passed through his wards – his daughter Clara records that at the time of his death he knew the 5000 current patients by name. He also worked to help them find educational and job opportunities, and was a constant support for many families across the world. Thousands of parents came to him, seeking advice and comfort. Clara recounts that people would call him and – day or night – he would spend hours with them.

Jerome Lejeune died of lung cancer in 1994. He was a pro-lifer who was not afraid to put his reputation on the line, an expert doctor and scientist who put his life at the service of those he worked with. We’ve cited the statistics on this blog before, but they’re still shocking. Around 90% of foetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted in Britain every year. We should be asking, in the practical spirit of Lejeune, what more we can do about it. Clara talks about a family lunch in her biography: her father came home and told them about a little boy with Down syndrome who had seen something on television about prenatal testing, and who begged him to save him from “those who want to kill us.” She writes: “He was white and he said, “If I don’t protect them, I am nothing.” The ‘price’ of not resorting to eugenics might be high, but Lejeune saw that it is cost of remaining “fully human”.

(Amy Owens)

Previously in this series: Alice Paul, Jack Scarisbrick, Gandhi, Hans and Sophie Scholl, Lila Rose, Ovid, Mildred Jefferson.