December 9th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Australia's Pacific woes - what can be done?

EDITORIAL: Uranium: the way ahead

COLE INQUIRY: Single desk and farmers the victims of AWB fall-out

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Chinese organ-harvesting under scrutiny

ECONOMICS: Free-market capitalism's champion dies

SCHOOLS: Education at sea without a moral compass

ABORTION: Five doctors and a dead baby

THE SIEGE: A first-hand account of the G-20 protest

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Violence in Toy Town / There is nothing quite like free choice / Swatting insects / The future of Christians in the Middle East / The Golden Walking Stick Award

THE WORLD: Will Europe survive?

OPINION: Unemployment figures: lies, damned lies and statistics

Sheik al Hilaly has lost the plot (letter)

Democrats' win in U.S. elections (letter)

Affordable housing (letter)

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Unwed mothers / Populism / France ZUS

BOOKS: PERSECUTION: How liberals are waging war against Christianity, by David Limbaugh


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Five doctors and a dead baby

by Babette Francis

News Weekly, December 9, 2006
Timed to perfection in the week before Victoria's recent state election, an eminent Melbourne obstetrician and gynaecologist made an emotive plea for the decriminalisation of abortion, reports Babette Francis.

In an article, "A child is unborn" (Herald Sun, November 20, 2006), former head of ultrasound at Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital, Dr Lachlan de Crespigny, appeared to endorse Victoria's Steve Bracks Labor Government, which is reportedly committed to decriminalisation of abortion. (The Bracks Government was re-elected on November 25 for another four-year term).

In his article, Dr de Crespigny makes several questionable assertions.

His article refers to the termination six years ago - because the mother was threatening to commit suicide - of the life of a 31-weeks-gestation baby, suspected of "dwarfism".


The termination caused considerable controversy, with investigations by the Royal Women's Hospital (where the procedure occurred), the police, the coroner, the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria, and Senator Julian McGauran, who took up the cause of the baby. Dr de Crespigny writes about the "persecution" of the abortionists and the depression of the mother.

Contrary to Dr de Crespigny's assertion, this baby was born. However, it was ensured that she was born dead because potassium chloride was injected into her heart before labour was induced. The unfortunate mother had to give birth in the usual way, the only difference being that her baby was born dead.

This was not an abortion because the unborn baby was viable - it was a case of child destruction. Had the birth been induced without the potassium chloride preamble, the baby would have survived, could have been whisked away from the labour ward and the mother need never have seen her if she was upset by its alleged "dwarfism".

Dr de Crespigny claims five doctors participated in the termination to prevent the mother committing suicide, but surgery is not the solution to suicide: counselling and psychological support are.

Dr de Crespigny also claims 15 obstetricians and gynaecologists have left the Royal Women's Hospital as a consequence of the investigations into this case. There is no evidence that the care of women at the RWH as a result of these resignations has deteriorated. Perhaps these 15 "ob-gyns" are now working in abortion clinics - subsidised of course by the hapless taxpayer. In any event, mothers and their babies are now safer at the RWH.

The protracted investigations into this case that Dr de Crespigny refers to could have been avoided or minimised had he and his colleagues been upfront in the first instance about what they had done and why.

It should be made clear that none of us who were horrified by the termination of the life of this baby have any wish to know the identity of the mother - but we are interested in best medical practice and, as taxpayers who subsidise the education of doctors, the running of hospitals and the treatment of patients, we are entitled to know whether this mother received the best possible care. Clearly her baby did not.

Was the mother put in touch with a pregnancy support service or an adoption agency? Was she reassured that she need never see her "dwarf" baby? Was the prenatal diagnosis of "dwarfism" correct? The public are entitled to answers to these questions. Dr de Crespigny assumes that doctors are mini-gods who can act without public scrutiny.

His assertion that a doctor who declines to perform an abortion could be prosecuted for manslaughter if the patient commits suicide is absurd - no doctor can be compelled to perform surgery if he chooses not to do so.

In any event, Dr de Crespigny should be aware that pregnant women rarely commit suicide. Comprehensive studies from Finland and California have demonstrated that the incidence of suicide is substantially higher in women who have abortions than in women who complete their pregnancies or in women who have not been pregnant.

And, as Professor David Fergusson, of the Christchurch School of Medicine, demonstrated in his landmark New Zealand study (News Weekly, March 18, 2006), the incidence of depression and other mental health problems is higher in women who have abortions.

The depression Dr Lachlan de Crespigny's patient is now enduring is caused by the destruction of her baby - not the subsequent investigations. And perhaps she now knows that the baby was not a dwarf after all.

- Babette Francis, B.Sc. (Hons), is national co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc.

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