Beyond the Pale: What UK Hospitals Are Doing With Aborted Babies

March 31, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Baby Hand 1Moral standards are moving targets.  Ask three people for their thoughts on a contentious moral or ethical issue and you’ll get four opinions.  But there are some things so unequivocally horrifying – so undeniably mortifying – that they command universal and reflexive shock, outrage, and revulsion.  Enter an exposé by London’s Telegraph newspaper on what’s heating some UK hospitals:

The bodies of thousands of aborted and miscarried babies were incinerated as clinical waste, with some even used to heat hospitals, an investigation has found.

Ten NHS trusts have admitted burning fetal remains alongside other rubbish while two others used the bodies in ‘waste-to-energy’ plants which generate power for heat.

Last night the Department of Health issued an instant ban on the practice which health minister Dr. Dan Poulter branded ‘totally unacceptable.’

At least 15,500 fetal remains were incinerated by 27 NHS trusts over the last two years alone …

One of the country’s leading hospitals, Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, incinerated 797 babies below 13 weeks gestation at their own ‘waste to energy’ plant. The mothers were told the remains had been ‘cremated.’[1]

No matter how many times I read this article, it still makes me sick to my stomach.  And I’m not the only one who finds this story nauseating, as the comments posted under the story indicate.  One reader comments, “I think I am going to be sick.”  Another writes, “The horror of it … what has our country become folks?  This is just too much.”  And still another existentially inquires, “Dear God, what have we become?”

Though much could be written about this story – and, I would add, I hope much is written about this because this is a story that needs to be thoroughly vetted – I want to offer two initial observations about this terrible, tragic report.

First, it must be admitted that here is an unabashed display of human depravity at it most dreadful depths.  Just the thought of treating fetal remains so carelessly and callously should turn even the most hardened of stomachs.  In Western society, we pride ourselves on making moral progress.  We trumpet our advances on the frontier of human rights.  A story like this one should give us a gut check.  Moral progress is never far from moral regress.  Indeed, even secular theorists are beginning to realize that humanity is not on an ever-improving, ever-increasing moral arc.  Alan Dershowitz, one of the great secular thinkers of our time, admits as much in an interview with Albert Mohler when he says:

I think the 20th century is perhaps the most complicated, convoluted century in the history of the world perhaps because I lived in it, but it had the worst evil. Hitler’s evil and Stalin’s evil are unmatched in the magnitude in the world … On the other hand, it was the century in which we really ended discrimination based on race and based on gender. We made tremendous scientific progress … So I think the 20th century has really proved that progress doesn’t operate in a linear way … We don’t evolve morally, we don’t get better morally as time passes.[2]

Morally, we must be continually careful and endlessly vigilant.  We will never become so good that we are no longer bad.  To quote the caution of the apostle Paul:  “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12)!

The second observation I would offer on this story is that we are sadly deluded as a society if we decry the burning of fetuses on the one hand while supporting abortion on the other.  There is a reason incinerating fetuses to heat hospitals has raised so many moral hackles.  And it’s not because these fetuses are nothing more than “tissue.”  Indeed, I find it quite telling that The Telegraph refers to these fetuses as “remains.” A quick perusal of a dictionary will find that the noun “remains” refers to “dead bodies,” or “corpses.”  In other words, dead people.  This is not just aborted tissue.  These are aborted people.  Aborted babies.  But now these babies have passed.  And to treat the dead in such an undignified manner as these UK hospitals have is unconscionable.  The difference between the passing of these babies, however, and the passing of others who die in hospitals is that these babies have died intentionally at the hands of abortion doctors.

Yes, I am well aware of arguments for abortion that center on a woman’s right to do with her body as she pleases.  But if she can do with her body as she wishes, I’m not sure why a hospital can’t do with its procedural remains as it wants.  If it can throw away fluid drained from someone’s lungs in a biohazard bag, why can’t it burn a baby?  Yes, I am aware that some may accuse me of making a fallacious “slippery slope” argument and they would counter-argue that you don’t need to ban abortion to decry the burning of fetal remains.  But this counter-argument intimates that abortion is somehow a lesser evil than burning aborted corpses – an assumption I do not share.  Indeed, I think abortion is a great and deep evil – but not just because I believe it deliberately ends the life of a child, but because I hate what abortions do to the women who suffer through them.  Case in point:  a recent study in The British Journal of Psychiatry shows that women who undergo abortions have an 81 percent higher risk of subsequent mental health problems.[3]  Nevertheless, proponents of abortion could claim that one can support abortion without sliding all the way down the slope into the moral morass of these UK hospitals.  But I would point out that we already have, in fact, slid all the way down this slope.  The charred now non-remains of 15,500 babies testify to it.  So perhaps it’s time to repent and, by the grace of God, start scaling the slope – and not just halfway up the slope, but all the way off the slope.  Human depravity warns us that if we don’t, we’ll slide right back down again.


[1]  Sarah Knapton, “Aborted babies incinerated to heat UK hospitals,” The Telegraph (3.24.2014).

[2] Albert Mohler, “Moral Reasoning in a Secular Age: A Conversation with Professor Alan Dershowitz,”

[3] Priscilla K. Coleman, “Abortion and mental health: quantitative synthesis and analysis of research published 1995–2009,” The British Journal of Psychology 199 (2011), 182.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Bob Wetesnik  |  April 1, 2014 at 11:42 am

    “Thousands of ethicists and bioethicists, as they are called, professionally guide the unthinkable on its passage through the debatable on its way to becoming justifiable, until it is finally established as the unexceptional. – Rev. Richard Neuhaus. And some may wonder where we end up without God.


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