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Unborn Children

Volume 485: debated on Tuesday 16 December 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what research his Department has (a) undertaken and (b) evaluated on the (i) earliest stage in its development at which an unborn child can experience pain, (ii) the earliest gestational age at which an unborn child may be born alive, (iii) the number of occasions on which an unborn baby has been diagnosed as being disabled and has subsequently been born without disability and (iv) the suicide rate among women who have had an abortion in the last five years; and if he will make a statement. (242685)

The Department has commissioned the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist’s to review its 1997 report on foetal awareness which includes the consideration of all relevant evidence and new research in the area of foetal awareness including foetal pain.

The Department considered all of the scientific and medical evidence on foetal viability submitted to the Science and Technology Committee in their review of scientific developments since the Abortion Act 1967.

The Department also provides funding to national health service organisations to meet the service support costs associated with Medical Research Council (MRC) funded research. The MRC has funded, and continues to fund, studies on embryonic and foetal awareness and foetal development.

We do not collect data on the number of babies diagnosed as being disabled which are subsequently born without disability.

Three women have committed suicide following a termination of pregnancy in the last nine years but there are insufficient details to establish if the termination was the cause of the suicide.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what his Department's policy is on (a) abortion, (b) assisted suicide and (c) embryonic stem cell research; which organisations and individuals he has consulted on each policy during the last 12 months; and if he will make a statement; (242686)

(2) if he will make it his policy to oppose (a) assisted suicide and (b) voluntary euthanasia; and if he will make a statement.

The Department's policy is governed by:

the Abortion Act 1967, as amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990; and

the Suicide Act 1961 (assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia).The Government have no plans to change this legislation. Any proposals to change the law would be dealt with as a matter of conscience.

The Government continue to support ethically approved research using all sources of stem cells, including embryonic stem cells as permitted under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.

No organisations or individuals have been consulted on these policies in the last 12 months.