Doctors defend abortion of twin

A gynaecologist's decision to abort one of a pair of healthy twins was "no different to any other abortion" doctors said yesterday.

But anti-abortion organisations warned that the effect on the surviving twin and the mother herself could be "horrifying".

In what is believed to be the first "selective termination" of its kind in Britain, Phillip Bennett, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Queen Charlotte's Hospital, London, has agreed to terminate one foetus because the mother has said she could not cope with two babies.

Selective termination is usually used when in vitro fertilisation results in a multiple pregnancy. Doctors can choose to abort one of the foetuses if it shows a sign of abnormality, or if a high number of embryos implant in the womb, increasing the risk of complications.

The technique involves piercing the selected foetus with a needle, although this can increase the risk of the others miscarrying. The dead foetus is carried to full term, shrivelling in the womb. In 1994 there were 73 selective terminations, compared with 32 in 1993.

"Killing one healthy twin sounds unethical," Professor Bennett told a Sunday newspaper yesterday. "But my colleague and I concluded this week that it would be better to terminate one pregnancy as soon as possible and leave one alive than to lose two babies."

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of ethics for the British Medical Association said the decision was bound to cause "instinctive horror" but could be justified legally on medical grounds because multiple births carry more risks, or on social grounds if the woman could not cope with twins.

"I don't think there's really any difference between performing an abortion to leave no foetus and reducing a twin to a singleton," she said. "It's exactly the same as any other abortion at 16 weeks."

David Paintin, chairman of the Birth Control Trust agreed: "It is a very difficult situation but a termination is the same whether for twins or a single pregnancy. It is only allowed on the grounds listed in the Abortion Act."

He said that if he had been asked he would have carried out the selective termination: "The dilemma is that she says she can cope with one child but not two. If a woman who is 16 weeks pregnant feels so strongly that she cannot cope, one of the options must be selective reduction."

But a spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said that he thought most gynaecologists would not be prepared to terminate one foetus only.

Wendy Savage, press officer for Doctors for a Woman's Choice on Abortion, warned that aborting one twin could have severe repercussions for both mother and surviving twin: "If this woman came to me and said that she couldn't cope on the grounds of mental health, I would want to involve a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist," she said. "When you have got twins and one of them is aborted, you have the live twin in front of you as a constant reminder."

Professor John Scarisbrick, chairman of Life, an anti-abortion organisation, described it as a "horrifying story". "What will happen if the surviving twin discovers that a brother or sister is missing and that this is his or her mother's fault? What will this do for the trust and love in the family?" he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all