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.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried