Twin abortion doctor faces 'confidentiality' inquiry

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The Independent Online
The doctor who agreed to abort a one of a healthy pair of twins is to face a health authority inquiry into whether he breached his patient's confidentiality in revealing details of the case to the media.

Senior managers at Queen Charlotte's Hospital, west London, will question Phillip Bennett, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, who told a Sunday newspaper that he had agreed to terminate one foetus because their mother - a 28-year-old single parent - felt she could not cope with two babies.

As a result, the hospital found itself at the centre of an international debate on the rights and wrongs of selective abortion as pro-life organisations mounted a campaign to save the foetus. It was not until three days after the story broke that the hospital finally confirmed that the woman had already had the abortion.

By that time anti-abortion campaigners had raised pounds 60,000, offering the mother financial support to bear both children, and the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (Spuc) had secured a temporary High Court injunction to stop the abortion going ahead.

Yesterday Spuc dropped its legal action but Life, another pro-life organisation, was trying to get more information about the abortion with a view to stepping up its campaign for clarification of the abortion laws.

A Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust spokeswoman said the hospital wanted to see what "lessons could be learnt" from the past few days. "We want to sit back and take stock of events," she said. "We will clearly have a review and examine the issues involved. This will involve senior managers who during the course of the review will ask Professor Bennett to explain himself."

She stressed, however, that there was no suggestion of any "witch-hunt".

Professor Bennett was reported to have said that the information about the termination was released accidentally. "I have regretted it ever since," he said.

Meanwhile, at Westminster, senior Tory MPs used the controversy to call for the 1967 Abortion Act to be tightened, raising fears that abortion could become a highly emotive election issue.

Dame Jill Knight, an officer of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, said the law needed to be tightened to stop abortions being carried out for social reasons. "What is happening today, is not what was intended, right across the board of those who voted for the Act," she told BBC Radio.

"They did not intend that it should be used simply when the woman did not want the child. There had to be a good reason."

Sir David Steel, who introduced the 1967 Act as a private member's bill, warned that the pro-life group was intent on changing the law by raising emotive cases such as the twin abortion case.

"People opposed to all abortion are prepared to use highly unusual and marginal cases to convince others to abolish legal abortion. The law requires two doctors to agree," said Sir David. He did not believe it needed changing.

Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, was resisting demands from the pro-life group for an inquiry. There is a consensus across the main political parties over abortion law but there could be attempts to change that.

r The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume, risked fresh controversy among Catholics yesterday by arguing that there was a case for allowing all the 60,000 frozen embryos currently stored to die.

He admitted the loss of deliberately created human life was "repugnant" but believed this was the "least worse" solution to bad laws.

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