MANCHESTER, England — The British government has imposed an immediate ban on the incineration of miscarried and aborted babies after journalists found cases of hospitals burning fetuses to generate heat.
Dr. Dan Poulter, parliamentary undersecretary of state for health, issued a March 24 statement that the burning of fetuses had been instantly prohibited following revelations by a team of investigative reporters working for the Channel 4 television program "Dispatches."
The journalists used the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to make National Health Service trusts reveal how they had disposed of fetal remains in recent years.
They discovered that thousands of aborted and miscarried babies had been burned as clinical waste with some incinerated in on-site "waste-to-energy" plants generating power to heat the hospitals.
"This practice is totally unacceptable," announced Poulter, who worked in hospital obstetrics and gynecology before he became a politician. "That is why I have asked Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, to write to all NHS hospital trusts, to make it clear that it must stop now."
He said in his statement that Dame Sally Davies, England's chief medical officer, has also written to the Human Tissue Authority, the regulatory body, to ensure "that there is clear guidance on this issue."
He added: "While the vast majority of hospitals are acting in the appropriate way, that must be the case for all hospitals, and the Human Tissue Authority has now been asked to ensure that it acts on this issue without delay."
The "Dispatches" film, called "Exposing Hospital Heartbreak," was presented by Amanda Holden, a former "Britain's Got Talent" judge and a mother of two who lost a child by miscarriage in 2010 and who gave birth to a stillborn son in 2011.
She said in a March 24 statement that she was "absolutely delighted" that the government had acted so swiftly to ban the practice of the incineration of fetuses, which, she said, had caused misery and anguish to many parents.
The film revealed that the remains of at least 15,500 fetuses were incinerated by 27 trusts over the last two years alone.
It found that one major hospital -- Addenbrooke's in Cambridge -- incinerated nearly 800 fetuses below 13 weeks gestation at its waste-to-energy plant.
More than 1,100 fetuses were incinerated at a waste-to-energy plant at Ipswich Hospital in the east of England between 2011 and 2013.
Although Ipswich Hospital does not incinerate fetal remains, the private contractor operating the plant on its site was bringing in fetuses from another hospital to burn to generate energy for the Ipswich Hospital site.
"Dispatches" alleged that thousands of miscarried and aborted babies were incinerated without consulting the parents, even though consultations were recommended by the Human Tissue Authority.
Ipswich Hospital, which on March 24 denied knowledge that fetuses had been burned on its site, did not answer calls from Catholic News Service March 25.
But Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Addenbrooke's, issued a statement by email to CNS insisting that its disposal of fetal tissue complied with the recommendations issued by the "Royal College of Nursing, the Human Tissue Authority, SANDS (Stillbirth and neonatal death charity) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists."
The trust made a distinction, however, between fetuses aged younger than 13 weeks and those who were older, with the parents of the latter offered the same kind of support as those of a stillborn child.
Younger fetuses are burned on the site about once every four weeks in a procedure "which has been in place for many years and is considered an appropriate manner of disposing of pre-13-week specimens," the statement said.