Baby Loss

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:48 pm on 13th October 2016.

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Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact 1:48 pm, 13th October 2016

My heart goes out to my hon. Friend. The compounding of grief in that way is so unnecessary.

Families who have lost babies have spoken about the importance of acknowledging their child’s life. Unfortunately, this is an area where the law adds to distress. Under current UK law, a baby is effectively only considered a person at 24 weeks. This often means that that acknowledgement is not there as it could be. I have even heard of parents lying about the gestation period in order to try to obtain a birth certificate. Alongside other hon. Members, I appeal to Ministers to look again at this. As modern technologies improve, unborn babies are increasingly viable earlier than 24 weeks. The law should move not only with technology, but compassion. I ask Ministers to look at that, too.

There is one last point I would like to mention. It is very sensitive, but I feel I need to mention it. It is the taboo I mentioned earlier, but as one colleague said, if there is one thing we can do in this House it is break taboos. Parents can also suffer a deep sense of loss and bereavement when their longed-for child is not lost during pregnancy due to a miscarriage or stillborn, but due to a disability being diagnosed while their child is in the womb, leading them to have to make the often heart-rending decision to have a termination, sometimes late in pregnancy. There is little, if any, bereavement support or adequate counselling for such parents either before they make that decision or sometime after, yet they too have lost a much-loved child.

In 2013, the all-party pro-life group conducted a detailed, year-long inquiry into abortion on the grounds of disability. I have a copy here with me today. We were repeatedly told by witnesses about the lack of proper counselling and bereavement care for such parents should they want it, which many do. We were also told of some examples of very good practice. One parent told us that they had had a funeral service, which helped enormously. Another told of how they were able to bathe their child before the child was appropriately cared for following the termination. Other witnesses were amazed that this kind of care was available, because they had received none at all. One of our report’s key recommendations was that appropriate bereavement support and counselling should be available for all parents who want it in such situations, even if it is some time later.

I regret to say—I am following slightly in the footsteps of my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames who spoke earlier about an uphill struggle—that I have had an uphill struggle in trying to gain the attention of the Department of Health on this issue. I thank hon. Members who have raised their losses in this debate. I hope now that the Department will consider it. Our report was issued in 2013. After the deeply moving Adjournment debate led by my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury and for Colchester, I spoke with the then Minister responding to that debate. We agreed that I would send the report to the Department of Health after the debate, which I did. Unfortunately, I received no reply. I sent a reminder some time later. Again, I received no reply. I hope that as a result of today’s debate, the Department of Health will take seriously the additional point that parents in this situation need the same kind of care and support as the others who have been spoken about in this debate today.