Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 158-159)


17 OCTOBER 2007

  Chairman: I apologise to our witnesses and members of the public that we are slightly late starting this morning. May I welcome our first panel of witnesses to the select committee: Dr Vincent Argent, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Tony Calland, Chair of the British Medical Association's Ethics Committee, Liz Davies, Director of UK Operations at Marie Stopes, and Kathy French, Advisor in Sexual Health from the Royal College of Nursing. We are being televised this morning. Could I ask for any declarations of interest from members of the committee, please.

  Dr Harris: I am a member of the BMA Medical Ethics Committee and my partner works in sexual health policy in this area.

  Q158  Chairman: Dr Calland, may I start with you? Why do we need two doctors' signatures?

  Dr Calland: The BMA feels that for first trimester abortions we no longer need them. For second trimester and later abortions, because the risk of the procedure is greater, therefore we feel that for those later abortions two doctors' signature should remain. Particularly for very early abortions and those carried out through medical treatment rather than surgical treatment in the first trimester, because the risks of that procedure are now so small—and you can argue about it—and probably less than continuing with the pregnancy, we ask why you need two doctors to sanction a procedure that is of very small risk indeed, and much less risk than perhaps an operation where you do not need two signatures.

  Q159  Chairman: For first trimester you do not see there is the need; for second trimester, you do see the need?

  Dr Calland: Yes.

  Dr Spink: I want to ask a specific matter of Dr Calland. I can accept in the first trimester the medical conclusion that you come to, but you represent the Ethics Committee at the BMA and we are dealing with human life here. From the ethical rather than the medical viewpoint, do you think there is a need to continue to retain a significant barrier so that women can be sure that they are getting the best possible advice before making this decision to end life?

  Chairman: May I say that we are not dealing with the ethics within this committee and in this inquiry. We are dealing purely with the scientific basis on which we need to two doctors' signatures, Bob.

  Dr Spink: We have invited a BMA ethics representative.

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Prepared 15 November 2007