The Scottish Government has launched a review of the way human remains are treated, after a Glasgow hospital came under fire for burning aborted babies alongside clinical waste.
A member of staff at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said they saw aborted babies being placed in disposal bags and sent for incineration along with used bandages, swabs, dressings and syringes.
Speaking to The Sunday Times on condition of anonymity, the member of staff said that on one occasion earlier this year six plastic bags each containing a single foetus, were placed in a clinical waste bin to be burned.
Under current Government guidelines drawn up in 1992, all human remains under 24 weeks gestation arising from a miscarriage or abortion must be cremated or buried.
The Scottish Health Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said she took the concerns of the staff member “extremely seriously” and admitted current guidelines were “dated” and in need of review.
Professor Sheila McLean, a director of the Institute of Law and Ethics in Medicine at Glasgow University, said: “The parents should be informed what hospital disposal means. If you believe the foetus is a person from the moment of conception, then clearly it would be disrespectful to throw it away with clinical waste.
“There will undoubtedly be people who, because of their belief in the status of the embryo, would find this tremendously distressing.”
The news has sparked a review of policies across Scotland.
NHS Fife said all babies, whether aborted or miscarried, were cremated.
NHS Highland said human remains under 13 weeks were incinerated, but off-site and independently from clinical waste.
It is now working with the council to ensure all aborted babies go to a crematorium.
The Scottish Health Minister said: “We consider that the Scottish Government guidance requires review and this will happen. It will look specifically at the ethics of different protocols for pregnancy loss and abortion and at the issue of patient consent in case of abortion.”
A spokeswoman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde admitted aborted babies were incinerated at the same site as clinical waste, but destroyed separately.
She defended the practice claiming it was “in line with what happens elsewhere in Scotland”.
But added: “If at the stage of consent, a patient requests for any foetal remains to be buried or cremated then this will either be arranged by the hospital or the woman and her family.”
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde was unable to provide figures on how many aborted babies had been incinerated in the past year.
Last month a baby boy in Italy was discovered to have survived for two days after a botched abortion at 22 weeks.
The child was wrapped in a sheet and left to die by staff at the Rossano Calabro hospital.
The day after the abortion the baby boy, who still had his umbilical cord attached, was discovered moving and breathing by a Roman Catholic priest.
The baby was rushed to another nearby hospital where he died the following day, and his death has caused outrage among pro-lifers.
A spokesman for the ProLife Alliance said: “There cannot be anybody in the world who is not horrified by a story like this nor anybody in the UK who would not support a massive reduction in the upper limit for abortion.”